Politico's Gerstein: Obama's 'No Strategy' Statement Just a 'Misfire'

August 29th, 2014 1:06 PM

Politico's Josh Gerstein was in top keister-covering mode last night in dealing with President Barack Obama's latest stated indication that U.S. foreign policy is adrift.

To him, the President's admission that “We don’t have a strategy yet” was just an "awkward choice of words" and an "inartful phrase." (By the way, over six years after after one of Obama's flaks first used it to defend the then-candidate's flip-flop on DC's strict gun ban, something he originally believed was constitutional until the Supreme Court's ruling in the Heller decision, "inartful" is still not a recognized word. Yet its use continues to spread.) Excerpts from Gerstein's grief-stricken groaner follow the jump (bolds and numbered tags are mine):

Obama's 'strategy' misfire


President Barack Obama tried to get himself a bit more political space Thursday to make a decision about whether to expand the U.S military campaign against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, but in so doing he may have dealt himself a significant political blow by suggesting that his policy on the issue is adrift. [1]

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama said as he took questions from reporters in the White House briefing room.

The president’s aim was clearly to defuse building expectations that U.S. military strikes in Syria were imminent as part of a broadening drive to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. But his awkward choice of words to describe a policymaking process still in midstream seems likely to haunt him for some time. [2]

The inartful phrase quickly went viral among right-leaning media outlets and Republican figures, [3] pushing the White House into damage control mode. ...

... Thursday’s messy news conference capped off a month of difficult public statements from Obama on foreign policy issues.

... The impact and the danger of the no-strategy remark could be exacerbated by earlier Obama comments in which he seemed to dramatically underestimate the ISIL threat. [4]

For weeks, White House aides have been fielding questions about the president’s comments to The New Yorker early this year suggesting that the group was a junior varsity team not as threatening as Al Qaeda. “If a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” he told the magazine.

... Earnest said this week that Obama wasn’t speaking about ISIL specifically when he made the JV reference, [5] but about a variety of terrorist groups whose ambitions sometimes exceed their reach.

... Obama’s no-strategy comment Thursday came in response to a question from NBC’s Chuck Todd [6] about whether the president planned to seek congressional approval for any military action in Syria.


[1] — The real problem is that Obama's statement confirms that his foreign policy is adrift.

[2] — The fact that the policymaking process is still in midstream after eight months of Islamist advances (Fallujah, Iraq fell in early January) is why an admission like this should "haunt him for some time."

[3] — You don't have to be a Republican or conservative to see significant problems here — and the administration's panicked damage-control response demonstrates that.

[4] — Calling someone the JV team only "seemed" to downplay the threat? Who do you think you're fooling, Josh?

[5] — Oh, I see the JV comment really wasn't about ISIS/ISIL after all. Let's go back to that January New Yorker interview:

... And yet thoughts of a pacific equilibrium are far from anyone’s mind in the real, existing Middle East. In the 2012 campaign, Obama spoke not only of killing Osama bin Laden; he also said that Al Qaeda had been “decimated.” I pointed out that the flag of Al Qaeda is now flying in Falluja, in Iraq, and among various rebel factions in Syria; Al Qaeda has asserted a presence in parts of Africa, too.

“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 said, resorting to an uncharacteristically flip analogy.

At the time, ISIS/ISIL was one of those "various rebel factions in Syria." Obama thus characterized it as being among the "jayvee." Josh Earnest is trying to rewrite the context of what Obama said. Nice try, guy, but no sale.

[6] — How rich is that? One of Barack Obama's biggest fanboys is the guy who threw Obama a softball, on which the President completely whiffed. In a NewsBusters post appearing just before this one, Curtis Houck quotes Todd as admitting this morning that the President and the White House have, in Matt Lauer's words, "no vision for dealing with ISIS as an emerging threat."

The reason Obama's "no strategy" remark is so problematic is that it articulated a pattern of foreign policy drift which has become all too apparent — and dangerous.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.