…we're being gulled into a new-and-improved crusade to fix a Middle East still utterly destabilized in large part due to our still-smoldering failure to reshape desert sand into a form more to our desires. As we prep for the next "smart war" engineered by [President] Obama (he's against "dumb wars," remember, and lives by the credo "don't do stupid shit"), it's worth acknowledging that the signature characteristic of America's 21st-century war on terrorism and foreign policy has been massive threat inflation at every level. Until we fully grok that terrorism—whether state-sponsored or stateless—thrives on the overreaction of its targets and that we have overreacted so far at virtually every turn, we have no hope of enacting real solutions.
That's from my new Daily Beast column, which argues that U.S. foreign policy and war-making in the 21st century has consistently failed in part because it is rarely tethered to realistic assessments of the dangers from our enemies.
The original sin of post-9/11 foreign policy stems from the intertwined and equally mistaken ideas that al Qaeda was a potent, ongoing "existential" threat to America and that the United States had a responsibility to "nation build" in the Islamic world rather than avenge monstrous acts against its citizens. As [John] Mueller and Mark G. Stewart note in their 2012 survey of "Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Since 9/11" (PDF), the 9/11 attacks were not the start of a new era of mass terroristic violence in the West. "Terrorists are not really all that capable a bunch, terrorism tends to be a counterproductive exercise, and 9/11 is increasingly standing out as an aberration, not a harbinger," they write in their survey of 50 Islamist terrorist acts since 2001….
At the very least, it's worth holding the president and his planners accountable for clarifying whether ISIS in fact poses any sort of threat to the United States homeland and narrowly defined American interests, the two things on which foreign policy and military action should be built. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, has stated flatly "we don't have any information about credible planning for an attack" by ISIS, an assessment that has been corroborated by both the FBI and The Department of Homeland Security.
A wise foreign policy—or at least one that doesn't constantly make the world worse off—would start by countering threat inflation here and abroad with a heavy dose of reality.
The president will give a speech on ISIS and the Middle East tonight at 9 P.M. ET. The early word? "Obama wants a blank check to fight ISIS—and Congress is ready to give it to him." So, hey, grandkids, start getting ready for the fourth, fifth, and sixth Iraq Wars…