Friday the Thirteenth was the horror movie in Paris – the massive terror attacks that shook the world, because that wasn’t a horror movie at all. That was quite real, and ISIS is a whole lot scarier than Freddy Krueger anyway. Real people died. ISIS is no longer trying to establish a caliphate in the wastes of Syria and Iraq – they’re losing ground there. They’ve shifted tactics. It will be terror attacks in the West, killing lots of civilians. The idea now seems to be to establish a caliphate that’s not geographically specific – it will be a free-floating state of mind, and severely theocratic. Object and you die. It really doesn’t matter where you are.
No one expected this, but then came Monday the Sixteenth – President Obama was in Turkey for a G20 summit. All the world leaders were there, except François Hollande, who stayed back in France to deal with the national crisis there, so this was a chance to hear what they’d say about what everyone was going to do about this new world we seemed to be in. What would America do? America has the resources to do big things, a military ten times larger than everyone else’s combined, and one of the few major economies that is actually working reasonably well. America could fix this, or at least lead in the fix. That’s what everyone always expects. That’s what we always do. Obama held a press conference – he’d explain what it would be this time. All would be well.
Obama did hold the press conference – but this too shook the world. Well, not really – it shook the politic world over here. The hyper-conservative Hugh Hewitt quoted President Obama – “What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of ‘American leadership’ or ‘America winning.'”
That was outrageous, as Kevin Drum notes:
Goodness! That sure sounds pusillanimous. I wonder how Obama can stand to look at himself in the mirror each – oh, hold on. What’s that? There’s more to the quote?
There is, as Obama said this:
What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of “American leadership” or “America winning,” or whatever other slogans they come up with, that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people, and to protect people in the region who are getting killed, and to protect our allies and people like France.
And there’s even more:
My only interest is to end suffering and to keep the American people safe. And if there’s a good idea out there, then we’re going to do it… But what we do not do, what I do not do, is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough, or make me look tough. …
We’ll do what’s required to keep the American people safe. And I think it’s entirely appropriate in a democracy to have a serious debate about these issues… But what I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning, or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people, and to protect people in the region who are getting killed, and to protect our allies and people like France. I’m too busy for that.
Kevin Drum sighs:
I guess this is going to be “You didn’t build that” all over again. I can hardly wait. Elsewhere, Donald Trump is crowing that (a) Obama just told Putin how important the Russian airstrikes against ISIS have been and (b) now we’re attacking the oil, just like he said a long time ago. “I TOLD YOU SO!” he tweeted. Except that (a) Obama actually told Putin he would like Russia to start striking ISIS, and (b) we’ve been attacking ISIS oil convoys all along. According to the Pentagon, we’ve carried out three or four airstrikes per week against ISIS oil infrastructure. And anyway, didn’t Trump actually recommend that we encircle the ISIS oil fields?
Not that it matters:
We’re now entering a period in which conservatives are going to start playing “Can You Top This?” on ISIS. A week ago they talked big but were afraid to actually commit themselves to any serious action. Now, we’re in a war of civilizations and soon they’ll be outbidding each other on how many divisions they’re willing to ship overseas and how best to describe the complete and total inaction that the appeaser Obama has been engaged in.
I think I’m going to go take a nap.
That’s not allowed, and elsewhere Drum says this:
We’re in a war of civilizations. If you won’t say Radical Islam, you aren’t serious. We need to fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here. They hate us for our freedoms.
I really hoped I’d heard the last of this nonsense around 2003, but I guess not. The sensibility of the post-9/11 war-blogs is back, along with all the overweening confidence in amateurish geo-religious belligerence that fueled them the first time around. But at least this time, in the midst of the panic, we have a president who says this when he’s asked about committing more ground troops to the fight against ISIS:
“We would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before: If you do not have local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremists, that they resurface unless you’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.”
Drum takes that further:
The war against ISIS will be won when Iraq gains the political maturity to provide a working army that’s not merely a tool of the endless Sunni-Shia civil war in the Middle East. We could turn Anbar into a glassy plain, and all that would happen is that something worse than ISIS would crop up.
