Francois Hollande’s trip to Washington Tuesday is probably the most important visit by a French president to the United States in decades. It comes against a backdrop of the biggest act of terror on French soil since the Nazi occupation in the 1940s. As Mr. Hollande has declared, France is “at war” with the Islamic State, responsible for massacring more than 130 people on the streets of Paris on Nov. 13.

This is a moment when the free world must be united in the face of a tremendous evil advanced by Islamic terrorists who seek our destruction. It is also a time when American leadership is badly needed on the world stage, with the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the Islamic State spreading its tentacles via terror networks throughout Europe, from Brussels to Berlin.

 

There was little sign, however, of President Obama shifting away from his “leading from behind” approach when he met with his French counterpart on Tuesday.

At the White House there were plenty of platitudes from the American president about U.S-French relations and France’s status as America’s “oldest ally.” But there was no substance in his remarks.

A world without American leadership is a dangerous place. Unless the United States is willing to lead, our enemies will continue to thrive and become increasingly emboldened.

Nor was there any sense of the magnitude of the conflict that the United States and its allies must win. President Obama even boasted of pushing ISIS back in the Middle East, a reckless claim that does not square with reality. In contrast, Mr. Hollande outlined a series of concrete measures aimed at combating ISIS, from strengthening intelligence sharing, increasing the level of air strikes in Syria, and helping secure the border between Turkey and Syria. He also spoke of our “faith in freedom” and a “determination to fight terrorists anywhere and everywhere.”

It is a damning indictment of the Obama presidency when even the president of France comes across as more robust than the leader of the free world.

The French do not possess anything like the military capability of the United States, but since the Paris attacks they have been hitting ISIS as hard as they can in its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa. In contrast, the head of the world’s only superpower appears half-hearted and stubbornly unwilling to put forward or commit to a clear-cut strategy for defeating the Islamic State. Nor does he even acknowledge that we are engaged in a truly global war with a vicious Islamist enemy driven by “a poisonous ideology,” as the British Prime Minister David Cameron describes it.

A world without American leadership is a dangerous place. Unless the United States is willing to lead, our enemies will continue to thrive and become increasingly emboldened.

For Barack Obama, Tuesday’s White House meeting was an opportunity to project resolve in the face of barbarism. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama was simply not up to the task. On every foreign policy front, the Obama presidency has weakened rather than strengthened America’s position.

Nile Gardiner is Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation and a former aide to Margaret Thatcher. Follow him on Twitter@NileGardiner.