Don’t BS the American People About Iraq, Syria, and ISIL

August 20, 2014

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The apparent beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a stark reminder of the group’s terrible brutality and the seriousness required to counter them. Unfortunately, much of the political discourse about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is counterproductive to good policy. Many of the basic facts are wrong and the arguments—whatever the merits of the policies they prescribe—tend to be political, overly personal, and hyperbolized. President Obama’s policies in the Middle East have failed in numerous ways, but he is right that the paucity of our political debate is the greatest threat to our global standing.

One cannot credibly argue that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2010 contributed to the rise of ISIL without also acknowledging that the U.S. invasion in 2003 did the same. The former without the latter is a political argument, not a policy position. The same goes for airstrikes in Syria and arming the Syrian rebels. It’s a reasonable hypothesis that supporting the Free Syrian Army earlier might have blunted ISIL, but that’s a pretty hollow position if one also gives Syrian rebel factions a pass for tolerating and even embracing ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusrah through late 2012. As a long-time analyst of jihadism in the Middle East, it was clear to me in the summer of 2011 that the Islamic State of Iraq was well-positioned to capitalize on what was then a largely peaceful Syrian protest movement. And it was just as obvious that the group—whose brutality, extremism, and grandiose political aspirations were well-documented long before the Syrian uprising—would later turn on the Syrian rebels whose cause they claimed to champion. The same should have been obvious to the Syrian rebels, their external supporters, and pretty much anyone interested in the Syrian uprising and the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Pete Mansoor is a serious man, but his assessment that the mission against ISIL will require 10,000-15,000 troops does not match up with the policy the President has chosen. Mansoor’s troop numbers are based on a policy “to roll back ISIL”, when the President has carefully limited his policy to “stopping the current advance” and aiding refugees. Reading most of the media coverage over the last few weeks, you’d be forgiven for thinking President Obama was seeking to defeat ISIL in detail, but had chosen ineffectual means. But that is not his goal, even considering the coordinated U.S., Iraqi, and Kurdish effort to retake the Mosul Dam from ISIL. It is fair to criticize the President’s policy as too limited or vague (I think it is both), but it is not to roll ISIL back and should not be measured on that basis. That distinction makes a difference, because as Doug Ollivant and Ken Pollack have both pointed out, airpower is much more effective against an army massing for an offensive than on troops settling in to govern in urban areas.

The larger problem with Mansoor’s vision is that “rolling back” ISIL is an unstable and untenable policy at this time. The Islamic State is a threat to U.S. interests because of the safe haven it creates and the instability it fosters; the exact location of its borders is not the most important factor. And so a policy of pushing them into a smaller box does not solve the problem; it is a temporary fix, an open-ended commitment, an invitation for mission creep, or all of the above. If destroying ISIL becomes the near-term policy goal—which seems the likely outcome of saying you are going to “roll back” the group—then 10,000-15,000 troops vastly understates the true commitment, which will actually require years, direct military action on both sides of the Iraq/Syria border, tens (if not hundreds) of billions of dollars, and many more than 15,000 troops. ISIL is an inherently resilient organization—look how far they have come since getting “rolled back” during the Surge in 2007 when 150,000 American troops were occupying the country.

One thing is clear about President Obama: right or wrong in his decisions, the guy does not want to be fed a bunch of bullshit. And many of the arguments made about ISIL, Syria, and Iraq these days are spurious —even when used to advance reasonable policy recommendations. The arguments to “roll back” ISIL fall into this category. Obama recognizes his critics are, intentionally and unintentionally, trying to back him into mission creep and he intends to avoid that outcome. As a result, he does less than he should (and maybe would) if he could manage the domestic politics and the U.S. Congress better. Whatever Obama’s mistakes, it is hard to blame him for being gun-shy politically after watching the Benghazi shenanigans for two years. If Obama’s political opponents talk impeachment over an incident like Benghazi, what would they say if U.S. weapons provisioned to Syrian rebels wound up in the hands of ISIL, as is almost certain to happen to some degree with a large scale weapons delivery program?

This is why politics should stop at the water’s edge: partisan tussling makes for bad national security policy and makes us less safe.

No one has offered a plausible strategy to defeat ISIL that does not include a major U.S. commitment on the ground and the renewal of functional governance on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border. And no one will, because none exists. But that has not prevented a slew of hacks and wonks from suggesting grandiose policy goals without paying serious attention to the costs of implementation and the fragility of the U.S. political consensus for achieving those goals. Although ISIL has some characteristics of a state now, it still has the resilience of an ideologically motivated terrorist organization that will survive and perhaps even thrive in the face of setbacks. We must never again make the mistake that we made in 2008, which was to assume that we have destroyed a jihadist organization because we have pushed it out of former safe-havens and inhibited its ability to hold territory. Bombing ISIL will not destroy it. Giving the Kurds sniper rifles or artillery will not destroy it. A new prime minister in Iraq will not destroy it.

Please do not step in here with the fly-paper argument: that the conflict will attract the world’s would-be jihadis to one geographic area where we can target them all and thereby solve the problem. Notice that no authorities on jihadism ever make this argument. That is because they understand that war makes the jihadist movement stronger, even in the face of major tactical and operational defeats. The conflicts in Syria and Iraq strengthen ISIL because war is the only force terrible enough to hold together a broad and extreme enough Sunni coalition to be amenable to ISIL. Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi recognized this in 2004 and built a strategy of provoking Shia militias in order to consolidate fearful Sunni groups. The concept was sound so far as brutal jihadi strategies go, but Zarqawi’s organization was just too weak relative to his opposition (U.S. troops and Shia militias) to execute it. Zarqawi picked a fight he could not win—provoking attacks on Sunnis without being able to defend them. At the same time, he was moving into Sunni turf and infringing on tribal prerogatives. This had the effect of alienating his would-be allies.

But the balance has shifted. ISIL has more strength than al Qaeda in Iraq ever did and its enemies on the ground are weaker. Without war, ISIL is a fringe terrorist organization. With war, it is a state.

So long as it exists, the Islamic State’s borders will always be bloody.

This is where I am supposed to advocate a brilliant strategy to defeat ISIL by Christmas at some surprisingly reasonable cost. But it won’t happen. The cost to defeat ISIL would be very high and would require a multi-year commitment. I wish, very much, that the United States had taken ISIL and its predecessors more seriously after the Surge in 2007—but we did not, and that represents both a political and analytical failure. In a post-Benghazi world, looking toward the 2016 Presidential election, the political consensus to incur the risks and costs of destroying ISIL is tremendously unlikely. And even then, success hinges on dramatic political shifts in both Iraq and Syria that under the best of circumstances will require years. (Despite a new Iraqi Prime Minister, there is no short-term prospect for credible governance across either Iraq or Syria.)

It would be irresponsible to support a national security policy dependent on infeasible military operations or ludicrous assumptions about an enemy’s shortcomings. War is a matter of matching ends, ways, and means – including political and popular support. It would therefore be irresponsible to support a policy that would require a level of commitment that our political institutions do not possess. Our discourse is too broken. Short of a major terrorist attack, our leaders do not have the ability to produce consensus. And without real national consensus to sustain a strategy, there is no viable mechanism to defeat ISIL.

