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Rubin: A sort of a strategy for the Islamic State

First Published Sep 04 2014 10:14 am • Last Updated Sep 04 2014 10:15 am

The president, traveling in Estonia, proclaimed Wednesday: "Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy ISIL [the Islamic State] so that it’s no longer a threat not just to Iraq but also the region and to the United States. In order for us to accomplish that, the first phase has been to make sure that we’ve got an Iraqi government that’s in place and that we are blunting the momentum that ISIL was carrying out." Well, maybe not "destroy." More like contain: "Our objective is to make sure that ISIL is not an ongoing threat to the region. And we can accomplish that. It’s going to take some time and it’s going to take some effort."

He has decided we do have a strategy after all. First, we have to have a stable government in Iraq and, he says, "the regional coalition that’s going to be required so that we can reach out to Sunni tribes in some of the areas that ISIS has occupied, and make sure that we have allies on the ground in combination with the airstrikes that we’ve already conducted." Then maybe there will be some military action.

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Obama’s statement, characterized by his usual equivocation, also was a remarkable display in buck-passing. He said that as soon as Mosul fell, the administration jumped into action. But what about letting the Islamic State grow in both Syria and Iraq up to that point? No, no, it’s George W. Bush’s fault because he started the war in Iraq, Obama says, blocking out memory of the stable Iraq handed to Bush’s successor. Obama’s three-plus years of inaction in Syria and the pullout of U.S. troops don’t figure in his lecture on the vacuum in the Middle East.

No one bothered to ask Obama why he didn’t act sooner to stem the Islamic State in Syria by, say, giving robust support to the Free Syrian Army or putting that regional coalition together months ago. (By the by, can’t we reach out to Sunni tribes on our own?) Delay, deflect and duck responsibility. Like the student racing to cram for the exam because he goofed off during the semester, Obama is running out of time. This uncertain trumpet, alas, is our president for the next two years. Heaven help us.

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