I think of Elizabeth Drew as an exceptionally well-sourced, extremely measured, commentator on Washington doings. She's been at it forever and never seems to resort to shouting to get our attention. Hence I find this, from a New York Review of Books post on the firing of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, haunting.
Let's repeat that: “As long as ISIS is beheading Americans there’s no way the president can stand up and say that Syria isn’t our problem.”
I'm inclined to snark: why not? But that probably won't do so let's think seriously about this. ISIS (or any of the group's other names) behaves barbarously. What can the U.S. do?
Well -- the U.S. could perhaps, if we were willing to spend the money, go all John McCain in much of Syria and Iraq, and kill anything that moved. That would blow away a lot of people who had nothing to do with ISIS. It would destroy the frayed fabric of international norms protecting nation states and sometimes civilians that we thought had been established in the post-World War II era. Most of the victims would be people who had also been preyed upon by ISIS. But this would be a fine barbaric response to barbarism. We might do it, if we weren't too cheap.
Or the U.S. could simply say that anyone fool enough to enter the orbit of ISIS is on their own. If the guy with the knife comes for you, that's your business. This would do nothing for Syrians and Iraqis living under the guns of the nut cases, though it might give them a better chance of survival than the blow-'em-all-away alternative. Or not.
As Drew and her sources say, fear of popular opinion won't allow our rulers to adopt the second alternative. The first alternative would only be popular so long as there was zero blowback -- not likely. So the United States is having its agenda set by a bunch of black clad thugs with big knives. I guess our rulers will just muddle along. Eventually they'll jump one way or another and we the people may be forced to decide what we actually wanted, as well as live with the consequences. Iraqis and Syrians will remain trapped in all forces' muddling. None of this is comforting.