It's Not Fear That's Clouding the Scotland Debate: It's Amnesia

The Buzz

According to Scottish nationalists, it's "Team Scotland vs Team Westminster." A Braveheart view of the past predisposes them to see separateness. Essential is retrieving the "lost world" of Scottish Britishness. Even before the union, it was growing inter-dependence that defined the relationship between the various parts of Britain.

In 1695, the Scottish government granted a license for the so-called Darien Company to plant a colony in Panama. To tap Spanish trade in the Caribbean, Scots had sunk some £153,000 - a quarter of the country's liquid capital - into a distant plantation. By 1700, tropical disease and Spanish raids had killed most of the colonists off. Edinburgh blamed London for not coming to its rescue.

A Union of Crowns had existed since 1603 when James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I to the throne of England as James I. But without a union of parliaments pooling risk and resources, London had no responsibility for Scottish commerce and no stake in a colonial enterprise that conflicted with England's need to keep Spain onboard against France.

Perhaps the biggest myth of all is that next week's referendum can return Scotland independence lost in 1707: the Darien scheme confronts us with two kingdoms legally separate but increasingly seen by their inhabitants as interdependent.

The referendum's thorniest issues - the pound, the economy, defense and a shared monarch - point us back to the problem 18th-century proponents of the union sought to fix: how to arrange the relationship of two nations, highly if unequally dependent on each other for trade and defense, that shared an island, a crown, a language and (we forget how important it was) the 1613 King James version of the Protestant Bible.

Unfashionable as it is to say, the union achieved what its designers meant it to - secure the diverse but inter-connected peoples of the island of Great Britain against foreign threats to their liberties, and promote their common prosperity.

For Scotland, the economic relationship with England, its Caribbean and North American colonies and the booming colonial trade in sugar and tobacco, was critical. For England, the imperative was strategic: fear of Louis XIV's France in Europe, on the high seas, in North America and India.

But an ideological conflict - the defense of Protestantism and parliamentary government (albeit with an excruciatingly limited franchise, especially in Scotland) - was crucial to the making of Britain. On both sides of the Tweed, Louis's France was the nightmare both feared most: absolutist and Catholic.

To fend it off, the two Protestant kingdoms of the island of Great Britain created a common market (then the world's largest), a common currency, common army and navy, with a common foreign policy directed through a common parliament at Westminster.

They pooled the national debt. By 1713, Louis was contained.

This Anglo-Scottish fiscal-military union out-strategized, out-spent and out-fought all its rivals. In the Seven Years' War (1756-63) and again in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815), it defeated the French threat to Protestantism and parliament.

Victory at Trafalgar (1805) and Waterloo (1815) made possible the third element of Britain's high imperial credo: free trade - a Scots idea first expressed in Adam Smith's 1776 Wealth of Nations. Another Scots invention - James Watt's 1765 steam engine - made Britain's industrial lead unassailable for a century. By 1762, a Scot, Lord Bute, was prime minister.

The joint Anglo-Scottish Empire was to contemporaries as it is to us, British rather than English. By 1750, a quarter of the officers of the East India Company were Scots. A century later, William Mackinnon, from a middle-class Clyde family, founded a line of mail steamers (Mackinnon Mackenzie & Co.) that would become the British India Steam Navigation Company, official carrier of British troops as well as mail from the Persian Gulf to Burma.

The Scots presence all over the British Empire made Darien a distant memory. Its fruits reshaped Scottish cityscapes. Between 1745 and 1850, colonial wealth built Edinburgh's famous New Town. The Empire's second city until the 1950s, shipbuilding Glasgow, created a handsome center of its own. By 1880, as much as 40 percent of Australian borrowing was from middle-class savings in Scottish banks.

Union also promised an empire of Christ for Scots missionaries - unsurprising in a society so profoundly shaped by the Kirk. Born in 1813 in Lanarkshire and buried in 1873 in Westminster Abbey, David Livingstone took "Commerce and Christianity" to deepest Africa and became the patron saint of high Victorianism.

A British identity took longer to build than a British state. But by the mid-19th century, it had crystallized around what most Britons thought of as Britain's unique winning formula: Protestantism, parliamentary government and free trade. Among Scots, allegiance to this triune formula made the Conservative and Unionist Party the most successful political party north of the border until the 1960s.

