Obama’s ‘Jayvee Team’ Dismissal Of Islamic State Militants Comes Full Circle


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What a difference a few short months of fundraising and golf outings make.

Back in January, President Barack Obama started the year with what seemed at the time a fresh optimism, sitting down with The New Yorker for a sympathetic interview in which he dismissed the boiling kettle of Sunni extremism in Syria and Iraq as the bumblings of an inept “Jayvee” team – as in, these guys are lightweight terrorists compared to the al-Qaida we just decimated.

“The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” Obama told The New Yorker’s David Remnick in January. “I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”

In Obama’s imperfect comparison, the jayvee has turned out to be Kobe. Obama just saw the opponent he wished he had, instead of the opponent the Islamic State has been in the process of becoming all along.

Asked Friday whether the White House still considers the Islamic State to be the kiddie team, Obama Press Secretary Josh Earnest made this ridiculous adjustment to the President’s analogy:

I think what is appropriate to say is there is no question that the Lakers uniforms that were worn, to use that analogy a little bit, that were worn by the al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan has been decimated and defeated in Afghanistan…We do remain concerned about the military proficiency that has been demonstrated by ISIL and that’s why you’ve seen the president take steps, including the authorization of military force that would protect American citizens who might be harmed by them.

Three years after an Iraqi pullout that left no residual force behind, and in the aftermath of a bipolar contribution to “resolving” the Syrian conflict, coach Obama has known all along that Sunni sectarians holding U.S. weapons in a power vacuum weren’t “jayvee” — he just didn’t think they’d appear on this year’s schedule. Perhaps not even next year’s. Another President can worry about the Middle East; Obama’s got a domestic agenda to complete.

Presidents don’t govern over a theoretical closed-system agenda containing only their own pet projects. Things happen — unexpected things that call for a response, whatever that response may be. 

In Syria and in Iraq, things were happening long before the Islamic State handed Obama a camera-worthy opportunity for intervention by trapping a host of Yezidis on a mountain and threatening Americans in the Kurdish city of Erbil. If you have a strong stomach, you can easily google and view a pictorial montage of the many damnable things the Islamic State has been doing for months.

They hold the Mosul dam, which essentially means they hold Baghdad’s fate in their hands. They hold an unknown number of militants from Europe and the U.S. — passport-holding jihadi extremists who don’t need a convenient U.S. border crisis to freely enter the country. Their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, said last week (and has said before) that the Islamic State fully intends to target the United States — and he can bring varsity resources to Obama’s “game.” Christianity in Iraq is on the verge of extinction; the Yezidis — a pre-Islamic religious population that doesn’t evangelize — are on the verge of annihilation. 

And that’s just what’s happening in Iraq. There are plenty of other fires, though:

At this late hour in the Iraqi debacle, even Obama’s most perfect strategy — whether’s it’s to do nothing; do something, or, as he’s so far indicated, some noncommittal combination of the two — will mean choosing from among the least awful of nothing but truly awful options.

This is what happens when the President of the United States sends no signal. Or, rather, when he knows only how to send political signals. 

“The world is less violent than it has ever been. It is healthier than it has ever been. It is more tolerant than it has ever been. It is better fed then it’s ever been. It is more educated than it’s ever been.”

Obama said this only two months ago. 

There’s a midterm election this year, and — like Obama’s “jayvee” dismissal of the terror group too abhorrent for al-Qaida — that was a political signal. It reflects what any sitting President would like to be able to say to the Nation. It may even be true. But Obama’s closed-system optimism isn’t about truth — it’s about politics. The rest of the world just won’t cooperate with his game plan. And he’s a thinker, not a doer; a campaigner, not a leader. Obama is still looking down at his 2007 playbook, even as the Nation, and the world, changes all around him. 

He doesn’t know how to call a new play. He only ever had that one plan.

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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