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Push for peace is challenging
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Maybe next time, they'll award the Nobel Peace Prize at the end of a politician's tenure rather than the beginning. There was always something mildly farcical about the Swedish committee recognizing President Obama's lofty rhetoric in advance of real achievements.
It's like awarding the Oscar before the movie's released.
But here's the thing: If Obama can pull off the three-cushion bank shot he's attempting in the Middle East -- fighting ISIS extremists to a standstill without committing U.S. ground troops in a futile quest to remake Iraq and Syria in the American image -- he'll definitely deserve some kind of prize.
Odds would appear to be against him. Not that anybody's got a better idea.
Polls show while strong majorities of Americans support taking the fight to ISIS fanatics, few expect a mighty victory. Only 18 percent in a recent Pew Poll believe striking the jihadists will decrease the odds of a terrorist attack against the U.S. Thirty-four percent think it's apt to make things worse. The rest don't know. Reality is sinking in. There's never going to be another Middle Eastern "Mission Accomplished" aircraft carrier photo-op.
Sen. Lindsey Graham recently got downright panicky on "Fox News Sunday." "This is a war we're fighting! It is not a counter-terrorism operation!" Graham all but shouted. "This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home."
The good news is for all its murderous zeal, ISIS may already have overplayed its hand. Writing in the Washington Post, Ramzy Mardini, a fellow at the Atlantic Council's Center for the Middle East, argues Americans overstate ISIS's danger to U.S. interests. He writes ISIS is hardly "in a position to topple the next city in its sights. Rather, the borders of its territory have, more or less, reached their outer potential."
Indeed, ISIS's advances on Kurdistan and Baghdad went into reverse as soon as U.S. warplanes showed up. Much of the territory it's seized is vacant desert land of no strategic significance.
The terrorists' military success has been due to filling a vacuum created by Iraqi soldiers' unwillingness to fight for a Baghdad regime almost universally seen as a Shiite protection racket, but finally unable even to protect its own territory.
Mardini further argues that ISIS's extreme zeal and ruthlessness make it stupid. "The Islamic State's extreme ideology, spirit of subjugation and acts of barbarism prevent it from becoming a political venue for the masses. It has foolhardily managed to instill fear in everyone."
All politics is partly theater, as Obama surely knows.
And like it or not, Commander-in-Chief is the starring role.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons can be reached at eugenelyons2@yahoo.com.