Today (16 Nov), Obama lectured the press corps in Turkey before leaving for the Philippines. Once again, he revealed that he is more professorial than presidential in matters of national security. The president never tires of lecturing us on the virtues of speaking softly and of leaving out the virtues of carrying (and, when necessary, using) a big stick. He tells us that the issues are complex and resist quick and easy solutions.
Those truths do not imply that the United States cannot take reasonable and proportionate actions to protect the United States and to preserve civil liberties. My fear is that if he does not order such actions, he will, in the event of a terrorist attack on the United States, enable calls for unreasonable and disproportionate actions by others.
Obama can take actions to assure Americans that he is not a professor of bromides about national identity (“who we are” or are not) but the President acting in the national defense of a country at risk. He should tell us what the United States has done, is doing, and will do about terrorist groups, whether ISIS, Al Qaeda, or others. He should send a public message to our intelligence and defense communities: you are screwing up and need to get straight, or face the consequences in the event of another major failure to defend this country.
He can take at least three obvious steps to send a message to everyone about American resolve to deal with terrorism arising in the Middle East:
One, curtail overseas training of American would-be terrorists by legislation authorizing the Department of State (1) to identify countries which train terrorists, to require Americans to have prior permission based on good reason for travel to those countries, and to require special passports or visas for such travel; (2) to prevent re-entry of American violators of those requirements (and to deny entry of non-Americans from those countries without pre-clearance); and (3) to initiate the prosecution of Americans who travel illegally and re-enter this country as well as those who assist them during their illegal travel or after their illegal re-entry into the country.
Two, cease all military assistance—supply, re-supply, maintenance, training—to all Gulf States until they use what they have already received in direct military operations against ISIS and Al Qaeda; commit future support to dissident groups if government support of anti-Western propaganda and schooling does not cease; and prepare to freeze all financial accounts held by all members of the royal family and to divert their holdings to a national trust for a reformist government.
Three, target major ISIS and Al Qaeda command residences and headquarters, and communications, intelligence, military, and logistics facilities, for destruction by fuel-air explosives; and emphasize such targets in urban areas with sustained, including round-the-clock, attacks by such weapons. The message: no more symbolic assassinations (Jihadi John) and surgical strikes, but systematic destruction of all ISIS and Al Qaeda commanders, combatants, and capabilities anywhere, anytime.