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Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014

Editorial: Obama’s frustrating caution


Appearing on “Meet The Press” Sunday, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein spoke for many Americans when she suggested that President Obama is being too cautious in his response to the threat posed by the radical jihadists wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq.

The savagery of ISIS was demonstrated again Tuesday with the release of a videotape showing the beheading of Steven J. Sotloff, the second American executed by the group. Sotloff grew up in Miami, and his mother pleaded for his release in a video last week. But these monsters clearly have no mercy or humanity.

The pressure for Obama to be more forceful now surely will mount.

Obama can easily dismiss the hawkish advice offered him by Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and their opinions may not be persuasive to those who faulted them for their support of the war in Iraq.

But the president can’t so easily overlook the comments of a prominent fellow Democrat, such as Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Like most Americans, Feinstein recognizes the Islamic State as a genuine threat to our nation’s security.

“This is a group of people who are extraordinarily dangerous,” she said. “And they’ll kill with abandon.”

We don’t doubt the president agrees with that assessment, but we wonder when — or if — he’ll embrace a more assertive strategy for dealing with the threat.

Americans, to be sure, have no desire for another reckless Mideast commitment. The nation has learned the perils of trying to occupy a nation with no history of peaceful democracy. But that doesn’t mean the United States should give free rein to radical butchers.

“I think I’ve learned one thing about this president, and that is he’s very cautious,” Feinstein observed. “Maybe in this instance, too cautious. I do know that the military, I know that the State Department, I know that others have been putting plans together. And so, hopefully, those plans will coalesce into a strategy.”

Granted, it’s an incredibly complex situation. The political makeup of the various players — Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, as well as Iraq and Syria — makes it extremely difficult for the United States to dictate anti-terrorism strategies. But we elect our presidents to make difficult decisions.

America’s interests in Iraq and Syria are quite different, and yet the solution to the jihadist problem has to involve both.

Over the weekend the King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warned that the extremists could attack Europe and the United States if there is not a strong response to the terrorism sweeping across Iraq and Syria.

Saudi Arabia supports some of the rebels seeking to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but not the ISIS radicals.

“These terrorists do not know the name of humanity, and you have witnessed them severing heads and giving them to children to walk with in the street,” the Saudi king said.

Obama clearly fears that intervening in Syria would put the United States in the awkward position of aiding Assad, an oppressive dictator.

That may be a valid concern, but the fact is American foreign policy has often meant cooperating with regimes that fall far short of our country’s expectations, and, because of its abundance of oil, Saudi Arabia has been among them.

Sen. Feinstein’s message should be given careful consideration by the White House. The president needs to exercise caution, but that should not result in a paralysis that empowers these brutal zealots to advance their cruel agenda.

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