Luke James and Lee Ann Womack

Luke James – Luke James

Hanging around the edges of the biz for years writing songs for Chris Brown and Bieber, Luke James learned what not to be. He feels deeply and wants listeners to know it. Eschewing the trad trappings of Anthony Hamilton and John Legend, he cushions his material with synthesized block chords and the spaces between notes often created by Noah “40” Shebib and Salaam Remi, often given pats on the butt by programmed sequencers and loops. Coolness makes no sense to him though. Hyperemotional, sometimes overwrought, James leans into a performance as if it were his last task on earth. “Can’t believe I felt for all your fake shit/Well, fuck you!” he sings over and over on “Exit Wounds,” implying that he’s no fake shit. If that’s so, then he should have shouted at Rick Ross a little louder; hearing the ‘Maybach Music’ tag announce itself on the otherwise fine “Options” is like an imminent heart attack victim feeling pain shoot up his left arm. Whenever creamy dance floor flirtations like “Exposé” pop up they’re a relief. On “Dancing in the Dark” he garnishes the programmed clatter with a falsetto of exquisite poise. James pulls off the rarest of coups: the interludes are good! The finger snaps, harmonica, and multitracked vocals cooing the hook on “TimeX”? Pursue this, Luke.

Lee Ann Womack – The Way I’m Livin’

No standouts like Call Me Crazy‘s “The Bees” and “Solitary Thinkin‘,” just a solid album of impeccably played tunes about sin and salvation: the liquor that leads to the former and the love of a man that makes the latter possible. Womack has used the treacle-istic “I Hope You Dance” as the palimpsest for a career spent in redress and remodeling: since 2005’s There’s More Where That Came From, one of the decade’s most assured collections, she has sought responsive musicians and songwriters schooled in tradition enough to fuck with it. The closer she hues to bluegrass themes, the duller she sounds (the title track, “All His Saints”); when the material teases out the pathos in her crystalline, almost pinched alto, no one in country can top her. Lamenting the disappearance of her dad and his hardware store, the town and her prospects on “Send It on Down,” Womack sounds ravaged. But The Way I’m Livin‘s triumphs are two covers: Roger Miller’s “Tomorrow Night in Baltimore,” with sympathetic accompaniment by multi-instrumentalist Mac McAnally; and “Out on the Weekend,” in which Womack inhabits the undiscovered corners of Neil Young’s 1972 genre exercise; it turns into another tale of solitary drinkin’, every night as desolate as the last. Thank husband Frank Lidell, who after helming Pistol Annies and Miranda Lambert can claim to understand this shit better than anyone in Nashvile. Scolds who long for the days of Loretta and George aren’t buying Womack’s records.

‘The evidence in those papers is very strong’

Five groups of researchers confirm what many suspected: Australia was aflame in 2013 thanks to emission-fueled climate warming. Because this is 2014 and there are stupid people, the New York Times had to dot its i’s this morning:

For several events in 2013, they were able to rule out such a link. Even though the overall global warming trend has been definitively linked to human emissions in scores of papers, the new reports show that the frequent impulse to attribute specific weather events to human activity is not always well grounded.

For instance, one research group found that the type of extreme rainfall that struck parts of Colorado last September had become less likely, not more likely, in the warming climate. Another group, analyzing the heavy rains and floods that struck parts of Central Europe in June 2013, found no evidence that these could be attributed to global warming, even though such claims were made at the time.

Myles R. Allen, a researcher at Oxford whose group conducted the study on the European rains, noted in an interview that the science of attributing specific events to human emissions was still contentious and difficult, so any answers given today must be regarded as provisional.

Charlie Crist: A Republican with ‘varying degrees of empathy’

If Jeb Lund’s story about the Rick Scott-Charlie Crist gubernatorial race consisted of links to stories about both these creatures, it would be valuable; but Lund also stitches a narrative showing how, rising sea levels aside, Florida is deeply fucked.

The fact is that Crist at best has the chance to impotently pursue an inert centrist policy amid an American Legislative Exchange Council paradise, where guns are plentiful, ground may be stood but government intervention goes all the way up the fallopians, more cars are welcome, the Everglades are bulldozed, the fight is still being taken to the gays, public transport is nonexistent, schools are profitable and results optional, prison is worth investing in, voting is discouraged, income tax is nil, and revenues outside a tiny corporate flat tax and property taxes rely on regressive service taxes, sales taxes, bed taxes and transactional fees…

…And maybe, to change all that, you get Charlie Crist, ex-Republican, who will run the state like a business, or maybe not bother to run it much at all, while nodding more telegenically at the Everglades, women, gay people and minorities. This is the kind of grand political spectrum Florida and the nation offers its citizens, and this is your future. You can have a Republican, or you can have someone who is basically a Republican with varying degrees of empathy.

