Re-invading the Middle East is back on the table for America in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attack. A new CNN poll shows that, for the first time, a majority of Americans want to send ground troops to fight ISIS. Of course, this comes during this super-heated presidential election, and about seven in 10 Republicans polled favored ground troops, while just 36 percent of Democrats did.
Still, these sentiments have a way of trickling up, and the fires will only be stoked more as candidates try to out-tough each other. Already they are debating whether banning an entire religion or carpet-bombing the Middle East would be best. We need to fight this war carefully, as another challenge to world peace — not as some kind of prelude to "end times."
And it is war. Terrorists have declared war on Western civilization, including France, Russia, the UK, Israel and all nations that treasure peace. But it's not our grandparents' war. Here in the week of the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, it's clear how much things have changed. Our enemies today won't take on our military, because they will lose. Instead, they murder innocents to sow fear and overreaction. They would love to draw America into a quagmire — they don't care how many people they lose, as they don't value human life. It's about twisted ideology and power — the same stuff that has driven all of history's most dangerous villains.
At our military academies, we teach every generation how not to fall into the trap of refighting the last war. And our last war was the invasion of Iraq, fought to make the Middle East safe for something closer to democracy. Mistakes were made, and we have to learn from them. Another lesson: We have to win the peace that comes after the fight, relying on wisdom and generosity to guide us.
So it makes sense that this war is being prosecuted differently. Our special forces are supporting local armies who hate ISIS as much as we do. We're using drones and air power when appropriate, despite the moral ambiguities of this tactic. And now we're capitalizing on our enemies' decision to attack other nations, from France to Russia, by creating a more determined coalition that happens to be the most formidable military force in world history.
Many of President Obama's military advisers fought in Iraq, and they have told him that sending ground troops to the Middle East would be "a mistake." This is a long project for the democracies of the world, and pushing for a quick fix betrays a lack of understanding about a region that's been trouble since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. ♦