Sunday, November 15, 2015

How to defeat ISIS?

Frankly, I am not sure there is a way for the West to defeat ISIS which is worth the price in lives and treasure it probably would take. However, I am curious to know what other bloviators think our strategy ought to be. I found several online. Quite a large number of them call for an all-out ground war against ISIS. I chose three pieces to consider:

In Esquire magazine, Charles P. Pierce thinks the answer is to cut off their funds, particularly that coming from people who run countries, like Saudi Arabia, with which we are in league:

It's time for this to stop. It's time to be pitiless against the bankers and against the people who invest in murder to assure their own survival in power. Assets from these states should be frozen, all over the west. Money trails should be followed, wherever they lead. People should go to jail, in every country in the world. It should be done state-to-state. Stop funding the murder of our citizens and you can have your money back. Maybe. If we're satisfied that you'll stop doing it. And, it goes without saying, but we'll say it anyway – not another bullet will be sold to you, let alone advanced warplanes, until this act gets cleaned up to our satisfaction. If that endangers your political position back home, that's your problem, not ours. You are no longer trusted allies. Complain, and your diplomats will be going home. Complain more loudly, and your diplomats will be investigated and, if necessary, detained. Retaliate, and you do not want to know what will happen, but it will done with cold, reasoned and, yes, pitiless calculation. It will not be a blind punch. You will not see it coming. It will not be an attack on your faith. It will be an attack on how you conduct your business as sovereign states in a world full of sovereign states.

I suspect Mr. Pierce is completely wrong. In a sense, his analysis is Marxian: that everything comes down to money. ISIS does not require a lot of money. And almost all of the money it has now has been won on the fields of battle in Iraq and Syria by looting treasures and selling them. They are not dependent on Qatari bankers or Saudi financiers. Even if they lose their territory in Iraq and Syria, where they also control some oil and can turn that into cash, it just does not take much money at all to do most of the terrorism they are doing. In Paris, it took 8 men armed with automatic weapons. They probably spent less than $25 for every person they killed.

The “act of war” (by ISIS) … demands of all NATO states a collective response under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. … The only adequate measure, after the killing of at least 129 people in Paris, is military, and the only objective commensurate with the ongoing threat is the crushing of ISIS and the elimination of its stronghold in Syria and Iraq. … To defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq will require NATO forces on the ground.

While I think Mr. Cohen is probably correct, there are some problems. Foremost is that, as a consequence of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, the most important NATO country, the United States, does not want to get into any more wars of that nature at the moment. Additionally, it’s probably true that a great number of other NATO allies will not be willing to put their men and materiel in harms way to defeat ISIS.

Secondarily, crushing ISIS on the ground won’t solve the larger problem of unpopular and illegitimate and inadequate governance in Syria and Iraq. In order to truly stabilize those nations in a way that does not just lead to more, violent uprisings by unhappy ethnic or religious groups the NATO countries would have to impose order and put in place a constitutional framework which functions for all the people in those areas. And as we have found in Afghanistan, that is much easier said than done. It was one thing to impose constitutional order on our much more civilized enemies at the end of WWII. But the cultures in Iraq and Syria are not nearly so civil. And if the deal looks bad for say, the pro-Iranian Shiites or Alawites in Syria, Iran and Russia are likely to aid them in a fight against the order we establish. Likewise, if the Kurds get a deal they can live with, look for the Turks to make a mess of things. Or if it the Sunnis don’t get what they want, they will either rise up on their own or turn to their allies in the Arabian peninsula.

Finally, even if NATO unanimously decides to take on this fight and is willing to stay long enough to impose order, it is improbable that ordinary Americans, Germans, Dutch, Italians, Spaniards and so on want to die for this cause and pay the vast amount of money it will take to do so.

Writing on, Peter Bergen puts together 10 ideas to defeat ISIS. His list amounts to using propaganda against them and doing more of what we are doing now: 

Here is an example of Mr. Bergen’s propaganda campaign:

Educate Muslim parents about the seductive messages that ISIS is propagating online. … Relentlessly hammer home the message that ISIS positions itself as the defender of Muslims, but its victims are overwhelmingly fellow Muslims.

And here is an example of where he thinks we need to be doing more of the same:

Keep up the military campaign against ISIS. The less the ISIS "caliphate" exists as a physical entity, the less the group can claim it is the "Islamic State" that it purports to be. … Applaud the work that the Turks have already done to tamp down the foreign fighter flow through their country to ISIS in neighboring Syria, and get them to do more.

While there is nothing to object to in Mr. Bergen’s “ideas,” they are all terribly uncreative and unpersuasive in terms of actually defeating this band of terrorists. What we are doing is clearly failing. Doing more of the same won’t work.

As far as propaganda goes, I think depending on the Western, Judeo-Christian leaders to direct this effort is pointless. What has to happen is for Muslim leaders the world over to join the cause against ISIS and other radical Islamists. Those leaders need to preach loudly and publicly against radical Islam. They need to change the cultures among their followers. They need to oppose violent jihad. When attacks like the one in Paris happen, they need to do even more: they need to lead public marches against radical Islamism.

For 50 or more years, Muslim clerics all over the world have been preaching in favor of violence against the West, against Israel and against those they deemed to be symbols of Western imperialism. That preaching has bred the culture of victimhood and intolerance which now produces terrorists in all Muslim countries and in all countries where large numbers of Muslims have moved. Unless Muslim preachers all over the Muslim and non-Muslim world start preaching agains violence by Muslims—including by Palestinians against Israel—their culture is going to include a substantial minority who are willing to kill, rape, maim and die in the name of Islam.

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