by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
According to legend, if not actual historians, Harold Macmillan was once asked what he most feared could derail his agenda. The British prime minister allegedly said, “Events, my dear boy, events.”
Macmillan may never have actually said it, but the quote endures because it gets at a fundamental truth of politics (and life). Facts on the ground can deliver a fatal blow to one’s most cherished plans.
The line kept coming to mind as I listened to President Obama’s remarkable news conference Monday from the G-20 meeting in Turkey. Asked again and again whether he underestimated the threat from Islamic State, a group he once dismissed as a “JV team,” the president said, in effect, “no.”
Of course, he used a lot more words, but that was the gist: “It’s important for us to get the strategy right, and the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.” He added that “the terrible events in Paris were obviously a terrible and sickening setback.”
Critics who disagree, he said, shouldn’t “pop off” with their half-baked and ill-considered opinions. He’s “not interested” in what he sees as mere sloganeering about “American leadership or America winning” that distract him from his strategy.
The contrast with remarks by French president Francois Hollande, addressing Parliament on Monday, was remarkable. Had Hollande’s speech been delivered by a Republican presidential candidate, Obama would probably have dismissed it as more popping off. Hollande pledged to wage war “without a respite, without a truce. . . . It is not a question of containing but of destroying this organization.”