Florida Democrats had Nan Rich as an option. Maybe Ezra Pound’s Cantos contain the answer to this riddle. Since 1976 the GOP has insisted on ideological purity from even its doddering satraps. Since 1976 the Democrats have insisted on fundraisers who peddle GOP talking points, of whom Charlie Crist represents the trend’s culmination. Crist is cynicism incarnate. And pollsters wonder why the race is a dead heat.

‘Muscular economic populism’ and its discontents

Rick Perlstein, interviewed while promoting The Invisible Bridge, on the rightward turn of the Democratic Party:

One of its roots was surprisingly enough the New Left’s turn away from New Deal politics and union politics. And it comes out of the extraordinary prosperity of the 1960s. It just doesn’t seem as important to have a Democratic party that’s kind of running interference and factory workers. Prosperity is so universal it seems like you could drop out of high school, burn down a building against the Vietnam War and end up with a job at GM the next day.

So you see in the class of politicians called the “Watergate babies” who are elected to Congress in 1974, this indifference to the New Deal tradition. Most strikingly in the case of Gary Hart, who says “we’re not a bunch of little Hubert Humphries,” and derides old-fashioned Democrats as Eleanor Roosevelt Democrats. He doesn’t think this New Deal tradition has anything to say to people in the 1970s.

The striking tragedy of that is this is right at the moment in which our current trend towards inequality and economic insecurity of the middle class is just beginning. When you need that muscular economic populism the most, you’re beginning to see the fashionable Democrats in full retreat from it. You see that certainly in the case of Jimmy Carter, who in many ways was a Southern conservative, who had contempt for the transactional nature of the New Deal tradition. Winning votes by building dams, creating jobs, and all the rest. It’s seen as an embarrassing relic of dirtier political times. It’s one of the paradoxes and ironies of these moment

Barack Obama, who began his national political freer claiming red and blue America didn’t exist, cornered himself with his determination to transcend differences between parties. Five years into a age when the GOP controlled every branch of government, these difference should’ve been starker. They weren’t and aren’t. The Democratic haven’t assembled a new coalition at the state level; they hope Hispanics, gays, and disaffected moderates show up during presidential cycles. But what the party offers isn’t any discernible leftism. By presenting itself as the party that begins in responsible, efficient smaller government – hell, any government at all – it reimagines the Democracy as Ford’s Republican party. Perlstein:

But he hasn’t learned the most important political lesson: in times of historic distrust of the previous political party, that you can create a transformational change in the electorate, as Roosevelt did by blaming it all on Hoover, and Reagan did by blaming it all on Carter. By writing a full stop to a political era.

These facts will hurt Andrew Sullivan.

Britney: ‘an infinitely recombitant instrument’

“Britney Spears” came to me as a heterosexual love object. At my college newspaper the male editors lusted after her early ’99 Rolling Stone cover, for which I loathed them.. She wasn’t a person — she was, to quote Billy Idol, flesh for fantasy. “…Baby One More Time” mattered less to me than “Believe” and “Genie in a Bottle” or, a few months later, “Waiting For Tonight.” Within a couple of years I could acknowledge it slammed harder than any teen pop released in ’99: Kristian Lundin, Jake Schulze, and Andreas Carlsson took copious notes writing and producing “Bye Bye Bye” for ‘N Sync exactly one year later. But as Tom Ewing implies in his excellent essay/retrospective Britney doesn’t accommodate herself to pop narratives: she’s never “matured,” never released Serious Music — “teenage feelings matter, even the dumb and disastrous ones,” he writes. On the contrary: with each release Spears has regarded her voice as an infinitely recombitant instrument best suited for conveying the simplest pleasures. Soccer chants, Eurocheese, EDM — she’ll do it at any price. Fools don’t understand this availability is exactly what makes her a pro. Offer her a song and she’ll contort herself in any shape you want.

