The administration is once again demonstrating its flair for rhetorical overkill:

Senior Pentagon officials described the Islamic State (Isis) militant group as an “apocalyptic” organisation that posed an “imminent threat” on Thursday, yet the highest ranking officer in the US military said that in the short term, it was sufficient for the United States to “contain” the group that has reshaped the map of Iraq and Syria.

The good news so far is that the administration doesn’t appear to be taking its own rhetoric all that seriously, but the obvious danger is that it will trap itself into taking far more aggressive measures by grossly exaggerating the nature of the threat from ISIS in this way. The truth is that ISIS doesn’t pose an imminent threat to the U.S. and its allies, unless one empties the word imminent of all meaning. Hagel made the preposterous statement today that the group poses an “imminent threat to every interest we have.” That is simply a lie, and a remarkably stupid one at that, and it is the worst kind of fear-mongering. Administration officials are engaged in the most blatant threat inflation with these recent remarks, which is all the more strange since they claim not to favor the aggressive kind of policy that their irresponsible rhetoric supports.

If the group can be contained, as Gen. Dempsey states, then it can be contained indefinitely. If that is the case, then the threat that it poses is a much more manageable one than the other ridiculous claims from administration officials would suggest. On the other hand, if the group “must be destroyed,” as Kerry has said, there is no doubt that the U.S. is going to be sucked into a major military campaign that makes a complete mockery of the original pretense to being a “limited” intervention. The huge mismatch between administration rhetoric and action is hardly unique to this issue. Administration officials have a bad habit of insisting on what “must” happen in another country, but they understandably have no inclination to support the measures that would be required to bring about that outcome. Like it does on so many other issues, the administration wants to have things both ways: it wants to be credited for “action,” but doesn’t want to be faulted for recklessness, and so it pursues a half-baked compromise policy that doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. Unfortunately for the U.S., the result is that the administration is allowing itself to be inexorably pulled in the direction of a larger intervention that the public won’t tolerate and doesn’t serve the American interest.