The Sacrifice

In one of the most outspoken arguments in favor substantial intervention by the U. S. in Iraq and Syria I’ve read to date, Richard Cohen writes:

I used to not believe in evil. When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “the evil empire,” I thought it was a dandy phrase but also a confession of ignorance. The word itself connotes something or someone diabolical — bad for the sake of bad. The Soviet Union was bad, I conceded, but not for no reason. It was bad because it was insecure, occupying the flat, inviting, Eurasian plain, and because it had a different system of government that it dearly wanted to protect. Reagan had it right, though. The Soviet Union was evil.

Now we are facing a different type of evil. The Islamic State, in whose name Foley was beheaded, murders with abandon. It seems to love death the way the fascists once did. It is Sunni, so it massacres Shiites. It is radical Sunni, so it eliminates apostates. It is Muslim, so it kills Yazidis, a minority with a religion of its own, and takes as plunder their women as concubines. Men are shot in graves of their own making.

The Nazis are back — differently dressed, speaking a different language and murdering ostensibly for different reasons but actually for the same: intolerance, hatred, excitement and just because they can. The Islamic State’s behavior is beyond explication, not reacting as some suggest to the war in Iraq — although in time it will try to settle some scores with the United States — but murdering and torturing and enslaving because this is what it wants to do. It is both futile and tasteless to lay off blame on others — the West, the colonialists of old or the persistent Zionists — or to somehow find guilt in the actions of the rich or powerful because they are rich or powerful. You can blame the victim. You can even kill him.

If you follow and agree with his argument, I honestly don’t see how you could support half measures that failed to eliminate ISIS like modest bombings that just induce them to disperse and wait it out. I also don’t remember anyone ever having said, in reference to the Nazis in the 1940s, “The real solution is for the French to get their act together and oppose them.”

On the other hand even in the face of the atrocities that ISIS has committed, atrocities almost certain to be repeated in the near future and over and over again, I just can’t see Americans willing to accept the dreaded “boots on the ground” and, frankly, I honestly see no other way of assuring that ISIS is eliminated. And then what?

If I have a fundamental principle in areas of military intervention, it was Napoleon’s dictum: “If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.”

27 comments… add one
  • Ben Wolf

    He had me convinced the moment I read his “The Soviet Union was evil because it was evil” sentence.

    Logic of that calibre can’t be refuted.

  • PD Shaw

    Geo-politics teaches that not all pieces of land are as important as others. Germany occupied more important territory than what I would describe as Al-Jazira, though Al-Jazira is more important strategically than places like Yemen or Afghanistan.

  • TastyBits

    I have often heard that Hitler should have been stopped in 1938, 1939, 1940, but I have never heard anybody put forth any plan to accomplish this task. I doubt that any of the people who believe this have any understanding of the reality of the time.

    The calls for actions against ISIS are half-assed, but the goal is to make the caller feel better about him/herself. To them, making the situation worse is better than doing nothing.

  • steve

    IS is a problem right now because the Sunnis in Iraq joined in with them and provided military expertise. This means that the Sunnis in Iraq see them as a better alternative than Shia rule. The chances of us eliminating them when they are preferred over the alternative is very small. How effective have we been at eliminating the Taliban after 13 years? They will be eliminated if the Iraqis decide to get rid of them. We can help with that, but we can’t be the ones doing it all.

    Just because we can, does not mean we should. However, if we decide to help, we really should avoid putting troops in. It is quite clear that a significant number in Iraq viewed us as occupiers and not liberators.


  • Ben Wolf


    I’ve long wondered whether it would habe made a difference whether Hitler was “stopped”; the forces at work in Germany and across Europe were so much greater than any one man could be, it’s possible no foreign policy would have made a difference.

  • Guarneri
  • ...

    How sophisticated does one have to be to believe that the Soviet Union wasn’t evil?

  • jan

    I think you empower wrongdoing and/or evil by ignoring it, because innately strong inclinations simply don’t fade away.

    When you look at it in more general terms, think of the alpha male who seizes upon winning at any cost. Even in biology, there is recessive versus dominant genetics — the latter having the allele which overrides and is expressed in physical traits.

    In the case of ISIS, you have a mushrooming force bound in their determination to destroy anyone standing in their way. Geographically, they have been powering through Syria, Iraq, as they eye neighboring ME countries. But, like a lethal virus, they seem bent on spreading themselves wherever possible — and apparently more and more people in our government think they may have the means and tenacity to infiltrate our borders, opening up chaos here.

    Considering our laxness in border states, coupled with governmental bodies who don’t talk to each other — opting instead for solitary pen-and-phone strategies — I think we have become a weak nation, very susceptible to outside influences which, heretofore, we never would have entertained as being a threat.

