Obama spoke to the parents of the beheaded journalist on the phone after he made a speech on TV [to say that though] he is shocked, America will not give in to terrorists, after which he went to play golf all day.
Even the most loyal Obama fans these days scratch their heads with bewilderment. Two weeks ago, the president went on family vacation to Martha’s Vineyard on the Massachusetts coast, and stubbornly stayed there though the whole world seemed to fall apart. Starting in America — on the outskirts of St. Louis, where a white policeman killed an unarmed black teenager and riots broke out, which lasted nearly two weeks. Meanwhile, Obama played golf, rode a bike in the forest and relaxed on the beach.
The president is known for his love of family life. Anytime he is in Washington, even during the hardest days, he does not resign from the traditional dinner with his wife and two daughters. They are also with him on vacation — hence the determination not to interrupt it, no matter what.
It seems, however, that this time he went too far, namely on the day that radicals released a video of the execution of journalist James Foley, and showed the next American hostage to be beheaded.
“His life depends on you, Obama, and on your next decisions!” says a masked executioner at the end of the recording. They meant that if American bombardment of the Islamic State group does not end, there will be another execution.
And what did Obama say? First, he spoke on the phone to the parents of the beheaded after he made a speech on TV [in which he] claimed that he is shocked, but that America will not give in to terrorists. And after … he went to play golf all day.
Former Washington Post journalist Ezra Klein, usually very fond of the president, wrote on Twitter: “Golfing today is in bad taste.” Various newspapers and portals published photos of a joyful Obama in golf gear, often next to fragments of the horrific film, or next to the crying mother of the beheaded.
“As a general rule, I think that he’s right that you can’t be held hostage to the news cycle,” said experienced Democratic strategist Jim Manley in The New York Times. “But in this particular instance, I think a lot of Democrats flinched a little bit.”
Anyway, Obama had already caused himself trouble before vacation. It is widely known that two years ago all of his advisers, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, tried to convince him to definitely support moderate rebels in Syria. Obama decided that America would not interfere in the Syrian civil war.
In the following years, radical rebels, among whom there are many veterans of al-Qaida in Iraq, defeated moderate Syrian rebels. A couple of months ago, they returned to Iraq and proclaimed the founding of a caliphate on the territory of both countries. They occupy Mosul, which is the second biggest city in Iraq.
“If somebody does not fight extremism, those are the results,”* Mrs. Clinton summarized in a recent interview. She apparently thinks it is necessary to separate herself from the increasingly criticized president before the presidential election in 2016.
Is it really Obama’s fault? Two years ago, he argued during discussions in the White House that everyone who thinks that giving advanced weapons to rebelling Syrian students, teachers, taxi drivers, doctors and engineers will help them defeat a professional government army and radical Muslim fanatics, is a daydreamer. Even if the moderate rebels received support, new weapons from Iran and Russia would inevitably be received by their opponents, and in Syria even more people would die because of the more advanced weapons. (Currently, there have been around 200,000 killed.)
This kind of thinking seems reasonable but also has an essential disadvantage — we will never know what would have happened if Obama had listened to his advisers two years ago. We know, however, what happened when he did not assent.
The Islamic State easily crashed the Iraqi army, and took hold of American military equipment, including huge cannons and hundreds of Humvee vehicles in the abandoned American bases. They persecute Christians, kill Yazidis — one of Iraq’s religious minorities — and threaten Kurdish autonomy in Iraq.
What was Obama’s reaction to that? He ordered aid to Yazidis who fled to the mountains in fear of the caliphate, and who died of hunger and thirst. He also ordered air strikes on the Islamic State, which plans to attack Kurdistan. But he stipulated that the aim of the air raids is not to defeat the Islamic State, only hold off its expansion. The rest, which is chasing the rebels from Iraq, Iraqis need to do themselves.
Now in America, since the Islamic State beheaded Foley, people say louder and louder: “No, don’t just stop the caliphate — destroy it!” Military officers are also applying pressure. But they point out, too, that bombardment alone in Iraq is not sufficient, because the fighters will find shelter in Syria.
“That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially, at this point, a nonexistent border,” said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States General Dempsey.
It seems that after returning from golf (that is, today), Obama will have a tough row to hoe.
*Editor’s Note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.
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