TIME Congress

Secret Service Director to Face Congress in Wake of Scathing Report

Two Congressmen talked to TIME about issues with the Secret Service, hours before a report surfaced that an intruder got further into the White House than thought

A report revealed Monday that the knife-wielding White House fence jumper 11 days ago got further into the President’s home than previously thought, on the eve of a congressional hearing about White House security and Secret Service procedure.

On September 19, after 42-year-old Iraq veteran Omar Gonzalez jumped over the White House fence, he managed to run through “much of the main floor” of the presidential mansion and past an alarm box that did not properly warn officers of the intruder, the Washington Post said, citing anonymous sources.

The report put Secret Service Director Julia Pierson even deeper into hot water on Tuesday. Before the Post broke the story about Gonzalez, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a top member on the House Oversight Committee, was already questioning whether or not Pierson should keep her job.

“I’m not out for her scalp, but we’ll see where we’re at at the end of the hearing,” Chaffetz, a top member on the House Oversight Committee, told TIME. Chaffetz sees the latest incident, in addition to an event in 2011 in which a man fired at least eight rounds at the White House, as major national security violations. “When you look at those in their totality, you wonder if she is up to the job,” says Chaffetz.

Pierson served as Chief of Staff of the Secret Service from 2008 to 2013, and was appointed last year to be the agency’s first female director.

Hours before the Post story came out, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight committee, told TIME that he is unsure whether the most recent incident should force a change at the top. “This is a transformational moment for the Secret Service,” he said. “They’ve got to get this right, and they’ve got to get this right, right now because it can only get worse if we don’t take advantage of this moment. This is a major wake up call—major.”

“I wonder whether our guard has been lowered a bit,” Cummings added. “And if it has been, then we’ve got to make sure that we have a top to bottom evaluation of what we’re doing—looking at culture, personnel, procedures, equipment being used and every aspect of security—so that not only are we the most elite protection agency in the world, but also that people perceive us to be just that.”

Neither Cummings nor Chaffetz suggested that the incident would necessarily require a legislative fix, instead arguing that there must be a change in “attitude” or “culture” at the agency. “I would think that this is more of a culture situation, possibly leadership,” Cummings said.

TIME White House

Reports: WH Intruder Gets Far Past Front Door

(WASHINGTON) — The intruder who climbed a fence made it farther inside the White House than the Secret Service has publicly acknowledged, the Washington Post and New York Times newspapers reported Monday. The disclosures came on the eve of a congressional oversight hearing with the director of the embattled agency assigned to protect the president’s life.

Citing unnamed sources — three people familiar with the incident and a congressional aide — the newspapers said Omar J. Gonzalez ran past the guard at the front door and into the East Room, which is about halfway across the first floor of the building. Gonzalez was eventually “tackled” by a counter-assault agent, according to the Post, which was first to report the news.

In the hours after the fence-jumper incident, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told The Associated Press that the suspect had been apprehended just inside the North Portico doors of the White House.

The Secret Service also said that night that the suspect had been unarmed — an assertion that was revealed to be false the next day when officials acknowledged Gonzalez had a knife with him when he was apprehended.

Getting so far would have required Gonzalez to dash through the main entrance hall, turn a corner, then run through the center hallway half-way across the first floor of the building, which spans 168 feet in total, according to the White House Historical Association.

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson was scheduled to testify before a House committee on Tuesday for the first time since the Sept. 19 incident. The new details about a far more significant breach were expected to dominate the lawmakers’ inquiries.

A Secret Service spokesman declined to comment on the latest details because of the ongoing investigation.

It was a security lapse that could have had serious consequences, if the intruder had been heavily armed and if the president and his family had been home. No one was hurt in the incident, but it’s not the first involving the White House itself, raising the question whether the latest breach is part of a pattern of delayed reactions to threats to the executive mansion. The Secret Service says that is not the case. And President Barack Obama has confidence in the Secret Service to do its job.