Spurious is the argument of today's nationalists that Scotland got nothing more out of union than occupation. For generations of Scots, from Louis XIV until the defeat of Hitler, it meant the defense and expansion of British Protestantism, the protection of British freedoms symbolized in parliament and an arena for their talents, commercial and spiritual, as wide as could then be imagined: the free-trading British Empire.

Today, the empire is gone and Scots Protestantism is more cultural artifact than creed. But can nationalists' vision for Scotland outside the United Kingdom provide the security and prosperity previous generations identified in the union?

To trade a union that works for a separation that doesn't isn't a step forward; it's a step back to the unhappy days of 1700.

The SNP patriotically rejects the basing of Britain's nuclear force in Scotland but says an independent Scotland will shelter under NATO's nuclear umbrella - partly provided by Britain but dependent above all on Washington's goodwill.

The SNP trumpets "independence in Europe" and holds out Scots as more enthusiastic Europeans than the English. But why then the need for admission on Britain's terms - without the Euro and with London's passport controls? In the EU, too, bigger is better: in the depths of the euro crisis, Irish pleas for clemency fell on deaf ears in austerity-minded Berlin.

That crisis made clear that the European Union is manifestly not what the United Kingdom is: a fiscal-political union pooling risks at the same time as opportunities. British government bonds ("gilts") guarantee the pound; Eurobonds may never exist.

That's why the pound goes to the heart of the debate. Independence plus the Bank of England are probably the only terms on which the SNP can win. But why should the Bank of England (that is, British taxpayers south of the border) act as lender of last resort to Scottish banks or back Scottish government debt without control over how that debt is created?

To trade a union that works for a separation that doesn't isn't a step forward; it's a step back to the unhappy days of 1700. It's Darien without the Caribbean sun - the benefits of union without the risks. As Gordon Brown, Britain's most recent Scottish prime minister, has argued, a patriotism based on Scotland's real story of inter-dependence would look for allies south of the border for renegotiating the terms of the union rather than tearing it up (and inventing a separate past to justify it).

Lost in the fog-shrouded heather of nationalist romance is the truth that the peoples of Great Britain have always been as divided within their kingdoms as connected between. Scots nationalists remember the crushing of the clans at Culloden as English-imposed genocide. Eighteenth-century lowland Scots (Saxons, or "Sassenachs" to the Highlanders) saw in it deliverance from a Catholic tyranny with worrying links to France. None would have been caught dead in a kilt until Queen Victoria made it a fashion and the British Army made the Highlanders the loyal crack troops of Empire.

The "Yes" campaign shamelessly holds the union up as a failure. But if the modern parliamentary state was born in England's "Glorious Revolution" of 1689, it was the 1707 union with Scotland that secured it for posterity. And it was the successful Anglo-Scottish model of political and fiscal union rather than looser confederation that inspired the founding fathers in designing the United States and every successful union, including the Australian, since.

It's not fear that's clouding the referendum debate; it's amnesia about the scale of the union's achievements and the inter-dependence of the British peoples. After 1707, Scots and English (and Welsh) invented Britishness together. It's entirely within their creative capacity to reshape its content for the 21st century.

Matthew Dal Santo is a freelance writer and foreign affairs correspondent. He previously worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This piece first appeared at ABC's The Drum here

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons License. 

TopicsHistory RegionsScotland

Can America Still Win the Information War?

The Buzz

The U.S. Congress heard recently from the President that the world is a dangerous place and that we may need to defend our national security soon. That is as it should be. But before the first bullet is fired in most contests, there’s usually an information war that must be won, and there the Senate has dropped the ball by not taking up a House bill that reforms U.S. International Broadcasting (USIB).

Consider the hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, a prime example of the importance of the communications war. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of his southern neighbor marks the first time since World War II that a European country has officially annexed the territory of another.

But before Putin invaded Ukraine he occupied the Russian mind. Having taken complete control of his country’s media, Putin was able to paint Ukraine’s new leaders as “Nazis” and the country’s Russian minority as “oppressed.” Thus brainwashed, Russians clamored for intervention; Putin merely acceded to their demands. No Roman emperor ever did it better.

