White House Foreign Policy Dangerously Changes by the Day

When word filtered out yesterday that President Obama, on the heels of his reiteration of “no boots on the ground” to the military men and women at CENTCOM, had instructed the Pentagon that he was the final say on any individual airstrike in Syria (“…[to] better ensure the operation remain focused on his main goal for that part of the campaign: weakening the militants’ hold on territory in neighboring Iraq.”), pundits rightly began to ask questions.  Allahpundit at HotAir had several, including the possibility that Obama must consider our new engagement a “counterterrorism” measure rather than a traditional war:

So we’re back to the ol’ war/counterterrorism distinction. In “war,” the military has great discretion in deciding whom to target; in counterterrorism, the president has a “kill list” and personally gives thumbs up or thumbs down. Maybe this is how O reassures himself that we’re not joining the war in Syria: If we’re following counterterrorism protocols, then this must be a counterterror operation, right? Or maybe, given the kaleidoscope of groups on the ground right now in Syria — ISIS, the Al Qaeda-allied Nusra Front, various other Sunni Islamists, Assad’s troops, the IRGC, Hezbollah, and of course the “moderates” — Obama wants to take extra precautions to make sure we don’t end up bombing someone who’s supposed to be nominally on our side. Pretty much no one on the Hill, Democrats included, thinks we’re going to find and vet 5,000 reliable Sunni partners in the midst of all this. If we can’t tell who the good guys and bad guys are from the ground, imagine how hard it is from the air.

And then, as if to reinforce just how schizophrenic, unprepared, and dysfunctional this administration is on foreign policy, today the White House sang a new tune (emphasis mine):

5. RHETORIC: U.S. airstrikes in Syria are still an open question that needs Obama’s decision.REALITY: Administration officials have said it’s no longer a matter of “if” but “when” U.S. fighter jets and drones will strike ISIS targets inside northern Syria. President Obama has already given the green light for strikes, leaving it to CENTCOM Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin and other military leaders to identify targets and take them out.”The President will not sign off on individual airstrikes in Syria,” a National Security Council official told ABC News.

The day-to-day strategy will be carried out by the military in the same way it has undertaken more than 170 airstrikes inside Iraq since Aug. 8. The strikes could begin any day, when ISIS targets in Syria present themselves, officials say.Gen. Dempsey has said that the air campaign in Syria will not be like the “shock and awe” campaign that began the 2003 war in Iraq because ISIS is a different kind of enemy.Instead, he said the U.S. will carry out “persistent and sustainable” airstrikes.The lifting of airstrike restrictions in Iraq has led to airstrikes against ISIS outside of original target areas like the Mosul Dam and Erbil in northern Iraq.

With this new development, and keeping in mind the war/counterterrorism distinction, is the Obama administration now declaring, by delegating authority to military leaders, that we are, indeed, engaged in a war?

Of course, the truth is simple: they are neither declaring this war, nor a counter terrorism effort. They are declaring it…nothing. And by so doing — or not doing — are free to declare — or not declare — this and future decisions anything they want — or do not want — at a later date. Got it?

This may seem like a savvy strategy from a political perspective, and indeed it is if one is mostly concerned with projecting the image of a leader who makes sharp decisions that the public agrees with and supports.

But from a military and national security perspective, it is perhaps one of the worst things a leader can do because it actually signals something very real to the enemies we have agreed must be destroyed: we are dysfunctional, timid, vacillating, and prone to care more about the politics of war than the people who may lose their lives and limbs in the conflict.

When confronting an enemy, as my father likes to say, it is imperative, if you are to win, that you match their intensity. A leader who looks like he reads the news before making military strategy decisions is a far cry from the strength and will of an enemy who separates a man from his head.

While no one’s advocating meeting horrific violence with horrific violence, a measure of steadfastness in word and deed is needed if we are to succeed in our newly declared war (or not war).

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