Monday, September 29, 2014

We May Have That Itch Again

In a recent NBC News/The Wall Street Journal poll, 1283 registered voters were surveyed on a variety of issues.  The most interesting and evidently important question was

If it were determined by the military commanders that the best way to defeat the ISIS army was to use American military troops on the ground, would you be in favor of this decision or would be in opposition to this decision, or do you really not have an opinion one way or the other?

The results were, at first glance, stunning:

In favor of American military troops on the ground …………….. 45
Opposed to American military forces on the ground…………… 37
No opinion either way…………………………..………………….. 16
Not sure……………………………………………………………. 2

This would seem to be an extraordinary result, a finding that most Americans with an opinion, if it became U.S. policy, would support American soldiers yet again being sent into combat- and that without the inevitable groundwork which policymakers and others would lay.

But upon further reflection, one ought not to be surprised. The pollsters skewed the results in the direction of a favorable response in two ways.  Although not the obvious takeaway, using ISIS as an adjective- "ISIS army"- rather than as a noun ("ISIS") adds an element previously unknown.  Is ISIS an "army" in any conventional sense? No one (else) has suggested it is, and we Americans are accustomed to defeating an army rather than getting bogged down fighting terrorists, an elusive bunch.

More obviously, there is no more effective way to prompt an affirmative response than to precede the question with the predicate "if it were determined by the military commanders that the best way to defeat..."

Americans have a difficult time questioning the uniform (suggesting that if Colin Powell had ever run for President and somehow been nominated by the GOP, he would have been extremely difficult to beat, even though he is evidently a con man or a sucker).  It is as if pollsters last year had asked "Do you support a cut in food stamp benefits, even though it would leave millions of children hungry?" That would be an interesting poll- with predictable results.

But on another level, the question does have basis in reality.  Already, there have been military men suggesting that ISIS cannot be defeated without soldiers on the ground.  And if the President were to announce that Americans were being sent to the Middle East to fight, surely he would claim the support of the brass, which would present a united front to the public. Nervous Nellies (nervous nellies?) would not be tolerated, lest they would go the way of General McChrystal. (The military is still subservient to the civilian branch of government, at least in theory.)

Nonetheless, there still is a disquieting impulse among the populace to do it all over again.  Reacting generally to the war footing, rather than specifically to this survey, Digby comments

And frankly, I'm almost as disgusted that the American people continue to be thrilled at the prospect of kicking ass over some trumped up threat --- and yes, I do believe that a whole lot of us are anxious to get back to the business of ass-kicking. It's much more exciting than thinking about the wealthy elites stealing more and more of your meager earnings. But it's a dangerous and nasty way to entertain ourselves out of a nasty malaise.

And in memory of simpler, less complicated,  times, here is Tom Paxton in 1980 singing about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and a resulting Olympic boycott:

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