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In Search of a Strategy

August 30, 2014 4:00 AM
By Andrew C. McCarthy

Is it better to have no strategy or a delusional strategy?

The question arises, of course, after President Obama’s startling confession on Thursday that he has not yet developed a strategy for confronting the Islamic State, the al-Qaeda-rooted terrorist organization still often called by its former name, ISIS – an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Al-Sham refers to Greater Syria.

You may have noticed that President Obama calls the group ISIL, preferring the acronym that refers to the Levant to the one referring to al-Sham. After all, anything that invokes Syria might remind you of red lines that turned out not to be red lines and the administration’s facilitation of the arming of “moderate rebels” who turned out to include, well, ISIS. The fact is that the president has never had a Syria strategy, either — careening from Assad the Reformer, to Assad the Iranian puppet who must be toppled, to Assad who maybe we should consider aligning with against ISIS — ISIS being the “rebels” we used to support in Syria . . . unless they crossed into Iraq, in which case they were no longer rebels but terrorists . . . to be “rebels” again, they’d have to cross back into Syria or cruise east to Libya, where they used to be enemy jihadists spied on by our ally Qaddafi until they became “McCain’s heroes” overthrowing our enemy Qaddafi.

Got it?

No? Well, congratulations, you may have caught mental health, a condition to be envied even if it would disqualify you from serving as a foreign-policy and national-security expert in Washington. In either party.

The Islamic State’s recent beheading of American journalist James Foley is not the only thing that captured Washington’s attention of late. The Beltway was also left aghast at the jihadisst’ rounding up of over 150 Syrian soldiers, forcing them to strip down to their underpants for a march through the desert, and then mass-killing them execution style.

Shocking, sure, but isn’t that what the GOP’s foreign-policy gurus were telling us they wanted up until about five minutes ago? Not the cruel method but the mass killing of Assad’s forces. Nothing oh nothing, we were told, could possibly be worse than the barbaric Assad regime. As naysayers — like your faithful correspondent — urged the government to refrain from backing “rebels” who teem with rabidly anti-American Islamic-supremacist savages, top Republicans scoffed. It was paramount that we arm the rebels in order to oust Assad, even though “we understand [that means] some people are going to get arms that should not be getting arms,” insisted Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Turns out that quite a lot of people who shouldn’t have gotten arms have gotten quite a lot of arms. And that is because Syria is not the only place as to which Republicans urged Obama to ignore federal laws against arming and otherwise supporting terrorists. They did it in Libya, too.

We have several times documented here that influential Republicans led by Senator John McCain were champions of Moammar Qaddafi before they suddenly switched sides — along with President Obama — in campaigning to oust the Libyan regime they had only recently treated (and funded) as a key American counterterrorism ally. The resulting (and utterly foreseeable) empowerment of Islamic supremacists in eastern Libya directly contributed to the Benghazi Massacre of four Americans on September 11, 2012; to the rise of the Islamic State and the expansion of al-Qaeda franchises in Africa, all of which were substantially strengthened by the jihadist capture of much of Qaddafi’s arsenal; and to what has become the collapse of Libya into a virulently anti-American no-man’s land of competing militias in which jihadists now have the upper hand.

The disastrous flip-flop was no surprise. When Mubarak fell in Egypt, Senator McCain stressed that the Brotherhood must be kept out of any replacement government because the Brothers are anti-democratic supporters of repressive sharia and terrorism. He was right on both scores . . . but he soon reversed himself, deciding that the Brotherhood was an outfit Americans could work with after all — even support with sophisticated American weaponry and billions in taxpayer dollars. The Brothers were in power because, in the interim, McCain’s good friend Secretary Clinton pressured Egypt’s transitional military government to step down so the elected “Islamic democracy” could flourish. When the Brothers took the reins, they promptly installed a sharia constitution, demanded that the U.S. release the Blind Sheikh (convicted of running a New York–based terror cell in the 1990s), rolled out the red carpet for Hamas (the terror organization that is the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch), and gave free reign to terrorist leaders — including the brother of al-Qaeda’s leader and members of the Blind Sheikh’s Egyptian jihadist organization — who proceeded to foment the violent rioting at the U.S. embassy in Cairo the same day as the Benghazi Massacre.

