That is Aaron Blake’s advice for the White House (Washington Post): “For the first time since January, President Obama is polling a 50 percent approval rating on an issue: his handling of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”
The newest WaPo-ABC poll shows 50 percent approve of Obama’s handling of the Islamic State, as compared to 44 percent who disapprove. That’s an improvement from August, when the question referenced only Iraq and not Syria, and 42 percent of Americans gave Obama a vote of confidence.
I might be alone in this, but I was more attracted to the “degrade ISIL to a manageable problem” version of Obama.
Let us grant that ISIL is comprised of some rather evil creatures and they have been quite proud to reveal their propensity to torture and kill innocent people, often in large numbers and on video. One still must make the argument that ISIL constitutes a genuine threat to our national interest that is so significant as to justify the recent (and ongoing escalation). I have yet to hear anyone make that argument to my satisfaction.
Political scientist Stephen Walt (PBS Newshour) seems to have it right:
we have to recognize this is not the Third Reich. This is not an incredibly powerful movement. It has maybe 20,000 fighters, no air force, no navy, basically lightly armed infantry that has been able to expand in stateless area, areas that are stateless in part because we destroyed the states that were governing there.
There are lots of groups around the world who would like to be able to go after the United States. Most of them fail. And, in fact, the way to deal with it is primarily with intelligence and counterterrorism here at home.
Gary Brecher (War Nerd) arrives at a similar conclusion, albeit with a bit more swag, when he describes ISIL as “the most overrated, over-hyped bunch of hams this side of WWE… a mid-size Sunni militia with a knack for child-rape and no skills against anyone who doesn’t fall for their death-metal hype.”
If Walt is correct, why is ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State generating such a muscular response? Perhaps because
- It feeds into the “Obama’s failed foreign policy” meme. Remember, he is the guy who called them “JV,” before skipping out on his daily briefings to hit the links;
- It comes with some striking visuals that took the media by storm in the months usually reserved for shark attacks;
- It provides a window of opportunity for the neocons to return from exile and relitigate the Global War on Terror;
- Our elected officials are incapable of engaging in serious, sober, well-reasoned debates under normal circumstances, and never when an election is a few months away.
Now that our expanded attack on ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State is delivering the goods in the public opinion polls, one suspects that the current course will be sustained at least until November or the Champaign runs out and Americans rediscover that war produces casualties.