Advocating the defeat of ISIL over the short-term without acknowledging what will be necessary to achieve that end is a recipe for mission creep. Mission creep is a recipe for policy failure because the American people will not allow sustained investment in a policy they did not commit to originally.

This is the most important strategic lesson from Iraq: Don’t bullshit the American people into a war with shifting objectives (even if those goals are important) because they will not put up with that commitment long enough for those goals to be achieved. This is not a call for pacifism; it is a call for fighting to win, which requires sustained commitment, which requires forthrightness in our discourse about whether to choose war. We should only fight if we are fighting to win, and we will only win when we commit as a country—not 51 percent, or the viewers of one cable news station or another, or because one party or faction has managed to back a president into a political corner. The country must be ready to accept the sacrifices necessary to achieve grand political ends. Until then, any call to “defeat ISIL” that is not forthright about what that will require is actually an argument for expensive failure.


Brian Fishman is a War on the Rocks Contributor and a Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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83 thoughts on “Don’t BS the American People About Iraq, Syria, and ISIL

  1. This article hits the nail on the head.

    All fanboys of either the Republicans or the Democrats are really harming our country and you all should be completely ashamed of yourself but are too blind with hatred and arrogance to see how you are destroying what we have built.

    1. I agree with you, James. Brian Fishman’s article has broadened my understanding of ISIL. He clearly identified the broken state of the USA’s discourse and the continuing failure to achieve a coherent strategy for relating to the Levant and the rest of the world.

      Following the very public execution of the American journalist, James Folley, Mr. President, what will you do now?

    2. This article demonstrates the inability of america to recognize Evil and defeat it. When Evil is unrecognized its so easy to blame the victim (the Yazidis, the Syrian Christians, the Israeli Jews) for their own predicament.
      However there is a simple solution to the IS problem. One: recognize the kurdish State, and sell them arms needed to maintain their territorial integrity. Second, wait for IS to come up against Israel and then sit back and see how Israel dispatches them.

      1. “…the inability of America to recognize evil and defeat it.” Indeed, over 65 years of support for an ethnic supremacist state show that blindness for all to see.

      2. Recognizing a Kurdish state has its own issues, perhaps foremost alienating Turkey (a somewhat unreliable ally) and other countries in the region, which have all resisted the idea of an independent Kurdistan in their midst for many years.The biggest ally the Kurds have is Israel, which has supplied arms and advisors. Note the Kurdish support recently in Europe for the rallies against anti-Semitism. That alliance itself is provocative to the Muslims of the region.

  2. Errr, what?

    What am I supposed to ‘support’ after reading this editorial? Should we be going all in, should we arm the Kurds and support the Shia lead Iraqis, should we monitor and contain, what?

    I doubt anyone in the country is confused by the political angle that ISIS represents to the American electorate. No one wants to fight another war, least of all in Iraq. However, do we need to? Is this an existential threat, is this a major national security problem, or is this another ME dictatorial regime that will fail once the stolen money runs out?

    Presenting yourself as an expert, and you may very well be, demands that you don’t just recount the problems we face politically, but that you also make a case for what NEEDS to be done, regardless of those political difficulties.

    That is the debate we need to have.

    1. I think he makes a case for what needs to be done: “This is not a call for pacifism; it is a call for fighting to win, which requires sustained commitment, which requires forthrightness in our discourse about whether to choose war. We should only fight if we are fighting to win, and we will only win when we commit as a country—not 51 percent, or the viewers of one cable news station or another, or because one party or faction has managed to back a president into a political corner.”
      This is really the same war that started back in the 90’s, but has never been completed, and Brian’s point should’ve been made, or at least listened to back then: Either we are ALL in, or we all ain’t.
      Half-assing part three of a war isn’t going to cut it . . . if we are going to commit at all, we should commit totally.

    2. Well put, Kevin. While I favor the all-in approach, I also recognize the political limitations upon which such a policy could well founder. The debate needs to clarify how extensive a risk IS poses to the US.

      1. Brain, what do you say about the terrible slaughter of 30 Ethiopians? ISIL is more than a threat to the world.What do you think about world or US response? Will Ethiopa be engaged in a war with ISIL? I just want to hear your political view.

  3. Fly-paper argument sickened me when Bush was making it. What Iraqi would support a policy of attracting the world’s worst terrorists to their home turf?

    I don’t see ISIL advancing for many weeks now. They took a couple towns and a dam, and have lost the towns and half the dam. Just a month or two ago the cable news was breathlessly proclaiming the risk to Baghdad, while the Caliph(snarf) was threatening Najaf and Basra. With this little hindsight it is now clear that the Caliph is delusional, and the media just doesn’t know what it is talking about.

    Oh, and, by the way, the article contradicts itself. First you write “the paucity of our political debate is the greatest threat to our global standing” and later “politics should stop at the water’s edge.” Isn’t all debate political, even when it primarily strategic?

    I don’t remember who elected President Obama to decide who should lead the Iraqi Arabic speaking Sunni. I don’t see how they are a threat to America, except if they eventually _do_ start expanding again (I’m highly doubtful).

    And, of course, while I don’t _want_ the American people to be bullshitted, it’s only the representatives that our Constitution says get to decide things, outside of the elections which choose our leaders.

    1. So all the thousands of people slaughtered by ISIL don’t mean nothing to you??? 911 dose not mean anything to you??? American James Foley dont mean anything to you??? You sound like Obama when he said there the JV team of terrorist……They have taken a little more than a few towns by the way…..People like you is why were a much weaker country than we use to be

  4. There are two main problems with this article:

    1) He continues the nonsense about how Obama is a smart guy and it’s only his advisers that have screwed things up. That’s total BS. Obama knows exactly what he is doing and he knew what he was doing when he supported the Syrian rebels in the first place. To be precise, he doesn’t give a damn as long as Israel continues to benefit from the chaos in the region. His only other concern is that he “look good” – as his advisers were primarily concerned with during the Benghazi debacle – so he can burnish his Nobel Peace Prize.

    2) This article promotes the notion that the ISIS problem can be “fixed” if only the US – and specifically the US taxpayer – is prepared for the usual: years or decades long nation building, instead of “merely” a ten-year war. Sorry, but this is precisely how we GOT here.

    The real answer to ISIS is to change US foreign policy as follows:

    1) Stop supporting the murderous, imperialist, colonialist, racist, rogue terrorist state that is Israel.

    2) Stop supporting the corrupt monarchies of the Middle East.

    3) Stop droning Muslim civilians to death in a dozen countries.

    That will “drain the swamp” of Islamic militarism, or at least confine it to their natural enemies, those same monarchies and Israel and re-direct it away from making the US a target.

    Changing US foreign policy in this manner could be done almost overnight and wouldn’t cost the US a dime, let alone the trillion dollars Iraq and Afghanistan have cost.

    That is the hard choice the US population needs to make. But it can’t make that choice as long as the US political establishment is run by the military-industrial complex, the oil companies, the banks who finance those entities, and the Israel Lobby.