  • TastyBits

    @Ben Wolf

    You bring up another aspect. Hitler did not exist in a vacuum. He was a product of his time. European philosophy had become toxic. They combined nihilism and narcissism.

    They looked into the void and seeing nothing, they decided they were the ideal, but humans have flaws. As with inbreeding, these flaws become more pronounced with each attempt to improve the ideal. Each fix causes more problems.

    Hitler’s master race was one manifestation, but fascism was a manifestation also.

    Capitalism ends in fascism. The nationalism and racism are the result of the natural human bloodlust, and they were bolted onto an economic system. Pure fascism provides freedom with a level of certainty that most people desire.

    The people who fled England did not desire a free and equal society. If they were in power, they would have been the oppressors. The US Constitution is a document to deny the other guy the opportunity to screw over you.

  • TastyBits


    I will take the virus diagnoses more serious when the prescription is more than “take two aspirins and call me in the morning”.

    Are you willing to begin supporting Assad to exterminate ISIS, or are they not that dangerous? What about Iran? Are you willing to sanction the people funding them? What about the banks that hold their money?

    Are you willing to level towns and cities? Are you willing to kill innocent women and children? In WW2, the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo were aimed at civilians. Are you willing to go that far?

    The historically illiterate modern man/woman may believe that these create more terrorists or that torture does not work, but history has proven the effectiveness of these tactics. Dead people usually do not cause problems, and when killed ruthlessly, the living usually do not want to join them.

    If all that you are willing to employ are half-assed measures, you are only trying to make yourself feel better. You are like a third grader fighting the local thug with a slingshot. It may work, but more than likely, you are going to piss him off.

    In an electronic world, he who controls the electronics and networks controls the world. Combine this with a robust human intelligence program and non-squeamish interaction with foreign intelligence services. Then, you can use precision targeting – bombings, assassinations, disinformation, etc.

    Interestingly, the people pushing the end of the world message just happen to make money off of it – political advisers, columnists, security specialists, etc. When the preacher is profiting from the message, I assume he/she is a hustler, and I start looking for the hustle.

  • ...

    Jan, your last paragraph points to the areas we should focus on, if our government were competent and on our side. Since it is neither of those things, there’s no need to attempt to fight ISIS over there. Seriously, if we can’t and won’t defend our own borders, how can we expect to defend those of countries on the other side of the planet?

  • jan


    I have questions and concerns rather than self-assured advice/knowledge on what to do about ISIS and other foreign policy conundrums. What I find curious, though, is how rapidly ISIS has become such a huge national security focal point in DC , when we were all told terrorism was ebbing, even “on the run,” a relatively short while ago. How can a threat escalate so fast when our intelligence capability has grown — especially the massive invasiveness of NSA prying into every communication means imaginable?

    Also, much of how I correlate global issues is with the approaches one would apply to more common, everyday quandaries. Whether this involves health, monetary, mechanical, business, personal ones, most irritants, conflicts, arguments etc. have less traumatic, costly, bitterly fought outcomes when faced and attended to at the onset. It’s when dangerous coalitions, inherent national weaknesses are obfuscated or outright denied, allowed to fester, build, and become so bothersome and explosive, screaming for immediate attention, that we encounter the vicious scenarios requiring the more ruthless, inhuman prescriptions you discuss.

    However, like in the Oz story, where a curtain was drawn to hide the meek power behind it, we too seem to be cowering behind a curtain of uncertainty and hesitancy to engage our enemies and reassure our allies when dealing with the imminence of terrorism here and abroad. IMO, there has been no honest, ongoing assessment regarding the scope of terrorism, along with no definitive foreign policy on how to deal with any insurgency or open conflicts around the world. Basically, we seem like a blindfolded, timidly reactive country, knee-jerking our way through the problems that constantly bubble up around us. This behavior results in global allies relying on our calls for justice less and less, as more aggressive countries feel emboldened to push the envelop more and more.

    Consequently, that’s the reason for my own growing concerns and questions. They are not generated by a blood-thirsty need to go to war, but rather by my own pragmatic nature which believes in preventing war through greater vigilance, less political scorecard-keeping, and like Reagan said, “peace through strength.” Instead, under the current administration, we dither, treat malevolent acts against America as ‘criminal offenses,’ and much like the rescue attempt of James Foley, where it purportedly took Obama a month to act on viable intelligence — enough time to move the prisoners — we come up short and he’s now dead.

  • jan

    Jan, your last paragraph points to the areas we should focus on, if our government were competent and on our side.

    ice, it certainly seems this government is acting more against our country’s well being, than for it. IMO, that’s the root for the cloud of distrust, lackluster interest in voting, economic malaise, and general tearing of the national fabric binding people together. Basically, under the Obama/Holder regime a racial, gender, class divisiveness has been insidiously crafted in order to procure election victories and push political agendas.