There’s a lot we can do to defeat ISIS, and most of it we’re already doing. Airstrikes? Check. Broad coalition? Check. Working with Arab allies? Check. Engage with Sunni tribal leaders? Check. Embed with the Iraqi military? Check. There’s more we could do, but often it’s contradictory. You want to arm the Kurds and create a partnership with the Iraqi government? Good luck. You want to defeat Assad and ISIS? You better pick one. You want to avoid a large American ground force and you want to win the war fast? Not gonna happen.
Everyone needs to face reality: This is going to be a long effort, and there are no magic slogans that are going to win it. Unfortunately, they can make things worse.
Obama actually faced that, as Salon’s Jack Mirkinson notes here:
“Why can’t we take out these bastards?” CNN’s Jim Acosta asked President Obama at a press conference on Monday. Acosta’s language may have been rougher than some might have used, but he was speaking for a press corps whose thirst for an apocalyptic confrontation with ISIS has been let loose by last Friday’s attacks in Paris.
Mirkinson sees the establishment reverting to its default position:
The Sunday shows were dominated by such talk. NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton turned up on both CBS and ABC’s Sunday shows, warning darkly that if spy agencies couldn’t monitor cell phone communications, ISIS might be able to attack New York more easily. Unsurprisingly, he was met with little skepticism. ABC viewers were then treated to the sight of Bill Kristol, a pundit who would invade his local grocery store if he had a problem with it, calling for 50,000 American troops to combat ISIS.
On Monday morning, subscribers to Politico’s highly influential Playbook newsletter were greeted with Mike Allen’s pronouncement that the best person to listen to about Paris was former deputy CIA chief Mike Morell, now on the CBS payroll. If they turned on Allen’s favorite show, MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” they could have seen Joe Scarborough ask James Stavridis, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, if NATO should go to war with ISIS. Surprise! Stavridis thought that was a great idea.
And it’s not just here:
British viewers watching Sky News on Sunday were treated to one of the more blatantly warmongering interviews you are likely to find anywhere, as anchor Dermot Murnaghan demanded that Diane Abbott, a left-wing member of the opposition Labour party, sign up to British bombing in Syria. “Even if it’s just a gesture, why not join?” he asked – a stunningly casual way to discuss deadly military action – adding later that any strategy to combat ISIS should involve “trying to kill as many of them as you possibly can.”
Mirkinson is not impressed:
Listen to the language being used here. “Kill as many of them as you possibly can.” “Take out these bastards.” This is the hyper-macho language of some two-bit action movie, not a foreign policy strategy. It’s also evidence of the way that a supposedly “objective” press can reinforce one very narrow view of the world through its own ideological insularity.
It has been said many times before, but it’s worth saying again: what do these people think has been going on all this time? Despite the current narrative that paints Obama as some pacifist hippie, the US is currently conducting military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and god knows where else. We have been in Afghanistan for 14 years. We have been in Iraq for 12 years.
What has any of this gotten us? For one, it got us ISIS. It should hardly be controversial to say that the rise of ISIS is directly connected to the American-led destabilization of the Middle East. It didn’t even exist a few years ago. Does Jim Acosta seriously believe that more of the same would stamp it out?
Killing a lot of the bastards isn’t going to work:
It now appears that the overwhelming majority of the people involved in the Paris attacks were Europeans, people whose relative luxury and safety in the world were nevertheless overwhelmed by intellectual and ideological forces whose complexity far outmatches the force of any weapon. Does Bill Kristol think we should pulverize Belgium back to the Stone Age?
It takes ideas and emotions of immense and terrible power to convince someone that they should murder people in a concert hall one by one, or blow themselves up outside a stadium. How many bombs, how many guns, how many troops, how many Orwellian tactics do the hawks now crying out for “something to be done” think will be useful in fighting that ideology, when decades of war has helped to fuel it?
Drum wants to take a nap, but this is like falling asleep again. Killing a lot of the bastards isn’t going to work? Didn’t we figure that out in Vietnam?
Maybe not, and the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has more:
In September, not long after Ben Carson suggested that Islam is incompatible with the Constitution and that he wouldn’t want a Muslim president, GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa – one of the most prominent spokesmen for restrictionist Republicans – opined that Carson’s comments would be the opposite of a liability among Iowa Republican voters. “I wouldn’t expect those remarks would hurt Dr. Carson in Iowa,” King said. “I think they help him.”