I could go on, but you get the point. While ripping Obama for having no Islamic State strategy, Republicans are now reviving the inane strategy of supporting the illusory “moderate Syrian opposition.” Those would be the same forces they wanted to support against Assad. The only problem was that there aren’t enough real moderates in Syria to mount a meaningful challenge to the regime. The backbone of the opposition to Assad has always been the Muslim Brotherhood, and the most effective fighters against the regime have always been the jihadists. So we’re back to where we started from: Let’s pretend that there is a viable, moderate, democratic Syrian opposition and that we have sufficient intelligence — in a place where we have sparse intelligence — to vet them so we arm only the good guys; and then let’s arm them, knowing that they have seamlessly allied for years with the anti-American terrorists we are delegating them to fight on our behalf. Perfect.

There is no excuse for a president of the United States to have no strategy against an obvious threat to the United States. But at least with Obama, it is understandable. He is hemmed in by his own ideology and demagoguery. The main challenge in the Middle East is not the Islamic State; it is the fact that the Islamic State and its al-Qaeda forebears have been fueled by Iran, which supports both Sunni and Shiite terrorism as long as it is directed at the United States. There cannot be a coherent strategy against Islamic supremacism unless the state sponsors of terrorism are accounted for, but Obama insists on seeing Iran as a potential ally rather than an incorrigible enemy.

Moreover, the combined jihadist threat is not a regional one merely seeking to capture territory in the Middle East; it is a global one that regards the United States as its primary enemy and that can be defeated only by America and its real allies. This is not a problem we can delegate to the basket-case governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, or to the “moderate” Syrian “rebels.” Yet the Obama Left’s relentless indictment of American self-defensive action in the Middle East has sapped the domestic political support necessary for vigorous military action against our enemies — action that will eventually have to include aggressive American combat operations on the ground.

But the GOP should take note: The jihad is not a problem we can delegate to the Muslim Brotherhood, either. We will not defeat our enemies until we finally recognize who they are — all of them.

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Obama’s doomed attempt to save his legacy

The White House adopts a strategy of deception by distraction

By Emily Miller

President Obama’s approval ratings are falling faster than skydiver Felix Baumgartner during his record-setting jump from outer space.

In a desperate move to salvage his second term, Mr. Obama threw out his top liberal agenda items — immigration, gun control and race relations — and pivoted to the economy. The problem is that the only one to blame for the five-year malaise is the current resident of the Oval Office.

The president fueled up Air Force One on Wednesday to fly to the heartland for two stops in an attempt to physically distance himself from Washington.

“It may seem hard right now, but if we’re willing to take a few bold steps — if Washington will just shake off its complacency, set aside the kind of slash-and-burn partisanship that we’ve seen over the past few years — I promise you, our economy will be stronger a year from now,” Mr. Obama said at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.

The president acts like he just arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue last week. He’s had four years, yet his policies have failed to create jobs and restore economic growth.

“There are days I think he forgets that he is actually president,” Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, told me Thursday. “He wants to blame everyone but himself and his failure to join bipartisan efforts to create jobs, like the Keystone pipeline, is the reason we are not in a better place.”

The economy has never grown much more than by minuscule amounts during the Obama administration. Gross domestic product has grown at an anemic pace since he’s been in the White House, barely sputtering at 1.8 percent in the first quarter of 2013. Unemployment under Mr. Obama has averaged a discouraging 8.8 percent and still tops out at 7.6 percent.

Gas prices are rising again, but Mr. Obama spent a long stretch of these speeches touting the doubling of “clean energy” production on his watch. He claimed to have “saved the auto industry,” but didn’t mention that Detroit has gone bankrupt.

Most absurdly, he cited as a point of pride that “our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years.” He left out two key points: The congressional Republicans demanded spending cuts for increasing the debt ceiling, and the rate of decrease is high because the deficits themselves have been the largest red ink in U.S. history. Spending was $1.4 trillion more than revenue in 2009 and $1 trillion more in 2012.

The Congressional Budget Office projects a $642 billion deficit for this fiscal year, but that’s mostly because Mr. Obama hiked taxes on Jan. 1 to pay for his spending habits.

The president takes almost as little responsibility for his own actions as Anthony D. Weiner, the disgraced sexting addict and former congressman running for New York City mayor.

“With this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball. And I am here to say this needs to stop,” the president said in a 64-minute speech at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. “Our focus has to be on the basic economic issues that matter most to you, the people we represent.”

