9 p.m. ET, all around the dial. As noted last night, surreal as it may seem, it was one year ago to the very day that he gave a primetime speech demanding that we bomb the other side of this same conflict. (What’s that side — our new de facto ally — up to nowadays, anyway? Take a guess.) Feel free to use the thread below to speculate on whom he’ll be wanting to attack next September 10th.
The biggest difference politically between last year and this year, of course, is that this time he’s got the public on his side — for now. Liberal Democrats may be split but polls show most Americans support bombing ISIS, partly because of the long-term strategic threat they’ll pose once they’re entrenched in the Middle East and partly because some people just need killing. If you have any lingering doubt that these degenerates need it, read this. But that raises a question: Given that Obama was briefed for a year on the metastasizing ISIS threat, why isn’t the U.S. military already more involved? Josh Kraushaar has a theory:
But to understand the disconnect between Obama and his advisers, you have to understand how politics drives so much of the administration’s decision-making. Obama’s passive public posture was a direct response to the public’s longstanding war weariness, and his insistence on a limited American military role in the fight is in reaction to what the polls still show today. For months, even as ISIS made territorial gains across Iraq, the public continued to oppose any military action there. It wasn’t until the gruesome beheading of two American journalists that opinion on military intervention began to shift markedly.
Support for airstrikes in Syria has now more than doubled in the past year, with a whopping 71 percent supporting military action in Iraq. Nearly nine out of 10 Americans now view ISIS as a serious threat to American interests, with 59 percent viewing it as “very serious.” So the president has belatedly followed suit, and is now delivering a prime-time address Wednesday evening to outline a strategy. Such an address could have been delivered months ago, when the terrorist threat was first metastasizing and when he could have helped mobilize public opinion to the cause. The much-mocked phrase “leading from behind” isn’t really accurate; for the Obama administration, it’s leading where the public opinion of the moment takes them…
Foreign policy and immigration offer recent case studies of how the White House badly misread the public mood, living in the politics of the moment instead of anticipating the politics of the future.
He knew there was a serious strategic threat building but he didn’t know that ISIS would galvanize U.S. public support for dealing with it by decapitating two Americans, so he sat tight and let the threat build. Only now that the politics have changed is he prepared to move, and only then via air power for fear that the politics might change again. On that point, a thought from Anthony Zinni on O’s reluctance to use ground troops: “My hero growing up was Rocky Marciano. If Rocky Marciano said before a heavyweight championship fight, ‘I’m not going to throw a right hook all throughout this fight, that’s off the table’—why would you tell your enemy what you’re not going to do?”
Some of the shift in public opinion is also due to reemerging hawkishness on the right. In April, when asked whether the U.S. should be more or less active in the world, Republicans split 29/45. When asked again in September, they split 41/34. Bush-era theories of executive power in fighting jihadis are popular again too, at least in the White House. Dick Cheney aside, there’s no villain greater than John Yoo to progressives when it comes to crafting counterterror policy. Well, guess what:
John Yoo, a former Bush administration lawyer and one of the primary architects of the “strong executive” theory of presidential power, told BuzzFeed News, “Obama has adopted the same view of war powers as the Bush administration.”…
Relying on Article II, Yoo wrote [in 2001]: “The president may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the States that harbor or support them, whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist attack of September 11.” The fact that Congress had explicitly rejected the preemption language didn’t matter because, in Yoo’s reading, the president already had that authority.
“This is precisely the logic of the current and planned use of force against [ISIS],” Jack Goldsmith, another former Bush administration lawyer and currently a professor at Harvard Law School, pointed out recently on Lawfare, a blog he co-founded.
As you watch tonight, try to imagine what lefty commentary would look like if George W. Bush delivered this exact same speech. Because you know what? Apart from a sentence here or there, I’ll bet he could have.
Two quotes for you to meditate on while we’re waiting for O to speak. The first comes from one of Muqtada al-Sadr’s henchmen, someone who was suspected by the U.S. of leading a Shiite death squad and who doubtless someday will again: “We have had no problems with the U.S. since they withdrew from Iraq. I fought against them, as they were invaders. But today they are not. We are now allied to fight ISIS together.” The second quote comes from someone you’re more familiar with. Believe it or not, he really did say this just last year:
So even though I possess the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, to take this debate to Congress. I believe our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress. And I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together.
This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the President, and more and more burdens on the shoulders of our troops, while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.
A year later, he’s decisively pro-sidelining. He promised you Change, didn’t he?
Update: Don’t turn that dial…
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) September 10, 2014