NBC News reports: Nearly 70 percent of Americans say they lack confidence that the U.S. will achieve its goals in fighting the terrorist group ISIS, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll. The findings come in the wake of President Barack Obama’s national address announcing new measures to combat the Sunni militants.
Pressure is mounting on the U.S. and its allies to cripple the militants, who have waged a brutal campaign across Syria and Iraq. ISIS already has beheaded two American journalists and on Saturday released a video showing the execution of a third Westerner, British aid worker David Haines.
The poll – conducted before the latest execution emerged – showed that a combined 68 percent of Americans say they have “very little” or “just some” confidence that Obama’s goals of degrading and eliminating the threat posed by ISIS will be achieved. Just 28 percent said they had “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of confidence. Still, 62 percent of voters say they support Obama’s decision to take action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, while 22 percent oppose it. [Continue reading…]
There are lots of ways of reading these numbers and I imagine that all of the following explanations are applicable to varying degrees:
1. “Do you support the war?” A certain percentage of Americans would answer “yes” even if they didn’t know which war they were supporting.
2. “Do you believe it’s necessary to fight ISIS even if the outcome of this fight is uncertain?” In an era where wars all appear to be wars of choice, it’s easy to lose sight of the fundamental meaning of a war of necessity: there appears to be no alternative. For instance, Britain’s commitment to continue fighting against Germany even after the Nazis had taken control over all of the rest of Europe, might in 1940 have looked unrealistic, but it was a stance driven by necessity rather than confidence in the outcome. Likewise, it’s possible to believe that fighting against ISIS is a necessity, even if it remains unclear whether this fight will be successful. (And before anyone leaves a comment: No, I’m not comparing ISIS to the Third Reich.)
3. “Do you think this war will have any direct impact on your life?” Since most Americans can reasonably assume that a war on ISIS will affect them personally to no greater extent than it impacts what they see on television, it’s relatively easy to support a war whose costs are relatively intangible. Likewise, it matters less what the war’s outcome might be when it involves little sacrifice.
4. “Do you think President Obama presented a credible strategy for destroying ISIS?” If the answer’s “no” and this is why you lack confidence in this war, then I’d take that as a fairly good indication that you are following this story reasonably closely.
5. Of course the most obvious reason why Americans would be skeptical about the chances of success for a war against ISIS is the fact that after sinking trillions of dollars into wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terrorism, al Qaeda still exists.
As has happened so many times before, Obama formulates his policies in reaction to banal, superficial, political imperatives whose primary purpose is to fend off critics.
On Thursday he presented his strategy for destroying ISIS because only days before he got slammed for admitting he didn’t have a strategy.
After he made various comments suggesting that he only aimed to contain ISIS and was thus criticized for underestimating the threat it poses and for being too timid in his response, he answered critics by saying that his aim was to destroy ISIS.
After it was pointed out that fighting ISIS in Iraq would accomplish little if it could continue to consolidate its strength in Syria, Obama said the fight would be taken to Syria.
Each of his steps is reactive and political — as though the primary task at hand was to deflect criticism.
If there’s a vision that guides the Obama presidency, it seems to be one of utter cynicism: a recognition that whatever seems urgent today will soon be overshadowed by another urgent issue, accompanied by a quiet confidence that eventually everything will be forgotten.