The Post reported over the weekend that the Secret Service did not immediately respond to shots fired at the White House in 2011, amid what the agency describes as uncertainty about where the shots originated. Four days later, it was discovered that at least one of the shots broke the glass of a window on the third level of the mansion, the Secret Service said.

At the time of the 2011 breach, the president and first lady Michelle Obama were away, but their daughters were in Washington — one home and the other due to return that night.

Oscar R. Ortega-Hernandez of Idaho has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 2011 incident.

Gonzalez, 42, was arrested Sept. 19 after agents stopped him inside the White House front door.

“The president and the first lady, like all parents, are concerned about the safety of their children, but the president and first lady also have confidence in the men and women of the Secret Service to do a very important job, which is to protect the first family, to protect the White House, but also protect the ability of tourists and members of the public to conduct their business or even tour the White House,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday.

After the Sept. 19 breach, Pierson ordered a review of the incident and possible changes to security measures at and around the White House. She briefed the president on Thursday.

“The president is interested in the review that they are conducting, and I would anticipate that he’ll review whatever it is they — whatever reforms and recommendations they settle upon,” Earnest said of the Secret Service’s internal review.

Secret Service officers who spotted Gonzalez scaling the fence quickly assessed that he didn’t have any weapons in his hands and wasn’t wearing clothing that could conceal substantial quantities of explosives, a primary reason agents did not fire their weapons, according to a U.S. official briefed on the investigation.

Gonzalez was on the Secret Service radar as early as July when state troopers arrested him during a traffic stop in southwest Virginia. State troopers there said Gonzalez had an illegal sawed-off shotgun and a map of Washington tucked inside a Bible with a circle around the White House, other monuments and campgrounds. The troopers seized a stash of other weapons and ammunition found during a search of Gonzalez’s car after his arrest.

The Secret Service interviewed Gonzalez in July, but had nothing with which to hold him. Gonzalez was released on bail. Then, on Aug. 25, Gonzalez was stopped and questioned again while he was walking along the south fence of the White House. He had a hatchet, but no firearms. His car was searched, but he was not arrested.

“There’s a misperception out there that we have some broad detention powers,” Donovan, the Secret Service spokesman, said. The Secret Service, like other law enforcement agencies, must have evidence of criminal behavior in order to file charges against someone. “Just because we have a concern about someone doesn’t mean we can interview or arrest them or put them in a mental health facility,” Donovan said.

The Secret Service has been trying to rehabilitate its image since a 2012 prostitution scandal erupted during a presidential visit to Colombia.

Earlier this year Pierson met privately with senators after an agent was found drunk in a hotel during a presidential trip to the Netherlands. That incident came just weeks after two agents in Florida were involved in a traffic accident that The Washington Post reported involved alcohol. There were no charges filed against the agents. And Pierson said neither incident was representative of the entire agency.

TIME 2014 Election

The Marijuana Legalization Votes That Will Matter in 2014

First Legal Marijuana Sales in Colorado
Strains of marijuana at Denver Kush Club in Denver, Colorado on January 1, 2014. Seth McConnell—Denver Post/Getty Images

Referendums across the country set the stage for an even bigger fight in 2016

Election Day this year will be big on pot.

The battle over legalizing recreational marijuana in California—the big enchilada that may tilt legalization not only in the U.S. but other countries—is already being set for 2016. But while many reformers’ eyes are focused on the next presidential election, this year’s votes on marijuana initiatives have the power to shape that fight.

Here are the races to watch in November.

Alaska: Legalization with tax and regulation

A 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling found that the right to privacy in the state included the right to grow and possess a small amount of marijuana at home. Though opponents have still fought over whether possessing marijuana is legal—sometimes in court—reformers are hoping that a long history of quasi-legalization and a noted libertarian streak will lead Alaskans to vote yes on Ballot Measure 2: It would concretely legalize retail pot, giving the the state the power to tax and regulate like in Colorado and Washington state.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the pro-marijuana reform group NORML, called this measure a “wobbler,” with support long hovering around 50%. That sentiment is echoed by Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project, which spearheaded legalization in Colorado and has contributed heavily to the campaign in Alaska. “A lot of it will depend on the campaign getting its message out,” Tvert said. The message got a boost this month when a local on-anchor quit her job live on TV to support the legalization effort.

