Since the three most prolific Outside the Beltway contributors have expressed their views on the war against DAESH over the last few days, I thought I might put my two cents in. James Joyner says that DAESH is winning because we’re overreacting:
A week after the ISIS attacks in Paris, Brussels is on high alert, essentially shutting down the city. The US embassy has advised all US citizens in Belgium to shelter in place and US government personnel are prohibited from traveling to Brussels or Paris. The US Congress has passed, on a bipartisan basis, prohibitive restrictions on taking in refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war and the EU is likely to adopt travel restrictions that would undermine the Schengen protocols that are its basis.
It’s entirely possible that these decisions are entirely prudent given intelligence to which our governments are privy and we are not. But they demonstrate, yet again, the lamentable degree to which one successful terrorist attack in a Western city can massively disrupt our lives and cause us to re-examine core principles.
and that President Obama’s course of action has been largely correct:
While I’ve been critical of Obama’s rhetorical excesses—notably his “Assad must go” stance, his “red line” over chemical weapons, and his declaration that a very limited, air-only intervention by the United States would “defeat and ultimately destroy” ISIS—I’ve quibbled with his general policy only at the margins. I’ve shared the assumptions that Kagan attributes to the president. Indeed, like Obama, I downplayed ISIS’ threat the day before the Paris attacks. Whereas he pronounced ISIS “contained,” I declared in a Twitter conversation with Jim Henley that it was “a rather marginal threat to the US,” adding that “Several flu strains have been more menacing.”
Even considering the Paris attacks an attack on the US by virtue of NATO’s Article 5, 168 deaths is hardly an existential threat.
So while this does not mean we just sit back and take it, it does mean that reality is what is and there is no way to make the world terrorism free. More importantly: a lot of what we do in the face of terrorism (like the current freak-out over refugees, among other reactions) actually can have the effect of incentivizing more terrorism. For terrorism to truly work, there has to be a massive over-reaction.
In those posts and in their comments sections several different views on what should be done have emerged. Some think that President Obama’s course of action is the proper one because it’s his course of action. Some, like James, think the president’s course of action is the proper one if only because they’re concerned about overreacting. One notable commenter argues for a maximalist response to DAESH i.e. a “scorched earth” (literally) policy.
I’d like to propose some rules of thumb to use in identifying the proper course of action. First, we should act in a way consistent with our interests. Not Germany’s, France’s, Israel’s, Iraq’s, or Saudi Arabia’s but our own. If Germany’s interests and U. S. interests are identical, one or the other of the two countries is going about pursuing them in the wrong way. Second, we should not divide the world into friends and enemies so that opposing the actions of those in the enemies list is automatically reckoned to be in our interests regardless of the other merits. Consequently, even if Russia, Syria, and Iran are not our friends, reflexively opposing their actions is not necessarily in our interests.
Third, we should suit means to ends. If the strategic objective is to destroy DAESH, we must employ means capable of doing it. If it is not the strategic objective, we should not say that it is simply because we don’t care to employ the means that would be required. Which takes us to my fourth and last rule of thumb.
We are in desperate need of the president’s enlisting the support of the American people in whatever we do with respect to Syria. If we’re going to destroy DAESH, he needs to get the people behind that goal.
Those considerations drive me to the conclusion that we should be doing nothing in Syria. We shouldn’t supply the radical Islamists who oppose the Syrian government. We shouldn’t be conducting sorties without suitable targets.
Pat Lang thinks that we will inevitably be drawn into unavoidable war with DAESH:
Four of the Paris attack group had entered Europe in the last few months, two on Syrian passports as part of the migration and two on Turkish passports simply traveling within the Schengen area without much trouble. You never know what you don’t know and we don’t know how many others IS has sent toward targets in Europe and North America, especially before the Paris attacks.
PM Trudeau and his political colleagues are going to admit at least 25,000 “Syrian” migrants to Canada in the next few months. There is no possibility that the Canadian authorities will be able to adequately screen that number of people for identity or prior associations. It will anger Canadians here for me to say so but the US/Canada border is a joke. You can walk across it in thousands of places outside the ken of authorities on either side.
The pattern is clear, IS sends in fighters to reinforce local adherents.
IS has announced its intention to attack New York City and Washington, DC.
We should take this statement of intention very seriously.
It might surprise some but if we’re going to fight a war, I agree with the “notable commenter” mentioned above. Our strength is strength. Why fight the enemy’s war?
But I’m also drawn to my inevitable question. So, you’ve removed DAESH. What then?