Out of all of the classic scenes in “The Big Lebowski,” I’d guess that the tirade Walter Sobchak throws during a league game at his favored bowling alley, which features his unforgettable warning about “a world of pain,” is still the most iconic. And while the number of ways in which Mr. Sobchak and I differ are myriad (for example, he’s a little soft on Nazism for my taste), I have to admit that I’ve felt more of a kinship with him as of late. Because as I watch the number of Americans who want to send U.S. troops back to Iraq increase, I keep returning to a simple question Sobchak asked during his rant.
Has the whole world gone crazy?
I was feeling this way already, but the latest poll from Quinnipiac University has pushed my anxiety to a new level. According to Quinnipiac, a robust 62 percent of registered voters in the United States hold the opinion that sending American men and women to kill and be killed in Syria and Iraq is something their government should do. In fact, despite the politics of our time being largely known for discord and division, Quinnipiac finds that the wisdom of launching another ground war in Iraq — the third in 30 years — is one policy question about which nearly all Americans agree. Sixty-eight percent of men are into it; 57 percent of women are all-aboard; 73 percent of Republicans are a go; and 60 percent of independents, as well as 53 percent of Democrats, are right there with them.
The unanimity goes even deeper. Sixty-four percent of 18-34 year-olds want to send troops back again, and 66 percent of 35-54 year-olds agree. The least gung-ho age group, respondents aged 55 and up, are only marginally less enthusiastic, with 59 percent registering their support. As you might expect, there’s also a remarkable degree of conformity when it comes to how various Americans view the ISIS threat, and how they expect U.S. troops would fare in a full-scale war against the paramilitary group. Sixty-seven percent of all registered voters see ISIS as a “major” threat to the “security” of the U.S., and 69 percent say they’re either “very confident” or “somewhat confident” that a war against ISIS is one America would win.
Of course, none of this is to say that Americans have entirely forgotten the almost 10 years their armed forces recently spent fighting and dying in Iraq. They remember them well; it’s just that they’ve drawn from the experience some odd conclusions. When asked by Quinnipiac, a majority — 53 percent, to be precise — said that their chief worry concerning another major war in Iraq is that the U.S. might “not go far enough” in taking the fight to ISIS. Quite likely, many of them believe that ISIS would not be a problem today if the U.S. hadn’t exited the country during President Obama’s first term. Quite likely, few of these Americans understand that ISIS is the spawn of Al Qaeda in Iraq, a group that did not exist in the country until after the Americans showed up.
Taken altogether, the rapidity with which Americans have changed their mind about sending “boots on the ground” to Mesopatamia is almost stunning. As recently as September of last year, when ISIS had already made a name for itself with its horrible snuff films and heinous crimes, fewer than four-in-10 Americans wanted to send their sons and daughters to that faraway and benighted land. ISIS has not made any significant territorial or strategic gains in the time since — experts seem to agree, in fact, that the group is currently losing — but that does not seem to have any affect on how most Americans view the situation. And it certainly hasn’t been much of an influence on the U.S. media’s coverage, which remains sensationalist to the point of being lurid.
But then again, it’s possible that I’m not giving Americans enough credit, especially when I imply that they’re feckless with the lives of their sons and daughters. In truth, they’re no such thing — unless, that is, their children are part of the one-half of one percent of Americans who’ve spent some time during the past 10 years on active duty. Which, to belabor the point, they’re quite probably not. And perhaps I’m also being unfair to John and Jane Q. Public when I insinuate that it’s risible to think the problem with the U.S.’s conduct in its last war in Iraq is that it did not go far enough. Yes, that war may have ultimately cost the country upwards of $2.1 trillion, as well as the lives of around 9,000 U.S. soldiers and contractors, but those are small costs to pay when compared with the at least 133,000 Iraqis who died, or the at least 1.2 million who were displaced.
So maybe now that we’ve proven the American public’s much-discussed bout of “war weariness” has passed, it’s time to stop asking them whether they want to send other people to war and time to start asking them just how much it’ll have to cost — in blood and treasure and civil liberties and more — until enough is enough? Maybe if they’re confronted with the actual trade-offs involved in wading further into an ethno-religious and trans-national sectarian war, they’ll find the question a little more vexing? Or is it me, rather than the world, who’s gone crazy?