    The first step to fixing US foreign policy is to get rid of the corrupt domestic US government. A nice first step would be to eliminate ALL corporate campaign financing, and restrict the amounts of personal campaign donations to prevent the rich from owning the politicians people are asked to vote for.

    1. You want to pay $10 a gallon for gas? How about a completely crippled economy? People being unable ro go anywhere in our suburban sprawl? Me neither. Until we put money in alternative energy sources and capable public transportation outside of a handful of major cities, we have to support those monarchies. You are right from an idealistic standpoint. Not from a practical.

      1. if we were to buy oil for $5 gallon(10$ is too unrealistic as other countries who are not getting involved like India, are paying that price) in gas, it would still be cheaper than spending 2.3 Trillion dollars in Wars. Only weapon lobbyist have gone richer, and American middle class more poor…. Plus, you are creating enimies for generations, and our veterans will be crippled for decades.. so that argument is not worthed…You are right about Alternative energy….

    2. If you think that the Islamic State and other Jihadi groups do not see the US and Europe as their natural enemies then you’ve not been paying attention. You just bought into the lie that they are merely reacting to US foreign policy. Next you’ll be telling me we need to listen to their grievances. No. These are organisations who really believe Allah is on their side and who want nothing less than a global empire which only allows one version of only one religion. Secular societies and Christian societies, particularly the US, as well as the one Jewish state, are all viewed as natural enemies to the project of global Islam.

      As for leaving Israel to die at the hands of its Arab and Iranian neighbours who have been preaching and attempting its destruction for decades, Israel is like the canary lowered into the mine. If Israel is attacked and overwhelmed we will witness a second holocaust and its perpetrators will not stop at Israel.

  5. Great article – one note in reference to your statement: “One cannot credibly argue that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2010 contributed to the rise of ISIL without also acknowledging that the U.S. invasion in 2003 did the same.”

    Not untrue – while I do not agree with the invasion of Iraq, the current situation in Iraq, could have been mitigate regardless of our decisions to invade Iraq initially. (btw I voted for Obama twice)

    1) When we left Iraq we severely limited our ability to influence the Iraqi government. As a result, the Iraqi PM made substantial changes that weakened the Iraqi political and military infrastructure, caused civil unrest amongst it citizen, which directly contributed to the uprising of ISIL.

    2) Because of the U.S. overt stance on withdrawing from Iraq and distancing themselves from current and subsequent wars, this provided ISIL and various foreign fighters bleeding over from Syria, an open opportunity to operate in Iraq without fear of U.S. involvement.

    ISIL was banking on the fact that the U.S. couldn’t afford the political backlash associated with revisiting military operations in Iraq.

    Initially, this was true and is why ISIL was able to make substantial ground. It wasn’t until pleads from Iraq and the possibility of Iran fulfilling the security needs of Iraq, the U.S. could justify engaging with military observers and limited Air Strikes.

    Could this been avoided all together if we never entered Iraq? Yes. However, there is no direct correlation to what’s taking place now and the U.S decision to invade. It’s not the act of invading, it how you conduct affairs after you invade and most importantly, when you leave.

    Bottom-line, this could have been avoided regardless if we invaded, Iraq. What you are seeing now, is directly related to how we decided to exit Iraq and our inability to make effective strategical decisions at the expense of political pressure.


    1. “It’s not the act of invading, it how you conduct affairs after you invade and most importantly, when you leave.”

      Ridiculous. Of course, it was the act of invading. Having your country (one of the ancient cradles of human civilization) bombed, friends and relatives killed, and occupied by soldiers from a young boastful country which has little in common with your history, culture, religion, ideology or languages would inevitably foster resentment and anger – even if you could appreciate that their original intentions were honorable. Very few people could look at their flattened neighborhood or visit the graves of loved ones killed as an unintentional casualty of war, without feeling anger and resentment.

      Imagine how Americans would react if China invaded and occupied the US for several years on what they considered a morally obligated duty to intervene in a humanitarian crisis. Far too many Americans have a long simmering anger, resentment and vilification towards other Americans. Their hatred for anything associated with an invading country would burn and grow for generations.

      1. SO if the real problem behind ISIS is the resentment for being invaded, isn’t it strange that so many of ISIS are themselves foreign soldiers invading Syria and Iraq?

        If the real problem behind ISIS is the resentment of being invaded, how does that begin to explain the ethnic cleansing they are putting the Yazidi and their local Shia and Christians through? Did the Yazidi invade Sunni towns? Did the native Christian population destroy their brothers and sisters? Who are the ones actively trying to erase thousands of years of historical legacy? Groups like ISIS consider all pre-Islamic culture to be heathen and try to destroy all traces of it. They do the same to currents within Islam they consider to be heretical by destroying Shia mosques. None of this is explained by claiming people don’t like being invaded. This has stopped being a reaction to Bush a long time ago. This is a movement driven by a mission much older than Bush, the US foreign policy, even the US itself. ISIS is directly mimicking the brutal behaviour of the first caliphs by using war, crucifixion, beheading, slavery, and the three pronged strategy of convert-pay dhimmi tax for belonging to the wrong religion-or die, to spread a religion and their authority over it.

  6. Great article, thank you for producing it. There is on paragraph that stood out to me…

    Our discourse is too broken. Short of a major terrorist attack, our leaders do not have the ability to produce consensus. And without real national consensus to sustain a strategy, there is no viable mechanism to defeat ISIL.

    I worry about this, about someone who is willing to do anything to produce that consensus.

  7. Disagree with you on leaving politics at the “water’s edge”. Historically, that idea is an aberration in American history that came out of the unity surrounding WWII and the fear of imminent nuclear war during the Cold War. The reason you have partisan political arguments is because people’s political outlook inevitably effects their worldview and pretending there are no differences of that sort does nothing to help honestly analyzing international issues. Politics is important, and everyone is effected by ideology of some kind. Nobody is perfectly “neutral” and pretending to be so merely warps their perspective.
    I also disagree with your statement that there cannot be a strategy to defeat ISIS. I can spell out one for you in three words. Ready?
    -There you go. Won’t be super quick, won’t be super clean, but you can do it if you set up the right proxy the right way.

    1. Create a proxy?

      You mean like arming religious zealots in Afghanistan to “fight” the Soviets?

      Or arming counter-revolutionaries in Nicaragua.

      Or arming death squads in Chile, Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador or any number of African/European/Asian locales?

      It is never quick or clean and there is never a “right way” to do it.

  8. “The country must be ready to accept the sacrifices necessary to achieve grand political ends.”

    This is the USA in the year 2014. There are no “grand political ends”. There is only the continuing stupidification of our electorate and leadership – where election and re-election are the only political goals.

  9. One cannot credibly argue that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2010 contributed to the rise of ISIL without also acknowledging that the U.S. invasion in 2003 did the same. The former without the latter is a political argument, not a policy position

    Even though the ISIS or ISIL were not around in 2003, I guess that you are trying to imply that the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime created an environment that lead to the emergence of jihadi Sunni groups. I suppose that you may have a point here.

