ISIS Delenda Est

Some random thoughts, subject to revision at any time:

  1. Apparently if your first thoughts are of anger and action instead of mourning and sympathy, you’re a dick. Enough with the false dichotomies. To everything there is a time and season. We all mourn with Paris and “stand with France” (whatever that means: it’s why I don’t like obligatory Facebook statuses; post, and move on with your day). Many of us also want to see more action against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
  2. Just as with the January attacks in Paris, this week there have been multiple terror attacks around the world. PLEASE remember that, even though President Obama kind of skipped Beirut last night.
    1. Paris, currently 128 dead.
    2. Beirut, at least 37 dead, 181 wounded. (people are mourning there too, not that it’s getting much press)
    3. Baghdad, 26 dead and 61 injured.
    4. North Sinai, 8 dead.
    5. And don’t forget the 224 dead from last week’s Russian aircraft bombing in the Sinai.
  3. This is why, ultimately, this isn’t a Europe-vs-Middle East problem, or a Christianity-vs-Islam problem (though the destruction of the ancient Christian communities in the Middle East is often overlooked). This is about power, and an exclusive, calculating leadership exploiting those who feel marginalized and oppressed (whether they are or not), to attack Muslims as well as Christians and atheists. This is why I applaud Pope Francis’ official statement of love and support. But notice the word “decisive.” What does that mean?  I think of the French President last night.
  4. President Hollande said “We will lead the fight, and it will be merciless.” Good for you, Mr.  President. At least someone is leading. And if his words sound a bit too much like Abbot Amalric in 1209–“Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius”–perhaps ISIS shouldn’t constantly refer to the French as “crusaders.” It sounds like they’re nearly ready to oblige.
  5. People, myself among them, have argued that the crusades, whatever you think of them, should be left out of the conversation. Perhaps. I have less conviction on that point as time goes on, and I wonder if it matters. Some people who fight against ISIS will do so as part of a crusade, personal or organized. As long as they don’t commit atrocities, or contravene the laws of war,  I’m not sure at this stage that it matters in the cause of peace and justice whether someone who fights ISIS feels they’re fighting a crusade.  [Besides, not to beat a dead horse, but much of what you think you know about the 900-year-crusade-victimization of the Muslim world is myth anyway.]
  6. Subpoint on that, ISIL constantly calls Western society “crusaders” and despises moderate Muslims who live in peace in that society. As a military historian, I wonder if they shouldn’t be careful what they wish for. A crusade tends to be bad news for all concerned, and “Western” “crusaders” do logistics a lot better than they did back in the day.
  7. There was a heartfelt piece, which for the life of me I can’t find now,  saying that now was the time for Europe to open its gates to refugees, not close its borders. Noble, but naive. The question is largely moot, and while compassion is the right way to go, the best we can hope for is that the predicted “tsunami of hatred” for Muslim communities in Paris doesn’t materialize. Before the attacks yesterday, Angela Merkel was sticking by her open-door refugee policy. Remains to be seen whether that changes.  And yes, we enlightened ones may despise Douglas Murray, but the fact is that unless writings like his are squarely addressed, conversations about compassion and tolerance are going to overshoot their wider audience.
  8. I’m honestly not sure how you “lead the fight” without putting your Muslim communities on the defensive, justifying themselves and constantly having to prove their allegiance. It’s the problem with Cameron’s counter-extremism strategy, and Tariq Ramadan is spot on to say that a French response that doesn’t actually reflect a unified nation will be dangerous and inadequate. But once you accept the necessity for some kind of action, how do you avoid it? It’s the perverse logic of war: “war is a force that gives us meaning.”
  9. ISIS’s own goal is  a “black and white” world, as Iyad El-Baghdadi has drawn attention to (follow him on Twitter, he’s great). Polar extremes is what they want. Do we give it to them? I’m not sure they’re leaving us much choice, since a military response in essence confirms their own advertising. Any response is going to simply drive up ISIS’ recruiting reach, not least within European society itself.
  10. Yes, of course. This is all the United States’ fault. Every bit of it. If Iraq 2003 hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have ISIS today (possibly). If we’d intervened in Syria in 2012, we wouldn’t have ISIS today (doubtful). The world without Saddam is far worse than the world with Saddam (debatable).  If Obama had just insisted on leaving troops in Iraq, this “thing” would not have emerged (horse dung).  Anyway, I’ve started seeing comments like this. Mostly they’re nonsense. The U.S. has been engaged in the Middle East since before 1980, and “Islamic” extremist terrorism was around long before March 2003. Further, to me that sounds rather like arguing that ISIS (which plenty of witnesses testify isn’t “Islamic” at all, anyway), isn’t somehow responsible for its actions, which is nonsense. I suppose we’re responsible for all the other terrorist groups that have pledged their support of ISIS, from Nigeria to Afghanistan. And while we debate these finer points of the political blame game, the organization has shown it can hit Baghdad, Beirut, and Paris all within a 48-hour period.

Ultimately, it is time to destroy the so-called “caliphate” in the Middle East, plain and simple, even though the conduct and aftermath will be fraught with difficulties. Will a full-blown campaign leave a peaceful and stable Middle East? Almost certainly not. Will it end the Sunni-Shi’a conflict? No. Will it finally oust the Assad regime? Almost certainly no. Will it allow the millions of refugees to return to their homes, assuming they want to? Probably not, at least not right away. Will it likely cause a rift with Turkey, given our admiration for the Peshmerga’s fighting abilities? You bet.

What then will war achieve? It can destroy the physical reality of ISIS. And that would be start. No, it will not solve all the problems of the Middle East. But it will solve one problem, which up to now has grown at alarming rates: ISIS. War would give hope to those who have had little hope for a long time, and who have felt, rightly or wrongly, abandoned by the United States and Europe. It would be a step in the right direction. Because the world will not be fixed once we’re without ISIS. But it sure as hell can’t be fixed with it. ISIS is a political problem. As such, it can be dealt with by military means.

As William Tecumseh Sherman said, “War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.” The French sound like they are ready to take this approach. Now let’s see if America follows.

Mourn the dead. Then avenge them.

ISIS dilenda est.

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