Archives For ISIS

Who Supports The War On ISIS?

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 14 2014 @ 7:30pm


Arabs do, according to a new regional survey:

The poll comes from the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, which asked 4,800 randomly selected people from around the Arab world about US foreign policy and ISIS. When asked “how would you evaluate the foreign policy of the United States towards the Arab region,” 73 percent of respondents answered negative or “negative to some extent.” This makes the broad support for the anti-ISIS campaign even more surprising. When asked if they supported the US-led airstrikes against ISIS, a majority in every single country said they support the campaign[.]

What’s that about? Well, the poll also asked about attitudes toward ISIS and found them to be overwhelmingly negative in most Arab countries, so supporting a war against the group follows somewhat logically. But as Beauchamp notes, that support “isn’t necessarily durable”:

At the beginning of the 2011 US-led intervention in Libya, for instance, there was a fair amount of Arab support for the campaign. By November, after the intervention ended, a plurality of Arab respondents in one poll thought toppling Qaddafi had been the wrong thing to do. It’s also possible to over-interpret these results. You might look at the Iraq numbers and assume that ISIS is losing the battle for popular opinion in Iraq — and for a group that depends on popular support to survive, that’s deadly. But it’s probably very hard to sample Sunni Iraqis in ISIS-controlled territory, who are really ISIS’s base.

The AP reported yesterday that leaders of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, have agreed to set aside their intra-jihadi feuds and cooperate against their enemies:

According to [a source], two decisions were reached: First, to halt infighting between Nusra and IS and second, for the groups together to open up fronts against Kurdish fighters in a couple of new areas of northern Syria.

Keating reads the cards:

This merger, along with growing signs that Washington is resigning itself to Bashar al-Assad’s long-term presence, could be an indication that the overlapping and intersecting battle lines in Syria are starting to clarify themselves. At the moment, the U.S., the Kurds, Iraqi Shiites, and—whether the Obama administration will admit it or not—the Syrian government are on one side, and ISIS and al-Qaida are on the other. The big loser in all of this is likely to be the U.S.-backed rebels.

In addition to ISIS and Nusra finding common cause, there are reports this week that the White House is considering revamping a Syria strategy many senior officials have come to see as unworkable. That strategy, which involved focusing primarily on rolling back ISIS in Iraq and didn’t involve strikes against Assad, never sat well with the rebels. A new one, which could involve a new diplomatic push for a cease-fire deal whose terms would likely be very disadvantageous to the Syrian opposition, would be even worse.

But Aymenn al-Tamimi recommends taking these reports with a grain of salt:

The rift between JN and IS is too great to heal at this point beyond the highly localized alliance between IS and JN in Qalamoun that reflects an exceptional situation where neither group can hold territory alone and both contingents are geographically isolated from members of their groups elsewhere in Syria, in addition to being preoccupied with constant fighting with regime forces and Hezbollah. At the broader level, IS still believes that JN is guilty of “defection” (‘inshiqāq) from IS in refusing to be subsumed under what was then the Islamic State of Iraq [ISI] to form the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham [ISIS] back in April 2013. The zero-sum demands of IS have only solidified with the claimed Caliphate status since 29 June demanding the allegiance of all the world’s Muslims. In turn, JN refuses even to recognize IS’ claim to be an actual state, let alone a Caliphate.

In response to this and other recent developments, Gopal Ratnam hints that the Obama administration is “edging closer to establishing a safe zone in northern Syria” for our “moderate” rebel allies:

Setting up such safe zones inside Syria will also address a key demand by Turkey, which sees the Assad regime as a greater threat than the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and has been pushing the United States to set up such areas as a condition for fuller participation in the coalition against the Sunni militant group that is also known as ISIS and ISIL. “If these safe havens are not established in northern Syria, the rebels will be effectively squeezed out by the Assad regime in a short time,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “So this is a last call to maintain and preserve rebel presence in northern Syria.”

Meanwhile, rumors that “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been injured or even killed in an airstrike were thrown into doubt with the release of a new audio recording of Baghdadi that refers to recent events:

The timing of the recording was unclear, but it referred to Barack Obama’s recent decision to send a further 1,500 US military advisers to train the Iraqi army and to a pledge of allegiance by Egyptian jihadis to the Islamic State last weekend.

