As predicted, the Republicans are using the Paris atrocities to score political points. The central claim is that a terrorist attack by ISIL in Europe proves Obama is weak and indecisive. If he’d called them Islamic Terrorists and bombed more frequently, ISIL would be no more.
The presidential candidates and most governors are bravely united in saying no Syrian refugees should be admitted to the country. They might be wolves in sheep’s clothing. Rubio went so far as to make an analogy to letting Nazis into America, whereas a more apt analogy would be to the refusal to admit Jews fleeing the Nazis. We all recall how well that worked out, what a proud a moment it was for freedom and democracy.
Jeb said we should declare war, described ISIL accurately as an enemy of Western civilization, but then had little to offer but more bombs, the boots of other nations on the ground and “leadership.” Which is easier called for than delivered. Soon this seemed too tepid and he felt the need to match the more bellicose rhetoric of his rivals. OK, let’s have boots on the ground. Thus do leaders become followers. Trump, too, soon reversed his earlier desire to leave the fighting to Putin and called for boots, boots, boots.
Sen. Graham wants to put 10,000 troops into Iraq to “destroy these people,” but when a few of our people are captured and beheaded on TV, will the American people still think this was a good idea? Sen. Rubio amped up his “clash of civilizations” rhetoric, but when all of these people start talking as if they are avid for a crusade it plays into the ISIL narrative that they are defending Islam — against invading crusaders.
It might just be possible that Obama’s relatively muted rhetoric has been by design, to deny the enemy a propaganda hook on which to hang their lunacy. As the president rather wearily noted, the actual tactics his critics are proposing are more of less what’s already being done, with the exception of another land war in Iraq. There was even some reporting to suggest that administration spooks had identified the threats to Europe but the local authorities hadn’t acted on them in a timely manner.
Republicans, when pressed to say what they they‘d do differently other than talk tougher and “take out ISIL,” haven’t actually has much new to propose. Perhaps the options are limited and most of them bad. When pressed for specifics, many of the candidates, including Bush and Carson, say they’d consult with military experts and follow their lead, as if Obama isn’t doing that.
The wilder types simply promise to be more gung-ho. Cruz, for example said the solution was to be “more tolerant of civilian casualties.” That is, bomb indiscriminately and hope some of the dead are enemies. Of course this guarantees that all of the survivors will be enemies. It smacks of the destruction of Beziers during the medieval crusade to suppress the Albigensian heresy. When a soldier worried about slaughtering good Catholics along with heretics, a 13th Century Cruz, Abbot Arnaud Amalric, said, “kill them all, God will sort them out.”
What exactly do those military experts Obama is supposedly ignoring say? A report to the Joint Chiefs on lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan was recently released and it suggested that very little was achieved by the trillions of dollars and thousands of lives spent on those conflicts. The conclusion was that the campaigns were military successes but political failures. We can kill militant Islamists, but can’t keep more from popping up again by military means alone.
The report said nine areas had to be addressed to succeed against such an enemy – force of arms being only one of them. It called for cutting off financing for the terrorists, solving the refugee problem in ways that win them as allies, enlisting clerics to denounce ISIL’s ideology as a perversion of Islam, improving intelligence capabilities, interdicting foreign fighters trying to join ISIL, and solving the thorny problem of dysfunctional regional governments which create the vacuum ISIL is exploiting. Altogether a tall order.
The President, denounced as weak for not giving gung-ho speeches or putting boots on the ground and Americans in harm’s way, has in fact seemingly been following this prescription in a quiet, methodical way. If that is so, he has done exactly what Republicans say they would do. He has listened to military and geopolitical experts and has tried to follow a multifaceted plan to weaken and marginalize the terrorist caliphate and to begin to shrink its sanctuary.
For those neocon war hawks who won’t be satisfied without another huge expeditionary force, a dose of reality from Col. Jack Jacobs, Medal of Honor recipient, military analyst and author, might just be in order. In a recent TV appearance, Jacobs said we could certainly defeat ISIL, but “not by dropping conventional bombs on people. Militarily the only purpose for bombs is to pave the way for people on the ground to seize and hold terrain long enough to create an environment in which there can be a real government…” To do that, according to this military expert, would take “several hundreds of thousands” of troops and ten to twenty years. Realistically, Jacobs concluded, “we’re not going to do it, and we can’t get the people in the region to do it.”
Leading up to the Iraq War, Gen. Eric Shinseki made a similar prediction of what it would take to win. He was demoted at the instigation of the Cheney-Rumsfeld neocon cabal who claimed far fewer troops would be needed and the war would be “a cakewalk.” It wasn’t. The gung-ho couldn’t handle the truth then, and the Republicans recklessly arguing for more action won’t like the reality is they get their wish. Simple slogans won’t defeat this enemy. It will be a long, complicated, unpleasant, confusing, expensive, damaging fight and no one is telling the public the truth about it.