Here we go again. No sooner did we stop Obama from making a fatal mistake in going to war against Bashar al-Assad almost a year ago today, than we have to put our bodies in the path of another war train rolling down the tracks. This time the bogeyman is called ISIS.
I bet you thought we’d retired that awful phrase, the war on terror. That by-product of the Bush-Cheney years. Wasn’t it Barack Obama who told us we were no longer at war? That we were replacing that spooky Cold War-like phrase with something more positive, constructive. What happened to that guy? Where was he tonight? I missed him.
Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign was so beautiful, so uplifting. He was going to finally embody all those values so many millions of us thought we’d never get a chance to see in the White House. He was going to turn his back on George Bush and restore constitutional government. He was going to restore faith in American democracy, end Mideast wars. Take us back to what we should be: a nation of laws with respect for human rights.
All that is now a shambles. Obama has achieved almost nothing of his original promise. Instead of the bold innovator who was going to remind us of Abraham Lincoln he’s become a Democratic version of Bush-lite. He shambles from crisis to crisis motivated more by fear of being outflanked on the right by his GOP enemies than by any impulse toward original thinking or bold policy initiatives. He reacts. He husbands his resources (for what purpose isn’t clear). He proceeds cautiously.
The only areas in which he’s moved boldly have been those in which he was fully confident his Republican enemies would join him. In other words, Obama’s strongest and most consistent policies have been his counter-terror program, which mirrors the Bush-Cheney doctrine: lots of drone strikes, special forces, targeted assassinations. Domestically, he’s prosecuted federal whistleblowers and invaded the prerogatives of journalists with a gusto not even seen under George Bush.
I say all this by way of talking about tonight’s speech. Obama during his speech seemed to be a robot. He spoke in that decisive manly way of his which we’d grown so used to and comfortable with during the 2008 campaign when he was declaiming meaningful slogans like “Yes, we can.” But the words coming out of his mouth were nothing like those heady time of yesteryear. It reminded me of poor Isaac being tricked by Jacob into giving him the portion rightfully belonging to the first-born, Esau. The blind, befuddled Isaac says:
The hands are those of Esau, but the voice is that of Jacob.
Tonight, the president looked like Barack Obama, but sounded like Dick Cheney. How can I say this any more forcefully: we do not need another Mideast war! We do not need another Muslim enemy. We have enough.
Charles Blow said it all in his column today:
He [Pres. Obama] made clear that “while we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland,” he still “will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq.”
He called it “a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” and not a war. Yet, for all practical purposes, a war seems to be what it will be.
Pundits and journalists are regaling us with the poll numbers documenting the high level of support among Americans for taking on ISIS. The message appears to be that all of us are ready to roll up our sleeves and join the president as he orders those F-16s and F-35s and Green Berets into harm’s way. It’ll be another Osama bin Laden moment when SEAL Team 6 storms the bedroom in a hail of fire and takes out the Bad Guy.
Wipe out ISIS, the senators are saying. Send them to an early grave. No one beheads an American and gets away with it. It insults our national pride to see a fellow-American defiled like that. So we’ll send the Marines in like in the song, From the Halls of Montezuma. Oh wait. Not so fast. We’re not sending the Marines. No ground forces, the president promised tonight. Only air power. Those 1,000 soldiers either in Iraq now or soon to be arriving will only train Iraqi soldiers to do the jobs we were supposed to be training them to do over the past nine years. Yet somehow the lessons evaporated when they were faced with a determined foe like ISIS. Then they tore off their uniforms and disappeared into the smoke like wraiths.
“We have all been here before” to quote Crosby Still & Nash. Remember Iraq I? Where did that $2-trillion go that we spent there over the past nine years? Down the drain. What about those hundreds of millions in sophisticated equipment we left for the Iraqi military? The same ones who turned and ran at the first hint of Islamist trouble? Does anyone remember the 145,000 Iraqi civilians we killed to bring democracy to the Mideast? And the 5,000 U.S. soliders who died?
Here is what a Reuters reporter had to say on the subject:
“…Islamic State’s captured an enormous amount of U.S. weaponry, originally intended for the rebuilt Iraqi Army. You know — the one that collapsed in terror in front of the Islamic State, back when they were just ISIL? The ones who dropped their uniforms, and rifles and ran away? They left behind the bigger equipment, too, including M1 Abrams tanks (about $6 million each), 52 M198 howitzer cannons ($527,337), and MRAPs (about $1 million) similar to the ones in use in Ferguson…”
“Now, U.S. warplanes are flying sorties, at a cost somewhere between $22,000 to $30,000 per hour for the F-16s, to drop bombs that cost at least $20,000 each, to destroy this captured equipment. That means if an F-16 were to take off from Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey and fly two hours to Erbil, Iraq, and successfully drop both of its bombs on one target each, it costs the United States somewhere between $84,000 to $104,000 for the sortie and destroys a minimum of $1 million and a maximum of $12 million in U.S.-made equipment.”
Imagine if we’d fought harder against Bush’s Iraq war mirage in 2003 and prevented the very nightmare we face tonight. Imagine if we hadn’t invaded Iraq and turned the place into a seething cauldron of inter-ethnic and religious hate spiced with a heavy does of anti-Americanism? But the damage has been done. The question now is whether we’ll compound our earlier error and get bogged down once again in a war against the Arab Mideast.
My fear is that Barack Obama is being dragged into a war that the 2008 Obama would never have been suckered into. The problem is that the 2014 Obama listens to GOP dog whistles. And when he hears them his ears perk up and he assumes the position: attack dog. Break out the guns, fuel up the planes. That seems to be the answer to every problem in the Mideast.
There must be (and are) ways to confront ISIS short of getting ourselves into another war. Here are some examples offered by Phyllis Bennis.
Stand down, Mr. President.