It's rare to hear a U.S. president take military action off the table, as Barack Obama did Sunday. "This is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops," he told Chuck Todd of Meet the Press. Those are assuring words for Americans worn weary by post-911 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But what about ISIS? It might be good to know the limits of the world's greatest military power. The sprawling, blood-thirsty Islamic State paid nothing for this priceless intelligence. Why did Obama give it away?
I am not advocating the deployment of ground troops. Also, I know that Obama could make an exception for the deployment of special operations forces or CIA operatives to target airstrikes on behalf of Kurdish fighters, Iraqi troops, or Sunni tribes.
But I wonder: Is the no-troops-on-the-ground pledge an effort to satiate antiwar Democrats in the run-up to congressional elections in November, when control of the Senate is at stake? Or is less-cynical thinking afoot?
Obama's motive is important, because it goes to the durability of his promise. This should concern doves as much as hawks. If a factor as wispy as politics is driving the president's thinking now, it stands to reason that Obama could, one day, consider the promise pliable. What happens if his fledgling coalition doesn't stop ISIS? What if public opinion shifts a bit? This is how slippery slopes are built.