Oregon: Legalization with tax and regulation

Oregon almost went along with Colorado and Washington on their experimental journey in 2012, when residents narrowly rejected a pot legalization measure 56% to 44%. This year, more activists—and more organized ones at that—have been on the scene, working with groups like the deep-pocketed Drug Policy Alliance. Still, the prospects for Measure 91 are far from a lock; a recent poll found that while 44% of likely voters support legalization, 40% oppose it.

Like Alaska, the Beaver State has a long history when it comes to marijuana, having become the first state to decriminalize it in 1973. St. Pierre said Oregon’s proximity to Washington state, where creating a legal market has so far gone pretty smoothly, will help push people to vote “yes.” He said Oregon is the “most viable in terms of moving the national needle,” keeping up the momentum for drug-law reform that Washington and Colorado started. “Oregon will likely help lead the way for more states to follow,” said Anthony Johnson, who launched the campaign for Measure 91.

Washington, D.C.: “Soft legalization”

Those are the words of St. Pierre, describing a measure that falls short of creating a full-on regulated, taxable pot market. Initiative 71 would, however, allow people to possess up to 2 oz. of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants at home without fear of criminal or civil penalty—at least in theory. If the initiative does pass, there remains a hazy line between the reaches of the local and federal governments in the District, and Congress could choose to intervene, passing laws that supersede the actions of D.C. officials.

The initiative will very likely pass: Locals support it by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. The big question is whether Congress will continue to stand down, as it did while D.C. legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized marijuana. Allowing pot plants to flourish in backyard gardens down the road from the White House could force a more serious conversation about the conflict between federal drug laws that still view marijuana as an illegal substance and newer laws that do not.

Florida: Medical marijuana

At a time when states are legalizing pot for recreational purposes, it might not seem that significant whether Florida joins the growing list of about two-dozen states that allow medical marijuana. But St. Pierre said that nothing marijuana-related is taken lightly when it comes to political bellwether states like this one. So far, polling on support for Amendment 2 has been all over the place. And the political frenzy over the initiative has drawn huge spenders like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who shelled out at least $98 million in the 2012 elections.

Amendment 2 has a steep hill to climb, requiring a 60% supermajority to pass; neither Colorado nor Washington got past the 55% range. “Florida is a national battleground,” St. Pierre said, noting how uncommon it is for people to be dropping $2.5 million checks to oppose such measures or $3.7 million checks to support them. “We’ve never seen a green rush like we’re seeing in Florida.”

Looking ahead to 2016

There are also a handful of municipalities that are going to vote on “soft legalization” measures of sorts, including the Maine towns of Lewiston and South Portland. Portland, Maine’s biggest city, passed a similar measure in 2013, giving authorities the ability not to punish pot-possessors with civil or criminal penalties.

Maine is one of the states the Marijuana Policy Project will be working hard to push the way of Colorado and Washington come 2016, and even symbolic local wins could boost that effort. “Ultimately our plan is to bring a tax-and-regulate initiative statewide in 2016, so these campaigns are a way to get the message out,” said David Boyer, MPP’s Maine political director.

In addition to California, Tvert said his group is already hard at work in Nevada, collecting petition signatures. And he said campaigns will be ramping up in Arizona and Massachusetts soon. Generally, marijuana initiatives do better when there is larger voter turnout, and voter turnout is typically bigger in presidential election years.

“This is the penultimate year for marijuana law reform,” St. Pierre said of 2014. “California is totally on reformers’ menu. … No one else moves if they don’t move.”

