Sadly, there is a circularity to the issue of war since, say, Korea (1950-53). Initially, the public is supportive (“rally ‘round the flag”), but as time and the cost in blood and treasure mount, critics are heard. Eventually, the support disappears. Right now the public wants and demands action against ISIS and other Islamist terror threats. There is new realism that admits—as did not happen in the U.S. Government after 9/11 and especially since Mr. Obama’s ascension—that the threat is from Muslim extremists. But otherwise the script looks distressingly familiar.
Republicans already are taking on their Democratic foes in Congressional races for being uninterested in the terrorism problem until now. That is happening, for example, in North Carolina.
On the other end of the spectrum, left-wingers who couldn’t find a bad thing to say about Barack Obama in 2008 or ’12 are now grumbling about his turnabout on the terrorism issue. Frank Rich, formerly of the New York Times and now of New York Magazine, and a reliable windsock of progressive trends, is furious.
The left-wingers who would have been in the streets by now with anti-war slogans are still mired in climate change jargon. But global warming is out of date. It will take the far left a while to mobilize, but their ultimate loyalty is not partisan and certainly not personal. The word is getting out. The lame duck in the White House right now will find himself like the lame duck of 1968—Lyndon Johnson—the subject first of disappointments, then of disillusionment and then of vilification. As Rich says, once a few U.S. body bags come back, the dissent will mobilize, especially since we supposedly have no boots on the ground, only “advisers”. (There were only U.S. advisers in Vietnam, too, from about ’63 to ’65. Some of them got killed.)
Among the other constituencies that will turn against our military action are those key to the President’s base—those who want more social programs at home. New upward spending on defense (which also is coming quickly) will stimulate the economy in new ways, but not for much of that base, and not in a massive way.
But the wisdom or folly of the President’s moves, whether they are too much or too little (or too late), are almost beside the point. Either the U.S. Is threatened or we are not. If we are threatened, we really don’t have much choice about the direction. We do have choice about the leaders who take us ahead.