It is the same with the conflicts we face with Islamists from Boko Haram in Nigeria to the Taliban in Pakistan, and of course with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The battle for hearts and minds takes place in every conflict we face. Very often, the first ammunition fired are sound bites and pixels of information.  For the West, when it sticks by its values, this means using the truth.

We used to be good at lobbing the truth over the parapets, beaming Voice of America broadcasts into the darkest of dungeon-nations, unstintingly showing the benefits of religious tolerance, freedom of speech and association and all the other rights that provide liberty.

Then we unilaterally disarmed. Just as the Obama Administration pulled all troops out of Iraq and did not leave a residual force, so it also dismantled our information armory.

Most damningly, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees most of the activities of U.S. International Broadcasting (USIB), all but eliminated broadcasts in Russian and Ukrainian in the past few years.

Acting through the USIB, the Administration has also made deep cuts in the Office of Policy, which creates the editorials that explain U.S. policy to foreign audiences. Last September Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, complained that these cuts were in contravention of the VOA charter and public law.  Those complaints went completely unheeded by IBB Director Richard Lobo, an Administration appointee.

Often times, VOA staff have sought to define their mission not as purveyors of American values and explainers of policy overseas, but as straight up journalists who must criticize both.

Standing behind these issues is also the ideological baggage that the Obama Administration has brought in. President Ronald Reagan had no compunction about calling the Soviet Union “the evil empire”—drawing derision from Paris, Bonn and the Upper West Side, but giving comfort to prisoners in the Gulag, who heard from it after word had been beamed in by VOA. President Obama, by contrast, has reportedly banned the administration from using such terms as “jihad” and “Islamic terrorism.”

The United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014, or H.R. 4490, won’t fix the Obama Administration’s ideological biases, but it would do much good.

Among its many positive aspects, H.R. 4490 would provide adult supervision for the $700 million broadcast group, replacing the BBG with a “United States International Communications Agency,” and establishing within the agency a Board of Directors and a Chief Executive Officer.

The role of VOA in public diplomacy is moreover underlined: the bill expresses the sense of Congress that VOA “has been an indispensable element of U.S. foreign policy and public diplomacy efforts and should remain the flagship brand of the Agency.”

The other so-called “surrogate” institutions, such as Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Network, would be consolidated into a “Freedom News Network” to facilitate better management.

H.R.4490 is, moreover, that rarest of things: a bipartisan bill, introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Ranking Member Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., not exactly ideological birds of a feather.

The bill passed the House by a voice vote on July 28 and now awaits action from a Senate that has precious few days left in this session. Senators serious about facing up to the challenges posed by ISIS, Putin and others should understand that information wars well fought can avoid ones that involve real bullets.

Mike Gonzalez is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation and the author of the book “A Race for the Future: How Conservatives Can Break the Liberal Monopoly on Hispanic Americans.”

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons License. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

A Conservative Defense Policy for 2014: Look to Eisenhower

The Buzz

Recent discussions amongst Republicans regarding U.S. Defense force structure have revealed an ongoing disagreement between two camps within the party. Military Hawks, citing the recent disturbances in Ukraine and Iraq, have begun to beat the drum for more resources to be allocated for the Department of Defense to address threats that never really subsided. Fiscal Hawks, focused on budget deficits that stretch as far as the eye can see, continue to argue for DoD to continue to be part of a basket of cuts in entitlements and discretionary programs. While all agree that the United States needs to maintain a military strong enough to deter the rise of competitors and preserve its ability to respond to crises around the world, the question that remains is: how large and how capable does our military have to be to accomplish these twin goals? 

The Military Hawks’ solution is to increase spending and buy more weapons already in production from our military industrial base. Fiscal Hawks, arguing that our Department of Defense is larger than the next ten militaries combined, believe there is room for continued cuts before the nation’s interests are placed at risk. Objective analysis suggests that a path exists that would allow cuts to the DoD budget and marginal growth in the force. Such a path is predicated on recognizing that our national fascination with high-tech weapons systems has led to a defense culture where the exquisite has become the enemy of the “good enough.”