    But this is what makes the whole situation tricky – you cannot possibly envision all possible unintended outcomes when you launch a war. Especially the negative ones. The enemy has a vote and you can be assured that he will use it. And of course there are the unknown unknowns like Rumsfeld once said.

    Even if you knew of all the things that could go wrong, you would not care to explain it to a “Gimme” people. If you did, public support for the war WILL disappear. Vietnam should have taught that lesson but unfortunately it did not. Iraq hopefully has done that.

    As some one who is not American and who did not support the Iraqi invasion of 2003, I found myself strangely supporting those who wanted to stay the course in 2007.Inspite of the fact that it was their zealousness that even lead to the 2003 invasion. Now, Why was that?

    America had a moral responsibility to do so, even if you completely overlooked the spectre of such an open defeat at the hands of Islamic terrorists in such a short span of time since 9/11

    I will never forget the number of times I heard the words “exit strategy” during those 4 years and the bare knuckled politics that was being played out. When Gen.Petraeus came back to report to Congress on the status of the surge the treatment that he received from the Democrats was nothing less than shameful.

    Long story short – American people on the whole do not have the grit or the gumption to fight this long war to its bitter end. In fact you guys have a problem even acknowledging the most fundamental driver of this war- Islam’s continuing and often violent struggle to come to terms with what is generally accepted as modernity or modern civilization. I suppose political correctness is too hard to counter.

    So yes, stay out of the current or future avatars of the Iraq war. It is better to accept your limitations than to give a false sense of hope to the beleaguered people of Iraq and Syria or for that matter any other country that suffers the scourge of Islamic terrorism

    1. “One cannot credibly argue that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2010 contributed to the rise of ISIL without also acknowledging that the U.S. invasion in 2003 did the same. The former without the latter is a political argument, not a policy position”

      “Even though the ISIS or ISIL were not around in 2003, I guess that you are trying to imply that the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime created an environment that lead to the emergence of jihadi Sunni groups. I suppose that you may have a point here”

      Certainly the US toppling Saddam opened up these possibilities. But one would have to look primarily at how Iran exploited these possibilities and was able to infiltrate and influence Iraq once the US did Iran a favour by eliminating Saddam. Maliki had become a client to Iran and favoured Iraq’s Shiite population, which then led to general resentment among the Sunni, which provided fertile ground for groups like ISIS.

      Nevertheless, we cannot say for sure what would have happened had the US left Saddam in power. Several Arab countries with similar iron hand dictatorial regimes who suffered no US invasion found themselves dealing with popular uprisings including armed Islamists waging Jihad. It was romantically called the Arab Spring by a Western media so eager to see signs of hope in the Middle East. If Saddam’s Baath party had found itself fighting popular uprisings, you can bet Iran would have done all it could to bring down the Baath party and if the uprisings had succeeded, Iran would be well positioned to influence Iraq’s political future and we might very well have ended up with a similar dynamic. Who knows?

  10. Always nice to see some modicum of reason attached the issue at hand; however, you dramatically miss the mark. Why is it that American intellectuals have both an aversion to history and an aversion to two interrelated first-principle wherein any rational discussion of a major political issue arises domestic or foreign? Those principles are “who benefits” and “follow the money.” Both matters are hidden in plain sight and I urge people to start their investigation of ISIL right there. My conclusion is that ISIL like many other Jihadist movements have their origin in, at least the 1950’s as a result of the idea that the real enemy to US interests in the region is a ME peopled by Nasserites leaning governments who seek the interest and well being of the people as a whole. The first shot contra-liberality was fired when the CIA overthrew the democratically elected government of Mossadegh in Iran. It is also interesting to note that the two most secular, educated and “advanced” countries in the Muslim world were destroyed directly (Iraq) and indirectly (Afghanistan) by the USA. Also note that a relatively prosperous and stable society was destroyed fairly recently by the bogus pretense of “humanitarian intervention” in Libya.

    I leave it to the reader to examine the history of US involvement in the region and to examine for themselves where the funds come from to fund, arm and train the professional soldiers of ISIL and, of course, who benefits. Hint: increased “threats=MIC prosperity.

  11. Chaos/Balkanization/Partition was always the goal. De-Baathification didn’t have “unforeseen consequences”. The consequences we’re foreseen. It wasn’t a blunder.

    ISIS is the feature, not the bug. Stop pretending otherwise.

  12. An interesting and thought provoking piece. One line in the piece jumped out at me “One thing is clear about President Obama: right or wrong in his decisions, the guy does not want to be fed a bunch of bullshit.” This maybe true but it is BS that got us to this place.

    This struck me as ironic as one of Obama’s chief mistakes has been feeding us false narratives such as “Al Qaeda is on the run.” Benghazi is another perfect example.

    I am firmly convinced that Obama’s opponents would never talked impeachment over an incident like Benghazi had not trotted UN ambassador Susan Rice not gone on al the Sunday news shows with the preposterous story that the assault on the Benghazi annex was a street demonstration gone bad. For anyone has served in combat arms or made a study of war, the line of defense defied reality. However, what it do was poison the well of good will and create a level of cynicism politically both with Capitol Hill as well as with many Americans.

    Like the Tonkin Gulf incident, the American people will tolerate mismanagement of a war but not being lied to.

  13. Great article.
    The only possible solution that I see is for the US and EU to get other Muslim countries to the table and discuss a joint plan of action. Primary countries that should be involved are Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Syria.

    All of these countries are predominantly Sunni and they don’t share the same radical convictions that ISIS professes. Also, this is on their turf and they should be the ones to roll up their sleeves and work up a plan of action.

    One thing I’ve been saying for a long time is, and I still believe it to be true is that only a fellow Muslim can intervene in these matters. I refuse to believe that all Sunni Muslims share ISIS’ convictions, and they should be the ones to rise to the occasion and stop the bloodshed.

    Only with this type of solution, radical Islam will loose its momentum. Otherwise, direct Christian intervention will only add fuel to the fire in sprouting more radical teachings and followers resulting in more conflict and bloodshed…

    1. You pose a very valid point yet I fear there may be an angle you over looked. I agree with your analysis that it should be other Muslim countries leading the charge in the stand against this radicalism that so many Muslims say twists the word of Islam. Where is the outrage and blasphemous cries from those who argue Islam is a religion of peace?

      The issue I believe that you overlooked is that these radicals will ALWAYS blame the “great infidels” for involving ourselves in matters which didn’t concern us anyway. If the US gathered other Muslim countries in talks on how to defeat this rise in radicalism, it would still paint a target on the US as we organized the meetings and had “poisioned” Muslim countries into attacking their own.

      We are the perfect scapegoats. Did we bring this upon ourselves? There are plenty of arguments for and against that belief. But any US involvement in overthrowing and ousting this group will only fuel their hate and discontent for us and will serve as another reason we must be defeated.

      1. I agree with you. US will always be blamed and there is nothing that can be done since the problem persists ever since the Russian-Afghan war where the States pulled out and left all of the fighters out in the cold and the country in shambles that hasn’t recovered to this day…but that’s a whole separate topic.

