President Obama laid out a strategy for "degrading and destroying" the Islamic State (IS) on Wednesday night. He called for targeted airstrikes, training local security forces, and more intelligence. Interestingly, he said, "This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us while supporting partners on the front lines is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years." The analogy with Somalia is troubling because it suggests the Obama administration is committed to endless military strikes with no political strategy.
The last time President Obama met with his Latin American and Caribbean counterparts was not a particularly memorable affair. The 2012 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, was overshadowed by an embarrassing Secret Service scandal that saw members of his advance team soaking in a little bit too much of the historical city's Caribbean nightlife.
As Oval Office addresses on national security go, President Obama's remarks Wednesday night were pretty sound. He identified the enemy as the Islamic State, stated a goal to "degrade and ultimately destroy" it, and described four components of that campaign. But taken in the context of his serious and serial mishandling of foreign policy over the last six years, the president's speech also struck an oddly discordant note, one that throws into sharp relief just how much the tenets of his speech contrasted with his previous policies. In short, this speech represents the real Obama's "pivot" -- not to Asia, but back to the Middle East.
In his speech before the nation on the threat from the Islamic State, President Obama stressed that America would lead a coalition of nations to fight the Islamic extremist group that has taken control of broad swathes of Iraqi and Syrian territory. The President defined "leadership" as providing military support in the form of air strikes; training support for the moderate Syrian opposition and Iraqi security forces; financial support for those fighting the IS and measures to stanch the flow of finances to the extremists. He pointed out that Secretary of State John Kerry was in the Middle East seeking more participants in the coalition. And he stressed that the fight against the IS would in no way resemble the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: The United States would not deploy land forces to fight the terror group. That would be the responsibility of others in the coalition that Kerry is attempting to stitch together.
When President Obama addresses the nation tonight, much attention will focus on whether he plans to expand airstrikes against the self-styled Islamic State (IS) from Iraq into Syria. The resulting commentary will focus on whether doing so is right or wrong. But military force is a tactic, and its utility and wisdom can only be judged with respect to clear objectives and a strategy for achieving them.