The American public is far ahead of the Obama administration when it comes to confronting the Islamic State, and the hawkish public sentiment goes a long way toward explaining the rapid escalation in both rhetoric and firepower against IS.
A New York Times/CBS poll shows that 57% of the country thinks President Barack Obama isn't being "tough enough" with IS, one week after the he announced a strategy of increased airstrikes and military advisers to Iraq. The survey also found 83% of Republicans agree that Obama is being too soft on IS, along with 40% of Democrats and 54% of independents.
In other words, the U.S. is going to war with IS because the American people want to. And they want to hit the terrorist group even harder than the president does.
While "being tough" may be admirable in theory, it's not clear what that exactly entails. And an amorphous idea of "toughness" is not the best basis for crafting foreign policy.
That's not stopping Washington from charging full-steam ahead with a major military endeavor with little public debate about the wisdom of such a commitment. The administration is now saying the U.S. is "at war" with IS, despite no new congressional authorization. The top U.S. general opened the door to ground troops in Iraq on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the House is voting Wednesday on a bill to provide arms and training to Syrian rebels fighting IS that is expected to pass by a wide margin with large bipartisan support.
If this clamoring for war sounds familiar, it should. The American people were largely in favor of invading Iraq in 2002 and 2003, with public support never dipping below 52% in the nine months before the invasion. Just prior to the invasion in March 2003, 63% of the country supported toppling Saddam Hussein. We all know how that worked out.
Sometimes the president brings the country to war. Sometimes the country brings the president. Right now, the American people want a "tougher" response to the Islamic State, and the president and Congress are trying to give us what we want.