In a triumphant survey of what he described as the group’s growing influence, the speaker also mentioned support from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. In Saudi Arabia, singled out in the message as the “head of the snake and stronghold of disease”, people were urged to “draw their swords” to fight and to kill Shia Muslims – referred to in pejorative sectarian terms as “rafidah”. Shia worshippers were indeed attacked in a terrorist shooting in the country’s Eastern Province 10 days ago.

[Re-posted from earlier today]

Let me put this as baldly as I can. The US fought two long, brutal wars in its response to the atrocity of September 11, 2001. We lost both of them – revealing the biggest military machine in the history of the planet as essentially useless in advancing American objectives through war and occupation. Attempts to quash Islamist extremism through democracy were complete failures. The Taliban still has enormous sway in Afghanistan and the only way to prevent the entire Potemkin democracy from imploding is a permanent US troop presence. In Iraq, we are now confronting the very same Sunni insurgency the invasion created in 2003 – just even more murderous. The Jihadism there has only become more extreme under a democratic veneer. And in all this, the U.S. didn’t just lose the wars; it lost the moral high-ground as well. The president himself unleashed brutal torture across all theaters of war – effectively ending any moral authority the US has in international human rights.

These are difficult truths to handle. They reveal that so many brave men and women died for nothing. And so we have to construct myths or bury facts to ensure that we maintain face. But these myths and amnesia have a consequence: they only serve to encourage Washington to make exactly the same mistakes again. To protect its own self-regard, Washington’s elite is prepared to send young Americans to fight in a war they cannot win and indeed have already lost. You see the blinding myopia elsewhere: Washington’s refusal to release the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture merely proves that it cannot face the fact that some of the elite are war criminals tout simple, and that these horrific war crimes have changed America’s role in the world.

What infuriated me about the decision to re-start the Iraq War last August – by a president explicitly elected not to do any such thing – was its arrogance, its smugness, and its contempt for what this country, and especially its armed forces, went through for so many long years of quagmire and failure. Obama and his aides revealed that their commitment to realism and not to intervene in Syria could be up-ended on a dime – and a war initiated without any debate in Congress, let alone a war authorization. They actually believed they had the right to re-start the Iraq War – glibly tell us it’s no big deal – tell us about it afterwards, and then ramp up the numbers of combat forces on the ground to early Vietnam levels.

This is not just a Republican fixation. It’s a function of the hegemony reflexively sought by liberal internationalists as well. Just listen to Jon Stewart calling Samantha Power’s smug bluff last night:


It was one of Stewart’s best interviews in a long while. One telling moment comes when Stewart asks Power why, if the threat from ISIS is “existential”, the regional powers most threatened by it cannot take it on themselves. She had no answer – because there is none. The US is intervening – despite clear evidence that it can do no real good – simply to make sure that ISIS doesn’t actually take over the country and thereby make president Obama look bad. But the IS was never likely to take over Kurdistan or the Shiite areas of Iraq, without an almighty struggle. And our elevating ISIS into a global brand has only intensified its recruitment and appeal. We responded, in other words, in the worst way possible and for the worst reasons possible: without the force to alter the underlying dynamic, without a breakthrough in multi-sectarian governance in Baghdad, without the regional powers taking the lead, without any exit plan, and all to protect the president from being blamed for “losing Iraq” – even though “Iraq” was lost almost as soon as it was occupied in 2003.

My point is this: how can you behave this way after what so many service-members endured for so long? How can you simply re-start a war you were elected to end and for which you have no feasible means to achieve victory?

The reason, I fear, is that the leadership in both parties cannot help themselves when they have a big shiny military and see something they don’t like happening in the world. If they can actually decide to intervene in a civil war to suppress an insurgency they couldn’t fully defeat even with 100,000 troops in the country, without any direct threat to national security, they can do anything. Worse, our political culture asks no more of them. The Congress doesn’t want to take a stand, the public just wants beheadings-induced panic satiated by a pliant president (who is then blamed anyway), and the voices that need to be heard – the voices of those who fought and lost so much in Iraq – are largely absent.

