The best approach to addressing the ISIS threat would have been one of prevention—an ounce of it worth far more than a pound of cure.

An obvious move would have been to keep a small residual force in Iraq, back when even Obama was crowing about the successful transition there. Another good move would have been to not do anything in Syria without knowing exactly who and what was going to replace Assad. I wrote a piece on that very topic in June of 2013, and although I don’t pretend to be a strategic genius on the subject, it wasn’t hard to predict the problems:

My strong suspicion is that there are few good guys here. It was the same question I asked about Egypt and Libya. In both places there were some “good guy” elements mixed among the Islamicist fanatics, although I suspected the latter would be the ones to end up with the power, just as they had long ago in Iran. And that seems to be the way it’s trending, although news from both countries has died down for the moment.

In Syria I also have grave doubts about the makeup of the “rebels”—a word I have come to hate and distrust. And, as in Iraq, if we aren’t committed to overseeing the aftermath of a rebellion (which we most assuredly are not), we should be careful of the forces we unleash.

Well, what’s done is done. But can it be undone?

Ralph Peters thinks the answer is a campaign that would be even more “merciless” than the one France is currently conducting:

The generals who won World War II would start by leveling Raqqa, the ISIS caliphate’s capital. Civilians would die, but those remaining in Raqqa have embraced ISIS, as Germans did Hitler. The jihadis must be crushed. Start with their “Berlin.”

Kill ten thousand, save a million.

Unthinkable? Fine. We lose.

World War II involved worldwide carnage on a vast scale, and the US participated for reasons much like the ones Peters gives here: once Hitler had been appeased and allowed to become strong enough to wage all-out war, all-out war was the only response possible. And however horrific it was (and it was plenty horrific) the alternative was even more suffering and carnage.

That was the ghastly calculus that led to the decision to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and the second on Nagasaki. It’s the sort of thing that makes me extremely glad that I’m not a general and I don’t have to make such decisions. But I certainly think about them, and I hope that something on the scale of Peters’ suggestion will not be needed.

But I believe that a large segment of the population in the West has now lost the will to even face the fact that such hard decisions might be necessary. We’d rather live in a dream world, the world where loving fathers comfort their terrified 4-year-olds by telling them that flowers and candles can protect them. Would that it were true! That’s an okay answer for reassuring a frightened child. But when we grow up we need to know better.

Obama’s rules of engagement in Syria were so restrictive that he made sure not even a single civilian would be at risk, and thereby guaranteed that our air strikes could do ISIS no harm, either:

While officials say they can never be absolutely certain of who’s on the ground, U.S. and allied forces are refraining from airstrikes against ISIS if there’s a risk of even one civilian casualty,” says the report. It notes—with what one might call severe understatement—that such rules of engagement are “adding a new wrinkle to the U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, which is already operating without the help of ‘spotters’ on the ground who can call in strikes on known ISIS targets.

That’s the terrible reality of the attempt to wage a war without innocent casualties; it guarantees that the enemy will kill even more of those civilians than could ever be harmed by a raid gone awry.

I think we can safely say that President Obama will not be following Ralph Peters’ recommendations any time soon.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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