Ask anyone on the far-right, and they'll tell you President Obama is an incompetent, effete terrorist capitulator. Ask anyone on the far-left and they'll tell you he's a cold-hearted baby killer who loves sinking his blood-soaked, warmongering talons into the necks of brown people. The fact that perceptions are so radically diverse indicates that Obama is neither. He's likely somewhere between both options, which suggests a leader who doesn't have an itchy trigger finger, but who also understands that sometimes the only way to confront aggression is with proportional aggression.
The Islamic State, ISIS, is carving up the Middle East, threatening U.S. interests, including the Iraqi government, beheading American journalists and murdering women and children. There's no disputing this reality. Politically and strategically, the very least the president can do is exactly what he's doing: strategic airstrikes to slow the ISIS advance toward Baghdad and hitting command-and-control inside Syria, while also supporting moderate rebels in that country. There aren't any other acceptable options. As we've discussed before, it's a Kobayashi Maru scenario -- a no win situation, but one which demands a response. Will the outcome foment new challenges or new enemies? Possibly. It could also satisfy Obama's stated goal of disrupting ISIS. We just don't know, but had Obama done nothing, ISIS would've been allowed to advance unchallenged to God-knows-where. Or if he had committed battalions of ground forces engaging the terrorists in town-to-town street fights, the repercussions in terms of U.S. casualties would've been too costly and unpopular.
There's no easy analysis, nor is there an easy solution. Unless, that is, you're The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald who challenged Fox News today in the ongoing competition to provide the most simplistic responses to complicated matters. His post, titled "SYRIA BECOMES THE 7TH PREDOMINANTLY MUSLIM COUNTRY BOMBED BY 2009 NOBEL PEACE LAUREATE," whittles everything down to "warhawk demon murders brown people -- tee-hee, har-har! ZING!" Once again, Greenwald's reaction to the U.S. response in the wake of the decapitations of two journalists has been to snark and joke about it on Twitter and elsewhere.
Greenwald's post exposes him as nothing more than a foreign policy dilettante who appears to have just stepped out of a 7th grade model U.N. session (with apologies to 7th grade model U.N. participants). To distill everything down to Meany Obama Kills More Arabs completely and conveniently oversimplifies the situation and the stakes. I'm sure President Greenwald would've come up with a solution that would've... what? We don't know because he's yet to propose any solutions whatsoever to the crisis in that region, other than simply returning us to a condition of isolation, allowing the chips to fall where they may.
By the way, Greenwald also dropped a supermassive conspiracy theory in the midst of his post, pitching the idea that a "feature" of U.S. foreign policy is to literally manufacture new enemies, "Continuously creating and strengthening enemies is a feature, not a bug. It is what justifies the ongoing greasing of the profitable and power-vesting machine of Endless War."
Yep, and once we intentionally breed new legions of terrorists, we can suck them up into tornado funnels using our weather-weapons, forming Terrornadoes. You know, since controlled demolitions are so 2001.
Let's be clear: I've been cautious, to put it mildly, about any further U.S. involvement in the Middle East. But it's crucial to grasp the international and domestic stakes, including, yes, political considerations, and that nothing in the Middle East or elsewhere can be described in such facile terms.