After months of delay, with his administration finally spinning up and beginning to execute a plan against ISIS -- the world's richest terrorist outfit busily tearing apart two Middle East nations with more on the chopping block -- President Barack Obama is at last signaling that he may be ready to reverse one of his most foolish and perplexing stances. That is his refusal to strike against ISIS in Syria because it would aid the Assad regime in continuing to exist.
But the failed special forces mission he ordered earlier this summer to rescue journalist James Foley, since beheaded in a jihadist video spectacular, pointed up the incongruity of Obama's position. The Delta Force raid took place in northern Syria, obviously the staging area and stronghold for ISIS. Yet Obama had in essence declared it a safe haven from US air strikes.
Now a number of administration officials, from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey to, following in his wake, decidedly non-military types like Deputy National Security Advisors Ben Rhodes and Press Secretary Josh Earnest, are signaling that anti-ISIS strikes in Syria may be about to begin. Navy and Air Force surveillance missions have begun over Syria.
Assuming that Obama is serious in taking on ISIS, it's about damn time.
It's becoming all too obvious that the administration seriously underestimated ISIS even as it undertook its fateful rampage across Iraq after capturing much of northern Syria. Obama, as the New York Times revealed, derided ISIS as "the JV" (junior varsity) of jihadism even as it was amassing territory, wealth, and strategic resources well beyond the reach of its parent Al Qaeda. One assumes the president was being unintentionally amusing.
And Obama's administration was locked in to some dangerous old conceptions of things. Namely, that Iraq, the rather hastily considered construct of a secret imperial deal between Britain and France in World War I, was a real country. And that defeating the Assad regime in Syria, which is not a threat militarily or ideologically to the US, was more important than preventing the rise of ISIS.
So, to preserve the fiction of "Iraq" a while longer, Obama refused to act against ISIS until there was a new pro-Iranian, Shia-centric prime minister, this one untainted by a personal history of oppressing Sunnis and Kurds.
And to preserve the fiction that America might intervene heavily in the Syrian civil war -- an action Obama had nearly careened into last year with a prime time address to a very startled America -- Obama categorically ruled out air strikes within Syria, across the border that ISIS had already obviously erased.
Not that Russia and Iran were ever going to allow their longtime Assad family allies to fall, of course. Especially after Russia helped Obama by getting Assad to dispose of his chemical weapons.
Finally, however, the light may be dawning for the Obama administration, at least with regard to ISIS assets in what had been territory controlled by the Syrian government.
If it happens, it's good news. Too bad it's so slow and late.
Frankly, one doubts that Beijing -- which triggered an aerial incident between one of its jet fighters and a Navy surveillance plane over international waters in the South China Sea, virtually all of which China astoundingly claims as sovereign territory -- is impressed by the decision making it's seeing here.
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