Comparative Risk

It’s hardly a novel observation to suggest that it’s often difficult to separate the bad people from the worse people in the Middle East, and part of the complexity of what the United States is trying to do right now is that the enemies of our enemies have been our enemies in the past and may well be in the future. But leave it to David Frum to object to the whole enterprise on grounds that IS really isn’t the worst threat in the neighborhood:

We see some evildoers and we’re going to whack them. They deserve it, don’t they?

And sure, ISIS does deserve it. The group is a nasty collection of slavers, rapists, thieves, throat-slitters, and all-around psychopaths. The trouble is: so are the people fighting ISIS, the regimes in Tehran and Damascus that will reap the benefits of the war the president just announced. They may be less irrational and unpredictable than ISIS. But if anything, America’s new unspoken allies in the anti-ISIS war actually represent a greater “challenge to international order” and a more significant “threat to America’s core interests” than the vicious characters the United States will soon drop bombs on.

The question before the nation is, “What is the benefit of this war to America and to Americans?”

That was the question the speech left unanswered. And the ominous suspicion left behind is that the question was unanswered because it is unanswerable—at least, not answerable in any terms likely to be acceptable to the people watching the speech and paying the taxes to finance the fight ahead.

Now you could respond that the “people watching the speech” don’t share Frum’s opinion on this matter, at least so long as Damascus and Tehran aren’t singling out Christians for persecution and beheading U.S. journalists. But it’s still a defensible position, unlike that of Republicans who seem to want war with everybody.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.