Friday, August 29, 2014

Today's thoughts on ISIS

Just like our President, I don't yet have a strategy with regard to ISIS. I'm not even sure whether they're worth defeating. 

The fact that President Obama has refused to be rushed by the media into taking action is refreshing; then again, it's typical Obama restraint that at other times is so frustrating. When our troops' lives and billions of dollars are on the line, his restraint is atypical of balls-to-the-wall Presidents trying to look tough, and who pay for it with the nation's credit card and somebody else's children.

Pop quiz: How many fighters does ISIS have?  You probably don't know. If you nevertheless feel we must defeat ISIS, little facts like this one are important.

Spot check: If there were no YouTube videos or reports of ISIS carving off Westerners' heads, would you feel the same way about them?  The answer is probably no. So is emotion -- or revulsion, as the case may be -- a proper basis for going to war?

My impression is that many Americans -- driven by FOX and talk radio -- have an ill-informed, fear-based, apocalyptic view of ISIS. Maybe ISIS is indeed worth our trouble to "take out," but let's be real: an Islamic state they are not. Al Qaeda they are not.

Because as I've said so many times before: conflict and religious extremism are encouraged by failed states, not vice-versa. ISIS is the orphan of Syria to the west and Iraq to the east, who got a huge, unexpected inheritance from its rich Uncle Sam with lots of guns who lives across the ocean.

Today I was listening to talk radio. First, Rush Limbaugh. He was slamming Obama's "no strategy yet" statement, naturally, but also Obama's caveat that we cannot "perpetually" destroy ISIS: as soon as we would leave, they would reconstitute. "Can you imagine FDR telling the American public that we couldn't perpetually defeat Nazi Germany?" Rush asked, incredulous, in perpetual outrage mode.

Bam.  Rush hit one of my pet peeves: comparing everything with Nazis and WWII.  Hell, Russia's president Putin is doing it right now, comparing Ukraine's army's actions against terrorists in its own country to the actions of Nazis in the siege of Leningrad.  Crazy, right?  Well it's crazy here, too. 

Because ISIS is not a state. They may have pretensions or plans to statehood, but a state they are not. There is no infrastructure of theirs to blow up -- they'd probably blow it up first, just for the hits on YouTube.  They have no political apparatus -- they are strictly a paramilitary organization.  And ISIS has none of the other trappings of a state with which we'd go to war and eventually have to make peace with.  

Incidentally, Obama is right: ISIS can be hurt or even crippled by the U.S., but with failing states and the ensuing anarchy in Syria and Iraq, not to mention volunteers from all over the world, and donations from our "allies" the Saudis, ISIS surely would come back. Indeed, they are not Nazi Germany. They don't intend to rebuild anything or hold any borders. All ISIS needs to do is re-arm. 

So we should be careful about declaring war on groups of irregular soldiers with tons of outside support, some of it from our "allies." The U.S. is the most powerful and richest country on Earth; when we bend down to crush an ant, suddenly that ant gains status

Do we really want to grant ISIS such "enemy" status? Methinks that is exactly what ISIS wants, that's why they're executing our citizens after demanding ridiculous ransoms they know that nobody will pay.  ISIS wants the U.S. to get involved.  Hey, there's no better recruiting and donations tool than the Great Satan as your adversary.

I mean, think for a second without emotion. Let's say the U.S. declares war on ISIS.  Then we wipe them off the battlefield, winning every fight along the way.Then we go home, or leave yet another small training and security force in Iraq. And then... two months later ISIS is back.  It doesn't matter in what guise. Nevertheless they're back on YouTube, back to taking hostages, back to seizing unprotected villages in the desert, whatever. Suddenly -- and this is important -- ISIS can say that it "defeated" the United States. It wasn't destroyed. All ISIS has to do to win is live, in whatever form, to fight another day.   

Understanding that, if you were POTUS, would you want to commit yourself to total victory over ISIS in Rush Limbaugh's terms? Or would you hedge? Or would you even consider doing nothing at all? What's the upside?  Does ISIS really represent a clear and present danger to the U.S.?  No.  To our allies?  Well, yes (Iraq), no (Syria) and maybe (Saudi Arabia, et al). Meanwhile, those allies do not have armies capable of defending themselves -- they rely on the U.S. 

Even worse, meanwhile, some of those allies -- cough, Saudi Arabi! cough! cough! -- spend billions exporting Wahhabist and jihadist religion all over the world that bites themselves and us in the ass. 

And meanwhile, sadly, as our small attention span is captured by masked men with dull knives in the desert, a European country is being invaded for the first time since WWII by an honest-to-God scary military power. THAT'S where the WWII analogies should be drawn. THAT'S where America's attention should be.

Alas, our media loves sensation and so do we.  Folks, let's be smarter and shrewder, eh? 

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