We Are Playing Right Into Their Hands

Sad.  Outrageous.  Horrifying.  Anger inducing.  Numbing.  These are some of the feelings I have had, just as I am sure many of you share, following the terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday.  Horrible. Unfortunately, I have similar reactions to the politicians in our United States who either have no clue as to what they are talking about, or are purposefully using this tragedy for political purposes.  Those same politicians accuse others of “politicizing” a tragedy following a mass shooting when they speak out for gun safety laws and yet they have no problem politicizing a tragic terrorist attack.  Their comments are to me nearly as terrifying as the attacks themselves.

There are several issues at play here, and a twitter post or sound bite will not reflect the complexities of the situation.  First and foremost one must remember that the purpose of terror is to create fear and a resultant over reaction that causes us to change our way of life or to take some action that meets the terrorists’ long-term goal.  Make no mistake, despite some statements to the contrary, the terrorists have a clear purpose and a clear goal beyond just taking as many lives as possible.  This is one area where the reckless statements by some running for president play right into the hands of the terrorists.

Additionally, one must understand the strategic goals of these particular terrorists who appear to be associated, if not directly controlled, by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  Creating the “caliphate” or fundamentalist nation that they have declared is not an end unto itself just as the terrorist attacks are not an end.  Their vision — and we must understand them from their perspective not ours — is to cause the apocalyptic battle of the West versus the caliphate.  In other words, they really, really, want the United States and European forces to invade their territory in order to precipitate the clash of civilizations.  They believe that the result will be cataclysmic and result in the end of the world as we know it and establish a world dominated by them.

This is an important point and necessitates taking the long view.  This is a clash of ideologies.  This is a clash of world views.  This is a clash of civilizations.  I make those statements with no sense of drama or over reach.  It is a fact and one that the arm-chair quarterbacks and “bomb them to the stone age” activists do not understand.  If every member of ISIS was killed on Wednesday in their caliphate, the terrorists still would have attacked on Friday and others would come in to take their place.  This is a long war that will not be resolved solely by military action.

Am I saying that no military action is necessary?  No.  We need to take military action and we need to take the fight to ISIS.  What I am saying is that such action is necessary, but not sufficient. Clearly ISIS established their ability to reach beyond the caliphate.  The bombing of the Russian airliner over the Sinai, the bombings in Beirut and now the attack in Paris are certainly ISIS efforts to show that forces that oppose them will be attacked.  However, since we are also dealing on a psychological and ideological level, there are other aspects to those attacks and it very well may be that they are also a result of what the president observed last week prior to the attacks.  Not directly related as in retaliation or defiance, but that the facts are related. He said ISIS is “contained.” While this remark is getting shrill ridicule from presidential aspirants, he may be right.  The caliphate is shrinking geographically, the number of recruits seems to be dwindling, and more nations are joining the fight against them.  Under that circumstance, ISIS leaders would need to demonstrate that they are still strong and provide more fodder for gaining recruits. Additionally, without going into a history of the western world, the ISIS ideology and their pronouncements are reflective of their perception that Europe squashed the spread of Islam in the Eighth, Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, to name a few of the ideological underpinnings of ISIS and jihadist culture in general.  This is in essence revenge for historical defeats and a demonstration that the war to spread Islam is not over.

I want leaders that understand just how complicated the resolution of this mess will be and in this piece I have only touched the tip of the iceberg of all that is in play.  I want sober leaders, not emotional, uninformed individuals that over-react, or worse, pander for political purposes.  I want leaders that have emotions — which one of us does not react with emotion to events in Paris — but that do not act emotionally. Sending the men and women of our Armed Forces into harms way should not be a knee jerk reaction.  And once again, for all our sakes, just stop it with talking about “boots on the ground”!  That has no meaning and tends to show one’s lack of understanding of how the military works.  Do they mean combat troops?  Advisors?  Logisticians?  Intelligence capabilities?  Marines? Army?  What do they mean?  We must also never forget that by using the term “boots on the ground” we take out the human aspect.  Somehow saying “boots on the ground” removes the obligation of our leaders to understand the consequences of sending our fellow citizens into a situation where inevitably some will be killed and seriously wounded with the consequential impact on their family and friends — not to mention the loss of our nation’s future leaders.  These decisions should never be taken lightly or out of some misplaced desire to show how tough they are.  Nearly all the proposals I have seen from the flock of presidential wannabe’s are amateurish at best, or fraught with danger to our nation at their worst (with the specific exception of Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina whose proposals I am not 100% in agreement with, but at least he has a sober and thought-out plan.) By the way, none of those folks will be in office until about 14 months from now.  It is sure a lot easier to say what should be done than to be the person responsible for actually making the decision. They show their ignorance when they do things like point to the “massive French response” and say that we should do the same.  The “massive” response is twelve (count them, twelve) aircraft bombing shacks in the desert.  The United States and coalition does more than that on a slow day and have been for over a year.  ISIS will not be defeated from the air.  No fly zones make no sense either, as several have proposed, because ISIS has no aircraft.  A no fly zone will bring us into direct conflict with Syrian aircraft (which we may want but such a decision should not be made in the heat of emotion), and with Russian aircraft (we are not fighting the Russians).  I could go on, but you get the idea.  We definitely do need to step up the military pressure on ISIS, especially on the ground, but we need to realize that it is easier said than done and we need to make sure we know what we are doing. Military experts always ask “what is the next step?” and “what is the end game?” and “what does it look like when we are successful?” — none of those specific questions have been answered by advocates of a bigger U.S. military effort and their plans have only very non-specific terms.

