Last week we talked about half-measures. This week we get to discuss half-measures. That’s progress. And fairly typical of the snafu the country finds itself in as of September, 2014.
President Obama gave a speech Wednesday night. In effect, what he said was, “Because polls now register from 61 percent to 74 percent for action of some kind involving airstrikes in the Mid-East, we’re going to have air-strikes in the Mid-East.”
We are not going to war, he said.
Very re-assuring, on both counts. Decisions made by vocal adherents of distant mayhem, clean weaponry that does not involve collateral damage, produces no wounded or maimed veterans for whom we cannot care, and purported control of the skies above Iraq and Syria. All this in aid of a lethal band of revolutionaries whom we cannot identify, whose leaders are unknown to us, whose major goal is the reciprocal killing and maiming of other lethal revolutionaries on whom we seem to have drawn a sharper bead: men who just want to kill or, in the words of duck-hunting expert Phil Robertson, “Convert or kill.”
Commentators have pointed out ad nauseam how little stomach Obama has for this campaign. What they have not pointed out is the time-warp in which American citizens seem to be living, a time when only the US was paramount militarily, and against whom no power on earth could hope to fight and win. In those days we had a draft system, and we exercised caution and planning in our campaigns, lest we lose too many (how many is too many?) men and women we might actually know to the perils of war.
Perhaps we misheard what Senator John McCain said after the president’s speech. He seemed to be saying that the president was unwittingly ignorant of real life. But more importantly, he told us that three years ago, the president actually ignored the advice of the entire Joint Chiefs in refusing to engage in Syria when that country first imploded. Which, he said, just goes to show you how inexperienced and weak the president was.
Well, we had a thought that ran parallel to McCain’s but came up with a different scenario. If what McCain said is true, there should have been mass resignations from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. If all the military experts in our country came down on the side of action and were ignored, shouldn’t some of them have really cared about what they were reportedly saying and walked away, doing nothing more perhaps than alerting the nation to an untenable situation in which its Commander in Chief over-ruled his officer staff to do what he wanted, rather than what they wanted? That did not happen.
( A sidebar: when one achieves high status in the military services, one is closing in on retirement. One is holding a job when millions of others aren’t. One has a lot to lose.)
Look, basically we’re very comfortable in this country which allows us the time to be critical of others. Or fearful of others.
And there is a lot to fear in confronting ISIS. We are about to enter a long period of religious war. We think of ourselves as blessed, God-fearing, devout. They think of themselves as liberators, God-fearing and devout. We think of ourselves as merciful, cautious, a super-power not to be messed with. They think of themselves as vengeful, violent, brutal, unforgiving. No atrocity is beyond their imaginations.
We see ourselves as armed more completely and more lethally than any country ever in world history.
They see themselves as expanding their influence throughout the Mid-East, indeed throughout the world. They also see themselves as victims of the Western world and long for a return to the fifteenth century when Moorish influence was gigantic throughout Europe.
Despite the polls in this country, despite the deaths and capture of individual Americans, despite the amount of territory ISIS has managed to amass, there is no satisfaction on either front. McCain et al are still living in the era of Viet Nam. ISIS is not. McCain and company want to energize and set fire to the imaginations of Americans as freedom-loving upholders of a status quo that has long ceased to exist. ISIS wants to cut this off at the knees.
How could we have gotten ourselves in such a mess?
Well, by not recognizing the rabid threats of ISIS as it grew, thanks to our own near-sightedness. By not recognizing that ISIS does not, at this time, threaten the safety of Americans at home. (That may come later.) And most fatally, by imagining that the president’s staff of advisers, about whom we know very little, has information of value and import that we do not have. And by trusting them.
Clearly the president trusts his team enough to put aside his better angels. But he is also one hell of a poor poker player, not even beginning to know when to draw and when to fold. (He can be sensational at keeping secrets,from us,from the press.)
Within a fairly short time, our own stack of chips on that table is likely to be diminished. Without a real coalition “of the willing,” we’ll be standing naked and disarmed, firing what ammunition we have left at shadows and imagined threats.
Just as there is little reality in daily American life, there may be little reality to what the US still holds at the end of the 21st century.