In the past few weeks, numerous reports have surfaced about the growing threat of ISIS. In particular, the alleged plots thwarted in Belgium and in Australia have caused widespread unease, especially here in the United States. It is actually incredible that, within only six months, the major foreign policy challenge facing the United States has shifted from Vladimir Putin – it was March of this year that he annexed Crimea, remember? – to the nebulous and nefarious organization that is ISIS.
Seeing their president switch from not having a strategy to, all of a sudden, having one and thereafter listening to the country’s highest ranking military official seemingly cast doubt on this very strategy, Americans have every right to be concerned. I actually think a substantial percentage of the public would support a multinational air and ground operation if such an incursion were to eradicate the terrorist threat before it metastasized closer to home. I do not believe President Obama is leveling with the American people, though perhaps he may not be able to because doing so might further ignite jihadist sentiments. It is not an enviable position to be in for the commander-in-chief.
As a point of personal privilege, I remember walking down to the World Trade Center the night Osama bin Laden was killed. I live a few blocks north of there, so I arrived as the crowd had just started to build up. And it built up and built up and built up. What would have otherwise been a quiet Sunday night in the neighborhood had turned into a rousing celebration of life. The vast majority of people gathered there that night were young people, many of them not even American, all of them chanting “USA” for hours to come.
While this was a moment of redemption and closure for the nation as whole, I came to realize that this was a particularly meaningful moment for my generation, for people who had just started their school year when 9/11 happened. My generation does not have the Cold War as a point of reference. We do not grasp the tangible impact foreign policy greats like George Kennan can have on our lives. The only type of threat we are familiar with is asymmetric warfare: a large, all-powerful military trying to prevent – to “preempt,” as the Bush Doctrine goes – terrorist plots. It is a pretty depressing reality to become accustomed to. So when the Navy SEALs successfully raided bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, a collective, generational sigh of relief was heard. Perhaps we too might have the opportunity to live in a “worry-free” world, such as the one that followed the Cold War. This aspiration was only deepened by the post-financial meltdown economy, which had dampened or outright dashed our professional hopes.
Seeing ISIS take hold is something that should make every young person very angry. This development was not necessary; it was avoidable. It was preventable. What are we to make of this new reality? Will we ever live in a world devoid of cockamamie religious beliefs acted upon? Clearly confronting yet another Islamic fundamentalist group does not help, but, if we are to do so no matter what, maybe we should just get it right this time once and for all? We do not need a cowboy diplomacy that gets us into unnecessary wars. We do not need a not-so-subtle withdrawal from world affairs that allows worse threats than the ones we have already dealt with to materialize. We need a balanced, bipartisan, proactive foreign policy. My generation should demand exactly that (yes, we may have overreacted in 2008, but do you really blame us?).
While the operational outcome vis-à-vis ISIS is widely uncertain at this point, so are the economic effects. Global growth will take a hit if we are led to places we cannot with confidence control. This may come at a time when Europe is countering deflationary pressures and the United States is still struggling to emerge from its deleveraging cycle. This may also come at a time when Silicon Valley takes a hit from a correction in public markets (there is increasing talk from industry insiders of potential high-profile IPO flubs). Clearly, there are a lot of scenarios that can line up and take the comfortable 2000-point S&P500 index levels off the table. And we are not going to have leverage-infused financial and housing sectors to lift us out of a slump this time. And then my generation will be really angry yet again.
So, maybe we deserve to be leveled with after all?
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