        Some time has passed since I wrote the original message. It will be interesting to see how everything unfolds now that other Muslim countries have “stepped” up to the plate. I put that into parenthesis since I think that the US approach, even though it involved other countries has failed to put them into the front lines and have them deal with the problem while the US would provide only logistics and intel support, and like that making it a true Muslim country intervention against a threat that will impact other Muslim countries in the region over the next decade.

        As for Muslims not causing an outrage over the twisted word of Islam—I am not Muslim, but I grew up in an African Muslim country and here is what I concluded. I could be completely wrong, and if I am and there are any Muslims reading this that would like to weigh in, please do…

        But I think that non radicalized Muslims are on the reserve because of the way that the Qur’an is written. It is very difficult to decipher archaic arabic that’s written in verse, and Muslims from their early age memorize it and sometimes not even knowing what it is that they are memorizing. They depend on Imams to interpret verses for them, and those Imams received those interpretations from other Islamic leaders over the years…

        So, to a normal Mosque going Muslim that has a normal life outside of religion, his own interpretations of the Qur’an seem irrelevant and he will most likely follow the teachings of people that have devoted their lives to the interpretations.

        The radicalized interpretations are insanely radical, but if they are coming from an Imam or a Mufti I believe that more secular Muslims are hesitant to vocalize their protest due to the possibility that the radicalized interpretations and their teachings are true. Even though they know that they are not since all they teach is hate, segregation and inequality through fear of not pleasing God.

        Again, all of this is not fact, but my own thinking and conclusions that I have reached over the years. None of this is intended to offend any Muslims especially since I have many close Muslim friends that I’ve known for a while.

  14. A key part of the “Anbar awakening” were massive amounts of cash distributed to Sunni tribal leaders – they switched their alliance because US bought them off. Whereas the Maliki government cut off Sunnis from oil revenues…

  15. Afghanistan as one of “the two most secular, educated and “advanced” countries” in the Muslim world? As long as you avoid naming most of the others, I guess so.

  16. Thanks for this in depth analysis. President Obama should have Mr. Fishman as his adviser. Imagine, god forbid, if W Bush were the president at this moment! However, even if he were, after Iraq lesson, he could not convince American people. Some – especially Netanyahu – tried hard to force Obama into gambit to have him repeat W’s war president game. Nevertheless, ISIL is a serious threat for the region, and entailed from W’s Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

  17. I don’t quite understand how there are people who don’t understand what this article states pretty clearly.

    TL;DR version: there is virtually nothing we can do to destroy the Islamic State until we, as a country, decide that we’re going to do it and at any cost.

    The U.S. and it’s allies messed up in Iraq, first by underestimating the cost (in lives and dollars) and then never committing to the work that was necessary to build a stable, functional Iraq. If the American public didn’t have an appetite to do that, chances are it won’t have the appetite to battle the ISIL.

    So to put it bluntly: We’re fucked.

  18. Agree that the article is interesting. Disagree that the US has a sensible, comprehensive policy. To begin with, this is a religious war whose combatants have been fighting each other since 673 AD. We can “win” and hold ground in the short run, but not overcome both the exigent theology and philosophy no matter how long we stay. No democracy exists, so the best we can do is help those who need help (sic. the Kurds and associated Muslim and Christian sects), and let the Sunnis and Shias go at it. It’s hard to watch evil at work, but the US can and should only offer protection to those who cannot protect themselves. I fear that ISSL will bring terror to our shores, and for that they should be punished. But, we should do so selectively, because in reality we can’t do anything else without total war. Total war means killing them all, the same thing they advocate. It just isn’t who we are as Americans.

    Three other things:

    1) Isreal, with much western lobbying, was created by US mandate. The Jews have a right to exist, but so do the Palestinians. I advocate a two state solution, and if accepted by the Palestinians, they need to recognize Isreal and knock off their demand for Isreal’s extinction. Fatah could and should be kicking Hamas’s ass and make an effort to encompass Gaza into the state of Palistine.

    2) the comment about Iraq and Afghanistan being secular and advanced is absurd on the face of it. The ongoing tribalism and insipid theological arguments of Sunni versus Shia flattens that contention.

    3) The so-called moderate Muslims need to recognize that Western intelligence agencies have little capacity to obtain accurate and effective information without help. The sound from them is deafening by it’s silence.

  19. Isis is banking on the US to overplay their hand by committing further atrocities. A ground war would be precisely what they’re looking for. Right now they don’t have many allies, the more they identify themselves as the enemy of the great satan USA the more sympathy they will get from the global Sunni population. I don’t think going all in is the right way to do things at all. I think that a long, multiple year ground war is exactly what ISIS wants. They managed a series of exceedingly swift early victories which further strengthened they’re belief that they are indeed God’s elite. Let them think that and don’t play into their hand. The best thing to do is leave them to their own devices and show the world what they really stand for. Only intervening militarily when it’s immediately justifiable, when it’s to save innocent lives.

    That’s my two cents. i could be way wrong

    1. However, as intimated by a previous contributor, the article doesn’t go anywhere – appearing to relish the complexities of the case rather than inspire those who earnestly seek solutions. Sometimes, when a serious situation gets complex and convoluted, it just needs someone broadly on the right side of good to take decisive action. It may be forward, backward, or sideways, but the greatest leaders are not known for their verbosity but the actions they took. This may seem simplistic but I just wanted to bring some fresh air into a discussion where everyone is lured into displaying how they know more than the next person about the middle-eastern powder-keg. Unfortunately, the leader may turn out to be on the wrong side of good. There has been that risk right through history, of course, and will continue to the end of this age – which is closer than many realise.

  20. That is because they understand that war makes the jihadist movement stronger, even in the face of major tactical and operational defeats.

    –That rather hinges on which war we are talking about.

    When Bin Laden and others offered “martyrs” to Kosovo Albanians and tried inserting these forces into that part of the Balkans, the KLA and the Albanian government either sent the lads packing or killed them. Sometimes war bites these movements in the ass. Northern Iraq might well prove to be another instance of that – just longer in the making.

  21. This article is right about the fact that it will take a huge, sustained commitment to defeat ISIS. But what’s missing here is any mention of what will happen if we do not defeat them. Although they may be resilient enough to continue to exist without holding territory, holding it does bring them more sources of funding and power, and closer to their ultimate goal of nuclear attacks on the U.S. and world domination. According to many experts, they already have sleeper cells in the U.S. They will attack us whether we attack them more or continue to just have a “limited” attack policy. It is wrong to believe that just by leaving them alone or making our policy “limited” we can save ourselves.

    1. I totally agree with Jonathan that if we do not act now ,even at very high cost and commitment,we will not be able to imagine the forthcoming damage.In warlike situation as on now offence may be the best defence before it is too late. ISIS may get an access to nuclear weapons from the same people who were hiding Osama.
      The firm, well planned joint world action appears unavoidable

    2. I totally agree with Jonathan that if we do not act now ,even at very high cost and commitment,we will not be able to imagine the forthcoming damage.In warlike situation one must before it is too late. ISIS may get access to nuclear weapons from the same people who were hiding Osama.
      The firm, well planned joint world action appears unavoidable

  22. I like Brian Frishman’s article. It’s crisply written and takes a clear-eyed aerial view of the national discussion and makes several good points. One section, cited just below, I found particularly striking, and fully agree with his assessment.