TIME 2016 Election

The Pros and Cons of ‘President Grandma’

Hillary Bill Chelsea Clinton Baby
Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, hold their granddaughter Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky after their daughter Chelsea Clinton gave birth in New York on Sept. 27, 2014. Jon Davidson—Reuters

The challenges and benefits of running for the land’s highest office as a grandmother

Hillary Clinton has had many titles: mother, First Lady of the United States, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State and, most recently, grandmother. In her last presidential campaign, it was her experience as a senator and, to a lesser extent, first lady, that were the selling points of her campaign. But if she runs again in 2016, she won’t just be touting her experience as top diplomat, she’ll also sports a different kind of distinction: the first viable presidential contender who also happens to be a grandmother.

There are pros and cons in politics to the title of grandma, some of them uniquely Clintonian. At a time when Clinton’s recent remarks about not driving a car since 1996 and struggling to make ends meet after Bill Clinton’s presidency made her seem out of touch with the populist times, being a grandmother makes her relatable.

“As we saw in 2008, she had a more difficult time relating to voters on a personal level,” said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University. “Being about to tell stories about having a first grandchild might serve as one way to connect with the millions of Americans who watched Chelsea grow up and who are now grandparents’ themselves. Any benefit will surely be tiny, but it could drive up empathy a bit.”

If Clinton chooses to promote her grandmotherly status, it would be the opposite tact that she took in 2008 where she was so concerned about showing voters she wasn’t a weak woman that she buried the historic nature of her campaign. In that regard, Clinton is the opposite of most women running for office, who try to avoid mentioning their families because they don’t want to seem soft. Being perceived as tough “is particularly important for executive offices, where strength and toughness, and singular leadership, are valued most,” said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at Rutgers University’s Center for American Women in Politics. “Of course, some of this will be very unique to Hillary Clinton, as she struggled in her last presidential campaign to empathize with voters and was often criticized for being too hard.”

Being a grandpa almost never hurt a male presidential candidate. Few remarked on Mitt Romney’s grandchildren except, perhaps, at the large number of them. Let’s face it: There will be a double standard for Clinton compared to any other male politician running for President. The image of a blue-haired granny is a tried-and-true American stereotype, and one that is antithetical to the image of the commander-in-chief with his finger on the button.

But again, Clinton’s previous campaign and life experience defies that contrast. “While it might be different for other candidates, particularly female candidates who are less known and still need to prove their competence, I think for Hillary Clinton it is a positive,” said Michele Swers, an associate professor in American Government at Georgetown University and author of “The Difference women Make.”

“Clinton spent years developing her persona of expertise and toughness,” Swers said.

But the biggest risk of being the grandma-candidate is that it does remind voters of Clinton’s age. On Election Day 2016, she’ll be 69, just months younger than the oldest U.S. President, Ronald Reagan, when he was elected in 1980. And it was Clinton’s husband Bill, who successfully painted the last President to be a grandparent in office, George H. W. Bush, as old and out of touch when he beat him in the 1992 election.

TIME voting rights

Voting Rights Battles Heat Up Ahead of Midterm Elections

Voting booths in polling place
/Getty Images

After Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Texas may send voting rights cases to the Supreme Court

Voting rights advocacy groups and Ohio state officials submitted dueling briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court Saturday and Sunday in a fight over early voting in the state.

On Sept. 24, the U.S. Appeals court for the Sixth Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision to block Ohio’s new election rules, which would cut back early voting from 35 to 28 days before the election and limit early voting on weekends. The courts found that Ohio’s new laws if enacted would violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Ohio officials have asked Justice Elena Kagan to overrule the state courts and prevent voting from starting Sept. 30. She could hand down a decision as early as today.

Ohio is just the latest flashpoint as early voting fights are heating up around the country ahead of midterms. Democrats seek to mobilize lower-income voters who are less likely to turn out for general elections if they have to take time off of work to vote on a Tuesday. Republicans object, claiming the risk of voter fraud and other concerns require tighter voting restrictions.

