I know it’s fashionable to hit Senator Paul from both Left and Right for the tortured evolution of his position on ISIS, and particularly difficult to square Air-Strike Rand with Drone-Strike Filibuster Rand, but I generally sympathize with both the process he’s gone through, and most of the conclusions he’s reached. It’s not easy for someone who begins with his anti-interventionist perspective and concerns about unconstitutional, unlimited wars to conclude that ISIS needs an infusion of American munitions, stat. In fact, I’d say that goes to show just how bad the ISIS problem is.
I’m genuinely flummoxed that anyone outside the Beltway, and the fever swamps of Obama-worship, would disagree with the proposition that war should be initiated in strict accordance with the Constitution. I can certainly understand why a bipartisan caucus inside the Beltway wants to keep their fingerprints off the operation, and of course the Obama drone will happily accept anything he does as the best idea anyone ever had, even when said drone spent the Aughts shrieking about a “unilateral and unconstitutional Bush war” that was neither unilateral nor unconstitutional.
But as for the rest of us, it’s not just some quaint little quirk of the Constitution that brings Congress into the war-making process. It’s a good idea. War is serious business. Victory is, always and everywhere, a question of will. Wars end when the will of one side is broken, not when every last one of their soldiers is dead or captured. Partisan political squabbles undermine national will, as we saw back in the days when Democrats were comparing American troops at Gitmo to Nazis. As Rush Limbaugh has been saying lately, too many analysts puzzled by Obama’s fecklessness on the Iraq crisis are forgetting how the Democrat Party drove its loyal followers insane with Bush-hatred during his second term. They haven’t recovered. Their eyes start twitching whenever they hear the word “Iraq.” To the extent possible, that kind of internal squabbling must be minimized in the pursuit of victory… and as we saw from Bush’s travails, even doing everything right doesn’t eliminate it.
So these unilateral Obama adventures are pretty much guaranteed to dissolve into political food fights, and Obama himself is certain to abandon America’s allies and pull a little cut-and-run when things go south. That’s one reason he’s not finding a lot of support for his Coalition of the Unwilling. (Contrary to his loyal media’s reports about France joining the fray, they’re only conducting airstrikes in Iraq, not Syria, where at least two-thirds of the ISIS menace is squatting.) This whole idea of fighting a serious military enemy through uncertain proxies is a setup designed to give Obama easy ways to spin the bad news from a war he’s launching with nearly zero investment of political capital. The reasons he’s so adamant about chanting “no boots on the ground,” even as quite a few American boots are “forward deploying” and the Pentagon is all but revolting against the President, are that it placates the kook Left, minimizes the apparent scale of the problem, avoids validating Bush’s Iraq strategy, helps to memory-hole the fact that Obama started this mess by pulling out of Iraq in the first place, and gives him a dozen back doors to escape from the operation if it goes badly. You can already hear Obama flacks and friendly pundits saying it’s all the fault of those lousy Iraqis, or the Kurds let him down, or the “Syrian moderates” were such a terrible disappointment, on and on, herds of scapegoats trooping across the Sunday-show sets. Similar excuses will be offered to protect Obama’s “legacy” in the likely event this hot mess turns sour under his successor.
I suspect everyone Obama’s trying to get into the Coalition of the Unwilling is well aware of these realities; “I’ve got your back” is not a reassuring promise coming from the same guy who swears there will never, ever be boots on the ground, no matter what. I think Rand Paul’s got some valid points about the dangers of arming and relying upon the “Syrian moderates.” Even the Kurds have suffered recent reversals against the Islamic State, which is rolling armor against them now. Obama’s actually channeling LBJ and talking about personally choosing bombing targets. It’s got “endless low-intensity quagmire” written all over it, with “victory” a word this White House literally says it can’t define. In the Bush years, Democrats talked endlessly about exit strategies; now they’re giving us an exit strategy in search of a war.
It’s tough to look upon those sobering realities and realize that, despite it all, we really do have to do something about ISIS. I’m not surprised that people like Rand Paul arrive at that conclusion after cogitation that’s considerably less crisp and tidy around its principles than his fans have come to expect. Since he’s a sitting Senator with a prominent rising-star role in his Party, and he’s prone to making his inner thoughts public, the messy process has been right on the table for everyone to see.