OP-ED: How Obama Manages the PR for the ISIS Crisis

Joseph J. Honick

Joseph J. Honick

 By Joseph J. Honick

As America’s role in the ISIS crisis takes shape under the command of President Barack Obama, it is useful to examine carefully its implications and how its public relations are and have been handled.

Among other things, it helps to compare this effort with how his predecessor George W. Bush worked his way up to the Iraqi invasion.    This time there are even broader implications, given the changed politics that have brought Mr. Obama into such close relationships with Arab countries and the conundrum created by Messrs Boehner and McConnell in doing an end run inviting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress without the usual involvement of the President as a matter of courtesy and formality.

To be sure, the ISIS gang ironically has helped the President by their horrific array of beheadings of captives and other actions that could not be ignored on the international level.   But his approaches also have raised questions.

Given that Americans were not only worn down by two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we became doubtful and if not fearful of anything that would send our men and women once more into combat, not to mention the potential billions if not trillions that it could all cost.

So , to organize the effort,  Mr Obama decided on enlisting what he called “coalition” partners among nations  threatened by the ISIS actions, neighbors to places where the roving bands of warriors are attacking,  seemingly with enough success to call for fast international coordinated action.

To gain support publicly, the President also recruited Retired Marine Corps General  John R. Allen, a well decorated and praised officer who not only amassed 38 years of standup service but demonstrated sound command talents and a public image that could not be easily challenged. General Allen, who had refused the top NATO spot, has been traveling as the President’s spokesperson, appearing fairly frequently on all television networks and being interviewed for print media.  His role appears to be not only to lend credibility to the campaign but also to oversee rebuilding of Iraq armed forces where ISIS is attacking with some success and threatening more.

While the idea of the “coalitions” would seem not only to reduce America’s load in the campaign by spreading the responsibility among friendly nations, Americans don’t really know what has been promised to gain these enlistees.  More than that, we don’t know what was offered once the expected anti-ISIS campaign is hopefully and successfully completed,  something that presidential spokespersons and the commander-in-chief himself have estimated to take as much as three years, with the fiscal costs totally yet to be estimated, since the United States  would be the  leader of the coalition campaign.

Here are just a few of the questions media are beginning to ask of the Administration:
1.      First and foremost, just what is the makeup of this so-called “coalition” and what was promised by the United States to gain such involvement?
2. Why was one of the Middle East’s foremost military power, Israel, not enlisted, or more  precisely: rejected as part of the coalition?
3. Why does it require such a massive international array of power to undertake a war on something called ISIS that allegedly has no governmental backing, financing and other usual necessities to conduct a war?
4. When the war against ISIS is over and hopefully successful, and having engaged enemies of Israel as members of the so-called “coalition”, what have we promised to those nations at that time?
5. What will be the fiscal and manpower cost for this enterprise that puts our reputation way out on the line?
 
 There are of course other questions, but media seem to be cooperating even as the President’s political foes are critical that he may not be acting strongly enough, fast enough or strategically enough. But it’s the picture of the American president having to juggle his suddenly warm and enveloping relationships with Arab powers that offer some concerns even as distance between him and Israel widen almost by the minute.

It is significant that a CNN poll indicated an overwhelming public demand for the President to act strongly while many assert he is not acting strongly enough.  Having indicated he would ask Congress for its backing of war powers for him, it would seem he can act and soon…with virtually no one from the media or elsewhere even asking the questions previously noted until it may be too late.

In the end, the President will get the political and PR backing he wants, and we will go back to war.  In a previous article, I asked if and when it occurred, whose side would defend.  Given that the Commander-in-Chief has essentially laid waste his relations with Israel, what does that portend as the enemies of the Jewish state are the key “allies” in the ISIS crisis, and none of the questions posed earlier have even been resolved?

* * *
Honick is president of GMA International Ltd with offices on Bainbridge Island, WA.  He is an international consultant to business and writes on a variety of public affairs issues.

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