Put to the Question

David Ignatius asks a series of pointed questions:

● What’s the exit strategy? As Obama begins his effort to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State, his aides told the New York Times the campaign could take three years. How will the United States and its allies know when they have “won”? Or will this be more like the Cold War, a decades-long ideological battle punctuated by periods of intense local combat? If so, are the American people ready for such a long and patient struggle?

● If Obama is serious about using U.S. military power against the Islamic State, why has he initially been so tentative? Militarily, a sudden, sharp attack makes more sense than a drizzle of airstrikes. There may be sound political reasons for the cautious U.S. approach, to force countries in the region to step up and make commitments themselves, but this goes against military logic.

● The United States may begin with the limited goal of helping allies fight the Islamic State, but what if the campaign goes badly, or it spreads more widely to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, or the U.S. homeland is hit in retaliation? We may plan a restrained campaign, but the enemy gets a vote. Won’t the United States inevitably have to escalate if it seems to be losing?

And, finally, the hardest question: Is the United States walking into a trap that has been constructed by the Islamic State — launching attacks that will rally jihadists around the world? From everything the jihadists proclaim in their propaganda, we can sense that they have been dreaming of this showdown. This is why the United States needs to make sure that, with every step it takes, it is surrounded by Muslim friends and allies.

That’s more than I’m usually comfortable with quoting and I apologize to Mr. Ignatius for it but there’s really no other way of getting the point across.

I think I would begin at a different point than Mr. Ignatius does. What is the U. S. interest? If it’s avenging the deaths of two young Americans who put themselves in harm’s way with foreseeable consequences, it returns to the point I made a couple of weeks ago about the War of Jenkins Ear. Is that really a reason to go to war?

If it’s to remove threats to our security, our security will remain threatened as long as the factors that produce and enable the threat are in place. Those factors are both at home and abroad. As long as those factors remain going after Osama Bin Laden or Al Qaeda or Afghanistan or Saddam Hussein or IS are just disconnected actions without strategic coherence.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I don’t object to not going to war. I do object to lurching uncontrollably into war without articulating our interests or objectives. It’s up to President Obama to articulate those interests, lay out the objectives, and produce a plan to achieve them.

One thing of which we shouldn’t lose sight. Saudi Arabia and Jordan are much more in the crosshairs than we are. Does a more, er, kinetic role for the U. S. encourage or discourage their own involvement? I think the more we commit the less they will.

14 comments… add one
  • TastyBits Link

    What the delusional hawks want is an American Empire, but they do not want to employ the tools of an empire. Afghanistan and Iraq were buffer states. Saudi Arabia is colonized for resources. China is colonized for its labor. Most of them are historically illiterate, and they have no idea of what constitutes an empire.

    They also do not understand that auxiliaries and mercenaries make very bad troops. You need an ground troops that fight for the empire not the local states. The legionaries of Julius Caesar were vastly superior to those of Theodosius I.

    President Obama gets the US into messes when he listens to the Europeans. When they become concerned about an issue, he becomes concerned about an issue, and they only become concerned when it affects them economically.

    Nobody has made an argument that ISIS is an actual threat. It is implied that they are a threat because they have territory, equipment, manpower, funding, hatred, etc., and the argument is that the large quantities creates a threat.

    When this logic is applied to guns in Chicago, the same people reject it. Interesting.

  • Nobody has made an argument that ISIS is an actual threat. It is implied that they are a threat because they have territory, equipment, manpower, funding, hatred, etc., and the argument is that the large quantities creates a threat.

    Oh, I think they’re a threat. That’s not the question. The question is to whom and in what relative proportion? I think they’re a much larger threat to Jordan and KSA than they are to us (the whole caliphate jazz is a strike against KSA legitimacy) and that Jordan and KSA are more than happy to let us carry their water for them.

  • TastyBits Link

    There are al-Qaeda elements in ISIS, and al-Qaeda has stated the overthrow of KSA as its main goal. That would prove they are a threat to Saudi Arabia, but I mean the US directly.

    Over and over, I am supposed to just think what these idiots (delusional hawks) want me to think because they cannot make a logical argument. Emotion is their only argument. They are scared. They have no idea of why they are scared, but they are scared. I am supposed to be scared also.