  • ...

    Jan, its much deeper than Obama & Holder. They’re more aggressive about collapsing the border, for example, but the goal of turning this ino a poor third world country is supported by both paties and their money backers.

    Incidentally, see the poll by Pew that showed a third of Mexicans want to immigrate to the US? That’s about 40,000,000 people, and you can bet that 90+% of those folks aren’t doing well in their own country. And don’t forget that there are probably billions of people that live in countries not as nice as Mexico. Are we going to let them in, too? You know the elites want them here. Anything to crush wages and concentrate wealth in the hands of the few.

  • TastyBits


    The terrorism on the run nonsense was all politics. It was to make the “terrorists are people too” crowd re-elect President Obama. The foreign policy philosophy of hugs and Cokes ain’t working. Apparently, it causes the terrorists to chop off heads.

    In order to have strength through peace, you need to have strength. You are living in a fantasy world. The world of Reagan ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since the end of the Cold War, Republicans and Democrats have hollowed out the military.

    The US is walking loudly and carrying a toothpick. Each “show of strength” displays to more bad guys how small the stick really is, and the people who call for more of this nonsense think they are impressing the world.

    Having a big stick is not strength, and a “show of force” is not walking softly. Strength is the will to obtain your goal, and if that means using total absolute force, then so be it. If you are not willing to go there, you will never be able to bluff.

    An honest debate would be admitting that the US is not ready to “firebomb Tokyo”, and therefore, there is no way to engage the terrorists on a battlefield. Terrorists are not criminals, but there is probably no way to convince the “hug a terrorist” crowd of this. Terrorism needs to be fought as counter-espionage. Welcome to the new Cold War.

    The time to stop ISIS was back when Gaddafi was alive. The US should have protected its strategic interest against European aggression. Now, Libya is going to be the new Afghanistan not ISIS, but the people who created a terrorist haven in Libya have moved on.

    Before it gets tossed down the memory hole, ISIS is the creation of attempting to overthrow the elected leader of Syria. ISIS still has a foothold in Syria, and Assad could use help exterminating them.

    My suggestion is that rather than the US knee-jerking its way through the world’s crisis. The world should should start taking responsibility for its crisis.

    I and 99% of the US has nothing to fear from terrorists. They are not coming to my neighborhood, malls, schools, sports arenas, workplace, etc. I do need to worry about the middle-class, white, male teenager who lives across the street.

    If you are worried about terrorists, look for a neighborhood where the dogs eat car bumpers.

    As for Americans abroad, stay out of dangerous places. When the French start chopping off heads, I will get concerned. What the hell are people doing hiking in Iran or visiting North Korea. How stupid are you? If you have a dangerous job, the important word is dangerous. The US should not be rescuing anybody but US personnel.

    If you are really concerned about terrorism, you would not use it in partisan attacks. You would oppose the philosophy not the person espousing it. President Obama will be gone in a few years, and then, what?

  • jan

    If you are really concerned about terrorism, you would not use it in partisan attacks. You would oppose the philosophy not the person espousing it. President Obama will be gone in a few years, and then, what?


    I’ve long opposed the philosophy of social progressives. However, the man leading the country today and supposedly calling the shots is Barak Obama, who espouses this social progressive philosophy So, I include him in the criticism as well, as he implements what I believe at times to be simply insane.

    When he’s out of office, many of his policies and the increased polarization will remain, including the widening of social fissures. So, the aftertaste will continue to be experienced — much like the left talks about and lays the blame at the last president’s feet. It will be interesting, though, to see if the next elected leader talks as much about what he/she has inherited from his/her predecessor as the current one does — passing the buck backwards instead of front and center at their own desk.


    I know it’s deeper than Obama and Holder. But they are the faces of the current DC agenda, including promoting intimidating threats of going around Congress because they can’t get what they want from Congress. According to this political crew, separation of powers seems to be a thing of the past!

  • TastyBits


    You took two paragraphs to defend your partisanship over your country’s defense. Again, you are more concerned with winning a political argument than exterminating terrorists.

    Do you really think you are going to convince anybody on the Left by complaining about President Obama. Is @michael reynolds going to suddenly have realize he has been wrong because you have been bad mouthing the President?

    The Left and the Right are willing to allow the country to burn down as long as they can blame the other side.

    If your argument is stronger and you are right, time is your friend. For the delusional hawks, time has been unkind regarding the Iraq Invasion. Hopefully, the Iraqi army was the last of that debacle. When the US trained troops turned and ran, all sane people realized training rebels was madness.

