Is the man who ran for President as the anti-war candidate about to take America to war in Iraq and Syria? Listening to the Obama administration this week, it certainly sounds that way.
U.S. engagement with ISIS started as a kind of quasi-humanitarian mission. Earlier this month, President Obama indicated the main goal of the strikes and of military support to Iraq and the Kurds was “preventing an act of genocide.” But after the murder of journalist James Foley, the U.S. has stepped up the intensity of airstrikes and the administration seems to be striking a new, more aggressive tone.
Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “ISIL and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed, and those
responsible for this heinous, vicious atrocity will be held accountable.”
On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was asked whether ISIS “presents a 9/11 level threat to the United States?” Sec. Hagel replied, “ISIL is as
sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They’re
beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of
strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously
well-funded. Oh, this is beyond anything that we’ve seen. So we must prepare for everything.”
Friday, White House national security adviser Ben Rhodes labeled Foley’s murder, “an attack on our country.” Rhodes then suggested a reprisal was likely saying, “If you come against Americans, we are going to come after you.” He also signaled that a U.S. response would spread beyond Iraq to Syria saying, “We’re actively considering what’s going to be necessary to deal with
that threat, and we’re not going to be restricted by borders.”
For now that may mean expanded airstrikes but expansion into Syria would not be the same thing as the current attacks in Iraq. For one thing, Iraq invited us to operate inside their border. As the NY Times points out, Bashar al-Assad is unlikely to do so.
Meanwhile, the State Department has already requested 300 additional military personnel be transferred to Baghdad to guard the U.S. Embassy there. That would include about 150 Marines.
The Obama administration is actively talking up the threat of ISIS and the need, as Kerry put it, to destroy that threat. Sec. Hagel struck a similar note suggesting ISIS is even more dangerous than the al Qaeda which carried out the 9/11 attack. And Ben Rhodes has now described the murder of James Foley as an attack on the United States. All of this is exactly the kind of talk which the media would label a drumbeat of war if this were a Republican administration.