Is It Time For Yet Another War?


Dave Weigel sums up the recent American reaction to ISIS:

On August 18, the airstrikes helped Iraqi forces take back the Mosul dam from ISIS. The next day, ISIS released a video of captured journalist James Foley being beheaded by one of their men.

The video, surely meant to sow fear and breed over-reaction, succeeded magnificently. The panic showing up in polls, in which the number of Americans favoring airstrikes in Iraq and Syria has surged, has been matched by a return of panic-first politics….The long Democratic dream, from Kerry to Obama, of reducing terrorism from an existential threat to a managable nuisance, is just not an election-winner.

This is, sadly, not surprising at all. For years, the conventional wisdom has been that Americans are weary of war, and the conventional wisdom is largely correct. At the same time, it’s always been obvious that Americans remain easily susceptible to the same kind of bloody-shirt waving that got us into the Iraq war in the first place. The only thing that’s saved us is the fact that President Obama isn’t a bloody-shirt waver. Even when he’s initiated military action, his public persona has been quiet and reluctant.

But now we’re seeing just how easy it is to whip Americans into a war frenzy yet again. Even with Obama striking his usual no-drama pose, the public is becoming increasingly belligerent. All it took was a carefully stagecrafted beheading video and the usual gang of conservative jingoists to exploit it. For now, the lack of presidential blood lust is holding back the tide—barely—but that’s a thin reed. If Obama wanted to go to war, it would be the work of a moment to whip up a war frenzy in a solid majority of the country.

And just think about how tempting it must be. A full-blown military assault on a loathsome enemy like ISIS would almost certainly be a big campaign winner for Democrats this fall.

War weary? Sure, as long as the president keeps a low profile. But if he decides to change his mind, the American public will back him up. After all, Americans have historically gotten a little restless if they don’t have a new war every four or five years, and it’s been about that long since we pulled out of Iraq. Maybe we’re due.