But this is the Britney of Femme Fatale; and Blackout. Eight years earlier, “…Baby One More Time” hit #1 on the American and English charts. Then and now we asked questions about songwriting credits, auteurism, and authenticity. Tom again:

But the whole debate over who came up with what is also a red herring. Even if Britney had zero input into anything, it’s her name up there in lights – the whole enterprise depends on her. The idea that you can dig into the credits and origins of modern corporate pop to find secret lines of creativity and influence is a true one. But to imagine those stories are more important than the public ones can be a seductive fantasy of insider knowledge. Britney Spears, like every modern pop star, is the frontwoman of her own career: the story begins with her. It’s like politics, that other great bit of modern theatre: every candidate is the creature of a party machine. But the individual candidates – their strengths, foibles and priorities – matter. They are the story.

So if “manufactured” is unfair, what is the right metaphor for Britney’s relationship to the pop machine? Scanning the pop culture of the late 90s gives us a better possibility: mecha, the Japanese anime genre where beautiful, tragic youth fuse themselves to sublime, state of the art machines. Britney is not the machine’s puppet; she’s its pilot.

I’d rewrite that last sentence: Britney is the puppet, and she’s the pilot — the automatic pilot. What makes her so intermittently effective is her lack of ego, her willingness to become an endlessly protean signifier of pleasure.

Singles 9/26

Nickleback is in third place, OK? In this electoral season and after two weeks’ worth of news I’m ready to reward any effort at contemporary relevance (spare me the “dated” references chatter: music is dated the moment it’s released), and Nickleback’s generalizational overemoting tickled the right dialectical bellybutton. I dunno. Better this thing than Nick & Knight’s canny approximation of what an Adam Levine-Chris Brown comeback duet will sound like in 2029; or Justin Moore treating “Home Sweet Home” with more contempt than it deserves.

Click on links for full reviews.

Leonard Cohen – Almost Like the Blues (7)
Zola Jesus – Dangerous Days (6)
Nickelback – Edge of a Revolution (6)
Nick & Knight – One More Time (6)
Godsmack – 1000hp (6)
Hilary Duff – All About You (5)
Jasmine V ft. Kendrick Lamar – That’s Me Right There (4)
Merchandise – Enemy (4)
RaeLynn – God Made Girls (4)
You + Me – You and Me (3)
Twista ft. Tia London – It’s Yours (3)
Kindness ft. Kelela & Ade – World Restart (3)
Justin Moore ft. Vince Neil – Home Sweet Home (1)

‘You find glory by yourself’: Memphis

His name is Willis Earl Beal, and he’s in every frame of Memphis. Thin, quick with a smile, wearing a brimmed hat, he moves through the abandoned strip malls and rural pockets with confidence, buoyed by the music he hears in his head and which he occasionally records with a crack band. Writer-director Tim Sutton shows no interest in narrative; what concerns him is observation and naturalism. Closer to Krzystof Kieslowski’s Blue or Terence Davies’ The Long Day Closes than essay-films by Jean-Luc Godard’s recent Notre Musique or Film Socialisme or last year’s Museum Hours in its fascination with the intersection of music, light, and memory, Memphis has no point to make and and will not help viewers with establishing connections between Beal and the people who flit through his life.

Enough with the negative achievement. Sutton and editor Seth Bomse (who deserves co-credit) create one of the rare films about black Americans that affords the same rhetorical and narrative complexity as any take-your-pick Sundance fare about white life. Church is an essential component of Beal and his music, for better or worse. At the beginning he addresses a congregation of old friends. In a moving montage Beal exits the Baptist temple, loosening his tie and rubbing his face as if he finished a grueling bout of therapy; meanwhile the church music, full of fire for the Lord, seems to chase him out. More turbulent is the raucous R&B he records piecemeal. Memphis works like this too. Scenes with a young woman and a boy who may be Beal’s son teasing and tickling each other. An extended sequence of Beal and a companion dancing close and long to “I’ll Be Good to You,” Beal as much transported by Bobby Bland as he is by the body pressing against him. Or Beal’s mother counseling an ignored girlfriend, “I feel like committin’ suicide but I thank God that I didn’t. He lifted me up.” Only a couple of times does Sutton flirt with let’s-be-arty: after Beal’s friend smashes a car window, there’s an extreme close-up of splintered glass clinking down on the rear dash; and of blue sky and sunlight seen from a low angle shot through trees, the film’s unofficial motif.

