The Inevitable Failure Of US Half-Measures Against ISIS

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AP Photo/Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is not coming to get us. This is in spite of alarmists like U.S. Senator and Scarlett O’Hara impressionist Lindsay Graham claiming, “They’re intending to come here … This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.”


There is no evidence that ISIS poses a threat to the United States, just a generalized notion of danger from Islamic terrorists, who in spite of their best efforts, have conducted no successful attacks in the United States since 9/11. For the “home of the brave,” we sure act like a bunch of cowards sometimes.

For half a century, the United States faced off against the Soviet Union. The Soviets had an arsenal of thousands of nuclear weapons. It attempted to manipulate internal U.S. politics. It even sponsored revolutionary and terrorist groups throughout the world. We managed to defeat it without direct conflict. Yet a group of goat herders on the other side of the world has us in a panic?

ISIS only poses a threat in the theoretical sense. Someday, if they get a country of their own, they might become a haven for terrorists. “If” and “might” are pretty weak words to hang a war on. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Just because we see a radicalized Islamic terrorist with a gun, doesn’t mean he’s coming here with it. We need to focus on actual terrorist threats, not theoretical ones.

What is usually forgotten is that we are doing exactly what ISIS wants us to do. Those militants didn’t cut the heads off James Foley and Steven Sotloff to try to keep us from bombing them. They did it to make sure that we would. They want us to come at them. They set an ambush, told us exactly where it was, and yet we still deliberately walked right into it. Every bomb we drop births another jihadist for their movement. We are manufacturing more terrorists than we will ever kill.

Even worse, we are now fighting on the same side as Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Hassan Rouhani in Iran. As the saying goes, judge a man by the company he keeps.

The plan is apparently that if we bomb long enough, then somehow ISIS will … get tired of it? That the Iraqis will suddenly successfully reorganize and train their Army, even though they’ve been trying to do that for eight years? That somehow we’ll identify the good guys in the Syrian resistance, then equip and train them without inadvertently aiding enemies of the United States?

Our strategy is based on magical thinking and public relations. All it does is make people feel as if the United States is doing something about the problem. We may be doing something, but we aren’t accomplishing anything.

The limited bombing campaign we are leading is giving us the worst of all worlds. We are conducting an operation that extends indefinitely into the future, yet keeping the U.S. entangled in the region. We have thrown away the lessons of Vietnam, as expressed in the Weinberger and Powell doctrines. Fighting with no hope of victory is fighting with the assurance of failure.

To put it bluntly, we need to shit or get off the pot. Once we admit that we aren’t sending major ground units to root out ISIS house-by-house, then we admit that the only other option is to leave.

We can still support friendly Arab and Muslim states, such as Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey in their efforts to contain the radical jihadist threat. This includes helping them use their own forces, through military aid and advisor support. They need to learn to protect themselves, and they will, if we force them to stand on their own feet.

At the same time, getting out of Iraq will deny other states, like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, the ability to speak out against ISIS in public while supporting it under the table. They can do that cost free because they live under an American security blanket. Take that away and make them choose a side.

This will be a hard pill to swallow. The United States has spent far too much blood and treasure in Iraq already. It is hard to walk away, but that’s a far better course of action than half-measures and the slow slide toward failure we are on today.

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