When reading The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and Washington Post’s editorials on President Obama’s speech yesterday about James Foley’s beheading, I was struck by how similar they were. As any regular reader of the two papers will know, while it’s not unheard of for their editorial pages to be in agreement, it’s also not typical.
Both editorials used headlines that were very critical of Obama’s tendency to be all words and no action – think, for instance, the President’s “red line” on Syria that turned out to be no line at all. The headlines were:
Wall Street Journal (subscription required): So What Will You Do, Mr. President? Denunciations won’t stop the men who killed James Foley.
Unlike some commentators and pundits, both the WSJ and Washington Post complemented yesterday’s remarks from the President and both quoted the following from his speech:
“[ISIS has] rampaged across cities and villages, killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children, and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims—both Sunni and Shia—by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can for no other reason than they practice a different religion.”
But both also made clear that the current response from the United States is insufficient. The WSJ wrote:
“All of this is horribly true. It was also true a year ago. The question now—what the world wants to know now, Mr. President—is what are you going to do about it?
Six years into this Presidency, we know Barack Obama can do empathy. We know he can channel a family’s grief for a murdered son and express a nation’s outrage. What we don’t know is if he can muster the will and fortitude to defeat an enemy that is growing in strength and danger on his watch. This is what America and the world need from a President when killers are on the march.”
The Washington Post also thought the response was inadequate and picked up on the President’s comment that groups like ISIS ultimately fail:
“[U]rging others into the fray will not be sufficient. Nor is it wise to assume that the Islamic State will collapse under the weight of its cruelty. “People like this ultimately fail,” Mr. Obama said Wednesday. “They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.” That may be so. But history provides too many examples of destroyers who hold power for long stretches of time and do not lose it until they are dislodged by “builders” who are finally roused to action.”
The Wall Street Journal also picked up on the “fail” theme:
“But [James] Foley is dead and his killers won’t fail on their own. They will not fail because Barack Obama reached out his hand in peace on Inauguration Day. They will not fail because of a progressive vision that mankind has finally in the 21st century reached some higher level of being. Like every evil in human history, ISIS will stop only when it is forced to stop. This means only when enough of its fanatics have been killed.”
The Washington Post looked at America’s action (or inaction) in recent years that lead us to this place:
“For three years the United States stood aside as the Islamist extremists built up their strength inside Syria. Washington was surprised in June when they burst into Iraq, captured Mosul and threatened Baghdad and surprised again this month when they threatened Kurdistan. Now, according to most accounts, they are consolidating their hold inside a large swath of territory spanning the two nations even as they fight to expand. They are training hundreds of foreign terrorists, including from Europe and the United States, who could easily slip back into their home countries with malign intent. They proudly proclaim their enmity to America. America needs a genuine strategy in response.”
The Wall Street Journal agreed with the President that a coalition is needed, but also emphasized the need for America to have a strategy and lead. Like the Washington Post, it also examined why ISIS is a threat:
“Mr. Obama also said we will “act against ISIL, standing alongside others.” This is his familiar point that America cannot act alone. And against ISIS he is surely right that the U.S. must mobilize a military and political coalition of the willing. The Iraqis themselves will have to fight to reclaim their lost territory and hold it, as the Kurds have shown this week they are willing to do.
But the lesson of the last century is that a coalition of the willing forms only when America leads. The main reason that ISIS has advanced so far has been the U.S. failure to act against it. Mr. Obama’s refusal to intervene in Syria created a breeding ground for jihadists. And his total withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 created a vacuum for those jihadists to spill over and occupy Sunni Iraq.”
The Wall Street Journal concluded:
“America already is at war again fighting ISIS in Iraq. Mr. President, we share your disgust for James Foley’s killers. What we need to know is whether you are willing to do what it takes to defeat these enemies of America and a civilized world.”