In the late seventies, the folks on the North Side in Pittsburgh had a problem. How do you take a product that people find really irritating, and isn’t all that interesting, and make something that everyone wants to rush out and buy? Heinz faced that problem and the problem was their ketchup, a rather ordinary condiment. There was a bottle of their ketchup on every table in every low-end restaurant in America, and one in almost every kitchen cabinet in America, but sales were slowing. The damned stuff wouldn’t come out of the bottle. Pound your fist on the bottom of the bottle – nothing – unless it all spurted out in one large glop. Shake the inverted bottle vigorously over your burger – nothing. You just had to wait. The problem was viscosity – the stuff was thick – and it really wasn’t worth the wait. It was just ketchup. People were giving up on it. This wouldn’t do.
Heinz tried squeeze-bottles but no one liked them. Their glass bottle had become iconic – that was part of the brand, that bottle shaped just-so that was supposed to be on the table – and there was certainly no way to thin-out the product, so it would pour easily. They’d be selling lightly-spiced sugared tomato juice. No one would buy that, so they were stuck, but there’s nothing a clever advertising campaign can’t fix. There was a way to make viscosity a virtue. Starting in 1979 there were all those ads for Heinz Ketchup featuring Carly Simon’s 1971 hit song Anticipation – here is one of them – and those worked wonders. Sales recovered.
The Carly Simon song did it. Anticipation is delicious, even if the product, when it arrives, is the same old stuff. The wait makes it better. The wait makes it worth it. Carly Simon later said that song was all about how cool and wonderful she felt as she waited to go on a date with Cat Stevens – the pop star who soon converted to Islam and disappeared into urban Brazil for a few decades and is still on our no-fly lists. Oops. But the feeling of anticipation was glorious. She got a Grammy nomination. Heinz sold a lot of ketchup. President Obama should be so lucky. Everyone knows what coming, the same old stuff – another long war in the Middle East, and that is really irritating too – but he’s making us wait for the grand plan. He’s been thinking about that plan. America has been waiting. In the ketchup spot the one cute little boy says to the other, “Your ketchup is so slow!” They stare at his hamburger and the other cute little boy smiles – the wait itself is fascinating, and good things come to those who wait, of course, and the Carly Simon song swells on the soundtrack. If only it were so, but we are reenacting that vignette in our own way with this.
At Salon, Jim Newell puts it this way:
Not too long ago, President Obama was excoriated in the press for what was arguably the single greatest gaffe in human history: “We don’t have a strategy yet.” It was one of those “classic gaffes” in the sense that it supposedly summed up everything wrong with his presidency. It was also one of those “classic gaffes” in that it was taken out of a context that would have rendered it a fairly mundane statement. He was saying that his administration was reviewing military options about how to address ISIS in Syria and would need a little bit more time before settling on the proper plan and taking it to the public. As we wrote, the Worst Gaffe in History was just Obama noting that he needed another week or two to flesh out the details for a prolonged military campaign. This guy! Taking an extra few days to polish off a strategy instead of just bombing ISIS for a while and seeing what happens? What a clown.
Hopefully everyone had a good time spitting fury over nothing. Because now the hecklers are in the position of getting the prolonged military intervention for which they asked.
That would be this:
The Obama administration is preparing to carry out a campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that may take three years to complete, requiring a sustained effort that could last until after President Obama has left office, according to senior administration officials.
The first phase, an air campaign with nearly 145 airstrikes in the past month, is already underway to protect ethnic and religious minorities and American diplomatic, intelligence and military personnel, and their facilities, as well as to begin rolling back ISIS gains in northern and western Iraq.
The next phase, which would begin sometime after Iraq forms a more inclusive government, scheduled this week, is expected to involve an intensified effort to train, to advise or equip the Iraqi military, Kurdish fighters and possibly members of Sunni tribes.
The final, toughest and most politically controversial phase of the operation – destroying the terrorist army in its sanctuary inside Syria — might not be completed until the next administration. Indeed, some Pentagon planners envision a military campaign lasting at least 36 months.
Newell covers how that was received:
Already this sounds quite ambitious, to put it politely, and concerning to those who worry about the U.S. getting bogged down in a multi-year military intervention spread across multiple countries – because that’s specifically what’s being proposed.
But the critics aren’t satisfied, because Obama has taken the deployment of ground troops off the table. It’s no surprise that this upsets the neoconservative Weekly Standard, who whines incredulously this morning, “A Long War against ISIS – With No Ground Troops?” Maximalist hawks gonna be maximalist hawks, we suppose, and that means pouting with clenched fists in the corner about how the latest war in the Middle East won’t be war-y enough for their liking.
But Newell saves his ironic wrath for the National Journal’s Ron Fournier in this column which Newell sums up this way:
Fournier argues that Obama’s pledge not to deploy ground troops offers an advantage to The Enemy, who now has a concrete view of the limit of American resolve and can plan accordingly. It would be wiser for Obama, Fournier writes, to not signal any such limit – to play a bit of the madman strategy and keep the option of ground troops on the table, just to keep ISIS guessing. Since Obama is going against the book on this one, as Fournier sees it, his decision against deploying ground troops must be a political one ahead of midterms. And last but not least, “doves” are the ones who should be most concerned about Obama making a decision based on politics, because a shift in public opinion toward deploying ground troops might lead to the deployment of ground troops.