Here are the three other voting rights laws cases that could work their way up to the Supreme Court before the midterms:

Wisconsin- On September 12, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals put into effect a law requiring most voters to present photo identification at the polls. Proponents of the law say it will discourage voter fraud, while critics say it will deter minorities from voting. On Friday, the entire Seventh Circuit split 5-5 on whether to hear the case, which may send it to the Supreme Court.

North Carolina – North Carolina’s 2013 state voting law, which eliminates same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting and shortens the early voting window by ten days, will be in place for the first time this year in a statewide election. A panel of three judges heard oral arguments about the law on Sept. 25, with one judge pointedly asking, “Why does the state of North Carolina not want people to vote?” The case will likely end up at the Supreme Court, especially if the Fourth Circuit rules against the law.

Texas – Last week, trial ended in a challenge to Texas’s voter identification law requiring voters to display government-issued forms of identification. Under the stringent law, a concealed-carry permit is a valid form of identification, but a student ID is not. The judge is expected to rule soon on whether the law violates the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, and if the decision comes out against the law, the state could appeal to take the case to the Supreme Court.

TIME India

See the History of U.S.-India Relations in 12 Photos

The United States and India have had a tumultuous relationship over the past six decades. As India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues his first visit to the U.S. as head of state, take a look back at the relationship between two of the world's largest nations. 

TIME Joe Klein road trip

The Soul of an Old iPod

On the road with blues singer Taj Mahal

Memphis, Tenn

I was driving along from Alabama to Mississippi the other day, with my iPod on shuffle, when these three duets came in succession:

Rodney Crowell and Kris Kristofferson–My Father’s Advice

Carl Perkins and Van Morrison--Sitting on Top of the World (Van’s intensity automatically takes over any duet he attempts)

Emmylou Harris and Beck–Sin City (from the Gram Parsons tribute album Emmylou helped to organize)

Now, I know there are those among you–rational people, mostly–who will dismiss this as coincidence. But three duets in a row? Is it possible that there’s a secret presiding intelligence here, an Apple core, a Steve Jobs frippery that can discern threads of music, or rhythm, or–this gets really weird–lyrics to produce tantalizing segues? It doesn’t always happen, but it does often enough. I mean, what are the odds that in the 3422 songs I’ve loaded on, I’ll get The Rolling Stones’ cover of Love in Vain followed by Robert Johnson’s original. Yesterday, I shuffled from Sufjan Stevens’ anarchically flutey cover of The Beatles What Goes On? to Nelson Riddle’s puckishly flutey arrangement of Witchcraft for Frank Sinatra. Very subtle, that.

This, I realize, can get pretty existential pretty quickly. Do I, as a human, somehow need a ghost within the machine to order the universe for me. Over time, I’ve developed a relationship with the thing, laughing and marveling at its choices, bemoaning my fate when it sinks into a slough of despond and offers a series of the worst songs ever recorded by my favorite artists. (I know I should cull those songs, but can you mess with the received Word?) Sometimes it will forsake me, amble into randomness, Vampire Weekend followed by Sarah Vaughn. On Friday, it started playing songs from Rodney Crowell’s great album, Sex and Gasoline, sensing, no doubt, that I was having dinner with Rodney in Nashville that night. Yesterday, it was in a funk (and not a funky funk, which would have been fine) as we entered Memphis and I prayed for some blues to welcome me into town. But no, the shuffler was in a quiet mood, playing quiet and tame stuff…until we reached Beale Street, when–a miracle!–Lonny Brooks started singing about tumbling dice.

Today, the music turns live: the great Delta blues historian, singer and player Taj Mahal has joined the road trip for a couple of days. We’re headed to down the Delta to Greenville, Ms, for a town meeting with Congressman Bennie Thompson’s supporters. But first, Taj insisted, we have to stop at Lansky’s–“Clothier to the King”–to buy some shirts.

TIME Campaign Finance

Ginsburg Says Citizens United Was Supreme Court’s Worst Ruling

"I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be"

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says in a new interview that the Citizens United ruling paving the way for more unfettered campaign spending by corporations was the current court’s worst decision ever.

Ginsburg told The New Republic that she would overturn the 2010 ruling if she could.

