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President Obama on ISIS: ‘Fetch Me My Brown Pants!’

Obama’s stunning “no strategy” press conference will be remembered not for its fashion faux pas but for projecting weakness and a lack of direction.

Everyone’s making fun of the tan suit President Obama wore in Thursday’s press conference. I can’t lie and say I liked it, of course, but neither do I really care. There was something about the content of his remarks, though, that reminded me of this old World War II joke about the Allies giving the Italians a pounding.

The Germans decide to send one of their generals to meet with the Italian general in Sicily to improve matters. The latter is standing in front of his headquarters, filled with anxiety. The German general arrives dressed in a magnificent red tunic. “What a gorgeous tunic!” the Italian says. The German replies, “See! This is what is wrong with you guys. You see this and think of beauty whereas I wear it to improve troop morale!” He explains that if he ever gets wounded, his troops won’t see him bleeding and will continue fighting. The Italian takes this message to heart and shouts, “Giuseppe! Fetch me my brown pants!

It wasn’t the suit that screamed “brown pants” to me so much as everything else that happened Thursday.

The most obvious error was that President Obama publicly announced something that’s been obvious for months — he has no strategy for how to deal with ISIS/ISIL. I don’t want to completely attack this, although the problems with this public announcement are many. At the very least this comment suggests that President Obama knows that we should have a strategy. We haven’t had a coherent strategy for how to deal with Iraq going back four presidencies.

Note this view from pro-Obama Super PAC adviser Paul Begala:

Yes, silly partisan clap-trap, but he’s right that our country should always have a plan before we invade or bomb a country. It’s Military 101.

But — and as Pee-Wee Herman says, “Everyone I know has a big ‘but’” — projecting strength is an important part of being a leader and President Obama’s admission did the opposite of that when he said he still doesn’t have a strategy for a deadly serious problem, one the White House claimed was pressing months ago.

War studies professor Lawrence Freedman said:

One could hardly disagree with this. But the problem isn’t just the lack of strategy for a situation that should not have caught us by surprise but the decision to be extremely public about being tentative. There is just absolutely no reason to hand that kind of morale boost and public relations victory to all of your enemies.

Something tells me “no strategy” will stick to Obama in the same way that “read my lips” did to George H.W. Bush or “heckuva job” did to George W. Bush or “depends on what the meaning of is is” did to Bill Clinton. Sometimes there are phrases that so perfectly encapsulate what’s wrong with a presidency that they are forever linked. And while President Obama has always had clear personal political ambition and strategy for election or re-election, his foreign policy has been confused and aimless for the duration.

Compare, for instance, another president’s rhetoric on strategy:

But the most disturbing thing Obama said was not that he had no strategy, believe it or not. It was this:

A relevant portion of the transcript of the press conference is here:

I’m not advocating, necessarily, that we actually go to war against ISIS but this kind of muddled thinking will never lead to a good strategy. Or, rather, if our goal is not to defeat ISIS, we shouldn’t be going halfway on military action. There’s a reason it’s failed through multiple presidencies. We need to come to a good understanding of precisely what the peace we seek looks like (see: What Exactly Are We Doing In Iraq? What’s The Peace We Seek?). Once we understand the peace we seek, then we can go about doing what is necessary to achieve that peace — and no more and no less. Continuing with the same moderate intervention/nation-building wouldn’t be wise even if we had a Commander-in-Chief who any of the bad guys in the world took seriously.

Our stunning weakness, lack of direction and aimless leadership couldn’t be a better picture of the butt of the joke at the top. But if we’re smart, we’re not laughing.

Follow Mollie on Twitter.

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