Ending Evil vs. Defending the Country

Do the Islamic State's crimes justify Obama's new war?


President Obama concedes that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria (ISIS) does not pose a direct threat to our country but argues that one day it might. That is the core of the case for the new war in the Middle East that Obama announced this week, although it's easy to forget amid all the other rationales.

Most of those rationales have little or nothing to do with U.S. national security, and some are breathtakingly broad. In a recent London Times essay, Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron declare that "we will not waver in our determination to confront ISIL" (a.k.a. ISIS) because "we have a real stake in making sure that [our children and grandchildren] grow up in a world where schoolgirls are not kidnapped, women are not raped in conflict and families aren't slaughtered because of their faith or political beliefs."

Those are all terrible things, but the U.S. government has neither the mandate nor the ability to prevent them, as Obama himself occasionally acknowledges. "Not every regional terrorist organization is automatically a threat to us that would call for a major offensive," he told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday. "Our goal should not be to think that we can occupy every country where there's a terrorist organization."

So ISIS is "a threat to us"? Not quite. "We have not seen any immediate intelligence about threats to the homeland from ISIL," Obama emphasized. "That's not what this is about. What it's about is an organization that, if allowed to control significant amounts of territory, to amass more resources, more arms, to attract more foreign fighters…can be a serious threat to the homeland."

You may or may not find this preventive/pre-emptive argument for war persuasive. It seems to me that ISIS is, first and foremost, a problem for its various regional adversaries, including Iran, the Persian Gulf states, rival rebel groups and the Assad regime in Syria, and the Kurds, Shiites, and moderate Sunnis of Iraq.

The horrifying videos showing the beheading of two American journalists, which are probably the main source of outrage feeding support for war, show that ISIS is ruthless and barbaric. They do not show that ISIS is a problem America has to solve.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), ordinarily cautious about foreign intervention, alluded to those videos when he announced his support for a wider military campaign against ISIS. "This is something we can't take," he said on Fox News last week. "We're not gonna let our enemies behead our journalists." With American journalists working all over the world, protecting them seems like a dangerously open-ended justification for war.

Paul also cites "the plight of massacred Christians and Muslim minorities." Secretary of State John Kerry likewise mentions ISIS's "genocidal agenda," along with its "beheadings, crucifixions and other acts of sheer evil," as reasons the U.S. should wage war against the group.

But the world is full of evil, and no country, not even the United States, can hope to eradicate it. Trying to do so is dangerous because of the potential for unintended consequences.

Consider Iraq and Libya, where chaos prevails not just despite but because of U.S. meddling. Given these and many other examples of foreign adventures gone awry, it is quixotic to believe that the U.S. can intervene in Syria's civil war in just the right way, attacking ISIS without shoring up the brutal Assad government or magnifying the terrorist threat to our country.

Supporters of war against ISIS keep citing the group's outrageous crimes—which are not, strictly speaking, relevant to the question of whether it poses a threat to the United States—because their defensive justification is weak, based on speculation about the enemy ISIS could become. "When in doubt, stay out" is a good rule of thumb for dropping bombs in other countries, because the world is complicated and politicians never know as much about it as they think they do.

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  1. Pre-Emptive War!
    I think I’ve seen this movie before.

    1. “I blame it on Bush.”

      1. Of course. The perfidy of Emmanuel Goldstein BOOOSH reaches far into the future.

      2. I listen to various international broadcasters, and the CBC’s “news” report did exactly that.

  2. I guess when you’re a former constitutional law professor, you have access to the secret parts of the constitution that authorize the federal government to wage war anytime anything bad happens to any American anywhere, even if they are Americans who deliberately choose to head into a war zone.

    My abridged copy doesn’t seem to contain these clauses granting such broad powers.

    1. Congressional authorization?
      We don’ need no steenking congressional authorization!

    2. Also, while we muggles may worry about unintended consequences (and isn’t that just a teathuglican meme anyway?), it’s actually all a part of Obama’s 4D Vulcan chess.

      1. Progressive-style condescension AND star trek reference. I actually lol’d

    3. even if they are Americans who deliberately choose to head into a war zone.

