If you doubt the damage being done by the brain-dead debate over fighting terrorism being conducted by America’s leadership and chattering classes, just look at the newest poll findings on the public’s stated support for using U.S. ground troops against ISIS.
Ever since this radical Islamist group’s stunning military advances began attracting broad attention last year, the Obama administration and its allies and critics in Congress, the think tank world, and the punditocracy have squabbled over alternatives that are equally loony and likely counter-productive. They have ranged from ranging from idolatry of (allegedly antiseptic) strikes to fairy tales about diplomatic solutions and Cold War-style alliances (in a region where few if any genuine nation-states exist) to blather about attacking terrorism’s supposed roots in poverty or historic injustices to full-throated calls for using large-scale American ground forces. Actually, most supposed strategic geniuses nowadays favor some combination of these delusional cure-alls. (See this recent post for a noteworthy example.)
The latest NBC News/Marist poll shows that months of videos and news reports of ISIS’ atrocities and spreading influence, along with the narrow range of commentary served up in the media, have significantly boosted public backing for using U.S. ground troops – an option that for better or worse has been a third rail of American politics and policy since the previous Iraq War went south.
According to the survey, 26 percent of Americans back sending in “a large number of U.S. ground forces” to “combat ISIS,” and 40 percent favor deploying “a limited number.” Only 26 percent opposing use any ground troops, and seven percent are “unsure.”
We don’t have exact apples-to-apples data revealing trends over time. And foreign policy polls are often incompetently designed. But there seems little doubt that support for the ground option has grown significantly since the fall. A Marist survey released October 2 showed only 47 percent backing sending an unspecified number of ground troops to Syria “to fight ISIS if airstrikes are unsuccessful.” Forty-eight percent opposed this proposal. At that time, a large 6 percent majority approved of those airstrikes, with only 19 percent disapproving.
Readers of RealityChek know that there’s a much more promising option: Using special forces and airstrikes to harass ISIS and keep the group off balance wherever it operates, but not with the idea of defeating or even “degrading” these barbarians. Instead, the aim would be to prevent ISIS from consolidating its power sufficiently to create a terrorist haven and base for planning and launching September 11-style attacks against the United States while Washington devotes most of its anti-terror resources and attention to securing America’s borders.
No anti-terror strategy will be perfect, but the greatest degree of success is surely likelier by focusing most on something the United States can reasonably hope to control (its own borders) than by focusing on something that plainly can’t be controlled (a thoroughly diseased and in fact dysfunctional region like the Middle East). But until the media starts reporting and presenting these options, expect the nation’s strategy to reflect the disastrously false choices that have dominated the terrorism debate so far. And expect the public quite understandably to follow along until another debacle unfolds.