Thursday, March 24, 2016

The new normal since President Obama declared "We will not accept attacks like Paris as the new normal."

 Attacks targeting civilians linked to or inspired by ISIS - from NYT

Declaring War On The New Normal

Last fall, in the wake of the October ISIS bombing in Ankara (103 dead), ISIS destruction of an Russian plane over Egypt (224 dead), the November ISIS bombing in Beirut (43 dead) and ISIS massacre in Paris (130 dead), President Obama said"We will not accept attacks on civilians in places like Paris as the new normal."

After the December ISIS inspired massacre in San Bernardino (14 dead), we wrote a post analyzing  President Obama's speech outlining his strategy to degrade and destroy ISIS. After reading the Graeme Wood Atlantic article entitled  "What ISIS Really Wants" we concluded the Obama strategy would do absolutely nothing to change the "new normal" terror dynamic until and unless the ISIS "Caliphate" was dislodged from Syria and Iraq:
The simple fact is this -  only ground troops can remove an enemy from territory they hold. And if we don't remove them - despite the President's platitudes - Paris and San Bernardino and the downed Russian Airliner are the new normal, and nothing will change that. 
We have a choice. We can continue a low grade war of attrition against ISIS (think "body counts" and Vietnam), with no firm timetable or strategy to decisively destroy ISIS and wait for ISIS and the Caliphate to wear down and collapse.  Or we can adopt a more focused assertive military posture and decisively remove ISIS from the territory they claim as a Caliphate. It does not have to be our ground troops, but is has to be a significant, overwhelming force. In either case, for whatever length of time the Caliphate is permitted to exist, Americans, Europeans, moderate Muslims and "infidels" the world over will continue to be gunned down, bombed, stabbed and massacred in these random "soft-target" attacks launched by True Believers in the Caliphate. Welcome to the New Normal."
Current Status Of The New Normal - President Obama talks the talk.

Since the San Bernardino massacre in December, the Obama administration has been repeatedly questioned by the press and Congress about the status of the President's strategy to defeat ISIS. Administration flacks and the President himself cite bombing sortie statistics, body counts, and incremental territorial gains as evidence that the strategy is working. More recently the President continued to talk the talk, as exemplified by his comments during his historic visit to Cuba in the first minutes of an exhibition baseball game. Here he is interviewed by ESPN on the very day of the ISIS attack in Brussels ...
"President Barack Obama on Tuesday vowed to "go after" the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, in the first apparent official confirmation that the U.S. believes the terrorist group was indeed behind the Brussels attacks that left at least 34 dead. “The notion that any political agenda would justify the killing of innocent people like this is something that's beyond the pale. We are gonna continue with the over 60 nations that are pounding ISIL, and we're going to go after them,” Obama said, speaking to ESPN at the top of the third inning in a historic baseball game in Cuba."
It was a sentiment he repeated the next day in a press conference during his state visit to Argentina:
“My top priority is to defeat ISIL and to eliminate the scourge of this barbaric terrorism that’s been taking place around the world,” Mr. Obama said. “This is difficult work,” he added. “It’s not because we don’t have the best and the brightest working on it, it’s not because we are not taking the threat seriously, it is because it’s challenging to find and identify very small groups of people who are willing to die themselves and can walk into a crowd and detonate a bomb.”
Since the president made his comments about the "new normal" after the horrors last fall, the  New York Times has reported 12 additional ISIS related terrorist attacks, comprising of at least 100 civilian deaths in Yemen, Libya, Egypt, France, Turkey, United States, Indonesia and, most recently - on March 22, 2016 - in Brussels, Belgium.

The graphic at the top and addendum at the end of this post have been updated with the ISIS terror statistics added since our last "new normal" post.

Explaining The New Normal - President Obama thinks you worry too much.

