Some Republican hawks are accusing the administration of waging the war against ISIS purely as an electoral ploy:
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) argued on Sunday that President Obama has declared war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria in order to help Democrats win the midterm elections in November and expressed concern that he would abandon the fight in the new year.
This is ridiculous. First, it doesn’t make much sense that Obama would believe the war would benefit his party electorally. If he did, we would expect him to push for a vote in Congress and force the other party to go on record as being for or against it. Obama has done nothing of the kind. If the war were advantageous for them, we would also expect Democrats in Congress to welcome the chance to vote for the war, but we know that this is exactly what most of them don’t want to do. A new war can’t help Obama’s approval rating very much, and it is Obama’s unpopularity that is dragging Democratic candidates down in many competitive races around the country. It can hardly help the president or his party to have the last few months before the election filled with news about the underwhelming results of the air campaign. The expectation that the U.S. is just at the beginning of an open-ended, years-long mission isn’t likely to inspire many people to support the president’s party.
Politicians don’t get “khaki” election results by starting wars with no end in sight. They get them by winning (or appearing to win) short, decisive campaigns and then demagoguing the results as much as they can. It is also necessary for the public to be enthusiastically behind the new war, but in this case the public’s support seems to be broad but not very deep or strong. Ayotte doesn’t understand that the new war has less support at its outset than many other U.S. interventions, and she misses that most Americans are still averse to increased involvement overseas. She assumes that the new war is being waged for political gain because she takes for granted that starting a new war must be politically beneficial. That tells us something about how out of touch Ayotte is, but not much else.
For that matter, the vast majority of voters still isn’t interested in foreign policy and wants the government’s attention on problems at home. The more that the administration seems to be preoccupied with foreign affairs and distracted from domestic matters, the less likely it is that most voters will support the president’s party at the polls. Since the Democrats still retain an advantage on most domestic issues, anything that diverts attention away from these issues presumably makes things harder for Democratic candidates. Insofar as some Democratic voters are dissatisfied or angry with Obama for embarking on a new war, the decision to intervene may end up depressing Democratic turnout slightly and thus helping Republican candidates in close races.
The war against ISIS is a mistake that the administration shouldn’t have made, and it would be better if Obama did bring it to an early end, but there is unfortunately no reason to think that this will happen anytime soon.