“We don’t have a strategy yet.”
That line shocked many people, who interpreted it to mean what seems to be the broader case, that Obama doesn’t have a strategy to deal with Islamic State—in Syria or Iraq either.
But, that isn't really true. If you parse Obama's statement and his responses to reporters' questions, and the several ways he came at and twisted about the question of his strategy against Islamic State, some things became apparent:
1. Obama does not believe IS (Islamic State) can be defeated by military means. He does believe the United States has the power to "rout" IS in any direct military confrontation, but only temporarily, because, as Obama says: "As soon as we leave, the same problems come back again." Therefore, militarily, Obama argues, it is necessary for Iraq to defeat IS. However, at this point, Obama acknowledges that Iraq cannot accomplish this on its own. So, the obvious idea would be for the United States to assist Iraq. But there's a problem in this, which is:
2. Obama argued repeatedly that Islamic State in Iraq, and in Syria, cannot be defeated militarily without a solid commitment to do so from people who seem the least likely to sign up for the campaign: the Sunnis. Obama argued that Sunni feelings of disempowerment, and alienation (especially in Iraq) had led to Sunni alliances with radical Islamist organizations like al-Qaeda in Iraq, and now Islamic State. Obama said it was the responsibility of the Iraqi government to craft a reform government that is sufficiently inclusive that the Sunnis will put down their IS flags and allegiances, and will start backing the Shia-majority Iraqi state government. Again, there is a big problem with this:
3. One of the chief defects with Obama's scheme, or strategy, is that the reason the Shia majority government acted in the manner it did all these years, in other words since the Sunni minority lost its monopoly on power in Iraq with the fall of Saddam Hussein, is that the the Shia very understandably do not trust the Sunnis, and especially they do not trust the ex-Baath Party members (Saddam's party) of that ethnic community. The Shia can be told all day long it is in their interest to create a more inclusive government, but what Obama is really arguing is that the Shia should do what is necessary to convince people who a few years ago were repressing Shia in a Sunni-dominated dictatorship, and who ever since the fall of that dictatorship have been killing Shia in a bloody civil war, that they should all be friends now. This is not much different than putting one's hopes on the willingness of the Israelis and Hamas to form a unification government. It is absurd.
4. More absurdity attaches to Obama's plans for how the Sunnis will save the say in Syria. Obama explained his strategy there: "It’s going to require us to stabilize Syria in some fashion, and stabilizing Syria in some fashion means that we’ve got to get moderate Sunnis who are able to govern and offer a real alternative and competition to what ISIL has been doing in some of these spaces." OK, but remember Obama's recent comments about why he did not make a stronger military commitment to support any of these "moderate" Sunni rebel groups in Syria. Basically, Obama rejected that idea, because the US could not find enough of these moderates to pose any real threat to what Obama described as: "a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, [&] a battle-hardened Hezbollah." And that is just the Syrian government military Obama is talking about, not the Islamic State fighters, who any moderate Sunnis would also need to defeat. Obama offered no suggestion for how that would all play out with the Sunni moderates winning, but presumably it would be enabled by the hoped-for Shia transformation into an all-forgiving, Sunni-trusting, partner in a functional Iraq.
And that brings us to the most useful (to Obama) twisting of likelihood in Obama's strategy for dealing with Islamic State.
When it comes down to it, Obama is saying that without a longterm military occupation by US troops of the Sunni regions of Iraq and Syria, there is no hope of defeating and keeping defeated The Islamic State (or some similar Sunni rebels). Obama has repeatedly promised the American people there would be no further US commitment of ground troops in Iraq. Yet, at the same time, Obama is claiming that Islamic State poses a real and growing threat to fundamental US interests in the Middle East, and there is widespread belief that threat will grow to include the risk of attacks on the US homeland and in Western European partners of the US.
Yet, the conclusion of Obama's strategy is the quite bizarre statement:
"In the end Iraqis are going to be responsible for their own security."But, in fact, Obama is placing the Iraqis, that is the Shia majority of Iraq, in charge of the security of the entire Western world! Because, as Obama says, short of a complete transformation of the Shia ruling majority into utter fools, The Islamic State cannot be defeated.
The good news, for Obama, is that when the Islamic State cannot be defeated, he will object to anyone blaming him for the failure.
Instead, referring to his very odd war strategy, somehow Obama will be able to blame Iraq for failing to live up to the ideals of a functioning, inclusive democracy—ideals the United States of America has failed to honor since 1776.
Barack Obama's presidency has now moved to surrealist performance art. If only the pigments that keep flowing to make this "masterpiece" were not so bloody and horrible.