Responding to Terror
In the wake of recent terror attacks in Paris, San Bernardino and elsewhere, many people in the United States and overseas have been weighing in on who should be responding to the further threats posed by ISIS and other terrorist organizations and how they should respond. The UN has weighed in, as have several European and Middle Eastern governments, the Obama Administration and Russia. Not to be left out of the discussion, candidates for the 2016 US Presidential election from both major parties have likewise set forth proposals of their own.
Activity in the skies above and on the ground in Syria and Iraq has been gradually escalating since the Obama Administration started its policy of airstrikes, training and arming both the Iraqi armed forces and Syrian rebel forces. The pace increased most recently when the Russians became more involved in backing the Assad regime in Syria militarily, and Turkey became militarily involved as well. Diplomacy has been in evidence, involving American, Russian, Syrian and Iranian delegations. Tensions have included the alleged bombing of a Russian civilian aircraft in Egypt and the shooting down of a Russian bomber by Turkish fighter aircraft when it allegedly strayed over Turkish airspace.
So far, the most glaring absence in this whole debate has been that of the US Congress. Since being asked by President Obama more than a year ago, Congress has resolutely refused to pass anything remotely resembling a new Authorization of the Use of Military Force to deal with the situation and replace the outdated one passed in the days following the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks against the US. Regardless of the willingness of Presidential candidates (some of whom serve in Congress) to spout their views as to how they would deal with the situation, no glimmer of hope has ever really existed that Congress would compose and debate such a document, let alone pass it on to the President.
So far, the American plan which was implemented by President Obama over a year ago has seen very limited success. Much money has been spent trying to train and arm Syrian opposition groups with little or nothing to show for it. Similar lack of progress has been seen in Iraq, despite the installation of a new regime there. Differences in approach between the Iranians and Russians (which have been seeking to aid the Assad regime) and the US Administration, which wants Assad gone, have seemed to leave the sides working at cross-purposes instead of firmly allied against ISIS. It has become increasingly evident that heavy emphasis on air and drone attacks alone will not accomplish the stated mission of stopping and defeating ISIS without adequate ground forces to augment them.
Meanwhile, ISIS remains well-funded, maintains the ability to recruit new fighters, inspire and launch terror operations in areas within its stated “borders” in Iraq and Syria while also allying with others in Libya, Yemen and elsewhere – including the recent attacks in Paris. Their prodigious use of the internet and social media continue to defy attempts to curtail their recruitment efforts, and their possession of some key oilfields (along with the ability to somehow manage to sell that oil to fund their enterprise) have enabled them to remain intact in the face of opposition presented by two of the most powerful military forces on the planet. They also managed to collect tons of weapons and other armaments from the “armies” that were supposed to stop them.
Air power and drone strikes result in few American or Russian casualties. They also result in inevitable innocent civilian casualties which can then be exploited to gain new recruits. No matter how precise the drone, air and missile attacks can be, they are not perfect. While they have apparently been able to kill many of the terrorist leaders over time, they have not eliminated them entirely or prevented them from being replaced by fresh leaders. Ground forces are needed to complete the mission, but who will provide them? So far, President Obama has resisted the temptation (as well as the calls from some of his opponents) to resort to sending in more than just a relatively small number of special forces units of American troops to assist and train local forces along with our air support. The region is awash with deadly weapons but lacks a coordinated response to the threats posed by ISIS. The muddle of the Syrian civil war, with various groups fighting the government and/or ISIS or both or each other, is a case in point.
Some among the GOP Presidential contenders are calling for more forceful utilization of American military might in the fight. Cruz, Trump and Lindsey Graham have called for such actions as committing thousands of ground troops, carpet bombing ISIS locations and even targeting family members of the terrorists, as well as reinstituting the practice of torture in the course of prosecuting the war on ISIS. Rather than succeeding in the rapid defeat of ISIS, such actions seem more likely to achieve the opposite, by increasing the often justified hatred of the people being attacked for those unjustified indiscriminate attacks. Trump and others don’t help by railing against all of Islam seek to lump them all together as our enemies who must be vanquished instead of befriended. Fighting terror with terror seems to me to be a morally unconscionable contradiction fraught with hypocrisy. The ends don’t justify the means when we become indistinguishable from our enemies in the actions we are willing to take to defeat their behavioral barbarity. Pretending to be be morally superior to people beheading innocent civilians while blowing up hospitals or killing innocent women and children with bombs intended to eliminate terrorists is hypocritical to say the least.
Diplomatic efforts which have begun must be allowed to come to fruition. This war, though the places and some of the names of the opponents have changed, has been going on interminably for far too long. Doubling down on tactics and strategies which have obviously failed miserably to achieve anything remotely resembling desirable results would be to waste even more time, effort, lives and money. The only people who appear to be gaining anything from this process are the merchants of death selling the means of mass destruction to all sides in the conflict simultaneously for tremendous private profit. Cease fire, create and deploy international peacekeeping bodies and resolve differences diplomatically. Use peacekeepers to prevent atrocities, rather than trying to stop the terrorists with superior firepower and becoming little more than superior terrorists ourselves.
Cut off ISIS funding sources. Stop them from turning stolen natural and monetary resources into more weapons. Enable the local people who are being most negatively affected by the terrorists to defend themselves instead of blowing up their homes to save them. Take care of the refugees created by the slaughter instead of increasing their destitution and grief. First and foremost, resist taking tactical and strategic advice from politicians who are all too eager to risk the lives of others’ children in battle while waging war themselves from a safe distance. The same chicken hawks who brought ISIS into existence to begin with through their self-serving ill-conceived wars of convenience are still encouraging us to keep up their fight with no end in sight. Don’t listen to a Donald Trump or Ted Cruz or anyone else who sounds like little more than a new voice echoing the inane utterances of Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and their sycophants. Don’t indulge in the xenophobic hatred of all that differs from our culture. The goal is a peace among diverse peoples, not a peace brought about by totalitarian destruction of all opposition by force.
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