If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna. Napoleon Bonaparte
First, a disclaimer. I only understand what is happening in Syria in the most fuzzy and incomplete way. That said, it very roughly seems to be a civil war against the Shiite minority government of Syria by that country’s Sunni majority, a war by the Sunni minority against the ruling Shiite majority in Iraq, a war by the Kurds for their own territory, a war by Turkey on the same Kurdish separatists, a war between the Kurds with both the Iraqi Army and Shiite militias against the Sunnis who have captured what they consider their land, and a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In addition, we are backing the Iraqi Shiite government, along with Iran, against the bad Sunni separatists but we are also backing the good SSunni separatists that – theoretically, at least – are against the Iranian supported Shiite government in Syria. In the middle of this is a group of Sunni fanatic thugs, ISIS, and disenfranchised Baathist military.
ISIS, it seems, wants to be fighting with everybody who is not their brand of Sunni extremist. They are killing Shiites, Christians, and random foreigners at home while blowing up Russian airplanes, killing Chinese workers in Africa, and killing people with guns and bombs in France, Mali, Yemen, Libya, and – it seems – any place else they can. Either they have no idea that their actions will result in retaliation and are killing people thinking they will not get hit back or their actions are in an effort to get us to strike out at them.
If ISIS is attacking and terrorising people all over the world for a reaction, it brings up the question, What do they want the reaction to be? When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the purpose was to shock us enough to keep us out of Southeastern Asia. In retrospect, that attack seems suicidal, all it did was enrage us. Seventy five years later, it is naive to think that ISIS is making the same mistake. Much more likely is the scenario that they are trying to get us to strike back. Strike back at Syrian refugees so we make it harder for them to escape ISIS by leaving Syria, getting politicians to attack Muslims living in Europe and the United States so they will become alienated in their own country, and, of course, attack ISIS territory directly to help them solidify their rule. If we are really going to let ISIS suck us into this, how are we going to win? The scenarios range from doing nothing to nuking Mecca. The problem is that all the scenarios are bad and what we are doing now is one of the worst.
ISIS and alot of other people don’t like us because we invaded Iraq and terrorized a big portion of the population. We disenfranchised the Sunnis, especially alienating and pissing off the young Sunni men whose lives were trashed by the invasion. Now we are bombing them again, or, at least, some of them again, just like ISIS wants. This is the worst of all possible worlds, we are not doing enough to win but we are killing, mostly, innocent people and making more people hate us.
Bombing is not an effective way to win a war. During World War II, the Allies dropped more than a million and a half tons of bombs on Germany, killing between 400,000 to 600,000 civilians and we still had to move troops into Germany – or put boots on the ground if you prefer – to win the war. War can only be won, the enemy can only be conquered, by occupying the other’s territory and running the place. The ruler can rule directly or install a puppet regime but, either way, the ruler must be prepared to stay for a while.
The easy way to do this is to provide air support and let some local army put their boots on the ground. But which locals and how many boots on the ground? The Kurds are on our side and are pretty good fighters especially with our air support. However, the biggest reason the Kurds are good fighters is that they are defending their own ground and they are really only interested in regaining and protecting greater Kurdistan.
The Iraqi Army which is, primarily, a Shiite Army, along with Shiite militias and Iranian leadership and support, are pushing back at ISIS both to the north and east of Baghdad but they are not going to move into Syria and take over ISIS’s capital, Raqqa and we don’t want them to. They will have a hard enough time holding on to the Sunni parts of Iraq which, after all, is a major factor in Sunni deflections and ISIS’s ascendency. I doubt Saudi Arabia is going to put a million boots on the ground to kill Sunnis when all they want to do is defeat Iranian backed, Shiite ruler of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.
If we are serious that ISIS is an existential threat to our way of life, if we really think they are out to destroy us and our way of life and the only way to stop them is to, in Hillary Clinton’s words, defeat and destroy ISIS, then we are going to have occupy their territory. The French seem game to help but it is doubtful that most of Europe will be offering up troops. That means we will have to make this war the national priority like our war against Japan and Germany. We can’t diddle around like we did in Afghanistan where we spent thirteen years and changed nothing but the price of rental housing in Kabul. The boots on the ground has to be lots of boots on the ground.
It is hard to believe that even Marco Rubio or The Donald really want to do that. What everybody seems to want to do is just poke at the problem hoping – I guess – that ISIS will change their mind and go away. But that is not going to happen.
I think we ought to do the opposite, I think we should withdraw our troops and drones from the region and continue Obama’s approach of blockading ISIS territory, stopping them from selling oil and buying weapons. I think we should contain them. I want to quickly say that I know ISIS is loathsome, closer to the 1930’s Nazis than anybody else that comes to mind. They are great at propaganda and even better at perverting their host civilization. The leaders are thugs. They are killers and rapists and their behavior is attracting other thugs. If we leave, we leave a terrified country to be plundered and brutalized. That is sickening. If we really ran the world, we could wave a wand and have ISIS disappear or order some client state to defeat and destroy them, or cajole some ally, if you prefer, or convince a neighbor that it is their best interest to take them out. The problem is that, while it is in most countries interest to have ISIS gone, it is not in anybody’s self-interest to move the million troops into Syria to make it happen.
We should just get out, the world will not end any more than it did when we pulled out of Vietnam (and, remember, the hawks said that, when we pulled out of Vietnam, the neighboring countries would fall like dominoes, including Thailand and Japan). Will they try to convince alienated Muslim children to attack us, of course, and some will be successful, and that will hurt. It will hurt our country and, especially, the Muslim community, but it will hurt less than putting two million boots on the ground. We should just get out.