That’s why I found this op-ed in yesterday’s NYT so refreshing. A former lieutenant general in Iraq reminds us of the facts McCain and Obama both want to deny:

The surge in Iraq did not “win” anything. It bought time. It allowed us to kill some more bad guys and feel better about ourselves. But in the end, shackled to a corrupt, sectarian government in Baghdad and hobbled by our fellow Americans’ unwillingness to commit to a fight lasting decades, the surge just forestalled today’s stalemate. Like a handful of aspirin gobbled by a fevered patient, the surge cooled the symptoms. But the underlying disease didn’t go away. The remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgents we battled for more than eight years simply re-emerged this year as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

To go back in and try to do again with no combat troops what we could not do with 100,000 is a definition of madness brought on by pride. It is to restart the entire war all over again. It makes no sense – except as political cover. I was chatting recently with an officer who served two tours of duty in Iraq, based in Mosul. I asked him how he felt about ISIS taking over a city he had risked his life to save. And I can’t forget his response (I paraphrase): “Anyone who was over there knew right then that as soon as we left, all this shit would happen again. I’m not surprised. The grunts on the ground knew this, and saw this, but the military leadership can’t admit their own failure and the troops cannot speak out because it’s seen as an insult to those who died. And so we keep making the same fucking mistakes over and over again.”

At what point will we listen to those men and women willing to tell the ugly, painful truth about our recent past – and follow the logical conclusion? When will Washington actually admit its catastrophic errors and crimes of the last decade – and try to reform its own compulsive-interventionist habits to reflect reality rather than myth? Not yet, it appears, not yet. Washington cannot bear very much reality.

(Photo: U.S. Army soldiers of the D-CO 2/325 AIR 82nd Airborne Division during a dismounted movement to conduct early morning raids on homes in Baghdad, Iraq on April 26, 2007. The soldiers are part of the United States military surge as they try to help control the violence plagued city. By Joe Raedle/Getty Images.)

Let’s say you wanted to construct a narrative that perfectly fits the definition of mission creep. How could it improve on the following: at first you insist you are not going to be dragged into a new war in Iraq and Syria; then you rush military aid to avoid a humanitarian disaster; then you find that you need to make sure Kobani doesn’t fall; then you commit 1500 troops to “advise” the Iraqi “military”; and then you have the  Pentagon announce “that it had received authorization from Obama to send an additional 1,500 U.S. personnel to Iraq over the coming months”, which would double the number of American boots on the ground there. But no worries. Nothing to see here:

The new troops will be placed under the same noncombat restriction as those already deployed, but they will be moved closer to the front lines. … According to a senior administration official, 630 of the new troops will be performing an advise-and-assist mission — similar to the one being conducted today — primarily in Anbar in the west of the country. The Pentagon plans to establish “two expeditionary advise and assist operations centers, in locations outside of Baghdad and Erbil,” to provide support for the Iraqis at the brigade headquarters level and above. The remaining 870 troops will be doing a more traditional training mission at locations across the country, the senior administration official said. Both missions will move U.S. troops out of Iraq’s major cities and closer to where battles are currently being waged and where a likely counteroffensive would begin.

But no combat will be allowed! What if combat comes to them? What if one of them is killed? Are we not to respond and defend ourselves? One US soldier captured by the IS and we have a huge emotional story that could guarantee even more of a commitment. This is exactly how this operation with a few advisers becomes an unstoppable war in an unwinnable desert.

And then, as if to underline the fact that he could easily be ramping up for a third Iraq war (to be continued by the Clintons or by a neocon president), Obama stressed that he would “never say never” to more troops (video above). Juan Cole wants Obama to stop bullshitting about our presence in Iraq:

If ISIL really is a dire threat to US security, as administration officials maintain, then they should go to the US public with the news that they are going to have to put thousands of US forces on the ground in Iraq. So far they are trying to spin us, and to pretend that there are just some trainers and advisers. It is far more than that; US special operations forces will be operating in Iraq brigades, likely in part to paint lasers on targets for US warplanes to bomb.

Meanwhile, the counteroffensive may have already begun: an aide to ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reportedly killed in an air strike Friday night, while Baghdadi himself may also have been injured or even killed, though the Pentagon can’t confirm that. The Iraqi army is also making gains against ISIS in the strategically important northern city of Beiji:

Exclusive images obtained by Al Jazeera on Monday showed government forces pushing ahead into the rebel-controlled city, with ISIL flag covered in an Iraqi security forces slogan. Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said clashes continue and the armed rebels are fighting back. He said the oil refinery, located about 50km from the city centre, is the next big target. ISIL fighters remain in control of parts of the facility. The military advance is seen as a significant victory for the government, as Beiji and its nearby oil refinery were one of the first territories swept by ISIL in June.