      ISIL should have just raped Foley and Sotloff instead, and then they’d be above criticism.

      1. +1 rape culture

    4. it’s in the FYTY part we peons are not privy too

    5. *even if they are Americans who deliberately choose to head into a war zone.*

      See also: the Lusitania.

  3. Obama could end (or lessen) evil and defend the country at the same time by repealing Obamacare and releasing the IRS emails.

  4. pre war is what caused this damn mess to begin with.

    1. Wrong. Saddam Hussein violated a cease-fire agreement for 10 years.

      1. So did (does) N Korea…

        Don’t the police violate a cease-fire agreement every time they shoot one of us? Does that mean that I can shoot them at will?

  5. Someday Luxembourg might pose an existential threat to America. That’s why they need to be crushed now.

    1. Finally something everyone can agree on.

    2. We need to fight the Grand Fenwick expeditionary force over there so that we don’t have to fight them over here.

    3. Exactly. While they’re still a junior varsity threat.

    4. I don’t think Andy Schleck will ever again be a Grand Tour contender. Tejay Van Gardren and Andy Talansky will do just fine.

  6. I don’t recognize this country anymore. We are divided in so many ways. D vs R. Ruling Class Vs Peons. Poor Peons vs Wealthy Peons. Color… religion… sexual preference…

    “United” States of America? Not really.

    I wonder if Romney won and would have tried half the crap Obama is doing, if he’d be in jail by now?

    PS. Please don’t take that as an endorsement for Romney. Didn’t vote to for the bumb. Just wondering is all.

  7. There is the man with the plan alright. Wow.

    1. Deep thoughts by spambot….Obama finally announces a plan for something but it sucks

    2. Crap, spambot for the win AGAIN!

  8. I would be delighted if Jug-ears would oblighterate ISIS, or minimally scatter them to the four winds, and then call the troops home and head for the golf course. Pity that he won’t. He’ll either misapply too little force to make a good object lesson, or he’ll stay too long and muck about “nation building”.

    1. It took how long to get Bin Laden? It’ll take a lot longer to get rid of the ISIS fanatics there. They will blend in with locals and innocents will get killed. That will create some more fanatics who want to get even for their family members who were killed.

  9. “I would be delighted if Jug-ears would oblighterate ISIS, or minimally scatter them to the four winds, and then call the troops home and head for the golf course.”

    That is not even a remote possibility. That’s how all the past idiot moves have been rationalized. Even when the President has actually (verbally) committed to the in&out; idea, it doesn’t work. We don’t even have that.

    This will be a huge mistake. I don’t even believe that Obama is the type who personally feels the need to intervene with ISIS in a moral fight. He has other motives, and I just am not sure what they are? Military lobbyists promising money? Appeasing warhawks in congress? He’s 110% out of touch and thinks this what people want? Being so unwise as to honestly think “it will work this time”?

    How someone can ever think that it’s ever morally just to send other men and women to DIE unless absolutely necessary due to imminent and immediate threat is beyond me.

    1. “That is not even a remote possibility. That’s how all the past idiot moves have been rationalized. Even when the President has actually (verbally) committed to the in&out; idea, it doesn’t work. We don’t even have that.”

      Nobody has any idea of how you make a set of nasty bleevers into something other than that, and as a result certainly nobody has any right to claim ‘this will only take X!’, whether X is time, treasure or lives.
      Yes, those folks are really horrible, and they are not our problem.

    2. Even when the President has actually (verbally) committed to the in&out; idea, it doesn’t work.

      So, what you’re saying is that when they say “just the tip” and “I’ll put out early, I swear” they’re lieing?

    3. You ask what are Obama’s motives:

      “Military lobbyists promising mmoney”
      “Appeasing warhawks”

      I agree, and also:

      Get the news off of his scandals
      It’s what everyone around him in government is recommending
      It also puts Congress on the hook if things go wrong so it won’t be just Obama’s fault
      War is the health of the State which is under attack by the Tea Party

  10. The “core of the case” is simply that Obama’s domestic policies are failing, he is wildly unpopular, and so he is trying to start a war to distract from that.

