The Politics of Terror and Finding a Way Back

Does ISIS pose a credible threat to the United States and its interests? And if so, what is the best way to manage that threat? If you had asked any politician in 2003, they most likely would have agreed that Saddam Hussein and Iraq under his reign posed a credible threat to the United States, and a 10-year war was started because of that belief.

Support for the war was lost broadly when it was determined that the claim of weapons of mass destruction was false, but the damage was already done. Because of the politics of terror in a post-9/11 world, showing strength against potential terrorists became the only reasonable political response.

A political environment was created in which it became impossible to question actions such as these for fear of being seen as “weak on terror.” This political environment gave us the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, full body scans from the TSA, and even the NSA’s PRISM program was green lit during this period.

Now, with the rise of ISIS and a midterm election looming, the politics of fear is rearing its ugly head again. If you are in a tough election during the midterm cycle and are at risk of losing your seat in Congress, what is the easiest way to score some last minute points with the voters? Express an opinion on ISIS, and preferably one where you support all out war against them, otherwise risking being seen as “weak on terror.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell seized on President Obama’s previous statements about ISIS being a manageable threat, saying, “This is not in my view a manageable situation. They want to kill us.”

We will not succumb to threats, and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy
President Barack Obama
Other Republicans continued to take this route prior to the president’s address to the United Nations General Assembly, with Texas Governor Rick Perry weighing in, claiming that the president spends too much time “dithering and debating” and is “always playing catch-up” on international crises that threaten U.S. interests. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul even blamed the president for letting a “jihadist wonderland” blossom in Libya and Syria.

While these 2016 presidential hopefuls might see this as an opportunity to distinguish themselves from the current administration, it is important to draw the comparison between the threat of ISIS and the way the United States approached previous threats in Iraq.

It’s not just Republican politicians taking this route either.

New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen tweeted in response to the president’s previous statement about ISIS being a “manageable threat,” “Do not believe ISIL is ‘manageable,’ agree these terrorists must be chased to the ‘gates of hell.” It is no coincidence that these statements come from a Democratic senator who is facing a tough re-election bid this coming November. 

How far should the United States be willing to go in the name of safety and security? One thing is clear, the stamina of the United States for another lengthy ground war is all but spent.

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama outlined the plan for eradicating ISIS. The United States will lead a coalition of 40 nations in combating ISIS, primarily through airstrikes and by supporting Syrian and Iraqi forces in taking back the ground that they have lost to ISIS extremists.

In this instance, the president made a choice to stare down a long history of terror influencing American foreign policy and made the statement that extremist organizations can not be the only driving factor behind the United States foreign actions.

“We will not succumb to threats, and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy,” was the strong ending statement for President Obama’s plea to the assembly for more nations to join in the conflict against ISIS.

What does this mean for the politics of terror? How far down the rabbit hole will the American people be willing to go? One can only hope that this is the first response in what will be a measured, careful, and somewhat less reactionary effort against those who threaten the interests of the United States.

Photo Source: AP