President Obama took an interesting step in the War on Terror today. Rather than outline what he will do to address the setbacks America has suffered in its battle against the global Islamist insurgency, he promised an even more restrained effort and more transparency.
Mr. Obama justified doing less by describing a world where he was winning. That notion — and the accompanying promises — may placate progressives. But the world he described simply does not exist.
“Our alliances are strong, and so is our standing in the world,” Mr. Obama declared. Nothing could be further from true. In the Middle East, most of America’s friends see us as a nation in decline, uncertain and, increasingly, a power that can’t be depended on.
“Today, the core of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on a path to defeat,” he added. That proposition is debatable. And it is certainly irrelevant. Al-Qaeda has dependable allies in the Taliban, Lakshar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani Network, and others of their ilk. They are undermining U.S. interests just as effectively as if bin Laden where still at the helm.
Further, the president virtually ignored the resurgence of political Islam that is destabilizing the Middle East. Sometimes it is in league with al-Qaeda, and sometimes it competes with al-Qaeda. Either way, though, it is a development that bodes ill for U.S. interests.
But rather than address the forces marshaling against us, Mr. Obama remains myopically focused on the war he wants to fight. He describes this war as “a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.”
Certainly there is nothing new with that vision — it has been the core of Mr. Obama’s strategy since 2011. In today’s announcement, the president is merely recommitting himself to pursue an already failing course of action, but less vigorously.
For a “war” speech, the president was conspicuously silent on his plan for our conventional forces. Small wonder. Under his watch, they are being hollowed out as rapidly as his plans for fighting terrorists.
The president has come a long way since his speech at the National Defense University in 2009. Then, he declared, “We are committed to growing the size of our ground forces.” Lest anyone doubt that commitment, he added: “Make no mistake: This nation will maintain our military dominance. We will have the strongest armed forces in the history of the world. And we will do whatever it takes to sustain our technological advantage, and to invest in the capabilities that we need to protect our interests, and to defeat and deter any conventional enemy.”
Today, the administration’s commitment to defense has morphed into a commitment to reap a “peace dividend,” even when there is no sign of peace. Both the size and readiness of the military are dropping fast.
In today’s speech, Mr Obama made it crystal clear that he is sick of war. The problem is: America’s adversaries are not.
—James Jay Carafano is vice president of defense and foreign policy studies for the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in National Review Online's "The Corner."