Let the word go out to friend and foe, terrorist and ally, at home and abroad: President Obama has a strategy to counter the terrorists who call themselves the Islamic State. Really. All previous presidential musings are inoperative.
That seemed to be the main message to emerge from a flurry of White House public relations efforts Wednesday. Whatever else you may take from the announcement of modest steps to be taken in the battle against ISIS, the president's aides wanted you to know that this was all part of a genuine, actual, long-established strategy.
It was no surprise that the flurry came only two days after the president gave his critics more ammunition by rather inartfully saying in Germany that when it comes to a plan to equip and train Iraqi forces "we don't yet have a complete strategy." Though he clearly was only talking about how to fortify Iraq's military, the verbal stumble was a godsend to those trying to make a broader point about the administration's overall approach to the battle.
Stung by the criticism, the White House needed something to advance the discussion. So—just as they did in a very similar situation 10 months ago—new steps were announced. On Sept. 4, at a press conference, Obama said, "We don't have a strategy yet" for defeating ISIS. After several days of sustained criticism of the remark, the president delivered an address to the nation from the White House. Its message could be boiled down to two sentences early in the speech: "Our objective is clear. We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy."