President Obama’s decision to hit the links and yuk it up with pals immediately after speaking about the beheading of James Foley was no ordinary mistake. Nor was it a simple gaffe.
The decision continues to cause an uproar because, like an X-ray, there is no escaping the image. It shows there is no there there.
With even his media praetorian guard appalled, the golf outing is sparking a wider understanding that Obama is hollow, empty of the routine qualities Americans expect from their president.
Simple decency and respect for Foley’s horrified parents should have been enough to sober him. If that didn’t do it, the realization that the Islamic State had declared war on America in the most gruesome fashion imaginable should have sounded a call of duty in his head.
Instead, Obama continued with his vacation and was photographed looking as if he didn’t have a care in the world. Suddenly, that megawatt smile that often charmed voters wasn’t so charming. It was vacuous.
He looked like an empty-headed frat boy, numb to the world.
Maybe that’s not just an appearance. Maybe it’s the truth. Maybe that’s all there is.
It is a bitter idea to consider. To say he is a failed president, even unfit, does not rule out the possibility he deeply wants to measure up but doesn’t know how.
But what if it’s worse than that? What if, after six years of frustration and failure, he’s just not into being president anymore?
Bill Clinton told Americans, “I feel your pain.” What if Obama doesn’t give a whit what Americans feel?
As commander in chief, Obama swore to defend the nation. Yet the rise of the demonic cult calling itself Islamic State has barely stirred him.
The group he once ridiculed as being like the al Qaeda junior varsity has achieved what Osama bin Laden never did: It controls a huge swath of territory in Syria and Iraq. It is so bloodthirsty that some jihadist groups shun its brand of barbarism as too indiscriminate.
Most important, it makes threats against America, saying, “We will drown all of you in blood.” It vows to raise its black flag over the White House and threatened Chicago and other cities.
All of this, especially the beheading of Foley and the threat to kill another American journalist it holds, are aimed at stopping even modest US support for the Iraqi army.
Yet the president, after giving a perfunctory speech about the horror of it all, shrugged his shoulders. Later, his attorney general said a criminal investigation had been opened, as if the beheading was just a crime.
It is hard to fathom what Obama is doing or thinking. No explanation comes close to being satisfactory.
With fellow Democrats faulting him, and with threats to America multiplying, it is impossible to excuse his conduct on the grounds of ignorance. If he only knows what the public sees, that would be more than enough to develop a strategy.
Indeed, it’s possible his military advisers are going public with terrifying claims about the terrorist group because they, too, are alarmed by his passivity. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, normally low-key, said of the Islamic State: “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen. So we must prepare for everything.”
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called it “an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision that will eventually have to be defeated.”
His use of the word “defeated” was in contrast to Obama, who talked only of “containing” the Islamic State when he approved limited airstrikes.
There was, of course, another response from the president last week. After the storm started over the golf outing, White House officials confirmed there had been a secret raid to free Foley and others in July, but it failed.
The release of such classified information ignited a second round of fury, with not a few critics accusing the president of playing politics.
Nonsense. He doesn’t care about politics. The raid was revealed to protect the only thing he does care about: himself.