THE BLOG
09/05/2014 01:50 pm ET Updated Nov 05, 2014

The Virtue of Restraint

SAUL LOEB via Getty Images

"We ought to bomb them back to the Stone Age," said Ted Cruz about ISIS. There it is. There is the red meat, gung-ho, "cowboy diplomacy" sound bite that gets the war drums beating. Sure beats "we don't have a strategy yet," right? Not if you're actually paying attention. We tried cowboy diplomacy for eight years.

It worked so well that 11 years and four months after President Bush's famous "Mission Accomplished" line... the annoyance that was Saddam Hussein has been replaced by the grave danger that is ISIS. Apparently still, for some, the over $5 trillion and over 5,000 US lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan isn't enough. We should start dropping bombs again. More than 10 years after Dick Cheney told us "two days ahead of schedule, the world witnessed the arrival of a free and sovereign Iraq," the same people are parading themselves out to the war-mongering right-wing media to tell us that ISIS arose because President Obama pulled our troops out of Iraq last year. In 2013. You get that? In 2003 mission was accomplished. In 2013, we pull our troops out, and we get ISIS.

The world's strongest military bombing terrorists back to the Stone Age isn't a strategy. And it isn't foreign policy. It's the kind of macho rhetoric that got us here in the first place. A strategy is about your next move, not your first bloodthirsty reaction. What exactly was the next move in team Bush's Iraq war plan -- that we keep our troops there forever? That after Donald Rumsfeld told us that we'd be in Iraq "five months at most," we'd continue to lose lives and increase debt in a lost cause war for eternity?

Bush's wars have already cost us more money than the entire deficit increase under President Obama. Those who led us into the Iraq War precipitated the very lawless madness that is a breeding ground for groups like ISIS. They had no plan, no strategy for post-war Iraq. Read Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. It chronicles, in hilariously painful detail, the arrogant lack of strategy the US had for post-war Iraq.

So, my question to Ted Cruz is "and then what?" You bomb ISIS back to the Stone Age, and then what exactly? Not having a strategy "yet" doesn't mean you don't have a strategy. It means you're actually thinking one through before you rush headstrong into another costly, bloody Mideast conflict.

Perhaps dealing with ISIS in a way that actually works, and doesn't bankrupt the US and kills thousands of Americans... requires more than a few days to figure out. Just maybe it is more complicated than "kill 'em," as John McCain said. And, just maybe there isn't some grand unifying "doctrine" for foreign policy because you don't deal with nuclear Russia the same way you do with ISIS or the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The US is not the world's policeman. We can't afford it, most Americans don't want it, and we're not particularly good at it, despite our best intentions. Especially in the Middle East. The ruthless and cowardly beheading of journalists is a savage act sure to invoke powerful emotional reactions. So is the killing of an unarmed young black man by another American, right here in the USA. But just as looting and rioting are not the way to protest the murder of Michael Brown, bombing ISIS to smithereens may not be the best approach to protect ourselves from these terrorists. Clearly, we have to do something to ensure our safety, but discretion is the better part of valor.

I am not a foreign policy expert, but neither are a vast majority of the obviously partisan talking heads pouncing on the president's "no strategy yet" comment for pure political gain -- at the expense of our national unity at home and aboard. What I do know is that in his time in office, Barack Obama has used force judiciously and effectively, and has shown incredible courage in using restraint much more often. Bush said "wanted dead or alive," Obama got Bin Laden.

Violence is too often a "first choice" reaction these days and being deliberate is branded at indecisive and wimpy. But deliberation isn't a vice, it's a virtue. One I am glad the president has shown so far, and one I hopes he sticks to, no matter how loud the war drums get.