President Obama, with a 45-minute speech before the United Nations, wants us to think he's ready to get serious about facing down Islamic State (ISIS) militants in the Middle East. After months of minimizing the threat posed by the radical group terrorizing Iraq and Syria, and with his credibility and poll numbers sinking, the president is finally talking tougher.
"I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria as well as Iraq," Obama said in an earlier address on the threat of ISIS. "This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven."
To his credit, he has unleashed attacks on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq and continues to articulate the ISIS threat, even calling it "evil" before the UN.
While it's difficult to announce "core principles" of a presidency in your sixth year, this more forceful -- but regrettably vague -- rhetoric certainly is an improvement upon President Obama's famous "we don't have a strategy" admission just a few weeks earlier.
But, tragically for Obama, a presidency cannot be based on rhetoric alone. When his equivocal actions are taken into account, it's still unclear whether he's fully willing or prepared to see this threat for what it is and lead a vigorous, effective coalition and campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS.
The core problem is that President Obama has shown little interest or ability in looking at the world as it really is. Since Obama first appeared on the national political radar, White House watchers have struggled to categorize his foreign policy views. His supporters like to portray him as a tough-minded, decisive, calculating "realist." Or maybe he's a "progressive pragmatist." Sometimes, he's a "reluctant realist." The administration's position seems tied more to naïve wishful thinking than to the recommendations of its military advisors.
The president would no doubt have us believe his approach to foreign policy is beyond categorization, because it's so subtle, nuanced and original. In fact, it can't be categorized because it's incoherent. The reality is that the president seems to prefer indulging in wishful thinking about how he would like the world to be. That's the exact opposite of a "realist" or a "pragmatist" -- when it comes to foreign policy especially, Obama is a "fantasist."
Look to the president's own words at the UN, and previous speeches like Cairo, for evidence of this fantasy-based thinking. There should have been audible laughter in the UN chamber when he called on Arab leaders to "reject sectarian strife" of the Sunni-Shia conflict -- an intractable sectarian schism that dates back more than 1,300 years. It's as if he believes that simply by calling for a "truce" it might magically appear.
Obama is also overly fond of invoking the "international community" as key to addressing any global problem -- including that of radical Islamists.
But any honest assessment of the last several years would find that this "international community" is a fiction when it comes to addressing global threats -- substantive consensus simply doesn't exist without U.S. leadership. But this president has systematically pulled the United States back from that leadership role. The current world chaos is the result of that misbegotten approach. If you want evidence of this, I refer you back -- once again -- to the past six years.
The president is also deeply enamored of "comprehensive" solutions to problems. We've seen it in the domestic sphere, where Obama's determination to achieve "comprehensive" health care reform resulted in the bloated, chaotic Obamacare program, chock full of unintended consequences and unanticipated costs. Likewise, his high-minded insistence on "comprehensive" immigration reform has stymied piecemeal progress on border security. Time and again, the president's grandiose demand for "comprehensive" approaches to global threats blinds him to the possibility of more basic, fundamental solutions.
At the UN, the president spoke glowingly of a broad, idealistic strategy that includes diplomatic, economic, political, and ideological components, while underplaying the importance of the military action needed to achieve victory. The fight against ISIS merited only a passing mention in a lengthy speech. Without a strong and effective military element -- led strategically by the US but leveraging (and cajoling!) regional allies on the ground--the diplomatic, economic and political pieces are little more than window dressing and doomed to failure.
All too often, the president deploys these empty buzz-phrases -- "international community" and "comprehensive solutions" -- to either justify inaction or present an overly complex approach that simply won't work in the real world. This is classic ivory-tower, blame-America-first-think that flies in the face of reality.
That's why, as much as I support the fight against ISIS, it's fair to be skeptical of Obama's newfound tough talk toward them. The president's incoherence on key issues related to foreign policy and security in both Iraq and Syria -- for example, his repeated self-defeating declarations about never sending troops to either theater, and his practice of issuing threats without consequences -- telegraph to our allies, as well as our enemies, that he'll have little stomach for the difficult and bloody days that lie ahead.
The president himself has acknowledged that the world is a "messy place." But his repeated tendency to lead from behind, avoid hard choices and pursue unrealistic solutions, Obama fails to see how his own fantasy-based foreign policy has made it a much messier and more dangerous place.
Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America and a Fox News contributor. Pete is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.