Up, Mr. President
Wall Street Journal
President Obama on Sunday promised to “redouble”
U.S. efforts against Islamic State, which shows he isn’t deaf to the political
impact of Friday’s murderous assault in Paris. But why should anyone believe
him? After years of dismissing the rising terror threat, Mr. Obama needs an
epiphany if he doesn’t want to be remembered as the President who allowed
radical Islam to spread and prosper.
“It is an act of war that was waged by a terrorist army, a
jihadist army, by Daesh [the Arab name for Islamic State], against France,”
said French President François Hollande on Saturday, in words that
met the moment. Contrast that to Mr. Obama, who on Friday morning told ABC News
that “we have contained” Islamic State. Some are saying Mr. Obama is guilty
of bad timing, but the truth is worse: The remark is what he believes, or at
least what he has wanted Americans to believe.
The Paris massacre should mark the end of that self-deception. Jimmy
Carter shed his illusions about the Soviet Union after its invasion of
Afghanistan in 1979, and Mr. Obama needs a comparable rendezvous with reality.
This will be harder for Mr. Obama, a man of great ideological vanity, but
perhaps the prospect of defeat for his party in 2016 will force him to see the
world more clearly.
For seven years Mr. Obama has used the unpopularity of the
Iraq war as a shield for his retreat from antiterror leadership and the Middle
East. His periodic drone strikes and his most notable security success, the Osama
bin Laden raid, obscured the jihadist danger growing in the wake of
America’s departure from Iraq and abdication in Syria.
Opinion Journal Video
Gen. Jack Keane on Friday’s terrorist massacre in Paris and
the implications for the war on terror.
Mr. Obama also deposed Moammar Gadhafi in Libya but then did
almost nothing to help Libyans restore order. Americans saw a glimpse of the
gathering storm in the terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, but the
White House blamed it on an obscure video.
Now Americans can see clearly the spreading infection from
Islamic State and a resurgent al Qaeda. It isn’t merely a regional threat, as
Mr. Obama once claimed. Its offshoots have spread into North Africa across the
Middle East to Afghanistan. The civil war in Syria has spawned a refugee crisis
that has descended on Europe and may have provided cover for at least one of the
Islamic State also isn’t the “jayvee” terror team, as
Mr. Obama once claimed. Western intelligence believes its sympathizers in Sinai
took down a Russian airliner. Its bombs explode day after day against civilian
targets, this past week in Beirut and a Christian convent in Iraq.
The Paris attack is in some ways even more alarming than 9/11.
Airplane hijackings have largely been stopped through enhanced security. Paris
suggests that Islamic State has embarked on a strategy of urban unconventional
warfare wherever it is able across the West. And it is far harder to track and
prevent suicidal jihadists with assault rifles and grenades who want to blow up
a restaurant district or concert hall.
France has been the target three times this year, counting the
attack on a train foiled by three Americans, but America’s day is coming. In
May FBI Director James Comey said there are “thousands” inside the
U.S. who are absorbing Islamic State propaganda on the Internet.
The question now is what America’s President is going to do
to prevent more Paris-like carnage, including attacks on U.S. soil. He can start
by taking the political restraints off the U.S. military’s campaign against
Islamic State. Turkey and the Sunni Arabs haven’t committed more to the fight
because they don’t believe Mr. Obama is committed. France launched air strikes
against the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa on Sunday, but the U.S. should
have been hitting those targets long ago.
Mr. Obama should order the Pentagon to roll back Islamic State
from all of its territory in Iraq and Syria as rapidly as possible, which means
months not years. Kurds and Sunni Arabs will provide most of the fighters if the
U.S. supplies the firepower, intelligence and political leadership.
This ought to include taking up the Turks and Jordan on their
desire for safe zones in Syria to protect Sunnis who are fighting the Bashar
Assad regime but aren’t radical jihadists. Iran and Russia will not stand
in the way of a determined U.S.-led coalition that includes France and the Sunni
A similar policy reversal will be needed at home. From his
refusal to speak clearly about the Islamist nature of the threat to his looming
decision to close Guantanamo, Mr. Obama’s every instinct has been to suggest
that America will be safer if we stop provoking jihadists and treat them as
common criminals. Paris shows how mistaken that is.
Mr. Obama would send an important signal if he’d declare
that Guantanamo will not be closed on his watch, and that U.S. surveillance will
increase at home and abroad. It’s hard to know how much Mr. Obama has impaired
U.S. intelligence collection since theSnowden theft, but the President
should repair the damage because any terror attack will be his responsibility.
The Paris massacre means that the terror debate will also move
to the forefront of the presidential campaign. In Saturday night’s Democratic
Clinton tried to edge away from Mr. Obama’s policies by saying that
Islamic State must be “defeated” not merely “contained.” But her policy
prescriptions are still to lead from behind, and she was an architect of the
As for the Republicans, Rand
Paul’s already small chance at the nomination has now vanished. Whatever
his contributions on economics, his libertarian foreign-policy instincts are too
similar to President Obama’s. GOP voters will increasingly look to sort the
other candidates by their experience and judgment, not merely tough talk. The
election should be a referendum on keeping America safe.