Friday, December 18, 2015

What to do about ISIS

So I watched the Republican presidential debate Tuesday night on foreign policy, and it inspired me to write this now. I had this idea a few weeks ago but wanted to let it germinate for awhile before I wrote on it. Watching the debate, I think it's pretty clear that nobody has a real plan for ISIS. They were arguing about whether to put boots on the ground or not, how passionate each candidate was about how hard they were going to bomb them, but nobody really laid out anything even resembling a set of clear, achievable strategic goals.

This comes as no surprise to me. Since my last post on foreign policy, yet another of my predictions has come true. Enough have come true that I'm thinking about writing a post objectively examining which have come true and which have not, and how accurate in general my various predictions have been. But the one I'm talking about now is this:

3. Obama or whoever comes next will argue that in order to fulfill the mission of denying Assad air power we must institute Iraq-style "no-fly zones" over Syria.

In one of the previous debates, I think it was the most recent one other than Tuesday's, many of the Republican candidates proposed a no-fly zone over Syria. Jeb Bush in particular advocated a strong no-fly zone policy Tuesday night, saying he would even shoot down Russian planes violating it. This comes on the heels of the Turks shooting down a Russian plane they said was violating their airspace. (More on the Turks later.) Now it's true that this prediction of mine was made before the rise of ISIS and I did not predict that, but that makes it all the more interesting to me. The fact that I predicted a particular policy when Assad was the primary opponent in the region and that prediction came true even after the opponent changed, sort of, is just more confirmation that our foreign policy establishment is in over its head, providing simplistic sanitized PC solutions to complicated, dirty problems and being in love with our various technical capabilities but not giving two shits about the political realities on the ground in the region of interest.

That serves as a nice segue way to the last comment I would like to make on the debates about Turkey and Senator Lindsey Graham, who is apparently campaigning to be the foreign policy doofus in chief. In the under card debate, Senator Graham outlined a policy of 20,000 U.S. boots on the ground, evenly divided between Iraq and Syria, bolstered by massive infantry forces belonging to our allies in the region. He specifically mentioned Turkey as the primary contributor to a massive infantry force to be used in Syria against ISIS.


Senators McCain and Graham have got to be the biggest dumbasses who somehow manage to get a hearing in serious foreign policy circles. A major pet peeve of mine is no one seems to understand or talk about Turkey's fundamental interests in the region. Plans are made, discussed and debated, news is written, and a full helping of stupidity is enjoyed by all without mentioning the single most important fact about Turkey's foreign policy interest: Turkey cannot abide a Kurdish nation. Why? Because Turkey has a very large Kurdish minority that their Sunni Islamic supremacist government is actively suppressing. Turkey is deathly afraid that if a Kurdish nation forms out of all this chaos that their own Kurdish minority will attempt to leave Turkey and join the Kurdish nation. This would be a major disaster for Turkey, as Kurds make up at least 15% of Turkey's population and some estimates put it closer to 20%. All Turkish foreign policy decisions are made with this in mind. Why did Turkey shoot down a Russian plane? Because Russia supports Assad against ISIS, and the Turks like ISIS. They are ideologically, religiously and ethnically aligned with ISIS, but more importantly, ISIS is fighting the Kurds. Turkey will never send a large infantry force into Syria to fight against ISIS. ISIS is the embodiment of all Turkish dreams come true. Turkey is far more likely to use military force against the Kurds than against ISIS, but they have been prevented from doing so because the U.S. supports the Kurds. In ISIS, Turkey now has a proxy force they can use to fight against the Kurds without angering the U.S. by suppressing the independent Kurdish groups directly. Senator Graham is either seriously misleading people or seriously mentally deficient to have sat through all the foreign policy briefings he has and failed to realize this fundamental fact about Turkey's interest. And yet he stated seriously on national TV that there would be no problem or difficulty in getting Turkey to commit a massive ground force against ISIS. In your second grade dreams, Senator Graham.

Now that that's out of my system, let's get to the main event: What to do about ISIS. Nobody will suggest what I am about to suggest, because anyone who suggests something which might actually work in this troubled region is going to sound like a really big meanie head, even in the age of Donald Trump. But what I am about to suggest is really no different than King Solomon's solution to a seemingly intractable problem.

Then two women who were harlots came to the king and stood before him. The one woman said, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house; and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. It happened on the third day after I gave birth, that this woman also gave birth to a child, and we were together. There was no stranger with us in the house, only the two of us in the house. This woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on it. So she arose in the middle of the night and took my son from beside me while your maidservant slept, and laid him in her bosom, and laid her dead son in my bosom. When I rose in the morning to nurse my son, behold, he was dead; but when I looked at him carefully in the morning, behold, he was not my son, whom I had borne.” Then the other woman said, “No! For the living one is my son, and the dead one is your son.” But the first woman said, “No! For the dead one is your son, and the living one is my son.” Thus they spoke before the king. Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son who is living, and your son is the dead one’; and the other says, ‘No! For your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.’” The king said, “Get me a sword.” So they brought a sword before the king. The king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” Then the woman whose child was the living one spoke to the king, for she was deeply stirred over her son and said, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him!” Then the king said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him. She is his mother.” When all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had handed down, they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice.
~ 1 Kings 3:16-28

BABY KILLER! screamed the headlines the next day. No matter that this solution worked. No matter that King Solomon never actually intended to kill the baby. No, what matters is he's a big meanie head baby killer.

