Bruce Levine's picture

    President Obama's Address to the Nation

    Tomorrow evening This evening at 9 a.m. eastern time,  President Obama will address the nation and is expected to focus on ISIS, the threat he believes ISIS poses, and the the outlines of a strategy going forward to deal with any threat he identifies.  It is a difficult speech, both for political reasons, but more importantly because he will be speaking to a number of very different domestic and international constituencies in this one address.  Notably, many of the president's base supporters, people who have stayed with him from the beginning, have done so in large measure because they have trusted him to avoid the urge to solve the world's problems through the barrel of a gun. As to the president, whatever one thinks of him overall, I think it is fair to say that he does not look to involve the nation's military unless he determines that there really are no other viable options. 

    With the foregoing in mind I have been thinking about what I would like to take away from the president's address. Here are some questions that I would hope to be addressed in one way or another tomorrow night:

    1.  Why is it in America's national interest to eliminate ISIS? Is it humanitarian? Is it a threat to allies in addition to Iraq?  Is the president concerned that ISIS fighters will return to home countries and commit acts of terror on the American mainland and elsewhere?  

    2.   What is the end game?  What happens when ISIS is defeated?  Honestly, I don't think the president knows an answer to this question and it's not his fault -- because we don't have crystal balls.  But I think that the president needs to project an end game as candidly as he is able to.

    3. How do we reach the end of the game?  Most importantly, can the president identify the ground troops that will occupy territory taken back from ISIS and who will provide intelligence for additional strikes?  Do they exist?  Are American special forces ground troops?

    4. What is the coalition that the president seeks to build and how much of that can he discuss with specificity?  What nations will he refer to expressly and why?  What nations won't he mention and why?

    5.  What if we can't get a coalition that includes necessary ground troops?  Do we do it by ourselves?

    6.   Are there red lines, e.g. ground troops, that the president will discuss?  Do we detect a change with respect to what we understand to be the red line pertaining to the use of ground troops?    

    7.  Are we overreacting?  Seriously, is this real?  The point is that Americans have reason to be skeptical.

    8.  Are their alternatives to the intervention contemplated?  If the fear is the potential for domestic terrorism, for example, how does that relate to defeating ISIS at its base?  In short, does the national interest warrant the type of intervention that the president will outline?

    9.  Will he discuss things like the cost of the anticipated intervention?  We've gone through tax cuts timed with interventions overseas in our recent past.  

    10.  Finally, Congress is currently in session for a few days as I understand it.  Will he push for authorization? Will he ask Congress for anything? Should he?  

    I would welcome the chance to read what other folks are hoping or expecting to hear tomorrow night, and to comment on some of the questions I pose above.  

    I do think that we all need to tune in tomorrow night and listen very carefully to what the president has to say.  Perhaps that is the most important point of agreement.  

    Bruce S. Levine

    New York, New York




    Excellent on every point. I'm hoping to hear an emphasis on Turkey (military manpower base of 40 million) or Saudi Kingdom of Princely Playboys putting boots on the ground in the war zone. Turkey has a huge military, but saving Muslim lives from Muslim killers isn't on Erdogran's to do list, which is topped by sending 'relief ships' to the terrorist run Gaza. They want the US to do the very expensive and messy job of policing their own neighborhood.

    They will never do it themselves, they will never do even a tiny bit of it themselves. CBS:

    "Trust is so low, especially in the Gulf region, for Obama's leadership quality and the way he manages foreign policy. I don't think any country is going to put its hand up or neck out by accepting an alliance with the U.S. that easily,....that the U.S. will have to do some convincing -- and likely enticing -- to get them into the fight......"They are not going to jump in the pool for nothing."

    The rich Gulf fiefdoms don't like Obama's 'leadership quality' because he decided the US could not afford, or sustain politically, the invasion and occupation of Mesopotamia forever.

    In my opinion the Arabs are a bunch of hypocritical big spending sybarites who think their money can buy them everything, including US lives to clean up their neighborhood when the radical Sunni nutcases they support get out of hand.

    On Turkey, the largest Muslim nation in the region, NATO member and bordering both Syria and Iraq, and the cagy duplicitous Arabs, NYT today:

    On Sunday, Arab League foreign ministers agreed to take necessary measures to confront ISIS, but they made no specific commitments. On Monday, a meeting between Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Turkish officials did not result in any firm announcement.

    The fact is ISIS threatens what had been the growing hegemony of Iran in the region, and the Iran proxy force, Hezbollah, if we weaken ISIS, pro-Iran Iraq and Syria's Assad will be strengthened and will middle finger us as we bury our dead.


    It would be interesting to see the response, if ISIL's escape route is redirected towards these fence straddlers.

    From a military standpoint  Secure Northern Iraq and Baghdad.

    GOP's Okie division, Tom Cole of Oklahoma: "Cole called the (Congress IS funding) vote “a no-brainer. If you can’t unite the world or Congress against ISIL, I mean, really?”

    You don't have to "unite the world" you have to unite the tribes, the despots, rich terrorist supporters, Sunnis, Shiites, Turks, sheiks, Mullahs and assorted dissembling hypocrites of the Middle East. A Mission Impossible.

    Or, don't ask them to jump in the pool, wait for the IS pool to rise around their chickenshit ass in Mecca....wouldn't that be an event! Could Monaco or London hold the whole Saudi royal family and hangers on all at once?

