Like many Americans, I watched Barack Obama’s speech last night and found myself largely underwhelmed.
I wanted to hear that America had this under control.
I wanted to hear that everything was all good.
Maybe, just maybe, I even wanted to hear some tough talk. You know, movie stuff. “ISIS, here’s my advice for you guys: Run and hide. Run. And. Hide. Because it’s over …”
Instead, we got nuance. Details. Information. It was a wonkish address from a wonk president, but terrorism isn’t wonk-material. It’s emotion, force, anger, fear. It’s metal and explosions and blood and death.
Americans wanted to see a president who felt that, and instead they received an informational speech.
But, in hindsight, here’s the thing: He was right. He really was, and I’m not saying that because I support Obama’s foreign policy (much of it I find frustrating). Nope. I’m saying he did the right thing because of all the claims we make about ISIS (they hate us for our freedoms; they want us to live in fear; they want to take over our land, etc) the one that seems true (like, undeniably true) is that they want American boots on their turf. That, to ISIS, would be the official start of a holy war; a holy war they believe to be ordained by Allah and destined by fate. Once we bring our forces to ISIS-held territories, we are printing leaflets and creating YouTube videos that would double, triple, quadruple their recruiting efforts. The moment we become invaders, all the words ISIS leaders spew about America become 100-percent true to potential followers: Look! They’re here! They want you dead!
That’s why, when I hear Republican presidential candidates boasting about killing ISIS, destroying ISIS, sending our troops in to root out ISIS, well, I cringe. Because this isn’t a typical war scenario, where it’s our troops v. their troops in a battle of attrition.
No. This is more complicated, more detailed, more nuanced.