Fifteen minutes. That’s how long the ritual took the president to renew the nation’s commitment to war.
If you were watching the Reds play the Cardinals, you could flip over to a station carrying the president’s speech at 9:00 p.m. without missing a whole inning. Or you could catch the speech online after the game.
ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant)—otherwise known as ISIS (substitute Syria for the Levant) or simply as the Islamic State—is the name of the new enemy in America’s open-ended war on terrorism. But ISIL-ISIS-Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state, according to President Obama. It is a terrorist organization that kills innocent people contrary to the teaching of Islam or any religion.
None of this surprised the public. True to form, the efficient ceremony was completed in three crisp acts. On Tuesday, headlines proclaimed that public opinion had shifted. Americans now supported airstrikes against the Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria. On Wednesday, the president delivered his speech to announce his plan for defeating this enemy. On Thursday, the nation observed the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11.
The president’s speech wasted no time. He stepped up to the White-House lectern and began without preliminaries or pause. He reiterated the standard rationale for war: the enemy is “evil”; “it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way”; its “acts of barbarism” include killing children, raping and enslaving women, threatening a religious minority with genocide, and beheading two American journalists; the U.S. and its “broad coalition of partners” will meet this threat “with strength and resolve”; our objective is to “hunt down,” “degrade, and ultimately destroy” these terrorists “wherever they are; this is a “steady, relentless” fight for freedom and security and to defend the nation’s values; “it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL”; but we can be confident about the country’s future; “American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world”; “God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.” That said, he turned and walked deliberately away from the lectern.
The format did not encourage or entertain questions. The president was exercising his authority. He would welcome Congressional support, but it wasn’t necessary.
If there had been a debate worthy of democracy, the questions at issue would have included, for example:
What makes us think there is a military solution to the problem at hand?
What would a political solution to the crisis require?
What are the alternatives to military force, including diplomacy and cutting off the flow of weapons and funds to ISIS?
Is the retraining of the Iraqi military by the U.S. more likely to be successful than the failed initial training of the Iraqi military by the U.S.?
Will today’s military commitment eventually grow to include substantial numbers of U.S. combat troops, not just air strikes?
How much money will the fight against ISIS require?
Is U.S. military intervention counterproductive? Will it serve primarily to recruit more jihadists?
How does fighting ISIS impact resistance to the rule of Bashar al-Assad in Syria?
What are the chances of the conflict spreading beyond Iraq and Syria?
Is there an endpoint, a way out, a measure of victory in a war against ISIS?
How firm and enduring is public support for such a war?
Fifteen minutes isn’t long enough to engage questions of such import. It is just long enough to signal the close of a debate that did not happen and the start of the annual commemoration of the 9/11 attacks.
See also: The Next Enemy