The President of the United States goes on television and tells the entire world that the United States has been attacked by ISIS (assuming this is true) and asks Congress for a formal declaration of war on them. Not an "authorization of military force". Not a "police action". Not a super serious smart bombing campaign. WAR. In his address, he shows a map with clearly defined borders of the territory that he has determined is controlled by ISIS. This map needs to be made publicly available in the native languages of the region and be detailed enough that anyone there can tell whether they are inside the border or not. Then he tells the whole world that in six months, the U.S. military is going to roll in and KILL EVERYONE inside those borders. This threat must be perceived as credible to everyone, including Americans and the media. Necessary preparations should be made and advertised. There should be some type of official countdown to the invasion date. The President and his advisors must argue vociferously and publicly that this is the only solution, that there is no way to tell the difference between someone who supports or is ISIS and someone who is an innocent civilian, that the safety of the American people is at stake, that everyone living in the region who doesn't openly oppose ISIS is to be held morally responsible for the actions of their government, etc., etc., etc. We are pissed off, we are serious, we will kill everyone. 

There will be numerous objections to this policy, so numerous I don't have time to deal with them all here. I'm going to focus on the likely results.

The first thing that will happen is all of the people within those borders who are not ISIS will be struck by the fear of God. All of the sudden their very survival depends on getting the hell out of the area as fast as they can. Refugee crisis? So what. The innocents will separate themselves from the guilty, and that is the important thing.

Or will they? The next likely thing to happen is ISIS will suddenly realize they have been outmaneuvered and desperately attempt to keep people from leaving. They may succeed with a small number, but they will probably not be able to prevent the vast majority from leaving the area. However, it is actually better if they do succeed, and to that end, we should suspend bombing or any military action in the area for the duration of the six month countdown. This will need to be somewhat negotiable as circumstances dictate. But in general we want to foment a situation where the most amount of people are forced to fight against ISIS. The more people who are unable to leave due to ISIS intervention, the larger the indigenous army to fight against them for their very survival. All of the sudden, a brand new resistance to ISIS will form out of thin air. Not based on ideology, not based on nationalism, religion or regional alliances, but based on the need to survive. If they don't leave, the U.S. will kill them. If they do leave, ISIS will kill them. They will have no choice but to fight for their very lives against ISIS, and we will have inspired a true resistance movement in the region and given them six months to decide their conflict with ISIS, one way or the other. The more people who are unable to leave and forced to fight ISIS, the more likely ISIS will be defeated before we even fire a shot.

Now if that were the sum total of what this policy accomplished, it would be a massive improvement over anything any of our leaders have proposed to date, but we have to account for various contingencies. Primarily, what happens when the countdown reaches zero?

Well, the best result would be ISIS is defeated by the resistance. In this case, the U.S. can simply recognize the fact and relent in our wrath. I don't believe this would result in a degradation of U.S. credibility. As in Solomon's case, everyone will recognize the wisdom of the policy.

Another result is that ISIS wins, and the resistance escapes, is killed or imprisoned. In that case we go in and make good on our promise, knowing that most everyone left is a sworn enemy of the United States. Tough choices will have to be made about rules of engagement, as ISIS will attempt the liberal use of human shields as these bastards have always done in Gaza and the West Bank. But the gloves come off. Civilian casualties should be avoided if possible but not at the expense of endangering American troops or impeding our mission to kill all hostiles. War is war. It's terrible, but it's required for decisive resolution of conflict. If San Bernardino or some future terrorist attack on civilians is determined to be a direct action of ISIS, than that constitutes an escalation to total war and total war is justified in response.

Unfortunately, in such a complicated region, neither of these two results is likely. The likely result is a more ambiguous situation, some elements of which will be unpredictable in advance. ISIS may splinter into a bevy of smaller localized elements that pursue their own strategies and goals. Parts of ISIS may attempt to escape the border themselves, or perhaps moving to a location just outside the border in order to be safe and conduct operations across it. They may do this in order to purposely muddy the waters and confuse the mission. We should be sensitive to this and it may become necessary to adjust the borders shortly before operations begin to reflect new realities developed in the previous six months. It should also not be out of the question to conduct operations outside the borders if necessary. We could potentially encourage ISIS to stay in the borders by limiting airstrikes to any known ISIS elements attempting to leave or take up residence just outside the border.

Another possibility, also likely, is that no organized resistance forms at all. Some escape, some don't, and we are left with a large number of innocents imprisoned in the area when the countdown winds down. In that case we will have to come up with rules of engagement that recognize that these people risked life and limb to at least leave but were unable to do so.

But at the very least this policy will give us the moral high ground, having warned everyone what would happen. It will also separate the true believers from those who just wish to live their lives in peace, something which would be very difficult to do on the fly if we just invaded out of the blue. The possibility that this type of line in the sand (literally) will inspire a native political movement built on opposition to ISIS is simply too tantalizing to ignore. This has always been the major problem in the region. ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the like are undesirable, but there appears to be little if any organized opposition, and the opposition that has worked in the past has taken the form of military dictatorships centered around ethnic tribal leaders like Hussein and Assad. The mere possibility that something like a political movement based on the protection of life and property is enough to give my proposal serious consideration. But of course, no one will even give it a second glance because all current U.S. foreign policy is based on domestic politics, rather than the facts on the ground in places where people, in the understatement of the year, are not very much like us.

Now that's whack.