Anyone who for some reason checked out of U.S. politics a month ago and then checked back in this week might well be startled to realize that the “problem” of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq had become a crisis, and for some an existential threat to the United States. What changed in that span of time? Did IS conquer some major new territory? Did Nouri al-Maliki hang on to power and thwart U.S./Iranian efforts to build a stronger Iraqi state? Is there evidence of IS possessing weapons of mass destruction?

I just threw in that last one as a reminder of how these things can get out of hand.

What actually seems to have happened is that IS cruelly executed two American journalists after trying to extort vast sums of money or perhaps even a change of U.S. policies. They’re threatening to execute more westerners in captivity, presumably with the same grim and barbaric ritual of videotaped beheadings. The images and the savagery behind them has momentarily produced national amnesia about our experience in Iraq over the last quarter century or so, and a decided bipartisan burst of war fever.

The President, Vice President and Secretary of State have issued various “this will not stand” declarations. According to an excellent report from HuffPost’s Sam Stein, there’s an instant consensus in Washington for more airstrikes and special ops attacks on IS; an effort to round up international support and commitments of assistance; and a reconsideration of U.S. wariness to engage more directly in Syria, where, of course, we have been supporting an anti-Assad coalition while avoiding the inconvenient fact that its most powerful component is IS.

You get the distinct sense the Obama administration is trying to preempt the lust for war emanating from a suddenly bellicose Republican Party, where even Rand Paul is strapping on the gunbelt and swaggering around making loose commitments of other people’s lives. Check out this report on the mood of the GOP from WaPo’s Sebastian Payne and Robert Costa:

A roiling national debate over how to deal with the radical Islamic State and other global hot spots has prompted a sudden shift in Republican politics, putting a halt to the anti-interventionist mood that had been gaining credence in the party.

The change is evident on the campaign trail ahead of the November midterm elections and in recent appearances by the GOP’s prospective 2016 presidential candidates, with a near-universal embrace of stronger military actions against the group that has beheaded two American journalists.

A hawkish tone has become integral to several key Republican Senate campaigns, with a group of candidates running in battleground states calling attention to their ties to veterans and their support for the U.S. military at every turn.

In contests in Iowa, Arkansas and Alaska — where Republicans are running for seats held by Democrats — the GOP candidates are military veterans and focusing much of their time extolling their expertise.

A thirst among many conservative activists for a more muscular U.S. foreign policy was clear over the weekend at a meeting of Americans for Prosperity, the tea-party-affiliated group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers. The loudest applause came when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a potential presidential candidate, called for bombing the Islamic State “back to the Stone Age.”

It’s feeling very, very 2002. The difference, of course, is that an opponent of the Iraq War is president at the moment, while Dick Cheney raves and snarls from the sidelines instead of deploying troops and crafting official lies. Like Digby, I hope Obama’s reluctance to articulate a “strategy” for “destroying” IS reflects an understanding that this task could indeed involve unacceptable costs and could definitively produce unintended consequences in an unstable region with multiple threats to U.S. security interests. But she’s right this hope could be naive:

Hysteria is building. The hawks sense that there’s action afoot. The Republicans are aroused at the prospect that this could change the dynamic in 2016. The Democrats are freaking out that someone might call them wimps.

The warship is sailing out of the harbor and once again we’re all just standing here on the shore screaming into the wind.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.