Obama’s Big Gaffe on ISIS: Says “We don’t have a strategy yet.”
The White House has been in damage control mode. Once again a politician has made a foot-in-mouth gaffe that can hurt and/or define him. And this time it was President Barack Obama — bigtime. [icopyright one button toolbar]
At a time when a new poll by the respected company Pew Research finds Americans now feel the U.S. doesn’t do enough to solve world problems and that 54% feel Obama is not tough enough, Obama, in trying to explain that he’s working to develop a cohesive strategy to combat the threat from terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) said this when asked about wider military action by the U.S.: ““I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet.”
The reaction from Republicans was predictable. It was an early Christmas present — a toy they can use extensively in the November elections.
And the scrambling by administration official was perceptible:
In an interview with CNN, [press secretary Josh] Earnest said Obama was only referring to potential military strikes within Syria.
“Those options are still being developed by the Pentagon,” Earnest said.
He added that Obama “was asked a specific question about what approach he was going to pursue about possible military action in Syria.”
The White House spokesman said Obama had for months described a “comprehensive strategy” to deal with the threat posed by terrorists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who have established a foothold in both countries.
“Our strategy is much broader than just the use of military force,” Earnest said.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki appeared shortly after Earnest on the network, also looking to clean up the president’s remarks.
“I think it’s important to note here that the president has already begun implementing his strategy to defeat [ISIS],” Psaki said, noting that the administration was working toward “building international coalitions” to combat the terror group.
Separately, Earnest took to social media to argue in a series of six tweets the president “was explicit — as he has been in the past — about the comprehensive strategy that we’ll use to confront” the threat posed by ISIS.
White House aides began quickly contacting reporters just minutes after the press conference looking to explain the president’s comments.
One White House official said Obama was “candid” in describing the strategy during his press conference. The official noted that the president said he had directed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a range of options and that he planned to meet later Thursday with his National Security Council staff to “continue to develop that strategy.”
Reaction on Twitter was immediate and still underway early Friday morning:
Obama has no strategy for defeating ISIS who wants to eliminate us but had one for a cop defending himself in Ferguson. Priorities.
— PoliticallyIncorrect (@McCarthyKnew) August 29, 2014
ISIS threatening to behead another American. Obama has no strategy.
— Hair (@SHannitysHair) August 29, 2014
— Georgia (@CureOurCountry) August 29, 2014
Uproar in media over Obama's no strategy on ISIS remark. Bush guys had a strategy for victory in Iraq… How did that work out for us?
— Dave (@YouGiveMeFever7) August 29, 2014
— i100 (@thei100) August 29, 2014
WH seems to be rushing to clean up POTUS' “no strategy” comment. Aggressively tweeting/emailing reporters. http://t.co/IcT12il8b0
— Andrew Kaczynski (@BuzzFeedAndrew) August 29, 2014
Obama’s ISIL strategy involves arugula, the White House garden, a stern look, and no soft drinks. #BOOM
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) August 28, 2014
Obama has not decided on a strategy with ISIS Bush was the decider… Maybe we try the no strategy thing this time
— Political Line (@PoliticaILine) August 28, 2014
Is a gaffe like this no big deal? As The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza points out, there is a big cost:
By now, President Obama’s remark that “We don’t have a strategy yet” has made the rounds. Republicans were quick to pounce on it, as well they should have.
But while the White House went into damage-control mode, emphasizing that it was a reference to the lack of decisions about increasing military action in Iraq and/or Syria and not a lack of a broader strategy there, the damage was already done.
As with all gaffes, the worst ones are the ones that confirm people’s pre-existing suspicions or fit into an easy narrative. That’s why “47 percent” stung Mitt Romney so much, and its why “don’t have a strategy” hurts Obama today.
And the short and long term impact?
Will this gaffe push a whole bunch of voters into the GOP column in November? Of course not. But it certainly helps the GOP make the case that Obama’s foreign policy continues to “lead from behind.” And to the extent foreign policy matters in the coming election (which it’s starting to look like it could), that could put some red-state Democrats in tough positions.
Moreso, though, this strikes us as a legacy problem for Obama. For a president confronting a bunch of overseas crises in the final two-plus years of his presidency – including ones that involve or could involve U.S. force. — “don’t have a strategy yet” could become a pretty unhelpful shorthand for his foreign policy if things don’t go well.
Kind of like “lead from behind” … or “47 percent.”
Indeed: there was an old line in Hollywood aimed at those filmmakers who wanted to add big messages in movies: “If you want to send a message, send it Western Union.” The phrase “we have no strategy” may not be the best message to send a terrorist organization that’s carving out a state and is funded by some $2 billion.
Other likely impacts:
–Hillary Clinton will move to the right on foreign policy to distance herself from perceptions about Obama, particularly in light of this statement.
–The “war” within the GOP over foreign policy will intensify as new polls continue to show that the gains made by Obama and Democrats on foreign policy are now evaporating. Sen. Rand Paul’s brand of Republicanism, which some thinks gives off the aura of 1960s Democratic McGoverism, could face even tougher resistance from Republican conservative and establishment types.
–A solidifying of the media around the idea that Obama is ad libbing on foreign policy and may not have a secure handle on it.
–A boost to Obama and charges of an “October surprise” if a month before the election there is some kind of high profile military action. As we’ve seen a zillion times before, the conventional wisdom and a political narrative can be totally tossed out the window (with those who advocated it seemingly trying to make sure readers or viewers forget what they used to say with absolute certainty) and a new one could emerge. Obama strikes back, etc.
But for now, the White House is scrambling to remove the foot in Obama’s mouth.