The targeting of refineries like the one in Beiji is one reason why German intelligence believes the jihadist group’s oil revenues are much lower than previous estimates had calculated:

According to German English-language publication The Local, the BND (German equivalent of the CIA) estimate was obtained by several German news agencies. The BND estimate suggests that ISIS may make less than $100 million this year from oil — under $274,000 per day. Obviously, that’s still a lot, but it’s way lower than what most public estimates suggest. …

There are two big reasons the BND thinks most estimates are inflated. The first is coalition airstrikes: the United States and its allies have pounded the oil extraction rigs, which are after all right out in the open, and hit ISIS smuggling lines. As such, the BND believes that ISIS has gone from producing its highest oil production of 172,000 barrels per day to 28,000 in October. … The second reason the BND believes ISIS oil revenues are inflated has to do with ISIS governance itself.

But this is never enough. Now, the US has to fight the Iraqis’ fight for them – and somehow regain the territory lost to the IS. The goal will determine the forces. And whatever restraints this president tries to put on this will soon be busted – either by him or his successor.

This is exactly what we elected Obama to prevent, not to enable. But the war machine outlasts any president. And it has too easily coopted this one already.

Yesterday, the WSJ broke the news that President Obama sent a secret letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last month, “aimed both at buttressing the campaign against Islamic State and nudging Iran’s religious leader closer to a nuclear deal”:

Mr. Obama stressed to Mr. Khamenei that any cooperation on Islamic State was largely contingent on Iran reaching a comprehensive agreement with global powers on the future of Tehran’s nuclear program by a Nov. 24 diplomatic deadline, the same people say. The October letter marked at least the fourth time Mr. Obama has written Iran’s most powerful political and religious leader since taking office in 2009 and pledging to engage with Tehran’s Islamist government. The correspondence underscores that Mr. Obama views Iran as important—whether in a potentially constructive or negative role—to his emerging military and diplomatic campaign to push Islamic State from the territories it has gained over the past six months.

The letter represents a significant shift in the administration’s approach to Iran:

The disclosure of the letter is likely to raise the political pressure on the White House, which is already coming under fire from lawmakers in both parties concerned that the administration is prepared to make far-reaching concessions to Tehran in order to strike a landmark nuclear deal before a Nov. 24 deadline. It also raises new questions about the precise contours of the White House’s Iran policy. Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last month, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said the U.S. wasn’t working with Iran on the fight against the Islamic State.

Tom Rogan rejects that shift:

[W]hen he receives solicitous letters from the American president, Ayatollah Khamenei can only be encouraged to make a deal on Iran’s terms. It’s important to remember that while Khamenei is a hardliner amenable to pragmatic concerns, he’s only allowing Rouhani to negotiate for a simple reason: economics. With Iran’s economy suffering under the dual burden of sanctions and low oil prices (oil revenue being critical to Iran’s government expenditure), Iran must negotiate. As overlord of a young population that has increasing cultural and intellectual connections with the West, Khamenei fears that continued economic pain will feed social instability and threaten his ongoing Islamic revolution. His pragmatism is thus a consequence of Iran’s economic pain.

President Obama should pay closer heed to Iran’s economic pain and abandon his current carrot-heavy approach in favor of clarifying three precepts to the Iranians. First, America seeks a deal and will allow low-enrichment activities in return for an unimpeded inspections regime, the verified closure of high-risk weaponized facilities, and centrifuge limits. Second, America will not accept a bad deal and will introduce tougher sanctions if the deadline expires. Third, the military option, though complex, is very much on the table. Republicans should support President Obama in this effort.

Allahpundit on the letter:

Riddle me this, though. Why would Khamenei care about formal U.S. cooperation against ISIS? Western airstrikes appear to be making headway against the group, slowing its advance if not quite reversing its gains (yet). Americans support the anti-ISIS campaign heavily so Obama’s going to keep it up whether Khamenei will take his calls or not. The main virtue of formal cooperation, I would think, is the propaganda value in it. Having the U.S. coordinate with Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s sworn enemy would be a humiliation to both allies. Maybe there’s something in that for Khamenei, but to get it he’d have to step back (a little) from the anti-Americanism that helped birth Khomeinism. How do you go from “Death to America” to “Let’s fight ISIS with America” overnight?

John McCain and other Iran hawks are predictably furious. Juan Cole rolls his eyes at the shallow analysis their reaction betrays:

[T]he US needs Iran in Iraq, but views Iran as an enemy in Syria. McCain’s reaction is mainly about Syria, not Iraq. But if you look closely at the latter country, you can see that ISIL probably cannot be defeated without Iranian help. McCain has never appeared to meditate the mistakes he made in arming Muslim radicals to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, which led in some ways to the rise of al-Qaeda.

