During his interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, President Obama said the United States is now ready “to start going on some offense” against ISIL. He announced that on Wednesday he will “make a speech and describe what our game plan’s going to be going forward.” He said that his planned action “is not the equivalent of the Iraq war.” And this time he says we have “a broad-based coalition internationally and regionally to be able to deal with the problem.”
But apparently, according to some critics, he shouldn’t have dared utter the following about his message to Americans on Wednesday:
But this is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops.
Later Mr. Obama said:
The notion that the United States should be putting boots on the ground, I think would be a profound mistake. And I want to be very clear and very explicit about that.
No, no, no, these critics say. Obama shouldn’t be “tipping his hand to ISIS” that way. Such an announcement is “priceless intelligence” that cost them nothing. And presumably because he is such a dumbass, Obama just gave it away for free. What’s wrong with that guy? Why doesn’t he know better?
Leaving aside the obvious point that ISIS gets exactly zero benefit in knowing that its fighters probably won’t be seeing the boots of Americans as they die for Allah, I want to call your attention to the person behind the critical notion above, a journalist named Ron Fournier.
He is the Senior Political Columnist and Editorial Director of National Journal, a publication for Washington insiders like, well, Ron Fournier. He appears often on Morning Joe and elsewhere on cable and presents himself as something of a non-partisan, non-ideological voice for common sense who is willing to criticize both sides. In this case, however, his criticism of Obama sounds like, well, Bill Kristol or Mike Rogers or Rick Perry.
Fournier, though, along with most of the other people who think Obama should not take off the table the possibility of American combat troops fighting in Iraq and Syria, don’t actually say they want those troops inserted into that mess. Most of Obama’s critics are very, very careful to say, as Fournier did,
I am not advocating the deployment of ground troops.
Because Fournier is a Washington insider, he can’t help but look at Obama’s no-boots assurance to the American people as a political move:
Is the no-troops-on-the-ground pledge an effort to satiate antiwar Democrats in the run-up to congressional elections in November, when control of the Senate is at stake? Or is less-cynical thinking afoot?
That’s the way insider types talk when they want to accuse Obama of something without actually accusing him of it. Since Fournier never actually answers the question he asks (and never names those “anti-war” Democrats who need satiated, likely because there just aren’t that many of them around), he gets to have it both ways. He does, though, offer us his Washingtonian explanation for all this hand-wringing over Obama’s alleged gift to ISIS:
Obama’s motive is important, because it goes to the durability of his promise. This should concern doves as much as hawks. If a factor as wispy as politics is driving the president’s thinking now, it stands to reason that Obama could, one day, consider the promise pliable. What happens if his fledgling coalition doesn’t stop ISIS? What if public opinion shifts a bit? This is how slippery slopes are built.
Notice that handy little “if” in that sentence. There is no evidence that Obama is trying “to satiate antiwar Democrats in the run-up to congressional elections in November,” as Fournier suggested he might be, but that “if” gives him license to suggest something dark and sinister is going on or, worse, might go on in the future that Fournier can claim he saw coming. If all that happens, if Obama changes his mind due to changes in the fight against ISIS and actually uses combat forces in a big way, Fournier is practically guaranteed a spot on all the cable shows as the sage of Washington journalists.
The truth, however, is likely as simple as this: President Obama said what he said about not putting American boots on the ground because he doesn’t think it is necessary or wise to put American boots on the ground, especially when there are other boots available, boots worn by people who have much to lose if they don’t aggressively take up the fight against the barbarians who have invaded their homelands.
But simply saying that won’t get a Washington insider a gig on cable TV.