    I get the same thing from my wife. She hears something, and I am supposed to be worried. The first thing you do not do is to start getting scared. Maybe I have a high tolerance for scary sh*t, or I am just stupid. I have been in some situations where I probably should have crapped on myself, but things probably would have gone a lot worse.

    I will take a guess that you have an idea of what I mean.

    I believe Osama bin Laden and the leaders were/are killers first, and they want power second. They are not upset because the US has hedge funds, American Idol, monster trucks, and Kim Kardashian, but they may be pissed that we have Nicki Minaj.

    They like chopping off heads, and when they can piss-off people doing it, they get double the thrills.

  • CStanley Link

    My view is that the concerns of “carrying water” would be better framed as the US needing to apply more leverage.

    We are the superpower and there is no substitute for that leadership role. What’s been missing for far too long is the expectations that should be placed on others who want the benefit of our protection.

  • My point is that I think there’s a Catch-22. It has been said, by the president for example, that we will only step up if the Saudis do, too. But if we step up the Saudis will feel no need to step up and they have every reason not to.

  • CStanley Link

    But that’s what I mean by leverage- we tell the Saudis that we will step up, but with preconditions.

  • This goes back to my points about national interest. If we have a national interest, should it be held hostage to a potential Saudi veto? If we have no national interest, why do anything?

  • CStanley Link

    Well I probably have more acceptance than you do of the idea that we have a national interest in maintaining order (when possible) and preventing safe havens for terrorist groups.

    That said though, I also think you have it backwards: I see this as the Saudis having a strong self interest which we would be subordinating to our own self interest. In my proposed scenario, we would have to be prepared to walk away if they don’t step up.

    My gut feeling (not really informed, so correct me if I’m wrong) is that ISIL will soon work it’s way into Jordan, and if/when that happens the powder keg will really ignite. Do we really not have a national interest in trying to stabilize the region before that occurs? Won’t we inevitably get dragged in if we don’t enter on our own terms?

    That’s my problem with non-interventionist strategy- it seems to ignore the likelihood that we eventually have to intervene anyway, in a time or manner that will be far worse for our own interests.

  • I just think I have a different sense of likely Saudi responses.

  • steve Link

    The Saudis (and other gulf states) financed ISIS. Now they are having their “O Sh*t “moment as they realize it may bite them in the tuckus (sp?). If we bail them out, what stops them from doing this again? What stops the Iraqi Shia from continuing to exclude Sunnis? Why should they do anything different. Groundhog Day is funny as a movie. As a recurrent sinkhole for American money and troops, not so much.

    The other thought occurs that this is what the Sunnis in Iraq actually prefer. If so, what are our chances of actually changing this? We already tried to change Iraq into Sweden once and failed. What do we know now that would change things?

    Last of all, is it really our plan now that we are going to invade every country every time they have a group of terrorists (a now meaningless term) bouncing around inside the country, even if they are not actually attacking us?


  • jan Link

    “It has been said, by the president for example, that we will only step up if the Saudis do, too. But if we step up the Saudis will feel no need to step up and they have every reason not to.”

    It has also been posited that the Saudis will only step up if we first lead the way, being that we have a super power status and military superiority.

    Whether or not it’s a cultural thing, a money thing or something else, but some have conjectured that the reason the SOFA with Iraq was not renewed was because Milaki was irritated, perhaps felt chided, disrespected, and unsupported, by the U.S. for not committing to leaving behind a bigger military presence. Thus, he became unwilling to modify or extend the agreement he earlier made with Bush.

    Maybe there’s a childish timidity, immaturity ingrained in the ME psychi, where their comfort zone is to be a follower rather than a leader on these kinds of aggressive counter attacks.

  • ... Link

    I’m troubled by the second bullet point. He seems ignorant of both logistical- and military intelligence- needs. Attack who, where & when with what?

  • steve Link

    jan- The Saudis don’t want to be seen attacking other Muslims. In the case of Maliki, he could not afford to look weak, a cardinal sin in the ME. He could not publicly admit he needed us to stay.


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