We have met the enemy and he is us; how bumbling created ISIS
Air Force General Curtis LeMay, whose successful leadership in the World War II air war against Japan and Germany, made him an iconic figure in the Cold War and the Vietnam War. He has been often been quoted as having said, “We should bomb Vietnam back into the stone age”. The general later denied having said this, but nevertheless it represents an attitude in modern American military thought that wars can be won through air power without ground troops. One problem was that Vietnam was more or less in the stone age already.
If the US feels it can win a struggle with ISIS primarily with air-power, it should consider the lessons of Vietnam (even with troops on the ground and a major air campaign, the war can be lost against an indigenous and highly motivated enemy) and more recently the record of air war in Libya (you can pound them all you want from the air and still end up with a complete mess).
The ground keeps shifting under the feet of the United States in the Middle East. They knock over a noxious dictator, Saddam Hussein, and create complete chaos and the disintegration of a nation state. They identify Bashar Al-Assad of Syria as the cruelest monster, only to find that the opposition morphs into a decapitating monster of a religious movement. They support Israel in its “war against terror” only to find that Israel has given rise to the terrorists in Hamas because the leaders of the Jewish state squandered every chance they had to make peace with the Palestinians. Nothing seems to work.
Once a mess is made, it is almost impossible to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq will not be good friends in the foreseeable future. Sunnis and Alewites in Syria will not preside over a harmonious multi-ethnic state in the foreseeable future. And if he is not careful, Erdogan could create a situation in Turkey by preaching hatred in which elements in Turkish society will not live in harmony for decades in the future. Thankfully, this last situation has not broken out into civil war, and it appears possible that what was essentially a civil war between the Turkish military and the Kurds may be coming to an end.
So what does it mean that we have met the enemy and they are us? It means we create or exacerbate the conditions that give rise to civil strife and terrorism. We do this by bumbling into Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with what seem to be long-term solutions but which turn out to be short-term measures that cause even greater disaster.
And now to take the present situation with ISIS. The damage has been done in Iraq. In the Kurdish/ISIS conflict, nothing will be gained by letting the Kurds collapse. Nothing will be gained by allowing the Islamic State to become a caliphate with a mission to destroy all the civilizations of the world except their myopic understanding of primitive Islam. This situation is very different than the problems caused by Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi, or Bashar Al-Assad. This is similar to the problem of the European lack of response to the establishment of the Nazi regime in the 1930s.
There will be no peace in the region or in the rest of the world until ISIS is taken out, once and for all. This means the extermination of the exterminators, not a slowly ramped-up war of a bombing campaign here, a few advisers there. This is a conflict in which the US should cooperate with a new “coalition of the willing”, a roundup of the usual European suspects, the Kurds, but also including such former enemies as Iran, Russia, even the Syrian government, and Shiites in southern Iraq. Even the Turks, who helped create this present situation by coddling jihadis, if they have the stomach to admit their mistakes and help eradicate the danger. This will be hard to pull off, and perhaps it will take a lot more severed heads, destroyed mosques, churches, and temples, massacred Shiites and religious minorities, crucified Christians, and women sold into slavery before the politicians realize what they are dealing with. The longer it takes for realization to come, the higher the price that will be paid in the end.
If the opponents of ISIS do not realize what is happening and if they deal in pitiful half-measures, then they only have to read the history of Nazism after the invasion of Czechoslovakia to see the future.