I am most bewildered, flabbergasted and profoundly disappointed by the calls from Republican candidates for president and the twenty-five (at last count — twenty-four Republicans and one Democrat) state governors who say that they will “outlaw” Syrian refugees, or indeed any Muslim refugees from settling in the United States.  It is doubtful that they have the legal authority to “outlaw” refugees, but more troubling is that they even propose it.  This is perhaps more dangerous to the future of the United States than the attacks in Paris.  It would also be a tremendous victory for ISIS should we “outlaw” Muslims in the United States. It proves their narrative that the West is “against” Islam.  ISIS also does not want to see those refugees leave their caliphate.  It ruins their narrative and gives them no basis to govern.

Most troubling are the cheers for the leading Republican candidate Mr. Donald Trump when he calls for a “deportation force” to round-up 11 million people from their homes and force them out of the country. Enforce immigration laws, certainly.  Work towards some form of comprehensive immigration reform, certainly.  But round-up 11 million people by force?  Really?  In the United States?  Over the weekend he went several steps further by declaring no Muslim refugees should enter the country — and oh by the way, when he’s president he will have those already legally here deported — but he also said that if he were president he would “strongly consider” shutting down mosques in the United States.  So much for the Constitution.

Even more troubling is that Mr. Trump was not alone in his demagoguery.  Governor Jeb Bush and Senator Ted Cruz said we should only allow “Christians” into the country.  As if we have a litmus test on religion as to who can come into the country.  Bye Bye Constitution.  Governor Chris Christie said he would not allow any refugees into the country, “even for orphans under the age of five.”  Nice.

Clearly they do not remember the glorious chapters of our nation’s history such as rounding up Native Americans and forcing them onto reservations or rounding up Japanese Americans and placing them in internment camps, or refusing to allow Jewish refugees into the country in the late 1930s.

It also belies the facts.  Safety is a concern, obviously.  Should they have looked into the issue more closely, instead of just shooting their mouths off for the sake of some votes, they would see that the situation for refugees coming into our country are vastly different from Europe.  Light years different. Europe is being inundated by refugees leaving the Middle East.  We are not.  Unless they can swim the Atlantic Ocean refugees allowed into the United States are carefully vetted, consist almost entirely of families with women and children, and take about 18 months from the beginning of the process until they arrive in this country.  They should also know that so far, all but one of the Paris attackers was from France and Belgium.

I might also point out that refusing to take in refugees does not make us any safer as anyone with a valid passport that is not on a watch list can get into the country.  Do these politicians want to stop all foreigners from coming in to the country?  Some apparently do.  Senator Rand Paul introduced legislation yesterday that prevents anyone from roughly 30 countries that have a “high risk” of terrorism or significant jihadist movements from entering the country (which would include France, by the way) and imposes a 30 day moratorium on anyone from any country entering the United States until the government verifies that no terrorists can enter the country from anywhere on earth using a passport. So much for the world economy when all movement is shut down.  I suppose that the specifics of how that works is similar to what my old calculus books used to say, “the proof is left to the reader.” Or better yet as they say on “Monday Night Football” — “c’mon man!”  All of which ignores actions such as those of Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City where he killed 168 people and wounded over 600 others.  An American, a military veteran, and a Christian.

We do not need amateurs and demagogues leading our nation.

Should we increase our intelligence activities, be super aware and learn to operate in the new reality of life with terrorism in the 21st century?  Of course.  Do we need to re-think our anti-ISIS strategy and consider increased military involvement?  Of course.  However, I have serious problems with the politicization of the issue and the glaring lack of specifics from most candidates.  And most of what I have heard proposed plays right into the hands of the terrorists.  Besides, it is un-American.


3 Comments on “We Are Playing Right Into Their Hands”

  1. Mike West says:

    Tom– a lot of words about how you don’t like what anyone else is proposing in the “what to do next” column, but precious little on what you think IS the way to go from here. And, oh by the way…”wanting leaders that understand just how complicated the resolution is…” isn’t a foreign policy, it’s a “personnel hiring policy.” Your column comes down on the wrong side of Teddy Roosevelt’s “It’s not the critic who counts…” quote, which I love dearly.

  2. Mike West says:

    Tom- Thinking more about this… Per your thoughts, if we react stridently, we are “playing into their hands.” If we do nothing, we REALLY are playing into their hands. Exactly what DO you propose we do?

    • Tom says:

      Replying to both of your comments, Mike — I realize that asking for competent leaders isn’t a strategy. Of course it isn’t. Indeed it is a hiring policy which is one of the points of the piece. Running around wailing about Syrian refugees only shows us to be weak, ineffective and that our Republican leaders have no plan of their own if all they can do is blame refugees. I also did not say that we should not act “stridently” — we do need to act. My point is that running around mouthing platitudes and playing on the fears of our citizens is more than not helpful. It is down right hurtful — that is what plays into their hands. I think that we are basically on the right track militarily. We need to review the strategy and enhance it where necessary but our leadership should be focused on getting those in the area — Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and others — to put together a viable ground force in conjunction with the Kurds and other groups currently fighting on the ground. Not dissimilar to what we did in building the coalition for Gulf War I. The United States and Europe provide air forces, intelligence, logistics and an increased number of advisers and special operations forces on the ground to hold it all together and to increase the effectiveness of the air operation. Air operations in support of — rather than in place of — a ground offensive. In the end if the nations in the region are not a part of the force on the ground, it will not be a successful or permanent solution. That all takes time to build.

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