    He writes: “No one has offered a plausible strategy to defeat ISIL that does not include a major U.S. commitment on the ground and the renewal of functional governance on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border. And no one will, because none exists. But that has not prevented a slew of hacks and wonks from suggesting grandiose policy goals without paying serious attention to the costs of implementation and the fragility of the U.S. political consensus for achieving those goals.” Well said!

    Brian diagnoses the strategic problem well, however, the article leaves me wondering what he believes we should do. In order to more fully understand his thinking, I would like to ask if he agrees with the following propositions:

    1) However unfortunate this development, it would be easier to deal with (deter) ISIL (IS) as an established quasi-state, regardless of borders, than it is now.

    2) The natural resistance resident in the region, such as other neighboring states, tribal dynamics, Shiasm, etc, will ultimately keep any IS state in check.

    3) The dangers IS represents to the the west — extreme Sunni Islamism — are probably exaggerated and therefore don’t justify major American intervention.

  23. I wonder what Americans think they are in this widened earth for goodness sake?, they intervened any recreation(sharia law actualised) by sunni muslims, but hardly confront the shi’ah led iranian so-called islamic republic or was it just you belived they are your ally and may be of course what they are doing was unIslam?.
    Therefore you devils (US) must believe that black flag you’re seeing would be waved in every corner of the univers- Allah’s permit.

  24. This is the issue of the 21st Century, How we go forward will effect your children, grandchildren and generations yet unborn in the World. ISIS, ISIL or simply IS must be stopped at all costs by all nations. They simply have no regard for human life, and as seen already slaughter, kill, be head, all Christians, Jews and infidels if they do not convert to Islam. They truly want a Caliphate and Jihad to establish an Islamic state in the World. They are well armed, taking in 2-3 million a day with the sale of stolen oil on the black market. America must stand strong, and not worry about “collateral damage” and political correctness. If we do not stop them, who else will step up to a military leadership position and stop them at all costs. The World will be a better place once every last one of them is evaporated from the face of the earth. Even the Pope and Vatican has come out for military action to protect innocent lives from being slaughtered, woman and children. The beheading of the American journalist, should be enough to declare War immediately on ISIS ISIL or IS. Enough is enough, evil must not prevail folks.

  25. My sugestion is to destroy isis as soon as possible,if not they may be give harm to us or globaly ,these peoples r only want thier own things it doesnt matter how they got it,so its better they destroy us .. Destroy these stupid peoples…..god bless usa

  26. The Barbarism displayed by the ISIS fighter who beheaded Mr. Foley is matched and surpassed by his impotent cowardice. He doesn’t free his opponent and fight like a man. Instead he binds his opponents hands behind him and brutally murders him to JUST TO MAKE A POINT?
    You sir are a despiccable coward unworthy of Islam. And it is all the more disgusting that you claim to be doing so in the name of Allah, God. God will judge you for harming the innocent and the helpless as is written in our own holy book, The Quran, which by the way I seem to have read more than you have.
    It is also cowardly of the US president to bomb ISIS instead of engaging them. Maybe now that you have shown your own colors of brutal cowardice, the US president will do what is necessary to cut this ISIS cancer out of Islam and encourage other Muslims to be and to become what our greatest Imams have called it in recent times, a religion of peace.

  27. In case there is any confusion, I was referring to the murderer of Mr. Foley when I said he was a coward unworthy of Islam. He DOES NOT represent Ialam. Muslims are largely responsible for creating the Rennaissance and bringing Europe out of its own dark ages. Thank you all for this interesting dialogue.

  28. Thank you for a thought-provoking article. I entirely agree with the total eradication of ISIL at ALL/ANY cost. Cancer needs early and compressive treatment, not aspirin or paracetamol. This terrorist organisation will one day nuke the world if not stopped right there right now and ASAP. The policy maker should realise by now that appeasing terrorists is counterproductive. Obama should show bravery and conviction and should definitely do all it takes to totally wipe out ISIL, no matter however costly that May be because the alternative would be a great deal costlier in lives and dollars.

  29. I would not follow Obama out of burning building and I certainly would not follow him into a major war in the middle east. The man refuses to defend the Southern border of our homeland itself and yet he expects us to go half way around the world to fix up the borders in the Arab world. We tried that under Bush and, though Bush was wrong about the WMD, I think he truly believed they were in Iraq and were a deadly threat. I truly believe that he was as dumbfounded as anyone when they turned out to be fictional and that he then did his best to put a decent government into place. It looked promising for a while (after the surge I mean), but under Obama’s watch it has all fallen apart. I ascribe this to Obama’s blindness and fixation on the leftist trope that America is evil and American intervention is abroad always wrong. For whatever psychological reason, Obama was clearly focused from the first moment of his presidency on ending Bush’s adventure and getting out of Iraq at all cost. The country agreed with him and still does for obvious reasons; Iraq was and is, a nightmare. But it turned out that, despite our efforts to disengage, we could not just go and stay gone, because truly unacceptable and evil powers lurk to fill the resulting vacuum. Out best option is to do noting much at the resent time and to just let matters develop. We need the parties in the region to begin organizing themselves to counter ISIL. Who knows what new alliances and groupings may emerge. Maybe we and the Russians will end up on the same team just like in the old WW2 days.

  30. I would not like to paint with a broad brush – but who do Muslims think should be killed… even a little… it would seem to me that I would be sore pressed to find any Muslims working with homosexual aids patients or Jewish orphans. Yet as a Christian I pray that ISIS members would see the love a Christ and turn to him and away from their sin. Do Muslims love… and if so to what extent does that love go?

  31. The DOD announced last week that ISIL is “very sophisticated” tactically, and “extremely well-funded”.
    Assuming the CIA knows the source of ISIL funding for weapons and logistics (probably Saudi and Gulf States), why is the U.S. not focusing their efforts to stop ISIL there – at their bank?
    Is it because the U.S. is complicit in funding Sunni radicals in Syria, which have now morphed into ISIL?
    What can we make of Saudi King Abdullah’s pledge to Sec. Kerry to fund it’s own proxy army, headed by Abdullah’s relative?

  32. Brian, thanks for shinning light on this subject. One of your responders made a lot of sense to me when he suggested that this situation will only be truly fixed when area Muslim countries and factions bring their efforts together to supress this extreme group. Can you comment on this?

  33. “hard to blame Obama…”? Really? Basic introductory courses 101 to international geopolitics has demonstrated that when leaders of the world ‘smell each-other weakness’, foes nation take the political opportunity to fill in leadership’s voids, gain political momentous to advance their political agenda. See Mr. Putin, no one will or want to stop him; too the psychotic caliph ISI is swimming like a duck only to advance his sharia’s anti western twisted agenda. Idem the current Arab/muslin realignment currently ongoing in the Middle East are all but Obama’s deeds, not Bush but his since he’s the actual president reelected twice…. It all started with his political support of getting ready: Egypt, Syria, Libya dictators, and interceding into Iraq, Afghanistan affairs, add his secret drone’s war in Africa with hundreds of mercenaries and US boot trainees. This president brought to US nothing but more human pestilence drawing back to stone ages the savageries of the Middle east- not to mention right here the tremendous social and racial class divide in the country still visible-Ferguson. For the unforeseen future of the US and satellites UN will pay the resulting-affect of his mediocre leadership.