I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be,” she said. “I think members of the legislature, people who have to run for office, know the connection between money and influence on what laws get passed.”

She also expressed concern that modern feminists take their rights for granted.

“The women of my generation and my daughter’s generation, they were very active in moving along the social change that would result in equal citizenship stature for men and women,” Ginsburg said. “One thing that concerns me is that today’s young women don’t seem to care that we have a fundamental instrument of government that makes no express statement about the equal citizenship stature of men and women. They know there are no closed doors anymore, and they may take for granted the rights that they have.

Read the full interview at The New Republic

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: September 29

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Hong Kong Braces for Clashes

Demonstrations have grown at a speed that seems to have surprised protesters and police alike, with crowds continuing to mass around key areas of the city. The ground situation remains fluid, but here are five takeaways from Hong Kong’s season of unrest

Obama: ISIS Surprised Us

President Barack Obama said in a new interview that the U.S. underestimated the threat that Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria posed in the region

Assange Hologram Speaks Out

The face of WikiLeaks spoke about Google, martyrs and political asylum as he was beamed in from the Ecuadorian embassy in London

Wake Up! Today Is National Coffee Day

Fake marketing holiday or not, Monday is being celebrated as National Coffee Day, and that means free (or nearly so) coffee can be had at several donut, fast food and coffee specialists around the U.S. Here’s where to score an extra jolt of caffeine on the cheap

New Afghan President Sworn In After Disputed Vote

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was sworn in Monday as Afghanistan’s new President, replacing Hamid Karzai in the country’s first democratic transfer of power since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban

Jeter Leaves Baseball With 9-5 Win Over Red Sox

Three days after an emotional farewell in New York City, pinstripe-wearing fans filled Boston’s Fenway Park for Jeter’s finale, chanting for him and the visiting Yankees and standing for each of his at-bats. The final hit raised Jeter’s lifetime batting average to .310

California Adopts ‘Yes Means Yes’ Sex-Assault Rule

Gov. Jerry Brown announced Sunday that he signed a bill that makes California the first in the nation to define when “yes means yes” and adopt requirements for colleges to follow when investigating reports of sexual assault

The Simpsons Kills Off Character in Season Premiere

“The most respected man” in the community, voiced by comedian Jackie Mason, was killed off the show’s first episode of its 26th season. But this wasn’t a surprise, as a producer said last year that a character would meet his maker in the premiere

Tobacco Companies Step Up E-Cigarette Warnings

When it comes to e-cigarettes, large tobacco companies are suddenly stepping up warnings about their own products, in some cases using more than 100 words to warn smokers of nicotine’s ill effects. Experts say the move is merely corporate image enhancement

India’s Modi Comes Full Circle at Madison Square Garden

Tens of thousands of Indian-Americans turned out to welcome the visiting leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. His entrance after a series of musical and dance warm-up acts sent the audience into a frenzy

How Secret Service Bungled White House Shooting in 2011

A new report shows that the Secret Service bungled its response to a shooting outside the White House in 2011, taking four days to realize that shots had actually hit the building. An Idaho man fired at least seven bullets into the house’s upstairs residence

Ukrainian Protesters Topple Massive Lenin Statue

Ukrainian protesters in Kharkiv, a city in the nation’s restive east, toppled a prominent statue of Soviet icon Vladimir Lenin late on Sunday. Police did not intervene as thousands celebrated the statue’s fall and raced to the wreckage to collect makeshift souvenirs

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TIME Military

The War Against ISIS: Operation Fingers Crossed

Airstrikes in Syria
A KC-135 Stratotanker begins a mission refueling U.S. warplanes attacking Syria. Senior Airman Matthew Bruch / U.S. Central Command

History offers a checkered record on its chances of success

For more than a week, U.S. and allied warplanes have bombed targets inside Syria every day. While that may seem an awful lot like war to those being pounded, it hardly feels that way to most Americans. When U.S. troops are in combat, on the ground, they’re generally accompanied by reporters, who in recent conflicts have been able to fill TV screens and the Internet with up-close scenes of the action.