Great powers always have to make friends among states that are enemies of one another. The US has to have good relations with Greece and Turkey, and with Pakistan and India. Obama needs Iran in Iraq. It may be unpalatable, but the US needs Iran. Moreover, the US cannot defeat ISIL in Syria if it concentrates on bombing the al-Assad government, as McCain wants. McCain, who doesn’t usually show evidence of being capable of a nuanced or subtle foreign policy, doesn’t appreciate this need.

Barak Ravid notes that Israel might not have been told about the letter, speculating that “if Israel … learned of it only from the Wall Street Journal, that is liable to deepen the already severe lack of trust between Jerusalem and Washington on an issue –Iran – that is critical to their relationship”. Dov Zakheim accuses Obama of pushing Israel toward war:

[I]f an arrangement with Iran is seen to be likely to hold, the result could well be another American war in the Middle East. Israel has been threatening for years that it is prepared to take unilateral action against Iran if that country does not discontinue its nuclear weapons program. Given the total lack of trust between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were there no real prospect that Congress could block the deal from taking place, Israel might well launch an attack against Iranian targets. In response, Tehran would not only attempt to retaliate against Israel, it would most certainly hold the United States accountable as well, regardless of any denials emanating from Washington. Should Iran attack American forces, or ordinary Americans anywhere in the world, the administration would have no choice but to react. The president would find himself doing exactly what his appeasement of Iran sought to avoid: a costly war whose demands on American personnel and materiel would stretch the military to its limits.

The usual threats from the Israel lobby should be treated with the contempt they deserve. Zack Beauchamp cautions that the move could easily backfire:

Obama’s goal is probably in part to use this letter, by setting up linkage with Iran between nukes and ISIS, as a incentive to make Iran more willing to strike a nuclear deal. But Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, thinks the linkage idea could make ISIS cooperation needlessly harder to get. Maloney argues that if the US-Iran negotiations had stayed on two separate tracks, nuclear and ISIS, the success of one wouldn’t be dependent on the success of the other. But once Obama’s position is that the US needs nuclear concessions in order to consider ISIS cooperation, then getting ISIS cooperation becomes harder.

But cooperating with Tehran on ISIS might be a bad goal in itself. In Syria, Iran’s principal objective isn’t destroying ISIS: it’s defending Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime. Making a deal with Iran would likely mean an at least implicit degree of alliance with Assad, which might actually end up making ISIS stronger. This is more possible than you think, and underscores just how dangerous a game Obama is playing with Khamenei.

I’d love to know who leaked the letter and why. It’s a bold move, it seems to me. But very hard to read in the context of negotiations we have, understandably, little access to. Overall, I find it encouraging – evidence that the president knows how crucial this move will be, and how central to his legacy it could become. It will be fascinating to see Hillary Clinton’s response to the deal, if it emerges. She may actually have to take a stand at some point, after all.

Longing For The Caliphate

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 7 2014 @ 9:00am

Shadi Hamid offers his take on what attracts people to ISIS, and why that attraction is specific to Islam:

ISIS draws on, and draws strength from, ideas that have broad resonance among Muslim-majority populations. They may not agree with ISIS’s interpretation of the caliphate, but the notion of caliphate—the historical political entity governed by Islamic law and tradition—is a powerful one, even among more secular-minded Muslims. The caliphate, something that hasn’t existed since 1924, is a reminder of how one of the world’s great civilizations endured one of the more precipitous declines in human history. The gap between what Muslims once were and where they now find themselves is at the center of the anger and humiliation that drive political violence in the Middle East. But there is also a sense of loss and longing for an organic legal and political order that succeeded for centuries before its slow but decisive dismantling. Ever since, Muslims, and particularly Arab Muslims, have been struggling to define the contours of an appropriate post-caliphate political model.

In contrast, the early Christian community, as Princeton historian Michael Cook notes, “lacked a conception of an intrinsically Christian state” and was willing to coexist with and even recognize Roman law. For this reason, among others, the equivalent of ISIS simply couldn’t exist in Christian-majority societies. Neither would the pragmatic, mainstream Islamist movements that oppose ISIS and its idiosyncratic, totalitarian take on the Islamic polity. While they have little in common with Islamist extremists, in both means and ends, the Muslim Brotherhood and its many descendants and affiliates do have a particular vision for society that puts Islam and Islamic law at the center of public life. The vast majority of Western Christians—including committed conservatives—cannot conceive of a comprehensive legal-social order anchored by religion. However, the vast majority of, say, Egyptians and Jordanians can and do.

