South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham recently joined many of his Republican colleagues, declaring that ISIS is an existential threat to the United States.
“This is a war we’re fighting, not a counterterrorism operation,” Graham said. “This President needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.”
Some GOP politicians are warning that the group may have already infiltrated the border.
Texas Governor Rick Perry said that there’s “a very real possibility” that ISIS terrorists may have entered the country. Former Massachusetts Scott Brown, currently a senatorial candidate in New Hampshire, said that members of ISIS might “actually be coming through the border right now.”
On the talk-show circuit, Senator John McCain joined the chorus.
“There is Twitter traffic right now and Facebook traffic, where they are urging attacks on the United States of America,” McCain told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “And there is a great concern that our southern border and our northern border is porous and that they will be coming across.”
Some prognostications have been almost apocalyptic.
Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe declared: “We are in the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in as a nation.” Retired Marine General John Allen said, “World War III is at hand.”
Even some Democrats are painting a lurid picture.
“This is a terrorist group the likes of which we haven’t seen before, and we better stop them now,” says Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. “It ought to be pretty clear when they start cutting off the heads of journalists and say they’re going to fly the black flag of ISIS over the White House that ISIS is a clear and present danger.”
Experts worry that such inflammatory rhetoric, which is perversely flattering to ISIS, since the group is far from able to mount a credible threat to the most powerful military on the planet, is fanning public hysteria and driving the Obama Administration into taking a hard line.
“It’s hard to imagine a better indication of the ability of elected officials and TV talking heads to spin the public into a panic, with claims that the nation is honeycombed with sleeper cells, that operatives are streaming across the border into Texas or that the group will soon be spraying Ebola virus on mass transit systems—all on the basis of no corroborated information,” Daniel Benjamin, a counterterrorism adviser during the first Obama Administration, told The New York Times.
Raed Jarrar of the American Friends Service Committee also argues for a more sensible approach.
“ISIS has a limited capacity, and it poses a small threat to nations within its reach in the Middle East,” he told The Progressive. “The threat it poses to the United States and Europe is even more limited. The FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, and other experts agree there is no imminent threat to the U.S.”
And, Jarrar argues, a militaristic response could actually increase the chances of a terrorist attack in the United States.
“Military intervention will fuel extremism, increase public support to groups such as ISIS, and might lead to larger threats to the United States in the future,” he says. “Rather than attempting to bomb Iraq and Syria into moderation, the U.S. should be working, through the appropriate international mechanisms and channels, in addressing the underlying causes that lead to the current environment where ISIS and other groups exist.”
By essentially helping ISIS terrorize people in the United States, the politicians who exaggerate the group's power are damaging democracy and the prospect for peace.
“Whatever you may think of the harms carried out by the group referred to as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the fear of ISIS is now creating a double threat to our system of checks and balances,” the ACLU states. “We now have a Congress so anxious to avoid tough votes that it is ducking any decision on whether to go to war in Iraq and Syria, and a President who is grabbing unprecedented power to take the country to war all on his own.”