The social media-produced execution of journalist Jim Foley released on Aug. 19 focuses attention on whether President Obama will stay the course in Iraq or take necessary actions to defeat the Islamic State (IS).
Now, in the context of Foley’s execution, will the president stick to hisstrategy of defensive containment or adopt a mini-surge, sending additional military advisors to Iraq in a rollback strategy to defeat IS? The latter, however, makes sense only if the president authorizesconduct raids into Syria, or America’s partners do, because IS forces may flee there as they are attacked in Iraq. And unless Special Operations spotters were deployed to identify IS targets in Syria as spotters do in Iraq, widening the battlefield space would not be as effective.
According to a report in the Washington Post on Friday, the administration has prepared options for legal authority to use force against IS across both Iraq and Syria. They include temporary justification under the War Powers Resolution, constitutional authority for emergency action to protect U.S. citizens, and consulting with the Congress for open-ended authorization to fight IS. But the same article states that the president has not requested to see contingency plans for broader airstrikes in Syria. If the administration goes the open-ended consultation route with Capitol Hill and the president ignores the contingency plans, it might be a signal that he is not serious about defeating IS.
But if the president does adopt a strategy to include Syria, the American people can be persuaded with an Obama-like 2008 address — such a midcourse correction is optimally-timed to save his presidency from further ignominy. As Daniel Pipes wrote, however, “I do not customarily offer advice to a president whose election I opposed,” I also hesitate to make suggestions that might save the Obama presidency. But the national interest in preventing IS from using Iraq and Syria as launching pads to execute attacks overrides political concerns.
According to Real Clear Politics, the president’s overall popularity is quite low: Between July 29 and Aug. 20, 42 percent approved and 52 percent disapproved of the overall job he was doing across nine different polls. The numbers were worse for his handling of foreign affairs, which, between July 29 and Aug. 12, only 35.8 percent of those polled approved versus 53.8 percent who disapproved over six polls.
A poll by Pew-USA TODAY taken Aug. 14 to 17 — prior to release of the execution video — indicates support (54 percent approve, 31 percent disapprove) of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, but concern about getting too involved (51 percent worry about mission creep, 32 percent worry Washington will not do enough to stop the Islamists). Responsibility to act in Iraq increased between July and August, suggesting the assassination will result in greater support for airstrikes and responsibility to act in Iraq.