Literally. Laying out his agenda for Congress’s lame duck session yesterday, Obama announced that he would finally ask for a new AUMF to cover the ongoing war against ISIS:

He said the goal was to update an authorization narrowly tailored to the fight against al-Qaida to be more applicable to the current mission against IS extremists in Iraq and Syria. “It makes sense to make sure the authorization from Congress reflects what we perceive to be not just our strategy over the next two or three months, but our strategy going forward,” Obama said. The conversation was to start Friday, when Obama said he’d update congressional leaders about the fight against IS during an Oval Office meeting. Obama said he wanted the process of crafting the new authorization to start now, but that finalizing it could carry over into next year, when a new Congress will usher in GOP control of the Senate.

This is something that should clearly have been done long before now. The decision to go to war should never be punted until after national elections. Such a decision should precisely be made before elections so that voters have a better sense of what they’re voting for. But there I go again – insufficiently cynical to understand how Washington works these days.

Nonetheless, now it is going to the Congress, let’s have a debate. On this question particularly, the GOP needs to put up or shut up. They need to make an argument as to what their foreign policy would be. Let newly-elected Senator Tom Cotton make the explicit case for a renewed invasion of Iraq and a new war against Iran. Let them show us what further domestic programs will be cut to release the Pentagon from the sequester’s constrictions. Alternatively, let’s hear from those Republicans more leery of more war, and disdainful of further attempts to retain hegemony in the Middle East. Let’s see the divisions of the GOP on these questions laid bare – between fiscal hawks and defense aggressors, between neocons and libertarians and realists.

Again: why Obama didn’t force them to make this positive case before now is beyond me. It would have clarified a lot.

Juan Cole lists more pragmatic reasons why he thinks Obama is making this move now:

1. Obama may be trying to mollify Republicans so that they’ll cooperate with an extension of the aid program to train Syrian rebels, which runs out in December.

2. Obama is taking ISIL off the table as an issue during his last two years (and into the next presidential campaign) by this step. If the GOP Congress gives him the authorization, they will bear the blame if anything goes wrong. If they refuse, then everything that goes wrong will be their fault.

3. If they vote for an authorization for the use of military force, the GOP Congress won’t easily be able to blackmail Obama by threatening to withhold funding for the military effort against ISIL unless he gives in on some issue.

But, like me, Jens David Ohlin has no idea why he waited until after the elections:

If he had sought authorization before the election and received it, this would have strengthened his image as a foreign policy president dealing with the most pressing and emerging threats. Furthermore, thinking of this as a “new” war helps his image. If it is viewed as an “old” war, he is open to criticism that the situation was caused by his failure to deal with the Iraq War appropriately. On the other hand, if Congress had denied him the authorization, he could have used that denial as a sword against the Republicans going into the mid-term elections.

I guess the Democrats believed that the “war on women” and never mentioning the economy’s success and the ACA was going to do all their work for them. For his part, Larison wishes Congress would vote it down, even though he knows they won’t:

At the very least, the debate over authorization should subject the administration’s policy to the kind of close scrutiny that it has so far escaped. Obama embarked on this open-ended intervention without debate or real consultation with our representatives. Meanwhile, gutless members of Congress from both parties have been more concerned to jump on the pro-war bandwagon or to demagogue the threat from ISIS than they have been to question the wisdom of the intervention and the likelihood of its success. Now is the time for Congress to debate whether the ostensible goal of the intervention is even possible at an acceptable cost, and if it isn’t the president and Congressional leaders should be prepared to acknowledge that the intervention can’t succeed on its own terms.

But if there’s one thing we know about Washington’s debate about these questions: no one ever wants to ask whether what we want to do is even doable. No one wants to concede that the Iraq intervention was a catastrophe from which we have still not recovered. No one wants to point out that Pentagon spending is not compatible with a saner fiscal future. No one wants to point out that American power is on the wane, that intervention is becoming progressively less legitimate, and that the sensible response is to retrench. In fact, in a Clintons vs Republicans death match, both will be angling for the crown of intervener-in-chief – and the cost and feasibility of intervention will scarcely be on the table.