It has not been so long since the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff pronounced that our debt posed a grave threat to our national security at home and around the world. Projected annual trillion-dollar deficits have not lessened the American people's concern. The Budget Control Act (or Sequester) was passed with a false assumption that its provisions would be so painful that the Congress would have to agree on a thoughtful deficit-cutting solution. While we can all agree that it would be wise and desirable to escape the painful controls imposed by the Sequester, we should not give way to election-year desires to spend more, ignoring the long-term implications of our debt.

Some compromise can be found that lowers the cost of entitlements and defense, while also increasing revenues. The Democrats need to come to the table to address the looming crises in Social Security and healthcare. Defense spending should continue downward to levels somewhat higher than those last seen prior to 9/11, when the Department of Defense had an inflation-adjusted budget of $386B (we spend $560B today), the Army had 481,000 soldiers (522,000 today) and the Navy had 316 ships (291 currently). In 2001, we stated that we could fight two major regional conflicts; today, we admit that is no longer possible. Why has the cost of our military gone up 45 percent, while its ability to fight has gone down? Healthcare costs have risen, and there have been complications associated with fighting two wars, but even after factoring the current ISIS crisis into the equation, the wartime pressures are subsiding. In the end, a major inflationary pressure remains our addiction to exquisite platforms.

It is unwise to accept the false premise that we can only arrive at a larger force by spending more on the same types of platforms that we are already building. A conservative approach to the future must find the right balance between high-priced silver bullets that can only be purchased in small numbers and low technology assets that can be purchased in large quantities at low costs. Such an approach would be reminiscent of the Eisenhower presidency, when Ike addressed the debt that had been run up fighting World War II by pursuing a careful balance between a smaller conventional-fighting force and the newly emergent nuclear force, balancing the budget in the process. A Republican defense policy today should rest upon four legs: preservation of current high-tech capabilities, increased emphasis on the procurement of low-cost assets for day-to-day operations, modernization of our nuclear arsenal and investment in the research and development of new technologies to guarantee American leadership after our fiscal house is put in order.

In the meantime, in a world beset with constant turmoil, the phrase “quantity has a quality all its own” takes on new meaning. The United States simply cannot be everywhere that it needs to be with the high-cost, low-numbers military it currently plans, and Republicans cannot simply choose to deficit spend on defense or any other programs they admire. All government spending must be constrained. The turning point on defense will occur when we recognize that spending less money does not have to equate to a smaller force. Wise leaders have a credible alternative in defense-force structure and should pursue it.

Dr. Jerry Hendrix is a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and a retired Navy Captain.

Image: U.S. Department of Defense/Flickr. 

TopicsDefense RegionsUnited States

We Have Met the Source of Questionable Strategy and He Is Us

Paul Pillar

The voluminous commentary about President Obama's speech on going after ISIS reflects the usual mixture of genuine policy analysis and pursuit of political agendas. A prevalent misdirection exhibited both by those politically opposed to this particular president and those who support him, as well as by many of those who are neutral, is to assume that the strategy laid out in the speech is primarily the product of Barack Obama's thinking and preferences. It isn't. Many of us, if we took full account of current American perceptions and sentiments about ISIS, longer American habits in thinking about terrorism, and the political requirements of serving as U.S. president could have written pretty much the same speech. The strategy in it is primarily the product of those public perceptions, sentiments, and habits, which are too strong for most American politicians, including those in Congress as well as the White House, to resist.

We cannot read Barack Obama's mind, but the frequently voiced comment, mostly from confirmed critics of the president, that he only slowly realized ISIS to be a serious menace and is belatedly recognizing the need to act forcefully against it is very likely incorrect. It is far more probable that the president's assessment of the group and of the costs and risks of the various measures that might be taken against it has stayed fairly constant. What evolved, and evolved rapidly, was the public alarm about the group. This latter interpretation conforms more closely to how we have seen Barack Obama operate and how we have seen American public opinion (and the political responses to it) operate. Mr. Obama had tried (somewhat, though not hard enough) to convey a careful and reasonable assessment of the group's significance, and of the downsides of possible further U.S. actions in the Middle East. But reasonableness lost out to a groundswell of public sentiment.

There will be disappointments and failures in some of the measures the president described in his speech, and some of the risks involved are apt to materialize into serious costs to U.S. interests. The failures and costs, as well as whatever successes might come from the measures to be taken, should be attributed less to the mind of Barack Obama than to the collective mental habits of the American public.

