What To Do and Not To Do about ISIL
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I have seldom seen such a dichotomy both in what Americans perceive to be the threat posed by ISIL and in the range of actions armchair generals, real generals, politicians, military experts and pundits say we should take against ISIL.
The threat is viewed all the way from being “strictly local, of no concern to Americans,” to “America and the entire Western civilization are about to become a Caliphate of decapitated infidels,” although recent polls suggest that Americans are increasingly concerned that ISIS represents a direct terror threat.
The range of actions to control or defeat ISIL spans the entire spectrum between pacifism and isolationism to all-out warfare — from “do nothing” to “bomb them back to the Stone Age.”
As the President prepares to finally detail his strategy for dealing with the terrorist group, the number of contrasting pieces purporting to give advice to the President has reached a crescendo.
One author, a retired three-star Air Force General, David Deptula, has already picked a name, “Operation Restore Stability,” for the operation that will “crush” ISIS.
The General believes that current U.S. tactical objectives against ISIL “are tactical at best” centering on “protecting American outposts and conducting humanitarian relief.”
In Deptula’s opinion, this will not render ISIS ineffective: ISIS “cannot be reasoned with— they must be terminated.”
To do this, the General defines three operational objectives:
• Halt any further expansion of IS influence in the region of Iraq and Syria.
• Paralyze IS leadership, command, and control elements.
• Render IS operations ineffective.
To accomplish these objectives, Deptula says “[W]e need to begin with an aggressive air campaign — where airpower is applied like a thunderstorm, not a drizzle; 24/7 constant over-watch, with force used against every move of IS forces and personnel.”
He says, “we’ve done this before” as in Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom (The Afghanistan War) and Operation Northern Watch, but Deptula does not mention Operation Iraqi Freedom (The Iraq War).
Lamenting the United Nations alleged lack of action in the ISIS crisis, the General cites United Nations Security Council Resolution 688 and says, “It takes less than a minute to replace ‘Iraq’ with ‘IS’ so let’s do it, vote and move on.”
Read more of how Lt. Gen. Deptula would “move on” here.
Contract this strategy to Kurt Eichenwald’s more hands-off strategy outlined in Newsweek.
Eichenwald sees ISIS as a bunch of the “most irreparably stupid jihadists ever to slaughter their way onto the international stage,” planting the seeds of their own ultimate destruction and “the reason America should not rush in to take on these thugs.”
Perhaps disputing General Deptula’s strategy, Eichenwald says “… as any military strategist will tell you, the key to victory is getting inside the head of the enemy, not just running onto the battlefield in hopes shooting a lot of bad guys and blowing up a lot of buildings. If it were, the U.S. would have earned a decisive victory in Iraq a decade ago.”
Eichenwald believes that ISIS has so many enemies that perhaps the U.S. “needs to wait and see how successful ISIS’s many other enemies are in attacking it.”
Eichenwald counts ten major ISIS enemies, including the United States, and a whole bunch more in the Middle East, “[a]nd that doesn’t even account for jihadists in other parts of the globe who are certain to chafe if ISIS gains more power…”
ISIS, then, faces two major military threats: other terrorist groups and the possibility of a Sunni uprising in areas under its control, driven by popular revulsion among the Muslims that these jihadists consider traitors to Islam. The group faces enemies in all directions and eventually, no matter how many weapons it holds, no matter how much money it has, ISIS will fall when confronted by those terrorists or those Muslims.
Unless, he says, “politicians in the United States and allies in the West fall back on their traditional ‘Fire first, think later’ approach to military planning.”
Eichenwald claims that the purpose of decapitating Western journalists and showing the videos online is to lure and goad the U.S. into war:
ISIS is hoping America will go too far in response, launch attacks that kill lots of innocent Muslims in an attempt to wipe out the jihadists. That would not destroy ISIS, but would derail the Islamic threat to the group. For no matter how hated ISIS is among the other jihadists and Middle Eastern Muslims, the United States is despised more. A new American strategic blunder on par with the Iraq War would distract ISIS’s Islamic enemies and turn the battle, once again, toward the U.S. If ISIS is to survive, it needs America to strike out rashly and harshly against it.
So, remember this: Every time you hear some commentator say America should “do something,” they are reading from the ISIS script. The U.S. can soften up ISIS with strategic bombing to aid the Islamic fighters taking them on. But it cannot beat them by rolling the Humvees back into Iraq or Syria. ISIS will be defeated by its own brutality against the people who might otherwise be their allies. In this case, the enemies of our enemies are truly our friends, at least for now.
ISIS will fall. It is inevitable. That is, unless the United States becomes the stupid one and gives them what they want.
There you have it, two very contrasting takes on the ISIS threat and on what the U.S. and its allies should do about it.
Perhaps the President, on Wednesday, will spell out a strategy somewhere in between. A strategy that considers Eichenwald’s claim that ISIS’ numerous enemies will eventually spell doom and destruction for ISIS, but also use some of General Deptula’s airpower to help ISIS’ enemies and speed up the germination of those seeds of (self-)destruction.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Deptula, (Ret.), was the offensive air campaign planner for Operation Desert Storm; the Joint Task Force Commander for Operation Northern Watch; and the Commander of the Combined Air Operations Center for the opening phase of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Lead image: DoD