Dissents Of The Day II

The in-tray has been brimming with backlash over my criticism of the president on Iraq. I’m glad to air it – and it’s made me think hard about it again. And this email stung a little – but made me laugh:

[The above] commercial popped into my head after reading you on Obama, and I thought to myself, “I swear it’s Andrew, bless his hysterical heart.”

First big round of dissent here. Another:

I share every one of your concerns regarding Obama‘s initiative against ISIS, and yet there is a word in my thoughts that you, as far as I am aware, haven’t mentioned and that president Obama mentioned only once in his speech and in a passing way: genocide.

By both word and deed, ISIS has unequivocally declared its intent to exterminate any and all non-Sunni (and eventually non-Salafist) persons that it can.  ISIS has clearly shown itself committed to a level of atrocity far above any usual sectarian blood-letting.  They may well have the capacity to kill in numbers that rival Rwanda, perhaps even the Nazis.  This thought disrupts my inclination to stand back.  Don’t we suffer remorse over past genocides we failed to act against?  Can we do much to stop this one?  Probably not.  Does that take away the moral burden to try?  Probably not.

Another quotes me:

That simple lesson is as follows: American military force to pummel Jihadists from the skies can create as much terror as it foils. Our intervention can actually backfire and make us all less safe. How many Jihadists, for example, did the Iraq War create? Our intervention gave al Qaeda a foothold in Iraq and then, by creating a majority Shi’a state for the first time, helped spawn Sunni support for the Caliphate.

It’s not fair to compare an invasion, followed by nearly a decade of occupation and so-called “nation-building,” to the air campaign and soldier training that Obama is waging against ISIS. For one thing, there’s a great deal of support from Arab nations in the region and moderate Muslims around the world. Yes, we’re doing their dirty work, to some extent. But because that work doesn’t entail our soldiers traipsing through their streets – and since they’ve asked for our help, it’s a totally different dynamic.

In short, we’re the good guys to moderate Muslims who are repulsed by ISIS. As for the extremists who like ISIS, well … we’re never going to win them over anyway, and maybe a show of force will have a deterrent effect on their enthusiasm for ISIS propaganda.

This issue is much too serious to play the strawman game where you ridicule the notion of this kind of intervention eradicating extremism. However strong the president’s language was last week, no one actually thinks this is the cure for Sunni-based violent extremism. It’s merely a way to prevent genocide, empower moderates in the region, and, over the long-term, advance the idea that we aren’t driven entirely by oil interests and imperialism.

And you’re right that it probably won’t be an unqualified success, but one thing I respect about this administration, which I thought you respected as well, is that it takes on issues where the likelihood of complete victory is remote, because they know that any progress is better than doing nothing. It was true with the stimulus. It was true with health care reform. It was true with gay marriage. And it’s true in Iraq.

I take our reader’s point. I would cavil with the idea that “we’re the good guys to moderate Muslims who are repulsed by ISIS”. We have no evidence of that. We have a hell of a lot of evidence that our interventions – especially bombing Sunni areas from the skies – can backfire and alienate the very people we are trying to support. And the idea that, at this point, Iraqis view the US as anything other than a blight on what was once their country seems too naive for me. Another reader:

Were you opposed to Obama‘s campaign to degrade and defeat al-Qaeda’s leadership? No; you kind of liked it. Although Islamic State is apparently not actively targeting the U.S. at this very moment, I see no difference between IS and al-Qaeda in terms of their long-term threat to the Homeland.  I think we would be negligent to let them grow in strength unchallenged. The job to degrade them is incredibly difficult and we may fail. We may make it worse if we kill too many civilians again.  But I don’t believe ISIS will go away or change their plans if we ignore them. I don’t believe that they will be grateful if we leave them alone to commit genocide or enslavement. Obama could have punted on ISIS, but he didn’t. He is taking seriously and doing the best he can.