Ambitious about perfecting its modest aims, Memphis is the cinematic equivalent of Eudora Welty’s short story “Powerhouse,” which tried to approximate the process by which musicians improvise a melody and knock it around among themselves until coherence emerges. The movie takes its cue from Beal, who whether swinging a broom like a kid playing Luke Skywalker and mumbling what sound like lyrics, or, explaining the extent of his self-reliance, how he “fucked the dirt” leaving a porn shop and glimpsing an American Apparel ad (don’t ask), is a jabbing, self-mocking presence. At seventy-four minutes the movie’s still too long, but any film that at least presents — “accepts” is going too far — the idea that “You find glory by yourself. No one around” is one worth appreciating.

R.E.M.’s Monster: ‘We were at the absolute peak of our fame.’

I don’t have much time for R.E.M. these days, but Monster is for me one of their records least tainted by historicity. Twenty years later I’m an even bigger appreciator of the filters used to create distance between Michael Stipe and the band in “I Took Your Name” and “Crush With Eyeliner.” Those tunes and “Circus Envy” and “Bang and Blame” and “Let Me In” use studio effects as eloquently as the earlier records used jangle, melisma, and Gang of Four bass lines. One of R.E.M.’s most characteristic records still shines because it thought of shrewder ways of forcing fans to think about how to transmit emotions. Michael Stipe had feelings about domination, submission, and dead pop stars, but he was opaque as David Gahan, and the opacity made him sinister and faintly silly. It’s a lot like life. Monster is a post-grunge Depeche Mode album, with the guitars as flash as the synths. It’s great, catchy junk.

Newsweek caught up with Stipe on the album’s anniversary:

Q: Monster has a somewhat sinister edge, and you often seem to be singing in character, both in terms of words and sometimes the vocal effects as well (on “King of Comedy,” “Star 69,” etc.). Was this a conscious choice in the songwriting process—stepping outside of your own voice, in a way, and occupying something more creepy?

A: I was really stretching as a lyricist and shooting for something outside my realm, my range, my expertise. It turned out some great material, I think (“Tongue,” “Let Me In,” “Crush With Eyeliner,” “Circus Envy”); and some songs that I wish I could’ve reworked or discarded (“King of Comedy,” “You”). Overall I think it’s a pretty strong album, especially when you look at whatever else was happening then.

Q: Listening to Monster, it seems clear there’s a much heavier and wider range of guitar effects than on any previous R.E.M. album. Did Peter [Buck] or the rest of the band spend much time in the studio getting the tones/pedals right?

A: The wah-wah pedal was really important—and we spent a lot of time finessing that. It provided a certain atmosphere to the material that made me have to jump higher. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” could have never had a lyric like “Nightswimming” for instance. I had to push and rise up to meet that kind of challenge.

“Sexy” often registers as “creepy” if the attention is unwarranted, so I understand the reporter’s instinctual response.

Situation no win: What modern rock looked like in 1991

Chart-watching listeners, note: after Nirvana exploded, Sept. 28, 1991’s modern rock top five would look like an Archaeopteryx skeleton. “Modern rock” had enough currency before “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for my top forty station to block program a Sunday night segment. “The Post-Modern Music Show,” they called it. Thanks to the success of Love and Rockets’ “So Alive,” The Cure’s “Lovesong,” and Depeche Mode’s trio of big Violator singles, labels started paying attention, and what tragic irony: Nirvana’s breakthrough meant the eventual dissolution of the original format and programming. I.R.S. Records’ promo muscle wasn’t gonna get any Kirsty MacColl on a ’93 playlist.

Anyway, I heard about seven of these ten at the time, even own a couple of the host albums (other acts I heard often: The Ocean Blue, Inspiral Carpets, Kirsty MacColl, Alison Moyet, and – wow – Brand New Heavies).

10. Northside – “Take Five”

On Factory Records. It’s got a shufflebeat, with an emphasis on the hi-hat. Madchester, in other words, whose sound still made U.S. inroads until, what, the Charlatans’ “Weirdo” the following summer?

9. Squeeze – “Satisfied”

Speaking of persistence…I would imagine Squeeze were college radio band emeritus by 1991; I could argue that their existence created the programming. Thus, those stations which reported “modern rock” songs made sure every post-“Hourglass” single hit the top twenty. “Satisfied” doesn’t sound like 1991, but with its colorless harmonies and unemphatic hook it doesn’t sound like much of anything either.

8. Voices of the Beehive – “Monsters and Angels”

In 1971 they would have been strumming acoustic guitars. It’s 1991 – they needed a drum program and synth ooze. I remember this as a bigger hit than its position suggests.