Newell is a bit exasperated:
On the latter point, we’re going to suggest that the public is not going to be in favor of deploying occupying forces to Syria and Iraq any time soon, barring some sort of ISIS-sponsored nuclear attack on America’s cities. Despite Fournier’s clever contortions, people who don’t want ground troops deployed to Syria and Iraq should be happy that President Obama has ruled out deploying ground troops to Syria and Iraq. It’s not that complicated.
And there’s no mystery here:
If Obama has been consistent on one issue from the time he emerged on the scene in 2004 through the present, it’s that he’s wary of military occupations of foreign countries. Such occupations cost incalculable amounts of blood and treasure, they engender backlash against Americans across the region, and they’re difficult to ever end because the fledgling government comes to rely on the occupying army for security without picking up the slack itself. It doesn’t strike us as some batty political calculation when Obama says he doesn’t want to get into that situation.
Ah, but two American journalists were beheaded! That calls for something warlike:
Americans are increasingly concerned that ISIS represents a direct terror threat, fearful that ISIS agents are living in the United States, according to a new CNN/ORC International poll. Most now support military action against the terrorist group.
Seven in 10 Americans believe ISIS has the resources to launch an attack against the United States, just days before President Barack Obama plans to address the nation on the subject.
The poll released Monday shows that Americans favor:
– Additional airstrikes against ISIS (76% favor, 23% oppose)
– Military aid to forces fighting ISIS (62% favor, 37% oppose)
– Providing humanitarian aid to people fleeing ISIS (83% favor, 16% oppose)
Digby (Heather Parton) comments:
They do not favor boots on the ground though although I don’t know why. If these monsters are here in der Homeland plotting to invade Dubuque you’d think Americans would want the government to pull out all the stops. But I guess they figure we can use our “superpowers” to defeat the crazed terrorists over there so they won’t deploy their evil plots here without having to lose any soldiers. We just have to use our best secret laser beam technology to “take out” the bad guys without risking the lives of anyone important. We can do that. We’re that good.
We Americans don’t go by “keep calm and carry on” or even “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Our credo is: “ohmygodbombsomethingnowtheyarecomingtokillusallinourbeds!”
She can only point to There is no specific or credible threat of an ISIS terror attack on the US and “No, we don’t have any information about credible planning for an attack” and “At this point, we have no credible information that ISIS is planning to attack the United States” and While there’s no credible threat to the U.S. as a result of recent American airstrikes in Iraq, officials remain concerned that Islamic State supporters could attack overseas targets with little warning and so on and so forth.
We may be panicking. Or we may think there’s something wonderful in that Heinz bottle when it’s only ketchup. Or we may be being baited, and Jonah Shepp reminds us about two dead American journalists:
Foley and Sotloff are but two among nearly 70 journalists killed while covering the conflict in Syria, hundreds who have been brutally murdered by ISIS jihadists in similarly gruesome fashion, and nearly 200,000 casualties of a civil war gone hopelessly off the rails.
Andrew Sullivan runs with that:
The two beheadings seem to have turned public and elite opinion in ways that none of this previous horror has. In a month, the discourse has shifted from whether to counter ISIS to how to do so. In a month, everyone has agreed, it appears that ISIS is a menace and that there has to be a US-led coalition to degrade and defeat it. The slippery slope toward the logic of war – which would be, by any estimation, a mere continuation of the war begun in 2003 – has been so greased there seems barely any friction.
This is the striking new fact of America this fall: re-starting the war in Iraq is now something that does not elicit immediate and horrified rejection by the president or the Congress. The GOP is daring Obama to go all-in as GWB, Round Two.
That’s odd, and Sullivan cites the New York Times’ David Carr suggesting we’ve been taken in by a slick television advertisement:
The executioner is cocky and ruthless, seemingly eager to get to the task at hand. When he does attack his bound victim, only the beginning is shown and then there is a fade to black. Once the picture returns, the head of the victim is carefully arranged on the body, all the violence of the act displayed in a bloody tableau. There is another cutaway, and the next potential victim is shown with a warning that he may be next.
“It is an interesting aesthetic choice not to show the actual beheading,” Alex Gibney, a documentary filmmaker, said. “I can’t be sure, but they seemed to dial it back just enough so that it would get passed around. In a way, it makes it all the more chilling, that it was so carefully stage-managed and edited to achieve the maximum impact.”
They might have hired a good ad agency, but it is effective, as Sullivan notes:
Like the horrifying images of 9/11, these images scramble our minds. And they are designed to. They are designed to awake the primordial instincts and the existential fear that Salafist fundamentalists thrive on. The direct spoken message to Obama puts this unbalanced British loser on a par with the president of a super-power – and, by reacting so comprehensively to it – the president has unwittingly given these poseurs a much bigger platform. More to the point, by already committing the United States to ultimately destroying ISIS, the president has committed this country to a war he was elected to avoid. Don’t tell me about “no ground troops”. If your mission is destroying something, and ground troops become at some point essential to that mission, the mission will creep – or they will claim victory.