By “phony scandals,” Mr. Obama is referring to the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservatives and then concealing the evidence and refusing to provide testimony to a congressional committee. He is also referring to his Justice Department sneaking into the emails and phone calls of reporters who don’t support the Obama administration’s agenda.

The president’s “endless parade of distractions” would also include exposing the National Security Agency’s secret Prism program that has been spying on innocent Americans’ Internet searches, phone calls and emails.

It has also been distracting to have Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. launch an investigation into whether George Zimmerman broke federal racial discrimination laws when he killed Trayvon Martin in self-defense.

Story Continues →

Russell: Obama’s Energy Strategy of Contradiction

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By Barry Russell
Special to Roll Call
April 23, 2012, Midnight

Right now, voters across the country are mobilizing around an issue that could determine who wins the 2012 presidential election: energy.

The rising cost of gasoline has influenced the American people to do a double-take on President Barack Obama’s overall energy policy. In light of this election-year scrutiny, it’s no surprise that Obama has tried to defend and define his administration’s energy policy.

But under the public’s watchful eye, the president is continually contradicting himself inside the Beltway and on the campaign trail. Obama calls to expedite infrastructure projects, but in the wake of rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline. Obama claims increased oil and natural gas production on his watch, but then follows up with accusations that oil companies are profiting at the expense of the American people. Obama repeatedly calls for an “all of the above” energy strategy, but then singles out the oil and natural gas industry for new regulations and targeted tax attacks.

Something doesn’t add up. To discover Obama’s real feelings and policies toward American-made energy, we must look to areas that the administration actually has jurisdiction over: public lands, federal agencies and his own calls for legislative action.

Responsible, common-sense regulations on development are a foundation of the oil and natural gas industry’s operations — and rightly so. Protecting the environment and developing our resources must go hand in hand. But right now, under the Obama administration, there are not two, not three, but 11 federal agencies seeking to regulate, study and reassess oil and natural gas production in the United States.

The Environmental Protection Agency, for its part, has been acting like an all-around bully; doing everything it can to smother the industry with one-size-fits-all regulations from Washington, D.C. It disregards the states’ impressive history of successful regulation of hydraulic fracturing. Also, the EPA has been using American tax dollars to conduct studies that distort scientific results to accuse the oil and natural gas industry of harming the environment. These studies have ignored the industry’s incredibly safe record and serve as a rallying cry for the president’s environmental base.

Obama’s State Department rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from our neighbor Canada and alleviate the oil bottleneck that is causing problems for U.S. producers in Cushing, Okla., and refiners on the Gulf Coast.

And the American people are not amused. A recent Gallup poll revealed that Americans favor the Keystone XL pipeline by a ratio of 2-to-1. On the campaign trail recently, the president tried to backtrack, urging expedited work on the southern leg of Keystone. No matter that his administration has no jurisdiction on this issue: The southern portion of the pipeline could and would have continued without his approval.

Do his federal agencies’ brakes on development mean that Obama is fundamentally hostile to oil and natural gas as fuel sources? The president’s major rebuttal to this claim involves pointing to increased production under his administration. It’s true that the United States is experiencing an impressive increase in oil and natural gas development. But these huge gains are happening because of the advanced technologies U.S. producers utilize on private and state lands, where his federal agencies have limited jurisdiction.

On the other hand, Obama’s record on public lands — where his administration does have control — is far from stellar. Oil and natural gas production on public lands has decreased significantly under his watch. The Interior Department institutes duplicative and expensive regulations that make it impossible for many independent oil and natural gas producers, small American businesses that employ 12 people on average, to conduct business on public lands.

The president’s own punitive legislative proposals offer a stark contrast to his pro-development rhetoric. Obama repeatedly calls on Congress to repeal the “subsidies” that oil companies receive. However, these are neither subsidies nor government handouts. These are typical business deductions, such as labor and construction costs, which many industries have. These provisions, namely intangible drilling costs and percentage depletion, encourage new development of American energy. Eliminating them is a sure way to decrease energy supply and stunt job creation. Singling out the most productive, creative energy industry for targeted tax attacks certainly does not sound like an “all of the above” strategy for U.S. energy.

A recent poll revealed 68 percent of Americans disagree with the way Obama is handling gasoline prices. The public may be taking note of Obama’s energy policy contradictions. The 2012 election may rest upon the question: Can Obama have his energy cake and eat it, too?

Barry Russell is president and CEO of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

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