7. Big Audio Dynamite – “Rush”

And here was the hit. Mick Jones’ post-Clash experiment in collage and musique concrete had straightened into conventional pop punk by the time they recorded The Globe, resulting in his first American top forty appearance since “Rock the Casbah” nine years earlier. I understand what impressed older listeners: the act finds sampling correlatives for the line “Rush for the change of atmosphere,” and for college radio fans who loved Prince Paul’s work on De La Soul is Dead a couple months ago it felt like the English punk ethos and the Daisy Age could make common cause, sweetened with Madchester overtones (no surprise that BAD also opened for U2 on one of the Zoo TV tour legs). The chorus remains charming; Jones’ vocal doesn’t.

6. Crowded House – “It’s Only Natural”

The #2 success of “Don’t Dream It’s Over” in spring ’87 still looks like one of the oddest of chart flukes, so it doesn’t surprise me that after “Something So Strong” subsequent singles fizzled. By the time of Woodface, Crowded House had reverted – like Neil Finn’s last band Split Enz – to college radio act. In the rest of the world, however, Woodface represented the beginning of their most popular phase; when they broke up in 1996, Crowded House were a beloved institution everywhere except the United States. The smoky Woodface, which plays as if Finn listened to The Beatles “Girl” on repeat, marked the beginning and end of brother Tim’s acrimonious tenure. But the partnership produced their leanest and funniest material yet, with Mitchell Froom and his Magic Calliopes confined to discreet color. For the most part. “It’s Only Natural” redressed the grievous mistake of issuing the stupid and fussy America-baiting “Chocolate Cake” as single.

5. Billy Bragg – “Sexuality”

With a sympathetic band and Johnny Marr’s production on a few numbers, Don’t Try This at Home was supposed to be the folk singer’s Bringing It All Back Home. I own it on tape. Listening to it a few days ago, I was bored by the dirges and buoyed by anything with a beat. Liberal pieties (“If you stick around/I’m sure that we can find some common ground”) and synthetic string motifs yanked from Marr’s Electronic single “Tighten Up” (which hit the top ten a couple weeks earlier) time stamp this as a 1991 production; it’s an AIDS memorial pin in song. If Bragg were to have scored a short Disney film shown at Epcot about sexuality, it would’ve sounded like this.

4. Tin Machine – “One Shot”

Oh man – this was a modern rock hit? It’s got a tune and an ooh-ooh hook: David Bowie was making a concession, people. But it also has Bowie singing “One shot put her away.” With vibrato.

3. The Smithereens – “Top of the Pops”

“Tell Me When Did Things Go So Wrong” was the title of their last modern rock hit, but until Matthew Swwet reminded listeners that a jangle isn’t a thud Pat Dinizio churned out leaden singles without a hint of wit or strangeness. “Top of the Pops” and “A Girl Like You” turn “catchy” into a incoherent buzz word.

2. Psychedelic Furs – “Until She Comes”

Brand loyalty accounts for the P-Furs scoring a #1 as their obsolescence grew more pronounced; like Squeeze, they were there at the beginning. I like this exhausted sigh of a record though, with Richard Butler and his self-harmonizing making like foghorns through the aural murk of a decade’s worth of persuading people that love love love is all of heaven away.

1. Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians – “So You Think You’re in Love”

When the Soft Boy moved to A&M Records in the late eighties, he took advantage of its promotional budget for “Balloon Man” and “Madonna of the Wasps” college and 120 Minutes airplay. Having fan Peter Buck play the hooks guaranteed a jingle-jangle morning. No dead wives and men with light bulb heads appear in “So You Think You’re in Love,” the simplest tune in the Robyn Hitchcock canon, which is why Buck’s new post-Out of Time clout and growing buzz made it his biggest hit. The mix is a mess: as he’d prove on XTC’s Nonesuch released the following year, Paul Fox had no clue how to record trad rock. Yet! I love Perspex Island anyway.

Eric Holder: the legacy

Eric Holder criticized the Supreme Court’s voting rights decision. He is working on reducing mandatory life sentences for certain offenders. He refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act and yesterday filed court papers challenging election laws in Wisconsin and Ohio. The usual air raid sirens on the right blamed Holder and the Obama administration for selectively enforcing laws. I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve watched enough “Law and Order” and read enough crime stories to know that this claim is nonsense. District and state attorneys chose whom to indict and under what charges every day. In short, these legal pros make political decisions. The Reagan administration’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the civil rights division of its Justice Department lessened its case loads. The Constitution’s pardon clause gives presidents enormous latitude in commuting sentences. If you win the presidency, the Constitution grants you cool powers. Bold presidents use them — bold presidents stretch them. Some break them. That’s for us the public to report and decide.

