Obama on ISIL, immigration, and his regrettable golf game

President Obama meets the press. / Image: NBC Meet the Press
President Obama meets the press. / Image: NBC Meet the Press

WASHINGTON, September 7, 2014 — President Obama said Sunday morning that he will meet with congressional leaders on Tuesday, then address America on Wednesday to lay out his administration’s game plan against ISIL.

Obama made his comments to Chuck Todd on this week’s edition of NBC’s Meet the Press. Other points he made during the interview:

Islamic State:

Asked about his plan to deal with the Islamic State, Obama said:

I’m preparing the country to make sure that we deal with a threat from ISIL. … This administration has systematically dismantled al Qaeda … We just yesterday announced the fact that we had taken out the top leader of Al-Shabaab the terrorist organization in Somalia. …

So what I have done over the last several months is, first and foremost, make sure that we got eyes on the problem, that we shifted resources, intelligence, reconnaissance. We did an assessment on the ground. The second step was to make sure that we protected American personnel, our embassies, our consulates. That included taking air strikes to ensure that towns like Erbil were not overrun, critical infrastructure, like the Mosul Dam was protected, and that we were able to engage in key humanitarian assistance programs that have saved thousands of lives.

Obama’s comments suggest that he has been slowly, carefully acting against ISIL after destroying al Qaeda, and that his administration is not as lacking in strategy as his comment about not yet having a strategy led everyone to believe.

To brag about the destruction of al Qaeda, a dubious assertion, is like a physician bragging about destroying a primary tumor while ignoring the metastases. The problem with Islamic terrorism is systemic; destroying one organization leads to the appearance of three more, all of them carrying the DNA of the original. If al Qaeda is destroyed but its daughter organization, ISIL, is not, then al Qaeda hasn’t really been destroyed.

This is not the equivalent of the Iraq war. What this is, is similar to the kinds of counterterrorism campaigns that we’ve been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years. And the good news is that because of American leadership, we have, I believe, a broad-based coalition internationally and regionally to be able to deal with the problem.

ISIL is nothing like the terrorist organizations we’ve engaged over the last five years in terms of money, army and organization. Obama denied during the interview that he ever referred specifically to ISIL as a “JV squad,” and admitted that they are now definitely in the varsity.

To deal with ISIL will take more than drones, and Obama promised a major, integrated operation including economic, political and military elements. There will be no American “boots on the ground,” but boots there will be — Syrian and Iraqi boots. How he will cooperate with Syria’s President Assad — without looking as if “we’re doing it on behalf of Assad” — to do this, or create a new government in Iraq by next week, he didn’t explain.

According to Obama, our campaign against ISIL will involve “strategic messaging” in the social media, reaching out to and working with moderate Sunni leaders, finding “millions of decent, good Sunnis, many of whom have been displaced,” reaching out to them, finding “a military and political structure that’ll allow them to express themselves,” and persuading them that ISIL “is an abortion, a distortion, an abomination” of Islam.

Islam may be a “religion of peace,” but that message has not yet effectively penetrated much of the Middle East. Obama must believe that his powers of persuasion are extraordinary if he plans to defeat ISIL by appealing to the better nature of Syrian rebels and Iraqi refugees. America is in no mood to spend the lives or the enormous amount of money required to defeat ISIL with boots on the ground, but since before the “Arab Spring,” political self expression has been a problem in the region, not a solution.


When Todd asked about the decision to delay executive action on immigration until after the election, Obama said that politics was not the reason. Instead, as with Iraq, he emphasized that the delay was a matter of prudence, imposed by the time required to carefully study the problem and prepare a response.

Not only do I want to make sure that the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted, but here’s the thing, and Chuck, and I’m being honest now, about the politics of it. … in terms of these unaccompanied children, we’ve actually systematically worked through the problem, so that the surge in June dropped in July, dropped further in August. It’s now below what it was last year. But that’s not the impression on people’s minds. And what I want to do is, when I take executive action, I want to make sure that it’s sustainable.

… the truth of the matter is that the politics did shift midsummer because of that problem. I want to spend some time, even as we’re getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, I also want to make sure that the public understands why we’re doing this, why it’s the right thing for the American people, why it’s the right thing for the American economy.

