The rapid-fire shifts and changes in direction of the Obama administration in the sudden turn to war on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS; the overnight decision to invade Syria, then not; and on other more mundane matters throughout his tenure as president and before suggest a pattern of advice and decision-making not by a committee or professional group, which tend instead to slow, predictable and overly cautious action. Rather, these quirky and chronic twists of America's fate suggest a pattern of advice given to the president and taken by him from one specific individual again and again; probably the same individual giving him advice over the longer career; advice he respects and defaults to over and over, misunderstanding it every time to be intuitive. Here on the outside I can think of the one or two people who that very well might be. My guess it is obvious to many Washington insiders, if not all of them.
But I can think of no other time in American history when a president would decide overnight on a war that would run a decade. President Franklin Roosevelt and Gen. George Marshall waited years for their moment. This appears to be a random and spontaneous response to three tragic executions by terrorists. But that is the antithesis of leadership. And the discipline of President Obama's "team" on foreign affairs now and forever has all the cohesion of a bureau drawer of lost socks.
"I don't really even need George Kennan right now," President Obama said famously back in February in a New Yorker interview. Harvard historian Niall Ferguson responded that "a George Kennan is exactly what he needs: someone with the regional expertise and experience to craft a credible strategy for the U.S., as Kennan did when he proposed the 'containment' of the Soviet Union in the late 1940s."
But he has none and America's enemies play him like a fiddle. The president was asked recently by "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft about comments from Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperAfghanistan disaster puts intelligence under scrutiny Domestic security is in disarray: We need a manager, now more than ever Will Biden provide strategic clarity or further ambiguity on Taiwan? MORE, who said the U.S. not only underestimated ISIS, it also overestimated the ability and will of the Iraqi military to fight the extremist group.
"That's true," Obama said. "That's absolutely true."
So heads will roll, no? No.
Meanwhile, The Sunday Times reports that a former head of the U.K. military warns that ISIS "will never be defeated by air attacks alone and [W]estern governments are wrong to rule out deploying their own ground troops." And the National Review and others say the "Khorasan" group — said to be a new terrorist group which justified the current air attacks — does not exist, which brings nefarious suggestions of a false flag. And The Independent asks this week: "War against Isis [sic]: It's started, but do we know what we're doing?"
Perhaps after all, Obama does need a Kennan or even a Marshall. The next best thing: The president should bring in former Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan and former Sen. Jim Webb. (D-Va.) He is an American legend who will hold the people's trust and he has a Jacksonian distrust of Washington which America badly needs today to restore confidence. He was singularly right on Iraq from the very beginning.
Webb has suggested that he may run for president in 2016, but that can wait a year. It is a mystery indeed why he was not made secretary of Defense in Obama's second term. Possibly politics and Obama's special friends got in the way. If so, politics will be the end of us.
Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.