The most fundamental respect in which this is true is with the overall degree of alarm about ISIS, which far exceeds what would be warranted by careful and sober analysis of the threat that this group, notwithstanding its abhorrent brutality, poses to U.S. interests. Prevailing public sentiment has equated gains in dusty territory in the Middle East with the threat of a terrorist spectacular in the U.S. homeland. The American public is basing its perception on emotion, and its record in gauging terrorist threats that way is poor. It reacts to the past rather than assessing the future. It is reacting now not only to the past trauma of 9/11 but to also to the gruesomeness of recent videotaped killings of captives—which does not tell us much more about ISIS than we already knew, apart from confirming the group's willingness to do deadly things in response to U.S. use of force against it, which does not constitute an argument to use force.

The American public looks at terrorism in general not as the timeless tactic that it is but rather in terms of its embodiment in specific named groups or individuals—“the terrorists”—whom the public believes must be eliminated. This view overlooks the frequently changing roster of groups emerging and dying, splitting and metastasizing. It also overlooks the whole motivations side of when and why anyone either joins or forms a group that has used terrorism, and when and why a resistance group already in existence would resort to terrorism, especially terrorism against the United States. And it overlooks whether mounting a very visible campaign against a group may play into the group's own plans and ambitions.

The conception of counterterrorism as consisting of the elimination of a fixed group of bad guys is related to the further American inclination to equate counterterrorism with use of military force. The whole “war on terror” metaphor exacerbated this unfortunate tendency. Military force is only one of several counterterrorist instruments, it is not necessarily the best one to use in any one circumstance, and the sorts of terrorist activity that ought to worry us the most present few good military targets. Disproportionate emphasis on the military instrument also tends to be associated with underestimation of the counterproductive effects that ensue when collateral damage leads to more anger and more motivation to resort to terrorism.

This emphasis also has been associated with the argument advanced by political opponents of Mr. Obama that somehow if he had found a way to extend the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the eight and a half years it had already lasted that ISIS would not have been a problem. This argument has always been rather rich, given that ISIS, under a different name, came into existence as a direct result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and overthrow of the incumbent regime. The historical amnesia involved with the argument extends as well to events later in the last decade, when even the “surge”—although it temporarily reversed the escalating violence in Iraq, as 30,000 U.S. troops ought to have been able to do—failed to achieve its more fundamental objective of making possible political accommodations in Baghdad that in turn would make possible stability in Iraq. This experience shows how especially fanciful is the notion that a later and smaller presence of U.S. troops would somehow have made Nouri al-Maliki behave like a good prime minister who would practice inclusive and non-authoritarian politics.

Another recurring pattern in the American public philosophy that is not unique to the issue of terrorism but has been been especially apparent with it is that, simply put, any problem has a feasible solution, and that it is within the power of the United States to achieve that solution. If a serious problem persists, according to this view, then it is only because incumbent U.S. policy-makers have lacked the will or the smarts to find and implement the right solution. This mindset will be the basic source of disappointment with any expectation of “destroying” a terrorist group rather than just degrading or containing it.

The same mindset also keeps knocking up against reality in Syria, where there have been no good solutions, for the United States any more than for others to implement. Here is where we hear another recurring “if only”argument from opponents of the administration, to the effect that if only more aid had been given earlier to “moderate” oppositionists, extremists such as ISIS would not have become as much of a problem as they have. This search for, and focus on, the elusive moderates has been such a salient issue for so long that it is a safe bet that it has been one of the most exhaustively studied topics for the administration, well before this week's presidential speech. Among the realities that any such study would have uncovered are that what passes for a moderate Syrian opposition has always been badly divided and lacking in internal support, that the dynamics of civil warfare inherently favor the less inhibited—by definition, less moderate—elements, that it is almost impossible to provide material aid to such elements without some of that aid making its way (as it already has) into the hands of the very forces such as ISIS that we want to counter, and that there is no way of squaring the circle of beating back ISIS without effectively aiding the Syrian regime that we also supposedly would like to be defeated.

