Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama took heat for saying “we don’t have a strategy yet” for combating the Islamic State. On Sunday, during his “Meet the Press” interview, the president finally said he had a plan. But the American public would have to wait a few more days to hear it, he said.
Obama is set to unveil his strategy against the extremist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, during a prime-time address Wednesday night, but his leadership style has already been criticized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who say his confusing messages project indecisiveness and weakness. He once called them a “JV team", a characterization he tried to downplay during the “Meet the Press” interview. At the same time, Obama has repeatedly shied away from using forceful language to describe his strategy against the militants, saying his plan was to make the organization “manageable” and to “degrade” ISIS.
In recent days, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, knocked Obama for being "too cautious" and U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was baffled at the president’s mixed messages on ISIS.
“One of the first things any commander in chief should do is to describe the threat to our nation’s people, followed immediately with a clearly defined strategy for protecting our homeland as well as proactively eliminating the threat. So, no, I am not satisfied with the president’s handling of addressing the ISIS threat to the American people or our allies,” Marino said in an email to International Business Times. “For a man who has the smartest minds, strategists, military commanders and advisers at his immediate disposal, I am at a loss for an adequate excuse as to why the president has been so muddled in his communications to Congress and our citizens.”
Obama's passivity on foreign policy has been a hallmark of his presidency. In 2011, his administration described the U.S.'s role in Libya as "leading from behind." On Syria, Obama established a "red line" of chemical weapons use, but later backtracked. And in Iraq, Obama initially said the U.S. would lend "military advisers" to the Iraqis to fight ISIS before committing to airstrikes two months later.
Even Obama's most staunch supporters have expressed confusion about his lack of a clear and strong communication to the American public about ISIS.
“Obama’s halting cool at the lectern now reads too often as weakness, and when he protests against the charges of weakness, he can seem just tired,” wrote New Yorker editor David Remnick. “As the Middle East disintegrates and a vengeful cynic in the Kremlin invades his neighbor, Obama has offered no full and clarifying foreign policy vision.”
Obama will have the chance to crystallize his message Wednesday, when he’s scheduled to give a 9 p.m. speech about his plan for ISIS. But the delay has frustrated U.S. lawmakers.
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and an Iraq War veteran, has joined the chorus of voices demanding a strategy.
“He thinks it’s a little bit past due, but at this point we need to hear from” the president, said Kelley McNabb, Collins' spokeswoman.