Obama took the bait and Sullivan is deeply disappointed, and he speaks from experience:
I deeply distrust wars that are prompted by this kind of emotion, however justified the emotion may be.
I lost my judgment completely as 9/11 coursed through my frontal cortex – and made errors that helped spawn more terror (like the current ISIS-dominated Sunni insurgency in Iraq). Many, many of us did. And when these slick, cartoonish nihilists press buttons designed to generate a reaction that they can then leverage some more, they are pulling the strings, not us.
That is what all good advertising does, it pulls the strings and makes us buy crap that’s really irritating, and isn’t all that interesting, and we miss the point, as far as Sullivan sees it:
The struggle in the Middle East right now is an infinitely complex series of overlapping civil wars, religious wars, and sectarian passions, exacerbated by demography, water, and the breaking of Iraq in 2003. It seems clear they are going to rage for years if not decades. What’s happening in Sunni Iraq right now is exactly what happened during the first insurgency: Salafists taking advantage of Sunni resentment to build an insurgency. But the fissures are obvious: even now, ISIS is murdering fellow Sunnis as well as Shiites and Turkmen and every other kind of infidel. The regional actors – placing bets and money and arms on various factions – pull all sorts of strings that can make any American initiative moot. And if we prevail, we will win no friends, merely new enemies.
What is happening in Iraq right now isn’t a war of Islam against the West. It is Islam against itself. And by making it our war, we may simply be endorsing a self-fulfilling prophesy. If any president were elected to avoid that, it was Obama.
Sullivan agrees with James Medaille:
Allow me to offer one hard and fast rule: to Americanize a civil war is to lose it. Not immediately, alas. In the short term, you get “mission accomplished”; in the long term, you get defeat. As soon as America takes over, America loses. The Vietnam War was going to be won or lost by the Vietnamese. The only question was which faction would triumph. When one faction entrusted their responsibilities to the Americans, they felt less need to defend themselves. Their defense became an American responsibility. When you outsource your defense, you become defenseless.
If we didn’t learn by now that trying to control or effect change in that part of the world by proxy or directly is a mug’s game, our amnesia truly is debilitating.
I await a full explanation of the actual, specific threat that ISIS poses to the US that requires a declaration of war; I certainly expect that the president should go to the Senate for a declaration of war after a robust debate; and I want an airing of all the many unintended consequences of entering into that vortex again.
Dream on. That’s not going to happen. We’ll wait and wait and wait and then get the same old stuff, not a real war, just a sort-of war, and we certainly won’t get peace of any sort. And we won’t know quite who we’re fighting for or against. Juan Cole explains that:
US air strikes on ISIL in Iraq have alternated with Iranian air strikes on ISIL positions. It seems likely to me that the two air forces are coordinating in at least a minimal way, otherwise there would be a danger of them hitting each other rather than ISIL. … Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, is alleged to have just authorized Iranian forces to coordinate with American ones. The denials from other Iranian politicians are likely merely camouflage for a policy that would dismay Iran hardliners.
Slate’s Joshua Keating discusses how tricky this really is:
There are obviously key points of conflict between Iran and the United States, not least of which is the country’s controversial nuclear program. A new round of talks about that issue is set to begin in New York this month. Any open acknowledgment of cooperation between the countries with regards to ISIS would likely make the U.S. Congress, hardliners in Tehran, and the Israeli government, go absolutely berserk. But if the two nations continue to escalate the fight against a common enemy, it’s going to require some level of coordination. I don’t see Iran being formally invited into Obama’s “coalition of the willing.”
But they’ll be there. Some folks just won’t be invited, even if they’re welcome. We’ll just pretend they’re not there.
Vladimir Putin won’t be invited of course. He turned out to be a real jerk, our real enemy, and NATO’s enemy, and everyone’s enemy – but you never know. In the Washington Post, Ishaan Tharoor reports here that ISIS may have some two hundred Chechen fighters that should worry Putin:
Here’s a slightly new geopolitical wrinkle. Earlier this week, the Islamic State issued a video challenging a powerful global leader. But this time, it was not President Obama or one of his counterparts in Europe. It was Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the video, fighters pose atop Russian military equipment, including a fighter jet, captured from the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This is the Agence France-Presse transcription of what follows:
“This is a message to you, oh Vladimir Putin, these are the jets that you have sent to Bashar, we will send them to you, God willing, remember that,” said one fighter in Arabic, according to Russian-language captions provided in the video. “And we will liberate Chechnya and the entire Caucasus, God willing,” said the militant. “The Islamic State is and will be and it is expanding, God willing.”
Maybe Obama will announce that Putin will join us in fighting the ISIS crowd, but probably not. He will say here we go again, pretty much on our own – because he took the bait. He had to. That’s what we expect of him. And sooner or later there will be boots on the ground, our boots. And back in the seventies it was that wonderful stuff that would slowly slide out of that Heinz bottle, eventually. Wait, wait, wait – listen to Carly Simon sing and then… there it was, just ordinary ketchup after all. This is like that.