Obama is not stupid or craven or cynical or excessively politically motivated. I think he is sad and tired. His vision of humanity and historical progress has taken a beating. The Arab Spring turned out to be pretty disappointing. There are tens of thousands of young Muslim men in ISIS that are objectively evil and inhumanly cruel to innocent and helpless fellow human beings. It is hard not to get depressed about human nature. He is being forced to cough up his legacy of disengagement in Iraq.

magazine_theatlantic-dec-071The Ferguson incident has revealed that race relations remain fraught in this country despite his attempts to transcend the prejudice and hatred. Both blacks and whites blame him for not doing the right thing (whatever that is). Hispanics think that he is a traitor for delaying on immigration reform. Meanwhile, his approval rating is in the toilet, the Senate is likely to fall to the Republicans, and his last two years may be completely stymied.  His supporters have fled. This is the reward he gets for being cool-headed, thoughtful, rational, measured, and brave. Almost everything going wrong is not his fault. Of course he makes a few mistakes now and then, like getting photographed golfing at the wrong time or wearing the wrong suit or saying he isn’t done yet making a strategy. If I were him I would feel mighty, mighty unappreciated.

Andrew, you were the one who could envision the potential of Obama and explain it to the world. That is how I became a reader of your blog in December 2007. You need to try to get back into his head and appreciate what he is up against and why Obama still matters. I still trust him more than anybody I can think of to be leading our country.

One more:

I am an Obama voter, a Dish subscriber, and generally find your take on national and world events well reasoned, thoughtful, and principled.  But when it comes to your position on US military action against ISIS, you seem to be over-compensating for your past mistake in supporting the Iraq war.

I am certainly no psychologist (I am an attorney), but I think it is fair to say that you carry tremendous guilt for supporting the Iraq war (I mean, you dedicated an entire Deep Dish e-book to how wrong you were and how awful you feel about it).  Certainly, much of America is andrew-sullivan-i-was-wrong-coverwar weary – rightfully so – but your skepticism and doom-and-gloom take in particular seems to carry more guilt than your typical rational and reasoned analysis.

For what it’s worth, I was against the Iraq war before it become the mainstream popular opinion.  I have a pretty good BS-meter, and I knew the pretense for a war in Iraq was a farce from the get-go. It was, and remains, an utter catastrophe.  The untold human, financial, and political cost will not truly be known for decades.  But you know what?  I support this latest fight against ISIS.

Imagine being the President of the United States, Andrew.  Even though you campaigned on ending “dumb” wars, and drew down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, your absolute, number one constitutional priority as president and commander-in-chief remains: the safety and security of the American people.  A large group of well-funded and trained terrorists have taken over swaths of land in the Middle East, brutally maiming and killing innocent civilians along the way.  They have publicly declared their intention to attack the US.  In essence, they have declared war on America.  While they are not large enough, nor capable enough, to actually carry out such an attack at this time, they are only growing, receiving more money, and training more fighters.

As president of the most powerful nation on earth, you have quite a number of options, but they basically boil down to two:  You can either take military action or not.  I am sorry to be the one to break this to you, Andrew, but there is no president, current, past, or future, that would ever sit back and let such a threat grow to the point of carrying out an attack on America.  Certainly not in the post-9/11 world we live in.  And you know what?  That’s how someone in charge of our security should act.  It is the responsible thing to do.

You want to be a violent terrorist organization and declare war on America?  Well, now your going to have deal with those consequences.  You’re going to be extinguished.  And if ISIS is systematically degraded and destroyed, particularly with support from allies and Middle East partners, that will be the right message.  The United States, and the world, will have zero-tolerance for this.  Zero. Fucking. Tolerance.

The President did not try and BS us by hyping the immediate threat to the homeland; he told us a reality that a war-weary America did not want to hear: that this is the approach you have take with violent fanatics.  It is an unfortunate reality that we have to respond to violence with violence, but this is the world we live in.  Perhaps there will be a paradigm shift someday when I’m old and grey, and that won’t be the case anymore, but in the meantime, I support this president to uphold his constitutional duty – dealing with these violent fanatics who will never be part of the civilized world the only way they should be dealt with: extermination.

Update from a reader, who notes something that can’t be reiterated enough:

Your reader who wrote this is completely wrong:

Imagine being the President of the United States, Andrew. Even though you campaigned on ending “dumb” wars, and drew down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, your absolute, number one constitutional priority as president and commander-in-chief remains: the safety and security of the American people.

The presidential oath states:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

His number one priority is not the safety of Americans; it’s to uphold the Constitution. And the last time I checked, that means letting Congress declare war.