But in a larger anti-ISIS arena in which good solutions also may be hard to come by, and in which the popular and political American resistance to reintroducing U.S. combat troops is still a major factor, we keep coming back by default to this business of trying to aid “moderate” Syrian rebels. Congressional pusillanimity plays a significant role here: members of neither party want to vote before midterm elections on an authorization to use U.S. military forces, but supporting anything about aiding the proverbial moderates in Syria is a no-U.S.-boots-on-the-ground way for members to show their anti-ISIS enthusiasm. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, commented that “since there has been bipartisan support for arming the moderate opposition,” maybe the administration gave it a prominent place in its anti-ISIS package “because they thought this is the one piece that they could get a lot of congressional buy-in on without doing a lot of selling” He's probably right.

Yep, there is a lot in that package that deserves questioning and criticism. In searching for the reasons why, most Americans ought to look first not at the man in the White House but instead in the mirror. 

TopicsTerrorism Iraq Syria RegionsMiddle East

Obama’s Real ISIS Strategy: Reassure a Concerned Public

The Buzz

Anyone who tuned into President Obama’s address to the nation last night expecting to hear a detailed plan to defeat ISIS came away disappointed. The president spoke mostly in generalities and skirted tough questions. But laying out a detailed plan that would pass muster with experts wasn’t his primary purpose. Reassuring a public worried about the ISIS threat, and his response to it, was.

The one specific piece of news Obama announced was that 475 U.S. troops will head to Iraq to support and train Iraqi and Kurdish forces. He also said for the first time that “I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria.” He didn’t, however, elaborate on what that action might look like or what circumstances might trigger it.

Obama was also specific in describing who ISIS currently threatened: people in the Middle East, not Americans. He only granted that ISIS might become a threat to the United States “if left unchecked.”

That assessment puts Obama at odds with his critics. It also puts him at odds with his own advisers. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has called ISIS an imminent threat to every interest we have,” while Secretary of State John Kerry said it poses a severe threat.” But Obama’s assessment does reflect the judgment of the U.S. intelligence community.

Obama similarly disagreed with himself, not for the first time, on the powers of the presidency. As a senator he argued that presidents needed congressional authorization before using military force. In 2011 he waged war against Libya without going to Congress. A year ago he did an about face and asked Congress to authorize him to strike chemical weapons sites in Syria. Last night he only said he would “welcome congressional support” for his effort to stop ISIS. He said nothing about what he might do to encourage Congress to give him the support he says he wants.

Obama also left many obvious questions about his strategy unanswered. Why is the new Iraqi government likely to be a more effective partner than its predecessor, which allowed ISIS to conquer a third of the country? Who are the other members of the coalition America is leading and what will they do? Can the United States degrade ISIS without strengthening Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, who Obama has said must go? Have U.S. drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia, which the president held up as a model for attacking ISIS, been as successful as he suggests? And perhaps most important, what will success in the effort to degrade and defeat ISIS look like?

But Obama’s real audience was not the experts who are asking those questions today. It was the two out of three Americans who have come to doubt that he is up to the foreign policy challenges the United States now faces. They do not want another U.S. military intervention abroad, but they also worry that he has been too cautious in responding to a world that seems to be spinning out of control. Obama’s focus on reining in loose talk about the ISIS threat, ruling out the return of U.S. combat troops to Iraq, and stressing American leadership of a global coalition sought to quell the public’s dual fears that he is doing too little—or might do too much.

The question is whether Americans are still listening. Presidents in their sixth year seldom claim public attention in the way they did in their first. They have given too many speeches to move opinion by words alone. The public wants results.

Therein lies Obama’s fundamental problem. Good results could be hard to come by. ISIS became a threat because the very countries the United States needs to help defeat it are weak, ineffective, and (often) duplicitous. ISIS’s vulnerability to U.S. airpower won’t prevent it from using grisly spectacles like the recent beheadings of two American journalists to sow fear and mask its battlefield losses.

So as much as the president hopes to reassure Americans that he is meeting the ISIS challenge with “strength and resolve,” he could well discover, as did several of his predecessors, that events can be hard to tame, even for a leader of a superpower.

James M. Lindsay is Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair at the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR). This piece first appeared at CFR’s The Water’s Edge blog here.

Image: Office of the White House. 

TopicsIslamic State RegionsUnited States