Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Nothing learned

The only reason we're doing this at all is obviously because of the ISIS beheading videos. Roughly 200,000 people have been killed in Syria's civil war, including many American journalists. But the beheading videos of two Americans, coupled with shameless fearmongering on the part of the mainstream media, seriously influenced public opinion.

What seems equally clear, however, is that when this new war goes south, public opinion will sour quickly. Our history of intervening in civil wars is abysmal. We lost in Vietnam, we lost in Iraq, and Afghanistan is still on a losing trajectory. There is every reason to believe Syria will go at least as poorly as all those failures, if not worse.

Most Americans basically understand this, I think, despite the genuine horror of the beheading videos. Now, polls show bipartisan approval for airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria, but there are reasons to doubt that will last. Support for putting American troops into combat is still fairly low and approval for this war is actually below average when taken in the context of past conflicts.
Six years ago, the most important strength upon which Obama was elected was the feeling that it was time to start doing things differently from the way the Bush people had done them.  There are many ways in which the Obama Administration will be remembered for its missed opportunities.  Failure to change course in Iraq is only the most deadly, and costly of those.

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