Some question how sincere President Obama may be about defeating ISIS and "the scourge of this barbaric terrorism", when he chose to spend the entire day at a baseball game with the Cuban Dictator Raoul Castro. Yes, it was a historic event for the two countries, and yes, it was deserving of a presidential spotlight. But the bombing perpetrators and victim's DNA was still being collected as their remains were cleaned up in the Brussels airport and train station.  Tom Brokaw didn't think it was a good look:
“So much of politics and national security is a combination of symbolism and reality,” he said. “The reality is that we did have that attack yesterday. It was unnerving to us, it was devastating in Europe... But at the same time, the symbolism is that the president stayed at the baseball game all day long where you would have thought he would have said, ‘Look, we’ve got more business that I have to deal with, I wish you well,’ and get on the phone,” Brokaw said."
Brokaw is right about the optics. But what Brokaw missed is that the symbolism Obama is communicating by spending his day watching baseball in Cuba is, in fact, the President's sincere conviction about the relative importance of ISIS sponsored terrorism. Look to the President's official statements in press conferences, speeches, and briefings to find where he is being disingenuous and misleading about the beliefs that inform his policies.

If we want to clearly understand the President's real views on ISIS, we need look no further than the current issue of The Atlantic. Jeffrey Goldberg deconstructs "The Obama Doctrine" in an opus developed with extraordinary access to the President and his team over much of his administration:
"My goal in our recent conversations was to see the world through Obama’s eyes, and to understand what he believes America’s role in the world should be. This article is informed by our recent series of conversations, which took place in the Oval Office; over lunch in his dining room; aboard Air Force One; and in Kuala Lumpur during his most recent visit to Asia, in November. It is also informed by my previous interviews with him and by his speeches and prolific public ruminations, as well as by conversations with his top foreign-policy and national-security advisers, foreign leaders and their ambassadors in Washington, friends of the president and others who have spoken with him about his policies and decisions, and his adversaries and critics."
This is what Goldberg determined President Obama really believes about ISIS terrorism. These quotes explain his convictions, philosophy, foreign policy, administration actions, and even explains the baseball game:
  • “ISIS is not an existential threat to the United States”
  • "The rise of the Islamic State deepened Obama’s conviction that the Middle East could not be fixed—not on his watch, and not for a generation to come."
  • "... he has never believed that terrorism poses a threat to America commensurate with the fear it generates." 
  • "Obama frequently reminds his staff that terrorism takes far fewer lives in America than handguns, car accidents, and falls in bathtubs do."
  • "Several years ago, he expressed to me his admiration for Israelis’ “resilience” in the face of constant terrorism, and it is clear that he would like to see resilience replace panic in American society."
  • "The president also gets frustrated that terrorism keeps swamping his larger agenda, particularly as it relates to rebalancing America’s global priorities."
The New Normal - President Obama walks the walk more talk.

We can agree or disagree with the President's view of ISIS terrorism. But we cannot dispute this simple observation -- One of these presidential quotes is not like the others:
  1. "Our top priority is to defeat ISIL"
  2. "Remember that terrorism takes fewer lives than falls in bathtubs"
  3. "Americans need to be more resilient and keep terrorism in it's proper perspective"
I am reminded of this photo-shopped image that was widely distributed during the catastrophic Katrina response in 2005...

The image was, of course,  wrong and completely unfair. But it captured the gestalt of the moment, the helplessness and anger many Americans felt about what appeared to be the callous incompetence of emergency government services failing to help the people of New Orleans.

Which brings us to another interesting gem from the Goldberg piece "... [Obama's] advisers are fighting a constant rearguard action to keep Obama from placing terrorism in what he considers its “proper” perspective, out of concern that he will seem insensitive to the fears of the American people."  After the ESPN interview at the baseball game, two words come to mind - EPIC FAIL. 

This image may be wrong and completely unfair. But it also may capture the gestalt of the moment, the fear and anger many Americans feel about what appears to be this administration's indifferent, inadequate and/or completely incompetent prosecution of the war against the ISIS butchers. 