    When a partisan’s argument collapses, they will never admit they were wrong. Instead, they will attack their opponent. Rather than admit they were wrong about Syria, they blame it on the Iraq withdrawal. The Libya fiasco they share blame with President Obama is ignored. Instead, Benghazi is the problem in Libya.

    The cowardly Iraqi army will only fight with US troops backing them. A long term US troops presence requires long term base leases and the accompanying agreements. Rather admit failure to accomplish this simple task with a hawkish president and congress, they blame it on a dovish president elected and re-elected over removing troops.

    Many on the Left have a problem identifying evil as evil for similar reasons.

    If the partisanship were removed, the issue would have little political value, and it would quickly fade into the shadows. It would be discussed amongst wonky types, but other than scandal sensationalism, there would be little political value.

  • Andy

    “If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.”

    Personally, that’s my least-favorite Napoleon maxim. Napoleon took Vienna twice – the first time he walked right in without a fight and the second time was only slightly more difficult. The context of that quote is, as far as I can tell, lost to history. Perhaps he was really referring to the Battle of Vienna and what the result meant for the Ottoman’s, (not to mention the Holy Roman Empire) but I don’t really know.

    Replace “Vienna” with “Russia” or even “Spain” and the meaning changes substantially…

  • PD Shaw

    @Andy, interesting, looking around I don’t see a source given for the Napoleon quote; I wonder if its authentic.

  • jan

    “Do you really think you are going to convince anybody on the Left by complaining about President Obama.”

    The short answer is, “No.”

    “The Left and the Right are willing to allow the country to burn down as long as they can blame the other side.”

    I actually see the left more willing to do that than the right. The right lacks the flaming, emotional indignation the left has. Hence they seem more prudent, even boringly stoic, in how far they take their ideological stances — something for which they are roundly criticized for on both the hard right (being called RINOs), and on the hard left, being described as “empty of ideas,” by their inability to push partisan controversial policies, like what was done via the dems with the PPACA

    “The Libya fiasco they share blame with President Obama is ignored. Instead, Benghazi is the problem in Libya.”

    Benghazi is a sympton of the indefensible security issues there, along with an inadequate, limited assessment of the problems developing in Libya. Out country tends to go in a problematic area, tend to some fires there, leave, declare victory, and then ignore the repercussions that follow.

  • TastyBits


    The short answer is, “No.”

    Like the Left calling everybody racist, you will do far more damage to your cause, and the only reason is for your own personal pleasure.

    … Hence they seem more prudent ..

    I would not expect you to assess your side as a bunch of bumbling idiots. Interestingly, your side seems to forget to put in place all the great and wonderful plans when they control the government, and if you have a sob story about why the Democrats prevented it, you can tell it to the Democrats. I have as much sympathy for their excuses.

    … Our country tends to go in a problematic area, tend to some fires there, leave, declare victory, and then ignore the repercussions that follow.

    We agree that the US is going to do a half-assed job, screw-up the place, and leave a total mess. My solution is to stay the hell out or to do whatever it takes. You join with the “doing something is better than doing nothing” crowd.

    Nobody has addressed my original assessment about Gaddafi, and you keep avoiding it. I will go further. The US should have bombed London, Paris, and Rome. In a few years, that will not sound quite as crazy as it does today.

  • steve

    ““If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.”

    This makes perfect sense, if you are planning on taking Vienna. Most real world military problems are much different. Sometimes you use proxies. Sometimes you have limited engagements. Sometimes you use black ops. Sometimes you have the full set piece war you seem to prefer.


  • Andy


    Yeah, I don’t know if it is or not. I spent a few hours one afternoon researching and couldn’t find the source for the quote. I asked some military history experts and no dice there either.

  • Sometimes you have the full set piece war you seem to prefer.

    I don’t prefer “set piece war”. I am skeptical of wars of limited objectives and am especially skeptical of their morality. I think we have yet to succeed in any venture of that sort. In other words, it’s an unproven theory.

  • PD Shaw

    Wikipedia has rejected the Napoleon quote as unsourced; so I think its safe to assume that its a forgery and the real lesson is that “If you set out to take Vienna, DON’T take Vienna.”

  • steve

    Dave- I think part of the problem is that you hanker for a nice clean win. They are rare. Look at WWII, often thought of as our greatest victory. First, the Russians actually won it as much as we did. Second, it lead directly to the Cold War. Sure, Japan has behaved better since then, but now we having China flexing its muscles without a counterbalancing local power. Is that good or bad?

    I think we should war less often. We should understand our limits. When we do have to fight we choose the method that will best serve our needs. That will sometimes be messy and done through proxies.


  • ...

    If you set out to take Vienna, go to the stores and buy the kind that are sausages. Processed meat yumminess!

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