Robert Kennedy aside, we don’t remember attorneys general. Do you know William French Smith, Edward Levi, Francis Biddle, and Herbert Brownell? They’re Wiki entries. John Mitchell we remember for other reasons. But these decisions suggest he may persist. So do the ones concerning the endless and expensive war on terror. State secrets, assaasinations, the prosecution of whistleblowers, refusing to prosecute CIA bag men who tortured detainees — Holder has either supported them or not commented. After what reads like a chilling indictment of Holder’s conduct, Eric Posner backs away:

This is something of an exaggeration in the United States today, but it remains true that the rights of people considered a threat to a country tend to diminish as the magnitude of that threat increases, for good reason. Holder, like his Bush administration predecessors Alberto Gonzales and John Ashcroft, adopted a pragmatic rather than rigidly legalistic position on civil rights, human rights, and the laws of war. That pragmatism will be his legacy.

Eh, what the hell, this paragraph says. Posner supports a variant on Nixon’s line: if the president does it during war time, it’s not illegal.” What “it” is, what “war time” is, we don’t know. That’s the trouble with lawyers.

‘Congress has utterly failed its constitutional responsibilities’

When you’ve lost the NYT, etc.

There isn’t a full picture — because Mr. Obama has not provided one — of how this bombing campaign will degrade the extremist groups without unleashing unforeseen consequences in a violent and volatile region. In the absence of public understanding or discussion and a coherent plan, the strikes in Syria were a bad decision.

Mr. Obama has failed to ask for or receive congressional authorization for such military action. The White House claims that Mr. Obama has all the authority he needs under the 2001 law approving the use of force in Afghanistan and the 2002 law permitting the use of force in Iraq, but he does not. He has given Congress notification of the military action in Iraq and Syria under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, but that is not a substitute for congressional authorization.

The administration also claims that the airstrikes are legal under international law because they were done in defense of Iraq. In a Sept. 20 letter to the United Nations, Iraq complained that the Islamic State was attacking its territory and said American assistance was needed to repel the threat. But the United Nations Security Council should vote on the issue.

Meanwhile, Congress has utterly failed in its constitutional responsibilities. It has left Washington and gone into campaign fund-raising mode, shamelessly ducking a vote on this critical issue. That has deprived the country of a full and comprehensive debate over the mission in Syria and has shielded administration officials and military commanders from tough questions about every aspect of this operation — from its costs to its very obvious risks — that should be asked and answered publicly.

Watching the news on broadcast and cable channels, I wouldn’t know that alternatives exist to bombing ISIS or launching attics in Syria, one of which is, well, doing nothing. Tom Hull wrote a thoughtful post the day after Barack Obama’s listless prime time address. Like the Taliban, he writes, ISIS “sprung from the killing fields of despotic regimes and foreign occupiers.” Acknowledging this fact and justifying any military incursion as “atonement” or a means of redress misses the point. Any action will infuriate Iraqis, Kurds, and Syrians, and for good reason. Bombing, no matter how precise, is by nature indiscriminate. As we saw in the aftermath of the Iraq war, a radical group springs with each drop of blood spilled on their land. Meanwhile we must always save face. In 2014:

Perhaps the worst thing about Obama’s speech and the policies he previously put into place is the open-ended commitment he’s made to the very same Iraqi political leaders whose misbehavior made ISIS appear to many Iraqis (Sunnis, anyway) to be the lesser evil. Now they know that when they fuck up again the Americans will have to stick with them, because the US can never afford to lose face. (On the other hand, maybe they should review the story of Ngo Dinh Diem.) But nearly every aspect of the speech/plan is flawed. ISIS came into existence in the crucible of Syria’s civil war, and some group like it will inevitably reappear as long as the civil war goes on, so it will prove impossible to stop ISIS without also ending Syria’s civil war. Chances of that are thin as Obama has sided with the rebels against Assad, not realizing that the most prominent rebel group is ISIS, and that the US-favored “moderates” are firmly aligned with ISIS. The situation in Iraq is no simpler, with the US fighting in favor of the central government against ISIS but also siding with Kurdish separatists against the central government. The desire to work through proxies adds complexity, but perhaps not quite the mess of a full-blown invasion and its inevitably messy occupation. Plus you have the problem of managing domestic expectations.

The only domestic expectations require the midterm elections to be out of the way.