    1. This. When all else fails, wag the dog. It’s Politician Shitweasel 101

  11. Damn shame nobody in DC thinks our war policy ought to be solely about national defense.

  12. *”we have a real stake in making sure that [our children and grandchildren] grow up in a world where schoolgirls are not kidnapped, women are not raped in conflict and families aren’t slaughtered because of their faith or political beliefs.”*

    Oddly, Cameron thinks it’s okay if girls are raped, en masse, right there in good ol’ Blighty by the same religious kooks as are doing it in the Levant.

  13. my friend’s sister makes $83 an hour on the laptop . She has been fired for ten months but last month her payment was $12435 just working on the laptop for a few hours
    Find Out More. ??????

  14. my friend’s half-sister makes $85 every hour on the laptop . She has been fired from work for eight months but last month her pay was $18226 just working on the laptop for a few hours. go right here………



    I’m sure the same was said of Japan and Germany circs 1940 and Al Qaeda anytime in the late 90’s.

    While not a terrorist attack,perhaps we should wait for something like Bhopal?
    Then form a blue ribbon study group.

  16. I was recently reading that constitutions fail to adequately limit the size and scope of government. The author felt that the most effective limit over time is human mobility. When governments become oppressive, people tend to leave. Could this idea be used as an effective foreign policy? A friend, in a recent conversation, suggested that we should exclude everyone from the Middle East. Based upon the above, I suggested that exactly the opposite policy should be implemented. If we believe that another country is being oppressive to its people, we should open the front door and admit as many people as possible from the region with the least amount of problems. How long would an oppressive government last if all of its productive people left and came here???

    1. If you wanted to be Bo about it, you could argue the current ‘policy’ re immigrants from the south is sort of accomplishing the same.
      You gotta be pretty determined and ambitious to run the gamut and get employment in the US.

  17. There’s nothing that demands ISIS be a substantial threat. The British were not a substantial threat to the colonists, by that reason they had no right to fight the revolutionary war. They fought for rights, something supposedly libertarians believe in, until it comes time for foreign policy and they say fuck it and go all derpity derp.

    1. “The British were not a substantial threat to the colonists,”

      You can’t be serious. There were soliders on the ground in America, occupying colonists’ homes, the British were forcibly taking their money, and they were violating what the colonists rightly believed were natural rights.

      Just because they had more backbone to stand up and take action before things got as bad as it is here today, doesn’t mean they were wrong or htat Britain wasn’t a substantial threat.

    2. Marktaylor|9.10.14 @ 7:06PM|#
      “There’s nothing that demands ISIS be a substantial threat.”

      So we just bomb those we think are nasty regardless of whether they are a threat to us?
      On your dime, please.

    3. “…were not a substantial threat to the colonists…”
      ^ this is only one of the more egregious examples

  18. So, we will just have to wait for the explosion to signify that we have been attacked and then go to war!

  19. Isn’t ISIS the group we gave chemicals weapons to so that they could be (and they were) used against Assad forces? And a few months later we decide they are a threat?

    1. Nobody “gave” ISIS chemical weapons, dumbass.

  20. like Rodney implied I’m taken by surprise that some one able to earn $7513 in four weeks on the internet . learn the facts here now

  21. all of the fervor over beheadings (yes, horrible) and fanaticism makes me skeptical. gulf of tonkin, powell lying to the u.n. come to mind, and look at the tragedies that came out of both.

    that’s it; we refuse to learn from history.

    mark “deep throat” felt gave the sagest advice ever: “follow the money.” for those wondering what the real reasons for our escalation against isis: they’re making $3 mil a day off of oil.

    if you re-visit the powell u.n. lie in light of the real reason we invaded, is it just a coincdence – and slightly ironic – that after isis starts making bucks from black gold, here we are about to pull the trigger?

    1. Seriously? You don’t see a problem with letting a terrorist organization that has vowed to attack the US amass $3 million a day in revenue, considering that the “planes operation” only cost AQ about $100K and brought us 9/11?

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