David Corn makes the point that once you start up the war machine, it’s hard to shut it off.
In 2003, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney sold a war on a simple premise: Saddam Hussein was a threat to the survival of the United States, and the only option was a full-scale invasion. Obama is presenting the public a military action that is not based on a black-and-white view (ISIS is evil, we will destroy it any way we can) but one predicated on grays. If US air strikes can make a difference, if other nations join in, if the Iraqi government gets it acts together, if the Iraqi military can do its job, then the United States will use its military might in a limited way to vanquish ISIS. A conditional case for war does not easily sync up with the stark nature of such an enterprise. If any of these ifs don’t come to be, will Obama be cornered and forced by his rhetoric to do something? After depicting ISIS as a peril warranting a US military response—and with much of the American public convinced of that—can he then shrug his shoulders and say, “Never mind”? Will he provide the hawks an opening for political attacks and demands for greater military intervention? In his speech, the man who ran for president with the pledge to end the Iraq War declared, “We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.” But what if all else fails? He vowed to eradicate the ISIS “cancer,” noting it will take time to do so. Can he stop if his nonwar counterterrorism campaign does not defeat the disease? It is hard to put the case for war back in the box.
It’s not going to be easy, especially when you have shriekers on the right who swear that ISIS is coming in from Mexico disguised as eight-year-old Honduran refugees.
Paul Waldman says that if the Republicans really want to go to war, they should say so.
After Obama spoke, John McCain shouted at Jay Carney that everything would have been fine if we had never removed troops from Iraq, saying “the president really doesn’t have a grasp for how serious the threat from ISIS is.” He and Lindsey Graham later released a statement advocating a bunch of stuff we’re already doing, along with some language that sounded like they might be advocating waging war on the Syrian government, but it’s hard to be sure. Ted Cruz said Obama’s speech was “fundamentally unserious” because it was insufficiently belligerent and fear-mongering.
Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook page: “War is hell. So go big or go home, Mr. President. Big means bold, confident, wise assurance from a trustworthy Commander-in-Chief that it shall all be worth it. Charge in, strike hard, get out. Win.” Which is about the “strategy” you’d get for defeating ISIS if you asked a third-grader.
The only one who was clear on what they would do instead, oddly enough, was Dick Cheney. He pronounced Obama’s strategy insufficient in a speech bordering on the insane, in which he essentially advocated waging war in every corner of the earth.
All that sounds like they’re caught between two unacceptable options. They can’t say they support what the administration will be doing, because whatever Obama does is wrong by definition. But they know that advocating another full-scale ground invasion would be met with horror from the public, so they can’t advocate that either. The only option left is to just react to whatever Obama proposes by saying it’s insufficient.
You know what would have really been a conundrum for the Republicans? Obama declaring full-scale war, the kind Dick Cheney and What’s-her-name are salivating for, but only if Congress will raise a shitload of taxes to pay for it.