Deception & Misdirection

The President’s deliberately deliberative policy of deliberation

[Continuing our series on deception in politics and public policy.]

The word of the day is “deliberative.”

Last week, President Obama let slip that “we have no strategy’ for dealing with ISIS (also called ISIL, based on a variant translation of the group’s name). Lest anyone accused me of taking his out of content, here are 200+ words of the exchange with NBC’s Chuck Todd:

QUESTION: Do you need Congress’s approval to go into Syria?

OBAMA: You know, I have consulted with Congress throughout this process. I am confident that as commander in chief I have the authorities to engage in the acts that we are conducting currently. As our strategy develops, we will continue to consult with Congress, and I do think that it’ll be important for Congress to weigh in and we’re — that our consultations with Congress continue to develop so that the American people are part of the debate.

But I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet. I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are. And I think that’s not just my assessment, but the assessment of our military, as well. We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them. At that point, I will consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard.

But there’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.

“We don’t have a strategy yet.” That’s an astonishing admission, given that one of the key jobs of the national security community is to create strategies to deal with every conceivable threat. For example, we had, in the 1950s, a plan for dealing with a Russian invasion of Alaska. The London Telegraph reported (

The US security services recruited Alaskan fishermen, trappers and bush pilots as “stay-behind agents” to form a secret American resistance network if the Soviet Union staged a widely-feared air invasion of the territory, according to newly-declassified documents.

If the President was telling the truth, it’s a frightening insight into the state of our defense effort. (That’s beside the point that, if it were true, he would be a fool to admit that we have no strategy.)

Thus, we have a President who’s currently being sued by congressional leaders for refusing to do his job… who has defiantly proclaimed that, any time he wants, he can refuse to do his job… and who has refused to do his job in areas ranging from immigration policy (effectively opening the borders) to law enforcement (the non-investigation of the IRS scandal) to the implementation of the healthcare law that bears his name (illegally delaying some of its most disastrous parts until after the 2014 election, to protect his Senate majority). Now he admits to not doing his job on ISIS, the greatest threat to the U.S. homeland since the Soviet Union.

If you’re one of the President’s sycophants, how do you deal with “We don’t have a strategy yet”?

Here’s how: Resuscitate the “Obama is cool” meme, as put forth by his friends ( at Saturday Night Live ( You see, unlike that reckless cowboy George W. Bush, he’s taking his time to decide what to do. ’Cause when he finally puts together a plan, it’s gonna be a doozy! In the meantime, he’s being “deliberative.”

►CBS News ( and pundits on the right initially rallied around the idea that the U.S. needs to be more aggressive militarily in Iraq and Syria to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is wreaking havoc there.

But in the wake of President Obama’s remark last week that “we don’t have a strategy yet,” there’s a new twist: some with Republican ties are suggesting his deliberative approach to forming an ISIS strategy may have some validity to it.

“I do think it’s important that…we not treat them as though they are 10-feet tall,” the Washington Institute’s Michael Singh said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” Sunday in response to a question about whether there’s been an overestimation of ISIS’ direct threat to the U.S.


►Charles M. Blow, New York Times columnist ( Now, Republicans are beginning to pull out the big gun — 9/11 — to further scare the public into supporting more action. Senator Lindsey Graham has said that we must act to “stop another 9/11,” possibly a larger one, and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has warned, “Sadly, we’re getting back to a pre-9/11 mentality, and that’s very dangerous.”

Fear is in the air. The president is trying to take a deliberative approach, but he may be drowned out by the drums of war and the chants for blood.

►Karen DeYoung and Dan Balz, Washington Post reporters ( In the first years of his presidency, Obama’s principal foreign policy goals were far less reactive and were more dependent on his initiative and sense of timing.

With a schedule for Iraq withdrawal already set, he developed policies for ending the then-faltering war in Afghanistan. In a pattern that would repeat itself on other issues, he deliberated for months, and then split the difference by simultaneously announcing a surge of troops and the timing of their departure. . . .

[After the “no strategy” comment] As Obama sought to nudge the debate back into his deliberative comfort zone, others urged him toward action. Ryan Crocker, who has served as U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, pleaded with the president to stop deliberating and start acting. “I don’t think we have an alternative to swift, decisive military action to degrade ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. Give them no safe place to plan further attacks,” he said in a CNN interview Friday.


►Michael Cohen, New York Daily News ( Despite missteps along the way – in particular, the dreadful 2009 decision to surge 30,000 American troops in Afghanistan – Obama’s foreign policy stewardship has increasingly become a model of deliberation and restraint. That approach often produces outcomes that are less than satisfying – but it doesn’t mean the underlying policy is unwise. . . .

Of course, because pundits crave cartoonish notions of leadership and are allergic to uncertainty and deliberation, the President’s ill-considered but honest statement Thursday that the U.S. has “no strategy yet” for dealing with ISIS set off a firestorm of mockery.


► Hannah Allam and Roy Gutman, McClatchy News ( President Barack Obama didn’t elaborate on the plans Thursday during a brief address in which he stressed that it would take time and deliberation to come up with a broad-based, international response to the threat posed by ISIS. He’s dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East to nudge along the coalition-building. The president also pledged there would be a “military aspect” to the still-developing plan, but dismissed reports that suggest such an intervention is imminent.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama said.

European and Arab nations aren’t exactly lining up in response to the U.S. battle cry against ISIS, for a variety of reasons.


► Steve Benen, MSNBC ( In the bigger picture, we see the Bill Kristols of the world insisting that the Obama administration can simply launch a new phase in the conflict and “see what happens.” It’s the sort of attitude we’ve seen before – we can launch a war in Iraq, for example, with no real plan for the consequences, and “see what happens.”
Thankfully, the president has a different approach. To see deliberate thought and planning as the object of criticism is a mistake – delaying military intervention in the Middle East until a firm strategy is in place is a positive, not a negative.
It’s a feature of the president’s foreign policy, not a bug.


Finally, regarding deliberation, here’s a comment from an iconically liberal magazine (

► Elliot Ackerman, The New Republic: The Islamic State’s advance has been decades in the making, the product of an extremely deliberate strategy; generally, that is something we have been lacking.

Oops, sorry. That one is about ISIS’s strategy.

Well, at least someone is thinking things through.

Dr. Steven J. Allen

A journalist with 45 years’ experience, Dr. Allen served as press secretary to U.S. Senator Jeremiah Denton and as senior researcher for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign. He earned a master’s…
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