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On Fighting ISIS

On Fighting ISIS

Are there any good options?

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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Comments

Candles and flowers will work this time because Uncle Vlad is taking care of the problem.

Fighting a terrorist organization is hard and complicated. But ISIS is *not* a terrorist organization. The Islamic State still uses terror to attack us — but at home they are seizing territory and governing it.

Our problem is we keep thinking of them as a terrorist organization that has taken territory, rather than taking them at their word — they are an expansionist nation state that exports terrorism.

We’ll never be able to fight them effectively until we recognize what they are.

You don’t fight an enemy State by arresting ‘masterminds’.

ruthlessly hunt down and kill anyone who espouses jihad against the west.

    Sammy Finkelman in reply to redc1c4. | November 19, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    ruthlessly hunt down and kill anyone who espouses jihad against the west.

    That’s probably not good enough.

    Ruthlessly hunt down and kill anyone who espouses jihad against anyone is more like it. (if by jihad you mena killing noncombantants at random)

Tony Rezko, Syrian + Valerie Jarrett, Iranian = Barack’s Foreign Policy

Wright, Ayers, Davis, Ogletree, et al + no opposition from the impotent GOP = Fundamental Transformation of America.

Nice mess.

    Milhouse in reply to clafoutis. | November 19, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    Valerie Jarrett is not Iranian. Just because she happened to be born there is no reason to suppose she identifies with it or has any loyalty to it. You might as well claim that McCain is Panamanian.

      clafoutis in reply to Milhouse. | November 19, 2015 at 4:06 pm

      Believe what you wish at your own peril.

      Radegunda in reply to Milhouse. | November 19, 2015 at 7:09 pm

      What do you know about Jarret’s dealings with the Iranian regime? Probably nothing.

      People involved in the nuclear negotiations with Iran said that Kerry practically argued the Iranian side for them. And when Iranian citizens were courageously rising up against the mullahcracy, this administration wouldn’t even say a word in support.

      Obama does nothing important without Jarret’s guidance.

      “Valerie Jarrett is not Iranian.”

      I say she is. The proof is way more on my side than yours.

      She damn sure doesn’t love America. Just like her boss.

Passive-agressive Obama I and…

The Gnome Chomski free-range moralists will not do battle unless their ivory towers (their cushy safe zones) are literally under attack.

They are myopic. As epitomized in John Kerry’s most recent mal mot, they see a “rationale” for understanding the enemy – all sanctioned viewpoints being equal – and are blind to all else.

Sammy Finkelman | November 19, 2015 at 1:07 pm

What you really need is what is called “intelligence.” Wars depend much more on intelligence (and making or not making mistakes) than most people think. And ISIS and whoever is supporting them are much better at intelligence than we are. That is a fact.

Without good intelligence, you are spinning wheels and everything becomes futile. With good intelligence, it would probably not require all that much effort to wipe them out.

We are losing the intelligence war.

There is a lot of technical intelligence that prevents the consequences of this from being too bad.

Sammy Finkelman | November 19, 2015 at 1:20 pm

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.

No, that only would have helped prevent teh fall of Mosul, but would not havr prevented ISIS from establishing a caliphate in Syria (which is still where tgheir capital is)

One problem was trusting the Iraqi army. It is probably correct to say it was being undermined by Maliki, under the influence of Iran

Another good move would have been to not do anything in Syria without knowing exactly who and what was going to replace Assad

That’s exactly what Obama did. You think he was giving arms to anybody? He wasn’t. He let Saudi Arabia and Qatar instead pick whom to help. They were very interested in none of them being democrats. They liked people wo supported one kind of undemocratic rule or another, especially Islamic based. Ans Assad and Iran were interested in having his main enemy be the worst possible group.

90% of them probably at the start were good guys. But Obama allowed them to be wiped out as a significant fighting force.

Another mistake was that he allowed al Qaeda in Iraq, later called the Islamic State of Iraq, to have a sanctuary in Syria. It meant all the success in Iraq was for nothing, because even though they were reduced to about 700 men, they could could come back. Sanctuaries are terrible thing. The Taliban had a sanctuary in Pakistan.

Sammy Finkelman | November 19, 2015 at 1:24 pm

Hey, did you know Obama used the term “Daesh” the other day?

“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”

Then it’s working as intended.

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