The most pressing issue that raises the will he or won't he question concerns President Obama and American troops.
It's shaping up not as will he or won't he, but how will he do it?
His promise to avoid the use of American troops is clear, and repeated too many times to be discarded without an inner struggle, an impressive explanation, or artful maneuver.
We'll never know the truth about an inner struggle, but can guess about the words and evasive actions.
It may never come, but that is difficult to believe.
So far, an impressive display of American air power may be hurting a movement that is strung out over too much territory to really control, largely in desert where it is difficult to hide from satellites, drones, and the heavier air craft that are most destructive.
We are getting body counts in each day's summary of air attacks, but those old enough to remember Vietnam are suspicious.
There are planes from Middle Eastern and European countries. The variety may support an American claim about a multi-national enterprise, but the overwhelming majority of activity is American.
Kurds and Syrians are complaining that air power has not freed them from the threats of ISIS.
Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Demsey has said that 12,000-15,000 ground troops are needed to reclaim territory from ISIS.
Insofar as ISIS is estimated to have between 30,000 and 50,000 fighters, Demsey's estimate may be only an opening gambit, pitched low for domestic consumption.
Part of the pitch is that the troops needed will be composed of Iraqis, Kurds, and the more enlightened of Syrian opposition forces.
If you believe that, I have a bridge you might want to buy.
Putting together a new army, and integrating its planning, command, and discipline is not something to be done in a few days, weeks, months, or maybe even years.
There are also problems about Muslims fighting Muslims, especially under the direction of Americans.
The several years of American efforts to produce effective armies in Iraq and Afghanistan are still waiting a positive assessment.
So what will the President do, and say, when the obvious becomes inevitable?
He may already be preparing the ground, as shown by a New York Times item headlined, "Obama Acknowledges U.S. Erred in Assessing ISIS."
The President admits that his advisers erred not only in judging the power of ISIS, but also with respect to the capacity of the American produced Iraqi military to deal with it.
Among the possibilities of what comes next:
- Gee, folks, I have to change my mind.
- The American troops are only advisers. The fighting will be done by troops from xxxxx, xxxxxx, and xxxxxx.
- If it is necessary to send American fighters, they will be volunteers
- There will be no US Army boots on the ground. The people wearing the boots (whatever the President does will be gender neutral) will be the employees of contractors. Some of them may be Americans.
- We'll also be beefing up our intelligence operations, as well as the TSA and our linkages with international air carriers, plus other defense mechanisms that we cannot mention in public to protect our citizens against any terrorists who slip through the intelligence network
Will any of this work?
It is already clear that the residents of Oklahoma have to hold on to their heads. And the present fashion of the ultimate in terror is likely to spread before it disappears.
Some of it--as in Moore, Oklahoma--will come from domestic sources not vulnerable to the TSA and other ongoing efforts at assuring security.
Assuming a wave of domestic beheadings and other terror in the US and Western Europe, the next question is how will officials respond.
When Samuel Huntington published "The Clash of Civilizations?" in 1993, there was criticism as well as praise for his thesis that culture and religion will be the primary sources of conflict with the end of the Cold War.
We must remain cautious in painting with a broad brush. There are variations within each cultural and religious community. The "Christian West" ranges from Latin America through North America and Western Europe to the Balkans.
Edward Said wrote about The Clash of Ignorance, and described Huntington's work as "the purest invidious racism, a sort of parody of Hitlerian science directed today against Arabs and Muslims."
Noam Chomsky wrote that Huntington's idea was a new justification for the United States "for any atrocities that they wanted to carry out", which was required after the Cold War as the Soviet Union was no longer a viable threat.
Since that bit of scholarly warfare, the US has gone through 9-11, as well as lesser incidents at Fort Hood, the Boston Marathon, and most recently, Moore, Oklahoma.
Assertions that Islam is a religion of peace by David Cameron and Barack Obama may fuel ridicule among those with some experience with Islam.
Yet there is a reason for such bluster, ill-advised as it would be to express it in a university seminar (unless the reigning professor is one of those preaching that Israel is the source of all evil).
It may be the case that relatively few of the billion Muslims are likely to engage in beheadings and other acts of terror.
Also, the leaders of democratic societies with several million Muslim residents and voters should be concerned about the delicacy of what they say and do.
Guarding populations against violence originating among ethnic and religious minorities, while avoiding incitement to riot against the minority, is no easy task.
Jews can understand the prospect of anti-Muslim incidents. We learn at an early age about pogroms and lesser discrimination.
I remember Grandma saying in response to one or another ugly incident, "As long as it wasn't a Jew doing it."
Now we've heard that DNA analysis has pointed to a Jew as Jack the Ripper. One of our French Hill neighbors, whose name I will not reveal, admits a family connection.
Imagine if it was publicized in 19th century London that Jack was a Jew. The crimes occurred in an area heavily populated by Jewish immigrants, there were suspicions that a Jew was the perpetrator, but the police cleared the principal suspects and did not identify the criminal. They also sought to avoid inflaming anti-Semitism.
There is a great temptation to dismiss as nonsense a national leader who praises Islam as a religion of peace. If it retards a pogrom, however, it is worth the intellectual affront. We know politicians lie. This one may be socially justified.
There remains the unanswered question: what to do with Muslim communities in Western societies that include religious leaders who preach hatred and jihad against the regimes that have provided them with a home?
Dealing with that will be more difficult than explaining the sending of American troops (affiliated to the US Army or some profit-making contractor) to deal with the remnants of ISIS left after an air campaign.