Presidents give prime-time, televised speeches for one of two reasons: to reassure the nation during times of crisis, or to lay out major shifts in policy. After two major terror attacks in less than three weeks laid bare the futility of his foreign and military policy, Barack Obama needed to do both last night.
He failed miserably.
First, let me give praise where praise is due: the President finally admitted that the Ft. Hood shootings were an act of terrorism. It only took him 5 years to get around to admitting that. At that rate, he’ll admit that ISIS, Al-Qeada, Boko Haram, etc., are offshoots (at the very least) of Islam somewhere around 2025. Who knows? Perhaps one day he’ll even identify Wahibism and the Saudi government as the biggest sponsor of terrorism and religious warfare in history.
as mentioned, this was a prime-time speech, and the White House pulled out all the stops. Think of the Oval Office addresses you’ve heard in your lifetime. Think of Ronald Reagan, after the Challenger accident. Think George H. Bush, announcing the war to liberate Kuwait. Now compare that to last night’s performance.
First, there were the strange optics. I can’t fathom what message Obama was trying to visually convey. (Nobody else can, either). A podium, in front of the Resolute desk in the Oval Office? I know the Oval Office is actually a rather small workspace, but this is the first time I’ve seen it presented in a way that made it seem smaller than it actually is. And why one earth were the curtains open in the background?
The speech itself was incredibly tone deaf. The only way the President could have possibly reassured the nation was to announce a chnage in policy, a new strategy, for dealing with Islamic terrorism. Instead, we got a lecture: my policies are working, dummies. Maybe he thinks we haven’t been paying attention and didn’t already know that 70% of the airstrikes launched return without firing a shot. Maybe he didn’t understand that we see ISIS beheading unarmed civilians on YouTube daily. It could be that he thought we forgot about the “hashtag war” against Boko Haram. It might even be that he forgot he told us Al-Qeada is “on the run” again – right before they took over a hotel in Mali. After all, he also assured us that “ISIS is contained” (day before the Paris nightmare) and that “ISIS cannot strike in the US” (2 days before San Bernadino).
No, he told us his weak coalition, leading from behind, and being kind to Muslims is the key to winning. He doubled down on admitting refugees (albeit, recognizing that maybe his vetting process isn’t exactly vetting anything). And he once again demanded more gun control – although this time with a twist. Rather than just outright banning the Second Amendment, he suggests using a the no-fly list (universally recognized as a flawed program, rife with errors) to abridge those individuals Fifth Amendment rights and thereby nullify their Second Amendment rights. He actually had the nerve to ask “what possible objection” anyone could have to that suggestion. Talk about ideology over national interest – there was a perfect example, if ever he gave one.
Last night was much more than a confusing, flawed speech from a failed President. It might as well have been Obama’s farewell address. Barack Obama, the man who built a Presidency on rhetoric and pageantry more than any in recent memory – perhaps in American history – found the rhetoric leaving him when he needed it most, found the pageantry reduced to a confusing scene when he most needed to seem in charge. The saddest part of it is that we still have him in the White House for another 14 months. That’s 14 months the world will be left to deal with the Jihadists as best we can.
God help us.