  34. Am I the only one that sees the giant contradiction in his “analysis”?

    A. “I’m not a pacifist. If we want to destroy ISIS we need to understand how much ‘war’ that’s really going to be. Don’t bullshit America.”


    B. “Guns, bombs and bullets won’t EVER defeat ISIS. They thrive in war.”

    In his words, “That is because they understand that war makes the jihadist movement stronger, even in the face of major tactical and operational defeats. Without war, ISIL is a fringe terrorist organization. With war, it is a state.”

    So which is it? A massive campaign involving giant commitment in blood and treasure is the only thing that will destroy ISIS? Or in so doing the massive campaign, we engender a stronger jihadist organization?

    I’m sorry, I don’t fall into the “this guy’s a genius” camp. He makes a lot of statements, then falls back onto the “I’m an expert – and ANYONE who is smart enough to study this will say the same thing” logical fallacy. Meaning I either agree with him, or I’m an idiot.

    Except I’m not sure what thesis I’m supposed to agree with.

  35. I do blame Obama. Bush may have broken Iraq, but Obama compounded Bush’s mistakes again and again. Pulling out US forces was stupid. It threw away all ability to keep Iraq stable. Overthrowing Qaddafi was a mistake that will bite us hard later. And backing the opposition trying to overthrow Assad was a truly epic mistake. We should have allowed Assad to crush his opposition. If the IS is able to overthrow Assad, they will gain a seaport, which will allow them to export oil in the normal way (by tanker), and to import unlimited numbers of recruits through the Mediterranean Sea from Gaza and Libya. That will allow the IS Caliphate to conquer a much larger region, possibly taking Saudi Arabia. The middle East is always a balancing act, and Assad wasn’t hurting the USA. We should have left him alone.

    What to do now? The proper course of action is to crush ISIS, and if that means backing Assad, then so be it.

  36. To merely state that the Islamic State is a jihadi terrorist organization is to miss the point about what their political aims are and the historical basis for the religious and political position they are taking. The IS is a rational actor and its terror tactics are consciously designed to dissuade fifth column movements in its rear areas and to enhance its ability to consolidate power in the areas it already controls and to bring further areas under its control.
    Furthermore, brutal as its tactics appear to us, there is a lawful basis for the killing of apostates under Shari’a law and IS has been acting according to what in their minds is a lawful position. The fact that this dovetails nicely with asset seizures is of course highly convenient.
    However, the one point that I wish to make strongly is that no US policy in the Middle East will ever succeed unless we know what the players in the region are doing and why they are acting the way that they are within the context of their own cultural imperatives. This understanding has been sorely lacking on our part for decades. Without this understanding we will never be able to make informed policy choices.
    In respect of the self proclaimed Caliphate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria it is of interest to look at the historical basis for this move by Ibrahim Al Baghdadi and how he is attempting to use this new ‘State’ as a political platform to attract other Muslims to his cause.
    There is no certain historical evidence as to who came up with the title of Caliph. The full title was initially Khalifat ul Rasul Allah, which means the successor (or as it has also been styled, vice regent) to God’s Prophet. It is important to understand that the first Caliph Abu Bakr As-Siddiq who was Caliph from 632-634 C.E. saw himself as the successor (or vice regent) of the Prophet, and not as God’s vice regent on earth. However, the expansion of the role of the Caliph from being that of a political one to one of religious authority happened very quickly. By the time of the third Caliph ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, who was Caliph from 644-656 C.E., the title had become Khalifat Allah, or “God’s Vice regent.” That ‘Uthman was accorded this title is cited in ‘Aghani, vol. xvi, p. 326.
    All of the ‘Ummayyad Caliphs had the title Khalifat Allah, and this concept that the head of the Muslim community is God’s Vice Regent on earth is widely accepted with the Muslim ‘ummah.
    The justification for the use of the title Khalifat Allah is found in two verses of the Qur’an: 2:28, in which God says in reference to Adam that “I am placing a Khalifa on earth”; and in verse 38:25 in which God tell the Prophet David that, “we have made you a Khalifa on earth”.
    Although Abu Bakr As Siddiq explicitly claimed to be only the Caliph of the Prophet and not of God, many Arabs and Muslims at the time accepted that Abu Bakr’s rule was by divine right and sanction, and that idea permeates the thinking of Ibrahim Al-Baghdadi and the adherents of the Islamic State today. The early rebellions against Abu Bakr As-Siddiq and the early Muslim state were termed the “Wars of Apostasy” (hurub ar-ridda). They were seen not as rebellions against Abu Bakr’s rule, but as rebellions against Islam. It is this idea that has gripped the leaders of the current Caliphate of the Islamic State and is leading them in part to such brutal attacks on those amongst them that they view as “apostates” from Islam. This is not the first time in Islamic history that a group of Muslims have taken their inspiration from their interpretation of the past and have attempted to impose it on contemporary society. A good example of this was the failed attempt by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab to reenact the Muslim conquests of Persia and the Levant.
    It is important to bear in mind that the head of the Islamic State, Ibrahim Al-Baghdadi, is actively trying to recreate the days of early Islam and that his attempt to do so will resonate with many Muslims. That is one reason why he styled himself Abu Bakr in a conscious imitation of the legitimacy of the first Caliph. Both at the time of the first Abu Bakr and now, the term “apostates” (murtaddin) was extended to cover everyone who went to war with Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, or anyone who is at war with Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, no matter what their actual motivation. Thus, according to Ali Abd Al-Razeq (1888-1966) and brother to the famous rector of Al Azhar University Mustafa Abd Al-Razeq:
    “All Abu Bakr’s wars thus took on a religious coloration and were fought in the name of Islam, so that joining Abu Bakr was taken as equivalent to placing oneself under Islam’s banner, and deserting him was seen as equivalent to abjuring and corrupting Islam…
    “it now seems clear that this title—Caliph of God’s prophet—carrying as it does all of the overtones we have mentioned and many others we have not, was one of the main causes of misapprehension into which most ordinary Muslims have fallen, namely that the Caliphate is a religious role, and that he who holds power over Muslims occupies amongst them the same position as God’s Prophet.
    “It was in the interest of the various sultans to propagate this error amongst the people, so as to use religion as a shield with which to protect their throne against rebels. Such is the practice to this day. They have used every available means to convince the people that to obey the Imams is to obey God, and that to disobey them is to disobey Him. Furthermore, the caliphs did not content themselves with what Abu Bakr had accepted, nor did they refuse what he had refused; they claimed that to be sultan was to be God’s Caliph on earth, His shadow over all the faithful.”
    Thus, it is religious as well as political authority which the self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is claiming for himself; he is claiming absolute sovereignty over all Muslims as God’s shadow on earth. He and his followers are using the justifications within shari’a for the lawful killing of apostates or those they deem apostates as a cover for their appropriation of assets belonging to Christians, Shi’i Muslims, ‘Alawites and Yazidis etc. That this political and ideological position has put them on a collision course with both the US and other regional powers is not in question. What remains to be seen is how much of the Muslim world they can sway to their cause if they continue with their present successes.

