Obama Says ISIL Is 'Cancer.' But Is the U.S. Ready for More Chemo?


President Obama
Obama / White House

On Wednesday afternoon, President Obama made a statement on the brutal murder of journalist James Foley at the hands of ISIL, a terrorist group with stated plans to establish a new Islamic caliphate over the Middle East. Obama castigated ISIL's radical ideology as something that "no just God would stand for." The president vowed to "do what is necessary to see that justice is done." ISIL, he said, is a "cancer," that the whole world must work to extract.

But if ISIL is a cancer, is the U.S. really ready for another dose of chemotherapy? Have not the last 10 years demonstrated that American military involvement in Iraq is counterproductive and costly?

Sen. Obama understood this—or at least pretended to understand this—when he ran for election in 2008, pledging to withdraw from Iraq and correct a neoconservative foreign policy blunder. Now, of course, President Obama is escalating American bombing of Iraq under the ever-broadening rationale of humanitarianism, fighting evil, etc.

Americans should know by now where this road ends, writes the Cato Institute's Benjamin H. Friedman:

Americans, the president included, need to admit being out of Iraq potentially means letting it burn. The collapse of the fiction that U.S. forces stabilized Iraq before exiting forces us to confront the unpleasant contradictions in U.S. goals there. We want to avoid the tragic costs of U.S. forces trying to suppress Iraq's violence. We want a stable Iraqi federal government and we want Iraqis to live peacefully. Each of those goals conflicts with the others. …

We should know by now that we lack the ability to stabilize Iraq at acceptable cost. We should also know that the primary threat to U.S. security in Iraq is the temptation to try to forcefully run it. Knowing these things means accepting some tragedy in Iraq.

As savage as ISIL may be, there is every reason to think that another War in Iraq—coming on the heels of the last war, which failed miserably to achieve any objective at a reasonable cost, human or financial—would be the greatest tragedy of all.