Everyone agrees that someone must lead the West against radical Islam, but who? Once upon a time, when crisis and fear of the unknown was abroad in the land, everyone looked to the president of the United States, confident that he would take charge and call down the lightning that won two world wars.
But not this time.
What's needed is someone who can put together a grand coalition, like the array of nations that George Bush the Elder put together in 1991 to go after Saddam Hussein to liberate Kuwait. When the 41st president told Saddam, smuggling sitting astride Kuwait, "this will not stand," everyone believed him. Saddam did not stand. The war that Saddam grandly said would be "the mother of all battles" turned out to be the stepmother of all routs. Not since First Manassas had boasts and blather been so roundly and swiftly repudiated. The Arabs make great assassins, but of soldiers, not so much.
We've never had a president so eager to run from the responsibilities of leadership. He promised to lead from behind, where malingerers and summer soldiers collect to search for the road that leads over the hill. The president took advantage of a lull in the battle to announce that the Islamic State, or ISIS, had been "contained," and only hours later the assassins of ISIS slipped out of the containment to shoot up Paris. Mr. Obama's thoughts, prayers and condolences followed. (But no flowers.)
President Obama, even after a weekend to think about it, says he won't take back anything he said about containment, but concedes that he will "enhance" his strategy, such as it is. Indeed, some of our allies may be reassured to learn that he even has a strategy. Presidents before him - the likes of Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, Truman, Reagan and Bush - with cities on fire and a pall of fear spread like a thundercloud across the countryside, led the march toward the sound of the guns. Barack Obama looks for exits.
Mr. Obama on Monday brought in the generals and security mavens to lend an air of reassurance when he stepped up to say that everything is going swell, even if "enhancements" are in order. Men in uniform know better than to dispute the commander-in-chief. But Michael Morell, the former director of the CIA, operates under no such restrictions, now that he is a private citizen again. "I think it's now crystal clear to us," he told CBS News on Sunday, "that our strategy, our policy vis-à-vis ISIS, is not working and it's time to look at something else." It's hard even for a president whose very voice was to make lions like down with lambs, to enhance failure like that.
The president is clearly pleased with his strategy for failure. It reduces the flow of foreign fighters, he insists, though there seemed to be enough foreign fighters in Paris last week, and Mr. Obama got a needling rejoinder from Francois Hollande, the president of France, who no longer sounds like Mr. Obama with a French accent. "We need to destroy ISIS," he told his parliament, "not contain it." When the president of France emerges as the tough guy in a time of war it's time for the American president to pull up his socks. When the going gets tough, as any high-school football coach could tell you (and usually does), the tough to get going.
The Democrats are all suffering from the hound disease. When a blue-tick hound with a highly developed sense of self-preservation senses trouble, he invariably crawls under the porch to lie low until the crisis passes. Hounds are for making noise. Hillary Clinton, answering a moderator's question about whether she thinks America and the West are at war with radical Islam, blinked. It was the best she could do in the absence of a front porch with room underneath to hide.
"I don't think we're at war with Islam," she said. "I don't think we're at war with all Muslims." The moderator, John Dickerson of CBS News, had carefully not suggested that anyone had thought so. The two other Democrats on stage, recruited to make it look like a campaign quorum, took up the reprise.
Hillary, the only hope for the Democrats, doubled down just like the president did. She sent out one of her ladies to tell the reporters that Hillary was really clear that "we don't need to go to war with Islam."
The president and his acolyte may not want war, but the Islamic State does, confident it can demolish the West and expand its caliphate, first to Europe and then to America and the world. How can the Democrats lead when they can't even figure out who the enemy is?