Many bad things happen when a leader is weak, confused and forever in search of a credible reason to do nothing. For all his softness on Islam, Barack Obama has little insight into the men who send out mobs to cry "death to America." He can't imagine that men can listen to the call to evening Muslim prayer, which so captivated him as a boy growing up in Indonesia — "the prettiest sound on Earth" — and be inspired to dream of bringing down death on America.
The international order so carefully put together, and guarded so faithfully, by American presidents, Democrats and Republicans, after the Cold War was won, has unraveled under this president to the consternation of America's most faithful allies and to the unexpected delight of the nation's considerable enemies. The anarchy that will follow this unraveling will be the legacy he leaves behind him.
"When [Mr.] Obama came to office in 2009," writes Alexander Woolfson in Standpoint magazine, a London political journal, "it would have been unimaginable that a caliphate could be allowed to thrive in the midst of the Middle East, or that a U.S. president would be foolish enough to exploit ancient Persian and Arab enmity for the purposes of American retrenchment. [Mr.] Obama's now familiar refrain is to counsel "strategic patience" while suggesting that America cannot solve every world problem, it can't be policeman to the world. He remains oblivious to the fact that his worldview is the problem. ISIS has created a vision of the future, which [Mr.] Obama appears unable to grasp. Its caliphate is being sustained through the mass murder and repression of those who do not belong."
The president frequently changed his arguments for making his deal with the mullahs in Iran, just as he is making multiple arguments for inviting waves of unvetted Syrians, and the tone of his denunciations of everybody who argues with him grows ever harsher and disrespectful, like his latest pout that anyone would argue with his schemes for opening wide the gates to those who wish America ill. Mr. Obama won't even say where he intends to settle the problematic migrants. Only he is wise enough to understand what he's doing, and no questions will be entertained. We must take it all on faith.
President Obama, unlike Messrs. Hollande and Putin, flinches from the sound of the guns. He orders air strikes, everyone's favorite weapon of war, reluctantly and half-heartedly. In the month before ISIS captured Ramadi, the United States flew 165 air strikes. These numbers bear repeating: Bill Clinton ordered that many in a single day in the campaign in Kosovo. George H.W. Bush ordered 42,000 sorties in a month of Operation Desert Storm. Only Mr. Obama can be surprised when the situation on the ground deteriorates, Iraqi soldiers flee their posts and the black flags of ISIS steadily advance, fluttering in the bluster of White House spin.
He can't talk about a strategy in the Middle East because he doesn't have one. He thinks he doesn't need one because he's confident that ISIS, "the junior varsity," will implode. Hardly anyone agrees with him. Like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders he cannot even bring himself to say the words "radical Islamic violence." If he cannot bring himself to say who the enemy is, and what that enemy is up to, he can hardly deal with that radical Islamic enemy. He says Islamic refugees are no more likely to be violent than Christian refugees. He insists that ISIS is just another manifestation of terrorism, not a caliphate that demands to be recognized as a state. "Nobody," he says, "is under illusions that [ISIS] can actually in a sustained way feed people or educate people or organize a society that would work." Maybe Mr. Obama doesn't know anyone who thinks that, but there are many well-informed people who do. The record is clear that ISIS can indeed operate as a state. It collects garbage and collects taxes — what else must a state do to demonstrate its effectiveness?
"Unable to grasp." That will be the epitaph for the Obama presidency. When an American president says he wants to "lead from behind," the enemies in the Middle East, and there are many, take him at his word and naturally assume that he means he wants to fool about on the margins, make speeches, play a little golf (or a lot), insult those who disagree with him and accuse them them of base motives. Commanders in chief no less than privates and corporals can decamp from sworn duty. Barack Obama's great weakness is that he has never understood America, nor does he apparently want to. The globe is good enough for him.