    Definitely a complicated soup NCD, that is for sure. And my laundry list of things to look for tomorrow night is not going to fit into the kind of speech the president will be giving.  It's not likely to be that long and it almost has to be short on certain security-related details, but I think he will at least try to do the following:

    1.  Attempt to define the potential direct threat. Explain lack of options.

    2.  Explain the end game.  From what I heard from WH spokesperson Josh Earnest today (transcript isn't available yet), the endgame is the destruction of ISIS, period.  That to me means that the Administration really is betting the house on a broad coalition with ground support for the region.

    3. Discuss strategy with as much detail as possible, and try to connect plans to Items 1 and 2.

    No simple task.  Thanks for comments.

    I think that is a good list of questions and I hope some of them get answered. Regardless, whatever President Obama says should be viewed, IMO, in the context of what we [think] we  already know.
     One important consideration is that the Middle East is not the only place on the planet where we might get more deeply involved, might end up in combat even if inadvertently, maybe because a bluff got called.

    Everybody's favorite, G. Greenwald offers some thoughts to consider:

    Americans Now Fear ISIS Sleeper Cells Are Living in the U.S., Overwhelmingly Support Military Action
    (1) I’ve long considered this September, 2003 Washington Post poll to be one the most extraordinary facts about the post-9/11 era. It found that – almost 2 years after 9/11, and six months after the invasion of Iraq – “nearly seven in 10 Americans believe it is likely that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the Sept. 11 attacks . . . .  A majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents believe it’s likely Saddam was involved.” ...

    Is it even possible to imagine more potent evidence of systemic media failure than that (or systemic success, depending on what you think the media’s goal is)?

    Some of the implications of the situation in Ukriane and how we got there, and also some opinions offered by good ol' P. Buchanan. We might get war in more than one part of the world if the mongers and/or the idiots get their way.

    "I say to the people of Estonia and the people of the Baltics, today we are bound by our treaty alliance. ... Article 5 is crystal clear: An attack on one is an attack on all. So if ... you ever ask again, 'who'll come to help,' you'll know the answer — the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America."

    That was Barack Obama in Tallinn, Estonia, last week, reissuing a U.S. war guarantee to the tiniest of the Baltic republics — which his Cold War predecessors would have regarded as certifiable madness.

    From 1945 to 1989, no president would have dreamed of issuing a blank check for war in Eastern Europe. Our red line was in the heart of Germany. It said to Moscow: Cross the Elbe, and we fight.

    That red line was made credible by hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops permanently stationed in West Germany.

    And, there is this. If we continues to make air strikes our go-to policy and we are being told the truth about no American boots on the ground, who will be calling the shots? Are willing to let ... who anywhere in the Middle East do we trust enough? ... to direct who we drop our bombs on for an extended period of time. . 

    I doubt Greenwald is right in saying that air strikes will strengthen ISIS. If that is true, shouldn't ISIS be winning? The bombing may not inflame anti-American sentiment, since not many Arabs seem to like ISIS.

      I think the bombing is probably an error.


    Barber Conable a crusty conservative from up state NY used to describe himself as a "raging incrementalist". The British version of the same principle is "suck it and see".

    Like everyone else  I'd enjoy hearing Obama answer each one of your candidates , but I hope he only covers your first item. And then stops.

    Anything beyond that will just be making a rod for his own back:

    So I'll be listening/watching but I hope it'll only last 15 minutes , including applause.

    Remnicik is of course thoughtful. And thoughtfully supported  the Iraq War (New Yorker, Feb 3 2003).

    Ideally Obama would have delayed tonight's speech until after the election (at the risk of sounding callous I am more interested in protecting Obamacare than in the endless Middle East situation) but I accept that the President has an obligation to explain  when he takes a step which will put military lives at risk-which no doubt is what's about to happen.

    So if he must "address the nation" I hope he restricts himself to explaining why it's right to attack Isis right now. And spares us any optimistic forecasts about peace and harmony in that area which is never going to happen.


    Saddam was a keystone in the Middle East that kept factions, like Al Qaida and now ISIS at bay. Iran was extremely fearful he did have nukes and they knew he would use them in a heartbeat, so they kept a low profile. Once the US invaded and no WMD's were uncovered, Iran has been making up for lost time and will be considered to be a hostile threat in the region if they succeed in developing a bomb. And while Assad wasn't on good terms with anyone, he kept a tight lid on dissidents to maintain control.


    In short, the Middle East is a hot bed of radicals that needs someone to keep it all under control. ISIS is what you get when you don't have a Saddam running roughshod over them.


    Better to let them fight it out amongst themselves and once the dust settles look who walks out.


    But what the west has yet to realize is the average person in the Middle East has learned they can easily intimidate the west ... fly airplanes into buildings, IED's, suicide bombers and so forth ... we're scared to death of them and they know they can use the threat as a way to get what they want.


    If the west understood Islam, they would know life on the Earth is like sitting in a waiting room waiting for your turn to go into the next room. It's important to move on and not dally in the waiting room ... their reward is waiting for them on the other side of the door.

    I don't know if this war is justified, but I sympathize with Obama. He's faced with a near--impossible situation and it was created by Bush and Cheney, not him.

    Encouraging that Obama compared the Syria/Iraq mission to Somalia and Yemen.

    Somalia has, of course, been a terrorist mess for 25 years or so and still is, Yemen not as bad but for a decade or more. In fact, the world has pretty much written off Somalia.

    No  shock and awe solutions. No Lone Ranger USA to the rescue.  No Pontius Bremer issuing edicts from the Green Zone of Damascus.

    The people in the region will have to do the heavy lifting. Even if it takes decades.

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