It later turned out that King may have been right: A Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll subsequently found that more than two thirds of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers said that it would be unacceptable for a Muslim to be president only on the basis of religion.
This comes to mind, now that Donald Trump has responded to the Paris terrorist attacks by amplifying his previous call for stepped up domestic surveillance of Mosques in the United States.
Trump did say that:
“You’re going to have to watch and study the mosques, because a lot of talk is going on at the mosques,” the GOP presidential candidate said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“And from what I heard, in the old days – meaning a while ago – we had great surveillance going on in and around mosques in New York City,” Trump added… He also suggested that he would consider shutting down some mosques in the U.S. in order to defeat ISIS, reiterating a point he made during an interview last month on Fox Business.
“I would hate to do it, but it’s something that you’re going to have to strongly consider because some of the ideas and some of the hatred, the absolute hatred, are coming from these areas,” Trump said.
The terror attacks, naturally, have inspired a lot of chatter about the impact they will have on the 2016 presidential race. Will this now be a foreign policy election? Are Democrats now going to be on the defensive, since after all Republicans are always presumed to have the advantage on national security issues? Did the Democrats damage themselves horribly by refusing to use the words “radical Islam” at Saturday night’s debate?
Perhaps some religions just cannot be practiced in America, or this particular one, if we want to be safe, and Sargent sees the Republicans pressing their advantage now:
Ted Cruz has warned that “ISIS plans to bring these acts of terror to America,” and he has called for Muslim Syrian refugees to be barred from entering the United States. Jeb Bush has similarly said that our focus should be on Christian refugees. This drew a very sharp response today from President Obama, who decried the notion of a “religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted,” adding that “we don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”
Meanwhile, Marco Rubio now claims that “we won’t be able to take more refugees,” and Ohio governor John Kasich is now calling for an end to their admission, too. This last one is particularly interesting, given that Kasich has defended his decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio on the grounds that he wants to be able to defend his treatment of the poor when he comes face to face with St. Peter, which is to say, he’s running as the race’s most unabashedly compassionate conservative.
However, to my knowledge, none of the other candidates has gone quite as far as Donald Trump has now done in suggesting we may need to close down some mosques in the United States.
He is unique, but Heather Parton sees this:
It’s been obvious for some time that the Republicans were gearing up for a national security election. Part of this is simply because they’re desperate and this is one issue on which they are almost always seen as having an advantage. They have portrayed Democrats as weak on defense for decades, often using gendered tropes to drive the point home, so the prospect of facing a woman in the general election offers them an unprecedented opportunity to drive home that theme in ways that feel both familiar and new.
It simply took them a bit to get where they are now:
When Jeb Bush entered the race, it was clear that the establishment believed that enough time had passed for people to forget their last disastrous turn at the helm and they could start beating their war drum once again. Up until this past weekend, they had been nibbling around the edges of the ISIS debate mainly because there just aren’t any simple answers. Sen. Lindsey Graham was the designated hysteric on the issue, pretty much fashioning an entire presidential campaign around repeated warnings that terrorists are coming to America to kill us all. (The fact that his candidacy is mired below one percent might speak to the fact that nobody cared about that – but it’s more likely the messenger than the message.) Most of the field had subsumed their usual fear-mongering over foreign threats into the immigration debate, particularly with the emergence of Donald Trump and his deportation and wall-building scheme. His rhetoric of “criminals and rapists” infiltrating our country hits the same hot nerve as Graham’s handwringing and Trump offers a much more satisfying solution.
And then there was the Friday the Thirteenth in Paris that changed everything:
Republicans were all forced to respond. Graham, naturally, came out with his patented dead-eyed pithy pearl clutching – “If you really want to make a difference, go into Iraq and Syria with an international coalition on the ground and destroy these guys. Every day they’re allowed to survive is a day that we can get hit.” …
There’s no word on how this would make an attack like Paris less likely, but Graham’s not the only one who persists in believing that bombing, invading and occupying Middle Eastern countries is the solution to terrorism around the globe. One might think they would have reevaluated this assumption after our experience with invading Iraq – and the many terrorists it created and acts of terrorism that followed – but they clearly haven’t.
