The last time the president considered resuming U.S. aggression in the Middle East, the country resoundingly said no; this time, both sides of the political aisle are pressing for more. All it took was a brutal beheading. While it doesn't say much for the collective intelligence, it has resulted in the proper response.

President Obama is demonstrating superb political skill in managing expectations of his liberal supporters and playing to moderates and independents at the same time. It is the fear card mixed with the humanitarian urge that is characteristically American. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has been deployed to establish substance to the threat of jihad right here on our soil and the president is voicing the moral indignation we all feel. The result? We are back engaged in the Middle East, at war, but this time with the country clamoring for justice and national security.

In a very real sense, the calamitous results of the George W. Bush administration's initiatives gave Obama no choice. When Bush and then-Vice President Cheney decided there were Iraqi links to al Qaeda, that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that "regime change" would give them an opportunity to place "a beacon of democracy" in the Middle East, they started the U.S. down a path leading to the complete destabilization of the region. That message of democracy was picked up by countless followers in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria and the Arab Spring brought about even greater chaos because it couldn't be supported by the Obama administration, whose election came about as a result of the revulsion Americans had toward the dull-witted worldview of the prior occupiers of the White House.


Obama was in a tough position no matter which way he directed his efforts. If, however, you are the hegemonic power in the world and you caused the disruption and dragged the "coalition of the willing" into the mess, you had to have a policy. Disengagement wasn't really an option and the more that Obama's inaction and thoughtful response came to characterize U.S. foreign policy, the more it was viewed as weakness and vulnerability by Iran, Turkey, Russia, India and China.

Caught between the worlds' perception of weakness and domestic opposition from both the right and left, Obama, wisely or otherwise, decided to let the country decide whether or not the U.S. should intervene in the Syrian slaughter that was ongoing. No sane Westerner could ever condone the behavior of the Bashar Assad regime (although the Israelis have argued privately that "at least he would provide stability"). But that homage to domestic dissent cost the U.S. in the world of foreign affairs. It emboldened Russian President Vladimir Putin to pursue an expansionist agenda, China to press claims to the South China Sea and Iranians to press hard to prevent Westerners from viewing experimental detonation sites as a part of their disarmament negotiations.

But this time, it is different. The beheading of James Foley changed the mood in America overnight. However, with this remarkable change of heart, the question became how to reengage in such a way that avoided support for both the Assad regime and the government of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq.

This time the policy could be done with some intelligence. There had to be "buy in" by the regional stakeholders; the Saudis, Iranians, Qataris, Turks, Kurds and Jordanians. The the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) threatens them all. A new policy could not be seen to back the Iraqi government of al-Maliki because he was no more than a sectarian thug. Nor could it be seen to indirectly support the Assad regime since Assad is nothing more than a mass murderer. As we watch Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryWill we ever have another veteran as president? The Memo: Can Trump run as an outsider? The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept MORE scurry around the region gathering in the stakeholders, it is any wonder where this ends up but with all the stakeholders at the table, the outcome that at least has a chance of ending with some stability?

Make no mistake about it, Obama is conducting a "robust" foreign policy. He is now bent upon projecting strength and leadership to a world that has been disappointed in his weak or "deliberate" approach. And he is now doing it with the majority of Americans on his side while the dirty little secret is that there is no imminent threat to our national security.

The fact of the matter is that the U.S. is not threatened by ISIS, its extremism or the pregnant threat of the estimated 100 to 300 Americans who have shipped off to be radicalized. It is a pretty sure bet that the $60 billion we spend annually on homeland security, the over 200,000 employees who are engaged in preventing terrorist attacks, the 2.2 million first responders subsidized and directed by the Department of Homeland Security and the 22 government agencies directly or otherwise controlled by this effort are up to the task. In fact, we face more of a threat from the excessive zeal of police in places like Ferguson, Mo., than we will ever see from ISIS.

Russell is managing director of Cove Hill Advisory Services.