I’ve managed to avoid talking about ISIS in any direct way. But I guess I cannot any longer. MSNBC has eliminated its normal evening coverage so it could talk about Obama’s Big Speech™ before and then after. I’m writing this before he has spoken, but I know what he is going to say: I have the authority to attack ISIS in Syria and I will attack ISIS in Syria because this is a Very Big Deal™. It’s interesting that everyone was rightly all over Obama for his entirely political decision to delay dealing with immigration. But in this cace no one is calling his decision political. It is.
The media have managed to work American people up into yet another of their fear and anger tantrums. And so the call has gone out. The Batman light is shining on the clouds above. “Please save us! Do something! Make our fear go away!” So Obama “reluctantly” accepts what all the “liberal” and conservative analysts always say: more bombing in more places until it becomes clear that it isn’t doing any good. And then do what these very same analysts recommend — More bombing! — because, “We can’t stop now!” See the sunk cost fallacy for more details.
The problem is that soon — maybe months or maybe years — everyone will say, “You know, that was a mistake!” Of course, the conservatives are going to complain regardless. If it goes reasonably well, they will complain that Obama didn’t act sooner. If it goes badly, they will claim that it was stupid to do what he did. But they aren’t alone. Everyone will second guess him after the fact.
The truth is that these things never go well, because war should be a last resort. But instead, with the United States, it is one of the first things in the diplomatic toolbox that we reach to. And in the current situation, we can’t forget that ISIS is the result of a previous foreign misadventure. And this decision is based on the same kind of logic. This time it is, “Sure ISIS isn’t a direct threat to the United States, but if we leave it alone, it might turn into one in the future.”
Let’s think about that. What have Democrats been screaming about for over a decade? “Preemptive war!” And what is this? Preemptive war! And the difference between this Iraq War (with a sub-war in Syria) and the last? I guess it is that the first one was a full invasion and this one isn’t. But we’ve seen mission creep in the past. And we are already seeing it in the present. The sunk cost fallacy is probably at its most intense in war.
I’ll admit, I’m almost always against war. And I’m sure there are many people who would consider my opinion less credible because of that. But if you look at the history of war from afterward, you will see that most people feel the same way. So I think what I bring to this discussion is a little emotional distance. I am not any more fearful or angry than I usually am. Unthinkable horrors are committed to Americans every sing day. Most of them are done by other Americans. Many of them are done by the American government itself. So I don’t think that there is anything new to worry about, with all due respect to James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
Now that the President has given his talk, I get to say: told ya! There were a lot of nice words. Obama has always been good with nice words. He started out with his greatest hits: withdrawal from Iraq, killing of Osama bin Laden, and those new tan suits. Then he went through the four things that the administration was going to do to crush ISIS. They all kind of got mushed together because they were mostly about saying, “We’ll do air strikes the other people in our partner countries will die!” But there was one take home of the speech, “Congress should work with us but we don’t need them because we have the power and the authority to bomb Syria.” Told ya!
Personally, I don’t care. Whether the President decides to pander to the unreasonable fear and anger of the American people or where he is joined by Congress, it doesn’t matter. An escalation of this mission is a bad idea. And before long, the American people will realize this — just like always. But it might be good for the Democrats in November. But that’s a hell of a way to manage our foreign policy. Not that I’m saying that the American voters deserve better. Because they seem to demand this kind of hopeless governance.