But when the U.S. elects to conduct an air war, Americans generally witness the action from airborne targeting cameras, or social-media posts from the ground. Both of those, of course, have their own problems: footage released by the Pentagon has been edited—scrubbed, if you prefer—and represents only a tiny fraction of what was recorded. The provenance and, indeed, the authenticity of cell phone videos allegedly capturing what is happening on the ground gives a similarly incomplete, and often suspect, picture of what’s happening.

The U.S. military’s assault against targets belonging to two groups of Islamic militants inside Syria has become almost background noise for most Americans. Granted, the airmen involved are at risk, but the nation generally seems to focus on war—and holds its breath—only when U.S. ground troops are involved in combat.

For Americans, that’s a double-edged sword. For sure, it cuts down on the risk to U.S. military personnel. But it also makes accomplishing President Obama’s declared mission—the destruction of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the Khorasan Group—tougher to achieve.

That’s why Pentagon officials have made clear that the aerial campaign is open-ended and likely to be lengthy. Inflicting real pain on the jihadists is going to require ground troops, and U.S. officials say they’re more than a year away from training the first batch of 5,000 to take on an ISIS force estimated at 30,000.

“I don’t see the political strategy, at least a realistic one, in Syria,” Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told CNN Sunday. “That begs the question, how long are we going to be there and is there any end? There’s just no appetite in the American public for an open-ended military conflict in Syria.”

Todd Harrison of the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimates that the cost of the U.S. war against ISIS is approaching $1 billion, and could end up costing $6 billion annually for an aggressive, sustained bombing campaign. While significant, that’s far less than the roughly $150 billion the U.S. spent during the peak years of the Afghan (2011) and Iraq (2008) wars.

At best, the daily bombing will likely only freeze ISIS’s grip on eastern Syria. “Combined with our ongoing efforts in Iraq, these strikes will continue to deny [ISIS] freedom of movement and challenge its ability to plan, direct, and sustain its operations,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday. In western Iraq, reinvigorated Iraqi army and peshmerga forces are more likely to regain ground lost to ISIS over the past year.

Such campaigns have a mixed history. When the U.S. and its allies forced Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in 1991 in Operation Desert Storm, it took a 43-day aerial bombardment before ground forces swept in to finish the job.

The 1999 NATO-led air campaign to drive Serbs out of Kosovo in the Balkans, Operation Allied Force, required 28,000 high-explosive munitions. It cost an estimated $3 billion and killed nearly 500 civilians. The 78-day barrage did highlight airpower’s ability change the reality on the ground.

But both of those examples pitted the U.S. and its allies against organized state militaries commanded by dictators: Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. As heads of state responsible for far more than battlefields, they were subject to pressures the zealously-driven ISIS is unlikely to feel.

The air war that most closely parallels what the U.S. is now conducting against ISIS is Operation Unified Protector, the U.S.-led seven-month effort over Libya in 2011. Launched by the U.S., with NATO eventually assuming a larger role, it began as a humanitarian effort to protect Libyan rebels from Muammar Gaddafi’s army. While air strikes played a critical role in Gaddafi’s ouster and eventual killing, the country has since been wracked by conflict among its warring factions.

Two years ago, terrorists took advantage of the chaos to attack U.S. diplomatic outposts in Benghazi, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. “Where you’ve got states that are failing or in the midst of civil war, these kinds of organizations thrive,” Obama told CBS’ 60 Minutes Sunday night, referring to ISIS. But he just as surely could have been speaking of Libya, where the war he launched more than three years ago initially was hailed as a victory for U.S. leadership. Two months ago, the U.S. shuttered its embassy in the Libyan capital of Tripoli and evacuated its diplomats.

“The fate of that country has been largely absent from discussions about the new war,” the New York Times warned Sunday, “which is certain to last longer and unleash a wider array of consequences.”

The Pentagon, thus far, has declined to name that new war.

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