We seem to be drifting inexorably toward escalating our fight with the Islamic State, which is also known by the acronym ISIS, as the Obama administration mulls whether to extend its “limited” bombing campaign into Syria.
Part of the reasoning is alarm at the speed and efficiency with which Islamic State — a militant group President Barack Obama described as “barbaric” — has made gains in northern Iraq and has been able to wash back and forth across the Syrian border. Part is because of the group’s ghastly beheading of the American journalist James Foley — which Michael Morell, a former deputy director of the CIA, called Islamic State’s “first terrorist attack against the United States” — and threats to behead another.
But another part of the equation is the tremendous political pressure coming from the screeching of war hawks and an anxious and frightened public, weighted most heavily among Republicans and exacerbated by the right-wing media machine.
In fact, when the president tried to tamp down some of the momentum around more swift and expansive military action by indicating that he had not decided how best to move forward militarily in Syria, if at all, what Politico called an “inartful phrase” caught fire in conservative circles. When responding to questions, the president said, “We don’t have a strategy yet.”
His aide insisted that the phrase was only about how to move forward in Syria, not against Islamic State as a whole, but the latter was exactly the impression conservatives moved quickly to portray.
It was a way of continuing to yoke Obama with the ill effects of a war started by his predecessor and the chaos it created in that region of the world.
In fact, if you listen to Fox News you might even believe that Obama is responsible for the creation of Islamic State.
A few months ago, the Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro told her viewers that “you need to be afraid” because of Obama’s fecklessness in dealing with Islamic State, adding this nugget:
“And the head of this band of savages is a man named Abu al-Baghdadi — the new Osama bin Laden — a man released by Obama in 2009 who started ISIS a year later.”
That would be extremely troubling, if true. But the fact-checking operation PolitiFact rated it “false,” saying:
“The Defense Department said that the man now known as Baghdadi was released in 2004. The evidence that Baghdadi was still in custody in 2009 appears to be the recollection of an Army colonel who said Baghdadi’s ‘face is very familiar.’
“Even if the colonel is right, Baghdadi was not set free; he was handed over to the Iraqis who released him some time later. But, more important, the legal contract between the United States and Iraq that guaranteed that the United States would give up custody of virtually every detainee was signed during the Bush administration.”
Fox, facts; oil, water.
But the disturbing reality is that the scare tactics are working. In July, a Pew Research Center report found that most Americans thought the United States didn’t have a responsibility to respond to the violence in Iraq.
According to a Pew Research Center report issued last week, however: “Following the beheading of American journalist James Foley, two-thirds of the public (67 percent) cite ISIS as a major threat to the United States.”
The report said that 91 percent of Tea Party Republicans described Islamic State as a “major threat” as opposed to 65 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents.
The report also said:
“Half of the sample was asked about ISIS and the other half was asked about the broader threat of ‘Islamic extremist groups like al-Qaida,’” which registered similar concern (71 percent major threat, 19 percent minor threat, 6 percent not a threat). Democrats were more likely to see global climate change than Islamic State as a major threat.
Americans were thrilled by our decision to exit Iraq when we did, but support for that decision is dropping. In October 2011, Gallup asked poll respondents if they approved or disapproved of Obama’s decision that year to “withdraw nearly all United States troops from Iraq.” Seventy-five percent said they approved. In June of this year, the approval rate had fallen to 61 percent.
Yet 57 percent still believe that it was a mistake to send troops to fight in Iraq in the first place.
Now, Republicans are beginning to pull out the big gun — 9/11 — to further scare the public into supporting more action. Sen. Lindsey Graham has said on Fox News that we must act to “stop another 9/11,” possibly a larger one, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has warned, “Sadly, we’re getting back to a pre-9/11 mentality, and that’s very dangerous.”
Fear is in the air. The president is trying to take a deliberative approach, but he may be drowned out by the drums of war and the chants for blood.