Two beheadings later, and the Iraq syndrome begins to recede into the distance. Latest poll are showing that two thirds of Americans now favor more American airstrikes in the Middle East, with only 13 percent saying America has no interest in intervention. The Wall Street Journal:
The survey also found indications that more people were coming to believe the U.S. should play a more active role on the world stage, a shift from Journal/NBC surveys earlier this year that found war-weary Americans wanting to step back from foreign engagements.Asked what type of military response was appropriate, some 40% of those polled said action against ISIS should be limited to airstrikes and an additional 34% were willing to use both airstrikes and commit U.S. ground troops—a remarkable mood swing for an electorate that just a year ago recoiled at Mr. Obama’s proposal to launch airstrikes against Syria.
The Vietnam War ended in 1973; by 1979 Jimmy Carter was under intense public pressure to begin the shift in American foreign policy and military spending—a shift that Reagan would continue. And in the interval, provocations like the Mayaguez incident, which saw Gerald Ford sending U.S. forces back into Indochina, could still stir the American people into action.
The Vietnam War was bigger than the Iraq War by a factor of ten from the standpoint of American casualties. There were many people then who believed that Vietnam marked a permanent change in the way Americans would think about foreign policy, converting us into a nation of doves. It didn’t happen then and it isn’t likely to happen now. If anything, because the crazed fanatics we now confront are more barbaric and less disciplined than most of our Communist opponents, and because the prospect of domestic terror attacks is more serious than it was during the Cold War, we are likely to see more beheading style attacks and other atrocities as time goes on.
The biggest beneficiary of ISIS attacks is undoubtedly Israel: American public opinion is once more engaged strongly in the Middle East in a way that highlights commonalities between the U.S. and the Jewish state. Second prize goes to the Kurds: more U.S. support is now in the bag.
President Obama can do himself some good with an effective speech tonight if it is linked to a strategy that strikes most of his listeners as serious and well thought through. But it will need to be followed up by success on the ground. Crises historically work to the benefit of an incumbent president as people rally around the flag; it would be one of the great political ironies of our time if President Obama gets a boost just before the midterm elections for launching America’s third Iraq war in 25 years—a war, it is worth noting, that like the previous foray into Iraq, has no formal blessing from either the United Nations Security Council or NATO.