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“Republicans Have No Sense Of Recent History”: President Obama’s Critics Demand He Be More Like George W. Bush

Today President Obama made another public statement about how his administration is trying to take down ISIS, and I can promise you one thing: his critics will not be satisfied. That’s because a new question has emerged, one that anyone with any sense of recent history ought to be shocked to hear: Why can’t Barack Obama be more like George W. Bush?

Here’s part of what Obama said today:

Let me remind the American people of what our coalition of some 65 nations is doing to destroy these terrorists and defeat their ideology. So far our military and our partners have conducted more than 8,000 airstrikes on ISIL strongholds and equipment. Those airstrikes along with the efforts of our partners on the ground have taken out key leaders, have taken back territory from ISIL in both Iraq and Syria. We continue to work to choke off their financing and their supply lines, and counter their recruiting and their messaging…So we’re stepping up the pressure on ISIL where it lives, and we will not let up, adjusting our tactics when necessary, until they are beaten…

The bottom line is this: I want the American people to know, entering the holidays, that the combined resources of our military, our intelligence, and our homeland security agencies are on the case. They’re vigilant, relentless, and effective…While the threat of terrorism is a troubling reality of our age, we are both equipped to prevent attacks and we are resilient in the face of those who would try to do us harm. And that’s something we can all be thankful for.

You could almost hear Obama’s critics rolling their eyes and saying, “Boo-ring! Where’s the anger, the outrage, the Churchillian resolve?” In recent days, Obama has been getting a lot of criticism in the media not just for the fact that he hasn’t yet vanquished ISIS, but for the quality of his emoting when he talks about terrorism. To cite only one example, here’s what Peggy Noonan said in her critique of Obama’s response to the Paris attacks:

Finally, continued travels through the country show me that people continue to miss Ronald Reagan’s strength and certitude…What people hunger for now from their leaders is an air of shown and felt confidence: I can do this. We can do it.

Who will provide that? Where will it come from? Isn’t it part of what we need in the next president?

There’s been a lot more like this. Just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with critiquing the president’s performance qua performance. One of his jobs is to be a communicator, to guide the public through complex and troubling events. But the essence of the current criticism seems to be that Obama needs to do more of what George W. Bush did: tough talk, oversimplifying the challenges we face, and fooling us into thinking that this is all going to be over soon.

Which is curious, to say the least. In the wake of September 11, the news media were flooded with stories about what an extraordinary leader — how masterful and glorious and just short of god-like — Bush had become. All pretense of objectivity was cast aside as reporters rushed to assure us that the previously callow man was transformed by events into precisely the leader all Americans needed. As Newsweek described him in December 2001, “He has been a model of unblinking, eyes-on-the-prize decisiveness…He has been eloquent in public, commanding in private…Where does this optimism, the defiant confidence, come from?…He feels destined to win — and to serve.” That’s the kind of hard-hitting journalism we saw from the liberal media in those days.

But as we would soon find out, standing atop a pile of rubble and promising vengeance made people feel very good in the moment, but weren’t a substitute for taking wise actions. Bush got us into two wars whose effects we’re still feeling, with nearly seven thousand American service-members dead, a couple of trillion dollars spent, and our goals in both Iraq and Afghanistan still unfulfilled over a decade later.

So you might think that experience would help contextualize what’s happening right now. Of all the things you can criticize Obama for, it seems odd to focus on his unwillingness to pretend that ISIS is a simple problem that can be easily dispatched with enough resolve.

That, however, is exactly what the candidates say. But if you’re been looking for a realistic plan to deal with ISIS from them, you’ll likely be disappointed. What most of the Republicans have offered is a mix of things the administration is already doing (such as work with our allies in the region!). This includes Hillary Clinton, who hasn’t offered much beyond Obama’s plan, except perhaps for more air strikes and a “no fly” zone.

Meanwhile, some Republican candidates have offered things that have zero relationship to this particular conflict (increase the military budget!), or notions so vaguely worded as to be essentially meaningless (put pressure on Iran!), and utterly unrealistic fantasies. In this last category you find things like Marco Rubio saying: “I would build a multinational coalition of countries willing to send troops into Iraq and Syria to aid local forces on the ground.”

Well, that sounds nice. Who’s in this coalition willing to send their troops into Syria’s civil war? Why haven’t they done it up until now? Is it because they’re just waiting for a leader of Marco Rubio’s stature to ask?

To be fair, multiple candidates have advocated a greater role for U.S. troops — forward air controllers, more special forces troops, the establishment of “safe zones.” But they haven’t grappled with one of the central problems: obliterating ISIS on our own, or even with the limited help our allies are willing to give, would require a large troop presence, essentially another invasion, and then we’d have to stay there indefinitely to secure the peace, probably watching while that invasion creates a whole new generation of anti-American terrorists. In other words, we’d be doing the Iraq War all over again. And it worked out so well the first time.

That’s the thought that has plainly restrained Obama, both in what he’s willing to do in the Middle East and in his willingness to act triumphal about it. You can say his performance on this topic hasn’t reached the emotional heights you’d like. But you can’t say he doesn’t have good reason for being restrained by that thought.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributer, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, November 25, 2015

November 26, 2015 - Posted by | George W Bush, ISIS, National Security, Terrorism | , , , , , , , ,

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