The economy:

Obama declared that “on almost every economic index that you can think of, America’s better off now than we were five years ago.” The problem is that most Americans are experiencing their own stagnant incomes and rising prices; they aren’t experiencing economic indices.

Poverty isn’t just an index or an income level; it is also a set of beliefs about your circumstances and expectations for the future. It includes a pessimistic frame of mind, and when it comes to the economy, polls tell us that over 70 percent of Americans are pessimistic.

A rising tide that doesn’t raise your boat looks more like a flood. Most American “boats” are stuck in government concrete. An increase in per capita GDP that doesn’t raise your income is just a subject of morbid curiosity, not a cause for celebration.


One of the most widely discussed comments Obama made during the interview was in reference to the golf game he played immediately after his statement about the murder of American journalist James Foley:

But there’s no doubt that, after having talked to the families, where it was hard for me to hold back tears listening to the pain that they were going through, after the statement that I made, that you know, I should’ve anticipated the optics.

This has been interpreted as an expression of regret. If it is regret, it isn’t for golfing, but for not anticipating how others would see it. His heart is in the right place, he says, but he has a hard time convincing us.

But part of this job is also the theatre of it. A part of it is, you know, how are you, how, how are you, well, it’s not something that, that always comes naturally to me. But it matters. And I’m mindful of that. So the important thing is, in addition to that, is am I getting the policies right? Am I protecting the American people? Am I doing what’s necessary?

And when it comes to the policies, when it comes to the actions we’ve taken, I have no higher priority than keeping the American people safe. I think I’ve done a very good job during the course of these last, close to six years, doing so.

Obama’s interview with Chuck Todd was designed to send a message: “I’m careful and thoughtful, but also energized, plans in place, ready to go. I’m doing a great job.”

Obama’s speech on Wednesday should clarify his plans for ISIL. Whether he’s judged as doing a great job will depend on that speech, and on how well he executes — in due course and after careful deliberation — his other plans after November. Even a lame-duck president retains considerable influence and power, and two years is a political eternity. Obama clearly intends to remain relevant. Whether he will remains to be seen.


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  • Clyde Picht

    I’m sorry but it seems there is a disconnect with his previous press conference when he said he had no strategy and his statement that ISIS was comparable to “JV” or junior varsity. Making things up as you go along doesn’t really count as strategy.

  • George Kato

    I think we can all agree that Obama’s personal jihad against the United States’ economy is destined to fail.

  • Dave Francis

    POARING THROUGHOUT THE BORDER REGION? Obama is delaying executive action on
    issuing work permits to 6 to 8 million illegal aliens in a probability of 20
    million plus, because Democrats are running scared of losing their seats. BUT

    can we stop Obama from violating American law, to such a degree he is altering
    the whole structure of our country, in financially pillaging her people to
    cater to millions of foreign nationals and allowing tens of millions to flood
    in, stealing from our own citizen’s welfare, which taxpayers carry the extra
    burden? Illegal aliens committing crimes and spreading obnoxious diseases,
    which we must treat and taxpayers are forced to pay? Excluding the new
    arrivals welcomed by broadcast that the
    border was open and if you get across, you’re unlikely to be deported. There is
    still a daily illegal horde being smuggled through the non-existing fence areas
    of New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and California.

    Southwestern states have a major water
    problem, with aquifers drying-up and with a forecast of an even extreme drought
    to come and yet this government hasn’t stopped the surge, in fact Obamas
    administration signaled for them to come? Then if in early November Obama this
    Administration passes an amnesty, the consequences will hit American jobs hard
    and as I believe at least 20 million illegal nationals get work permits, the
    cost could be a trillion dollars or more? Non-English speakers will have a
    problem getting work, and therefore Obama will spend more of YOUR money
    supporting them. These people can never make up for the money, taxpayers are
    accountable for?

    How can we stop this overreaching Socialist president, who is running rampant
    over our Congress and the US Constitution—who thinks he can issue executive
    directives to bypass the Rule of law or pass his own law? It’s a sad situation
    when very few politicians can even be trusted of either the Left or Right. For
    Obama holding off his potential some form of illegal alien amnesty signals to
    the American people that these invaders are his insistent priority. When the
    country is already on a downward slide of the economy, an unimaginable US deficit, and the
    balkanization of the people, he should be focusing on jobs for American and
    legal residents.

