By the end of World War II, the US had ascended to the position of the world’s only superpower. We had enormous influence across the globe and our military and economic might were without equal. All this gave us the kind of “leverage” needed to shape events, even elections in far-off lands. This extraordinary state of affairs served to reinforce our perception of our country as “exceptional” and capable of imposing our will on whomever, wherever and whenever we chose. And as a “Christian nation” (1), we had God on our side so how could we possible be or do wrong?
Those heady days of the past are over though no one dare speak that truth to the American people: We have equals or near-equals, militarily, in Russia and China. Other countries are catching up with us economically. As a consequence of these changes, we are no longer able to shape events as we had done in the past. That part of our “exceptionalism” has been compromised.
No one understands this new reality better than Barack Obama. In contrast, prominent conservatives, in and out of Congress, have yet to catch on. They continue to believe that bellicosity, sabre-rattling and muscular foreign policy will carry the day for us. It is as though they learned nothing from the wars in Korea, Viet Nam and Iraq!!
These differing points of view (Obama vs. conservatives) is playing itself out in how we address the threat of ISIS. To best understand the president’s position requires the establishment of a perspective and so we turn to that topic next.
Without question, ISIS is a threat to us, but let’s be more specific: Are we talking about columns of their armed men marching through our streets or launching missile attacks on us. No!! The real danger resides in home-grown terrorists coming back to plant bombs and otherwise create death and destruction. That is not a small thing. But, we should respond to such challenges with an appropriate amount of fear and an upgrade in preventative measures.
Look at a map of the world and where ISIS is operating now, and it becomes obvious that those facing the gravest threat are Iraqis; especially its non-Sunni members (2). Next up, neighboring countries like Turkey and Jordan. Obama has seen this and will soon articulate a phased plan to bring ISIS to heel. Step-1 has already been stated as stopping the terrorists in their tracks in Iraq and then rolling them back from the land that they had conquered. Get them concentrated in a smaller area and they become better targets for our air campaign that has already involved about 150 missions.
Step-1, and those yet to be more fully articulated in the larger plan, has involved careful coalition-building, especially involving those nations who face a more immediate and greater threat from ISIS than we do. This must be their fight, too; we cannot do it for them. (3) Here again, the president has put us in what should be our proper position; i.e. as an ally but not the world’s sole policeman. If conservatives want to lambast that approach as “leading from behind”, so be it. But, if they want the US to be out front and leading, let them try to sell that strategy to the rest of us, especially 60 days before an election. Of course, they won’t do that having no coherent strategy of their own.
Finally, we are now within a few days of the president going on national tv to lay out in better detail when has been given a lighter treatment in this blog. Let us hope that the majority of Americans see the wisdom of Obama’s approach and rally behind him and it.
1. One of the great myths perpetrated on us is the idea that we were founded as a “Christian nation”. That is simply not the case, a fact covered quite thoroughly in John Mecham’s book American Gospel; Random House, 2006.
2. ISIS is composed largely of Sunni Muslims, belonging to the fanatical and barbaric Wahhabi sect. No one should mistake these people for typical worshipers of Islam.
3. The president’s strategy vis a vis Russia’s Putin in the Ukraine is fundamentally no different. We can be an ally to the people of that country and those neighboring nations, but this is their fight more than ours.