  37. Call me paranoid but can I suggest that ISIL is serving the USA and all other “developed” countries, by vacuuming their nut-head jihadist, away from the “developed” nations into a one big desert on either side of the Iraq/Syria border.
    So, why do anything about ISIL? oh yes the few thousand dead and few million displaced…”collateral damage”?? what a f*k*d up world we live in!

  38. Hi all-

    I appreciate all of the comments here, including the productive critiques. One of the most useful is the criticism that my WOTR article is not prescriptive. Fair point.

    Here’s a link to my testimony to the House Armed Services Committee from July 29, 2014, before the Foley murder, bombing campaign, etc. It both offers more policy recommendations and a deeper history of the Islamic State (in Iraq and the Levant).

    All the best,


  39. One wasn’t stating a “policy position”, and “one” might note that only one of these things stuck around to fight it.

    We broke it, and we owned it. And then The Won walked away.

  40. Surprised an option not discussed is the one Obma appears to be taking – explicitly keeping US troops “off the ground,” providing high tech & strategic support if desired. In the end, this is a war within a religion. It’s up to the religion to resolve it. The people being killed are members of that religion. We are simply a symbol for that religion to inveigh against. It’s up to us whether to be drawn into a War of Civilizations. I say no way. We do need to grow a thicker skin re: terror attacks. In the end, we have far the greater weapons, technology, not to mention, cultural traditions, but the hysteria that ensues over any “event” is ridiculous. Fishman blames politics. I blame media equally. “Shit happens.” Get over it.

  41. Fantastic article.
    Finally someone has said it: Washington needs to get rid of this stupid, ridiculous notion that we can get these lunatics who have been lobbing each others’ heads off for the past fifteen hundred years to play nice with each other, or to impose Jeffersonian democracy on them, or to “rebuild” their cites and make them look like Beverly Hills or Coral Gables, Florida.
    You can kill a LOT of things with an F-22 fighter, a hydrogen bomb, and armored tank or a bullet. A fifteen century old ideology is NOT one of them. Sorry.

  42. The common thread here is that the US has greatly destabilized a number of countries through policies of regime change.

    Saddam and Assad used to be allies / relations with Gadafi were moving more towards normalization at some points in the not too far off past.

    I don’t see a lot of debate around our policy of invading or assisting with the invasion/takeover of sovereign countries that has led to chaos, war, and a huge increase in the capacity of Takfiri groups.

    We’re not a country that admits foreign policy blunders, but perhaps it’s not too late to broker a deal with Assad before we end up facilitating another Libya situation.

  43. TWO) You talk about the FSA, and when we maybe should have supported them, and al-Nusra and ISIL, but NEVER MENTION THE ISLAMIC FRONT, the biggest anti-Assad rebel group there is.

    I am certainly no Syria expert, but I don’t pretend to be, while you completely ignore the BEST CHANCE the Anti-Assad forces have.

    Is this a sign of a deep and abiding ignorance, or just a careless mistake? The article is quite long, making it hard to believe the latter.

  44. THREE) You then spend PARAGRAPHS entertaining a the totally idiotic notion of sending in troops. Nobody currently in ISIL territory wants US troops, even the FSA just wants support, not ground troops.

    I suppose someone with your high-minded ideals could say to themselves “It hardly matters what the Iraqis and Syrians want, I know better”

  45. A couple of things to think about: (1) The U.S. is a debtor nation. Any military activity is financed with deficit spending, increasing the huge debt to Communist China and other nations.(2) What will happen when ISIL (ISIS or whatever they want to call themselves) sets their sights on nuclear nation Pakistan?

  46. Analysis paralysis. Insights are great but what’s Obama’s plan? This is not a Harvard lecture where we can all go back to our rooms. It all comes down to the chief bullshitter (collective bad decisions got us into a catatonic state) doesn’t want to be bullshitted, but those unwilling to recognize that fact engage in verbal excess that is simply meaningless at this point. What’s Obama going to to prevent another 9/11? Continue to sit on his hands, swing his golf club and raise money to help elect more do nothing politicians whose only concern is staying in power?

  47. Death to Isil every last one of them —recognize murder when you see it. Keep your eye on the moral compass. It is not a holy war it is every thing that is not holy , and face the truth Isil is at war with America , but right now we are not at war with them which means next to nothing

  48. I find the acronym ISIS more accurate than ISIL, since the Levant is Lebanon and perhaps Israel. The territory being carved out by this organization is in Syria and Iraq, hence the ISIS moniker.

  49. Saying that real commitment requires many more than 15,000 troops conflicts with the statement that “We must never again make the mistake that we made in 2008, which was to assume that we have destroyed a jihadist organization because we have pushed it out of former safe-havens and inhibited its ability to hold territory.”

    Relying on large numbers of US ground forces will make that same mistake, and likely turn Iraqi Sunnis further against the Baghdad government.

    We can play a roll in restarting talks with Sunni tribal leaders, and our air support can be the ‘stick’ to counter carrots that we and Baghdad offer. But relying on US troops to quell insurgents will remove Baghdad’s incentive for cooperating with Sunni leaders – inclusion will no longer be a matter of survival to the Baghdad government.

    Syria is more complicated, but forcing ISIS to waste assets on the Iraq front will also weaken it in Syria. And again, a large presence of US troops fighting for what is viewed as Shiite interests will be counterproductive.

  50. If this is primarily a humanitarian mission then why the lack of attack in other places where tribal genocide and “pure evil” were manifest? I can think of at least 3 reasons…EXON, CHEVRON and HALLIBURTON. oh yeah! and another reason..Uncle Sams’ NEVER-ENDING GAME OF SOLDIERS.

  51. Lord John Prescott, a former UK deputy prime minister, admitted that he and Prime Minister Tony Blair “were wrong” to invade Iraq. He accused Tony Blair of radicalizing young British Muslims with his “bloody crusades.” Lord Prescott, who served as Blair’s deputy, admitted that the pair “were wrong” to invade Iraq. “I was with Tony Blair on Iraq. We were wrong. They told us it wasn’t regime change. It was. And that’s exactly what the Americans have had. Now Tony, unfortunately is still in to that. I mean the way he’s going now, he now wants to invade everywhere,” Prescott said

    The veteran Labour politician went on to directly link Blair’s invasions with young Muslims’ joining violent Islamic groups. Lord Prescott added, “When I hear people
    talking about how people are radicalized, young Muslims. I’ll tell you how they are radicalized. Every time they watch the television where their families are worried, their kids are being killed and murdered and rockets firing on all these people, that’s what radicalizes them.”

  52. there can be more peace in this world if the USA pays less attention to affairs of others.
    Either it was IRAQ or it is SYRIA, let them leave on. Just focus on boundries because these countries can not produce weapons. catch the people who are providing them weapons.