    One thing is for sure every official eye
    should be on the crucial midterm elections for individuals who are illegally
    voting. States with no specific need for a voter to identify themselves MUST BE
    vetted as although the Democrats prefer to turn a blind eye to this extreme
    predicament of voter fraud. This election will determine whether the
    Republicans retake the Senate and although I don’t approve of hard-line
    Republicans line sitting in both Houses, they will govern the country without
    spreading ‘good cheer’ of food stamps, Obamacare and other public assistance
    without restrictions to anybody including illegal aliens. There are more
    radical ACORN organizations out there, who have credence in open borders and
    will undermine even further the lax Election laws that we have today. It has
    been shown that the Absentee Ballot is easily circumvented and can be abused.
    Both parties want to hold there power and influence over the rest of us, unlike
    the growing numbers of the National Tea Party splintering off the GOP.

    The liberal media and liberals in Washington cannot be counted
    on—but the National Tea Party can! Who are the TEA PARTY people—not the radical
    Americans that the mainstreams Liberal leaning Progressive press claims them to
    be? They are not the Republican stronghold of Rino leadership but part of
    average populace of blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asian and other many of the other
    ethnic minorities who have come to trust in the US Constitution to deliver
    their rights, to a life of freedom; protection of America’s people; its defense
    and significant other edicts. THE TEA PARTIER’S ARE NEITHER REPUBLICAN,
    Conservatives with an agenda to follow the Rule of Law. That Congress makes
    policies such as Article 1, Section 2 has the ONLY Right to proclaim citizenship
    and the President is supposed to honor them?

    BEING AVOIDED: Refresh the 700 mile, 2006 Secure Fence Act and build the double
    layer fencing, complete with concertina razor wire. Hundreds of miles are
    vacant of any barrier. It was killed by prior Republican Senator Kay Bailey
    Hutchison of Texas by adding a non-escapable amendment to the 2006 bill.
    Whereas giving complete control to Homeland Security, ruling out any funds to
    deliver the 700 miles of two fences, separated by an all weather track way. An
    in between no-mans land where illegal aliens would be caught and detained for
    immediate deportation. No wonder we are being invaded, without little or no
    deterrent. Laws US Border Patrol has been restrained by Obamas orders.

    1) Secure our borders.

    2) End amnesties.

    3) Mandate E-Verify Or a National ID card

    4) Abolish rewards for illegal aliens.

    5) Toughen interior enforcement.

    6) Amend birthright citizenship.

    7) Conclude chain migration.

    8) Purge refugee and visa fraud.

    9) Eliminate unnecessary worker visas.

    10) Remove visa lottery.

    11) End visa overstays

    All we have seen from this present Administration is laws
    being intentionally disregarded, undermined that have been the identified with
    the Rule of Law, our sovereignty and the US. What we have suffered
    under Obama is Constitution upheaval. Comprehensive Reform–Amnesty…IRS
    abuses…Obamacare…gun-grabbing…open borders…deliberate bypassing of
    Congress…Benghazi…fast and furious
    weapons to Mexico—cutting back on our
    military and the failure of National Security. America is a free country and
    we must fight back against these overreaching agencies. In California Governor
    Jerry Brown stated nearly 30% of CA Kids Illegal or ‘Don’t Speak English’

    IMPERIAL RULE AND HIS PAWNS check this site that has the phone Numbers and
    Mailing Addresses of Members of Congress at: http://www.contactingthecongress/ to stipulate an end to
    illegal immigration, the dismantling of our laws, sovereignty, citizen rights
    and even our military is being cut back, which we frantically need for
    protection against our enemies foreign an domestic. Illegal Immigration is rapidly
    becoming the top precedence for Americans, because they see its impact on the
    barren economy and lost jobs. Large corporations and big business are
    laying-off birthright, naturalized citizens and green card holders, making an
    avenue for lower paid illegal aliens.
    This is the number for the central switchboard for every member of
    Congress to address your objections at 800-224-3121.