Tomorrow evening This evening at 9 a.m. eastern time, President Obama will address the nation and is expected to focus on ISIS, the threat he believes ISIS poses, and the the outlines of a strategy going forward to deal with any threat he identifies. It is a difficult speech, both for political reasons, but more importantly because he will be speaking to a number of very different domestic and international constituencies in this one address. Notably, many of the president's base supporters, people who have stayed with him from the beginning, have done so in large measure because they have trusted him to avoid the urge to solve the world's problems through the barrel of a gun. As to the president, whatever one thinks of him overall, I think it is fair to say that he does not look to involve the nation's military unless he determines that there really are no other viable options.
With the foregoing in mind I have been thinking about what I would like to take away from the president's address. Here are some questions that I would hope to be addressed in one way or another tomorrow night:
1. Why is it in America's national interest to eliminate ISIS? Is it humanitarian? Is it a threat to allies in addition to Iraq? Is the president concerned that ISIS fighters will return to home countries and commit acts of terror on the American mainland and elsewhere?
2. What is the end game? What happens when ISIS is defeated? Honestly, I don't think the president knows an answer to this question and it's not his fault -- because we don't have crystal balls. But I think that the president needs to project an end game as candidly as he is able to.
3. How do we reach the end of the game? Most importantly, can the president identify the ground troops that will occupy territory taken back from ISIS and who will provide intelligence for additional strikes? Do they exist? Are American special forces ground troops?
4. What is the coalition that the president seeks to build and how much of that can he discuss with specificity? What nations will he refer to expressly and why? What nations won't he mention and why?
5. What if we can't get a coalition that includes necessary ground troops? Do we do it by ourselves?
6. Are there red lines, e.g. ground troops, that the president will discuss? Do we detect a change with respect to what we understand to be the red line pertaining to the use of ground troops?
7. Are we overreacting? Seriously, is this real? The point is that Americans have reason to be skeptical.
8. Are their alternatives to the intervention contemplated? If the fear is the potential for domestic terrorism, for example, how does that relate to defeating ISIS at its base? In short, does the national interest warrant the type of intervention that the president will outline?
9. Will he discuss things like the cost of the anticipated intervention? We've gone through tax cuts timed with interventions overseas in our recent past.
10. Finally, Congress is currently in session for a few days as I understand it. Will he push for authorization? Will he ask Congress for anything? Should he?
I would welcome the chance to read what other folks are hoping or expecting to hear tomorrow night, and to comment on some of the questions I pose above.
I do think that we all need to tune in tomorrow night and listen very carefully to what the president has to say. Perhaps that is the most important point of agreement.
Bruce S. Levine
New York, New York