Perhaps the Obama Doctrine of attrition and application of minimum necessary force will ultimately work. Perhaps it will slowly degrade, decapitate and demoralize ISIS to the point where the "Calipahate" that inspires fanatical murder and mayhem around the globe collapses of it's own accord. Perhaps. 

But let's not delude ourselves. For every minute the "Obama Doctrine" permits ISIS to claim control of a continuing "Caliphate" in Iraq and Syria, the "New Normal" of random bombings, stabbings, shootings, murder and mayhem that we have seen worldwide for the last two years will continue unabated.

But don't worry. President Obama wants you to become resilient in the face of these low probability atrocities, and be assured by the knowledge that falling in the bathtub is statistically more dangerous to you than the threat of ISIS.  I know I take comfort in that knowledge. And the fact that ISIS is doing their best to obtain chemical, biological, cyber, and nuclear weapons should not bother us at all. It is very unlikely that they will succeed.


UPDATE: File under "Great Minds Think Alike" - The Economist cover story:  "Europe's New Normal":
"The coalition has made progress against IS in its caliphate, which is shrinking and losing people. But eradicating it needs Iraqi troops (as yet unprepared) and ground forces in Syria (as yet non-existent). Meanwhile, IS’s ability to command and inspire terrorists will persist and, anyway, the West has its own, self-radicalised jihadists to deal with. 
Many will dread the struggle ahead and regret the never-ending contest between security and liberty. But as long as jihadists threaten the West, there is no escaping the need to act. Welcome to the new normal."


Finally - as an FYI - While we wait for the Obama Doctrine to play itself out, a review of the last four months of "New Normal." Just so you know what to resiliently expect...

Addendum from the New York Times:
The New Normal 
Descriptions of Major ISIS Attacks
Since San Bernardino Massacre on Dec 2, 2016

Mar. 22, 2016BelgiumA series of deadly terrorist attacks struck Brussels, with two explosions at the city’s main international airport and a third in a subway station at the heart of the city, near the headquarters complex of the European Union. MORE »
Mar. 19, 2016TurkeyA suicide bombing on Istanbul's busiest thoroughfare killed three Israeli citizens and an Iranian. Two of the Israelis held dual Israeli-American citizenship. MORE »
Mar. 4, 2016YemenGunmen killed 18 people at a nursing home founded by Mother Teresaand run by Christian nuns. MORE »
Jan. 29, 2016YemenA bomb-packed car driven by a suicide attacker exploded at a checkpoint near the presidential palace in the southern city of Aden, killing at least eight people. MORE »
Jan. 14, 2016IndonesiaISIS claimed responsibility for explosions and gunfire that rocked central Jakarta, killing at least two civilians. MORE »
Jan. 12, 2016TurkeyA Syrian suicide bomber set off an explosion in the historic central districtof Istanbul, killing 10 people and wounding at least 15 others, in an attack the Turkish government attributed to ISIS. MORE »
Jan. 11, 2016FranceA teenager attacked a Jewish teacher with a machete in Marseille, and afterward told the police that he had carried out the attack in the name of God and the Islamic State.
Jan. 8, 2016EgyptGunmen reportedly carrying an ISIS flag opened fire at a Red Sea resort, injuring at least two tourists. MORE »
Jan. 7, 2016EgyptISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on a hotel in Cairo near the Giza Pyramids. No one was hurt. MORE »
Jan. 7, 2016PennsylvaniaA man shot and wounded a Philadelphia police officer sitting in a patrol car in the name of Islam and the Islamic State, police said. MORE »
Jan. 4, 2016LibyaIslamic State militants attempted to capture an oil port along Libya’s coast, in fighting that left at least seven people dead.
Dec. 7, 2015YemenThe Islamic State claimed responsibility for a car bomb that killed a provincial governor and eight of his body guards. MORE »
Dec. 2, 2015CaliforniaA married couple shot and killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif.The FBI is investigating the shooting as an act of terrorism inspired by ISIS. MORE »

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