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Fighting Terrorism With Diplomacy Is A Bad Idea

Arielle Samuelson |
September 11, 2014 | 12:15 p.m. PDT


A coalition looks a lot like capitulating when the other side shoots to kill.

President Barack Obama stood behind the presidential seal on the eve of Sept. 11 to deliver an address many Americans thought would mark the beginning of a war with ISIL, the terrorist group also popularly known as ISIS violently seizing large swathes of land in Syria and Iraq.

U.N. policy can't help the U.S. win a war against ISIS.  (Nolan/Flickr)
U.N. policy can't help the U.S. win a war against ISIS. (Nolan/Flickr)

What the American public received, whether we knew it or not, was the diplomatic equivalent of a United Nations response to ISIL, not a Commander-in-Chief’s.  

This isn’t the first time President Obama has iterated his “strategy” to contain ISIl.  In a game of pass-the-baton, Obama’s words come from a agreement proposed to our partner countries in NATO, which in turn comes from a consensus reached by the U.N. Security Council in a resolution co-sponsored by the U.S. and adopted in August 2014. 

In his speech to the nation Wednesday night, Obama listed a four-point plan to defeat ISIS, that includes increased support to forces fighting on the ground, cutting off funding, providing humanitarian assistance and, as the only direct military measure, conducting “a systematic campaign of airstrikes.”

With the notable exception of continued airstrikes over ISIL-conquered territory, Obama’s plan read like a play from the United Nations’ acceptable playbook of foreign policy maneuvers.  There’s no leadership because there’s no overarching strategy, just an ennumerated list of tactics.

Even the crux of the president’s speech, “I can now announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat” took its word choice of “coalition” from the U.N. parlance.  

READ MORE: "President Obama Promises To 'Degrade and Destroy' ISIL"

“Coalition” is not exactly a military term.  What it suggests--a gathering of minds, or groupthink--is exactly what’s happening with United States’ foreign policy.  The President has been criticized for his halting and limited responses to the nuclear crisis in Iran, and the Russian annexation of Crimea. Responses that have been limited by his desire to work with our allies in Europe or, depending on the critic, his sheer inexperience with foreign policy. 

It’s true that Obama has more practice getting us out of wars than into them. He’s a community organizer trying to organize an international community. And if that’s his aim, the president might be succeeding. But in his desire to hear everyone’s voice, he’s essentially yoked the United States’ military action to the U.N.’s infamously poor understanding of military conflicts. In the process, he’s seemed to have acquired little acknowledgement of the reality of military strategy himself.  

READ MORE: "Obama Authorizes 350 Troops to Baghdad" 

Secretary John Kerry explicitly stated in his address to NATO that, “…we need an all-military aspect.” 

Kerry has said that it could take up to three years to eradicate the terrorist group.  Can this really be done through sanctions and air support alone? Britain’s Defense Secretary Micahel Fallon said, “Air strikes alone aren't going to defeat ISIL. This has to be done on a much broader scale,” according to The Independent.

President Obama dedicated at least a third of his message to praising America for her international leadership.  So when his national address toes the line of the U.N. Security Council’s limitations, and perfectly mimics the measures agreed to by NATO states, the Commander-in-Chief does not “welcome our responsibility to lead.”  He has not taken decisive action. He’s sitting down and letting others do the talking.

Contact Contributor Arielle Samuelson here.



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