It is like falling asleep again, and she adds this:
From what I’m gathering this morning the press is getting their Prada flak jackets ready and they’re ready to embed for the invasion. In fact, they have completely lost it, particularly since President Obama came out this morning and acted like a sane person instead of bellowing about a clash of civilizations and promising to kill everyone in sight. They are all extremely disappointed that he didn’t join them in their bloodlust.
CNN’s Jim Acosta is, and Parton is puzzled:
Everyone seems to believe that this is a very, very “sophisticated attack” that was put together by mad geniuses who are so lethal that our entire civilization is at risk if we don’t start bombing and invading abroad and turning our own countries into police states immediately. In other words, they are all ready to do exactly what these terrorists want them to do.
Well, Obama addressed that too:
Obama also pointedly addressed the issue of whether the United States and other countries should continue to accept refugees, given the fact that one of the participants in the Paris plot may have come in with Syrian migrants. He said the United States would continue to accept more refugees from Syria and elsewhere, though “only after subjecting them to rigorous screening and security checks.”
“Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” he said. “Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”
Without directly naming GOP presidential candidates, the president blasted political leaders for suggesting the United States should accept only Christians fleeing Syria. He alluded to the fact that some of these same politicians namely Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), whose father fled Cuba decades ago – had benefited from America’s willingness to accept refugees.
“And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful,” he said, his voice rising. “That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”
Then he invoked the Big Guy:
The president noted that the world’s most prominent Christian leader, Pope Francis, did not frame the Syrian refugee crisis in the same terms as several Republican leaders.
“When Pope Francis came to visit the United States and gave a speech before Congress, he didn’t just speak about Christians who were being persecuted, he didn’t call on Catholic parishes just to admit those who were of the same religious faith, he said protect people who were vulnerable,” Obama said. “And so I think it is very important for us right now, particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard, not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us.”
That won’t fly now:
Ted Cruz, for his part, laughed before telling reporters in Sun City, S.C. what he thought about the president’s comments.
“It is one of the saddest things we’ve seen for seven years, that President Obama has consistently abandoned and alienated our friends and allies and has coddled and appeased our enemies. And that is never more true than with radical Islamic terrorism,” he said. “Both President Obama and Hillary Clinton want to define the enemy as some sort of abstract and ill-defined violent extremism. That means they cannot direct a strategy to defeat it because they cannot acknowledge who they’re fighting.”
That was followed by a headline concerning the Senate – Cruz to offer bill banning Syrian refugees – and one concerning the new Speaker of the House – Huckabee calls on Ryan to prevent entry of Syrian refugees, or to step down – and then this – More than half the nation’s governors say Syrian refugees not welcome:
More than half the nation’s governors – 26 states – say they oppose letting Syrian refugees into their states, although the final say on this contentious immigration issue will fall to the federal government. States protesting the admission of refugees range from Alabama and Georgia, to Texas and Arizona, to Michigan and Illinois, to Maine and New Hampshire. Among these 26 states, all but one have Republican governors.
Funny how that works, except for this:
Authority over admitting refugees to the country, though, rests with the federal government – not with the states – though individual states can make the acceptance process much more difficult, experts said.
American University law professor Stephen I. Vladeck put it this way: “Legally, states have no authority to do anything because the question of who should be allowed in this country is one that the Constitution commits to the federal government.” But Vladeck noted that without the state’s participation, the federal government would have a much more arduous task.
“So a state can’t say it is legally objecting, but it can refuse to cooperate, which makes thing much more difficult.”
Expect that, with Chris Christie saying that not even three-year-old orphans will be welcome in New Jersey, which he said to Hugh Hewitt, which is where we came in.
This really is like falling asleep again. It’s 2003 and the run-up to the Iraq war again. We have to go fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here, even if now they’re here, and over there, there’s no there, there. But we’re hearing the same things, and we’re also getting a version of the white supremacy thing from the late fifties, with the Syrian refugees as the new niggers – dangerous folks, even the three-year-old orphans. Didn’t we wake up from those two bad dreams long ago? We did, we did – but America is getting sleepy again. It happens.