And so ISIS’ medieval brutality and horrifying videos have worked like a charm:
Support for military action has risen dramatically in just the past few weeks, coinciding with the beheadings of two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, which were recorded on video and released to the world by Islamic State terrorists. Today, 71 percent of all Americans say they support airstrikes in Iraq — up from 54 percent three weeks ago and from 45 percent in June. Among those who say Obama has been too cautious, 82 percent support the strikes; among those who think his handling of international affairs has been about right, 66 percent support them.
Nearly as many Americans — 65 percent — say they support the potentially more controversial action of launching airstrikes in Syria, which Obama has not done. That is more than double the level of support a year ago for launching airstrikes to punish the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons … Nine in 10 Americans now see the militants as a serious threat to vital U.S. interests, and roughly 6 in 10 say they are a very serious threat.
But I have yet to see or be shown any solid intelligence that suggests that these fanatics are aiming at the US. We may well have a problem of home-grown Jihadists returning and wreaking havoc – but that is a manageable threat. And direct military intervention by the West could easily increase these losers’ incentives to strike us here at home. So, in that narrow sense, this return to fighting other people’s civil wars in the Middle East may actually increase the risks to us. That’s what I mean by “taking the bait“.
More worryingly, the president appears to be choosing September 11 to make the case for a war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The fear factor is thereby evoked all the more powerfully – and any return to normality, or restraint, or prudence that we have slowly achieved since then will be wiped away. I just ask you: did that fear and terror help us make wise decisions about foreign policy back then? Do we really want to recreate that atmosphere – with no solid evidence of a tangible threat to the US?
I await the president’s proof of ISIS’ threat to America and the West. And not the kind of intelligence that gave us the Iraq War. I await the proof of an eager coalition of every Iraqi sect to destroy ISIS – and a broad regional coalition united to prevent its consolidation of gains. Then, it seems to me, there must be a declaration of war by the Senate if this open-ended, unknowable military intervention is to be embarked upon. Every Senator and House member should be on record, ahead of the November elections, on this question. If they want war, they must take full responsibility for it, and not play partisan games to score points off it.
Maybe it’s because I was not exposed to the news cycle of the last few weeks that I still see things this way. Maybe I’m wrong and ISIS really does have the means and the will to attack the US or the West.
But in this march to another war in Mesopotamia, I recall that almost every US military intervention in the Middle East has backfired. Even the first Gulf War, deemed a great success, helped give us al Qaeda, as Lawrence Wright reminds us today in the New Yorker. Our intervention in Iraq eventually gave us ISIS. Our intervention in Libya gave us chaos and terror. The only intervention in that region that worked was a peaceful one, the UN-sponsored, Russia-brokered elimination of Syria’s WMD arsenal.
Notice also that this would be another pre-emptive war. We have not been attacked, as we were on 9/11. We are pro-actively entering a civil war in two countries simultaneously … because one malevolent group of Islamist terrorists threaten the region and because the regional actors have yet to take it on. This kind of responsibility is indeed neo-imperial. It’s open-ended and revives the delusion that we can change that part of the world more than it will change us.
But here we go again. Under this president. Into the unknown, propelled by fear and panic. The change we hoped for is evaporating into thin air. And the war drums get louder and louder every day, as if nothing, nothing, was learned in the past decade.