America Cannot Kill Its Way Out of the ISIS War

This is not a simple "we win, they lose" scenario.


The U.S. is a long way from resolving "Operation Inherent Resolve", our new and undeclared war in Iraq and Syria. President Barack Obama says it's "going to be a long-term campaign. There are not quick fixes involved. … As with any military effort, there will be days of progress and there are going to be periods of setback." We're only four months into what the president suggests could be a three-year fight to "degrade and destroy" the Islamic State (ISIS).

The looming question is, how does war with a totalitarian jihadist group actually end successfully, rather than morph from one military campaign into another ad infinitum? It's going to take more than just bullets and bombs. And it's not going to be a simple "we win, they lose" scenario.

ISIS does have weak points militarily. If allied forces can free cities like Mosul or Kobane, they'll strike a serious morale blow that could dissuade future recruits. America is also already bombing oil refineries, a major revenue stream, and there's a good chance ISIS doesn't use banks, so they have millions, if not billions, in cash that's vulnerable for targeting.

Whether the American-led coalition can actually pull off a military victory is yet to be seen. But our airstrikes aren't as effective as hoped, the majority of American troops want nothing to do with this war, our humanitarian aid and weapons have fallen into ISIS's hands, and our relatively small coalition is divided by rivalries and historical tensions.

"The kinetic part of this—drone strikes, airstrikes, Special Forces raids—that is just a tactical and operational tool to constrict the threat group's mobility," explains Sebastian Gorka, Major General Horner Chair at the Marine Corps University and Adjunct Professor at the Institute on World Politics.

A military success, however, does not guarantee the prevention of bigger, badder groups in the future. After all, we battled back Al Qaeda and now have ISIS, its ugliest off-shoot, on our hands. According to a 2008 Rand Corporation study, when terrorist groups do actually cease to exist, "nearly 50 percent of the time [since 1968], groups ended by negotiating a settlement with the government; 25 percent of the time, they achieved victory; and 19 percent of the time, military forces defeated them." And, "big groups of more than 10,000 members have been victorious more than 25 percent of the time."

Christopher Harmon of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies has also looked at historical trends, and his "How Terrorist Groups End" lays out five potential courses: the use of force, which the U.S. has been hesitant to commit in the current case; a good grand strategy, which requires even greater commitment; decapitation of leadership, which is "exceedingly difficult to do"; the terrorist group entering the political process in the occupied nations; or the group winning state power.

So, is it possible to speak diplomatically with an organization that has a stated goal of establishing a religious totalitarian state stretching from the western coast of Spain deep into central Asia?

ISIS is not a rag-tag outfit composed solely of crazies. It's a well-organized, mafia-esque, and business-savvy enterprise. In command are some of the high-ranking Sunni members of the Saddam Hussein regime. Many were driven there by the corrupt, post-war, American-approved Maliki administration, which ousted highly-skilled Sunnis from Iraq's military and instituted "unabashedly Shiite-first policies." Barely half of Sunnis had faith in their government even a year before ISIS showed up.

"Let's get really Machiavellian," says Edward Turzanski of the Foreign Policy Research Center. "And let's say they're less interested in some sort of Islamist ideal than they are in carving out their own sphere of influence" and "protecting Sunni Arabs in Iraq." This could come in the form of Harmon's fifth option, which has previously occurred fully in the case of Bolshevik Russia and, to lesser degrees, with Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Or it could resemble Harmon's fourth scenario, as with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which abandoned terrorist activity and now has former militants in office.

"As a matter of historical fact, insurgencies end by negotiations," says Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute. So who would be equipped to conduct such talks?

Although the U.S. is the head of the current anti-ISIS coalition, it would be a domestic political impossibility for America to take the lead in negotiations. Our mythos is that America wins wars cleanly without concessions, and President Barack Obama is personally unlikely to backtrack on his absolutist rhetoric about defeating ISIS without talks.

ISIS is "challenging the authority of established sovereign states," and as such, "any negotiations should be between the [Iraqi, Syrian, and Kurdish regional] governments and the insurgents," says Preble. Turkey may also be in a willing position to participate in negotiations, since it has already made trade-offs with ISIS and the group is now at Turkey's border.

It's possible, however, that talks couldn't be conducted at all. Some analysts contend that the West should not overlook the seriousness of ISIS's commitment to fighting tooth and nail for a caliphate. Harmon believes that diplomacy would be very difficult.

State Dept

Gorka, citing ISIS's immense brutality and conviction that this is "the final war before the judgment day," says it would be impossible to get them to compromise. But he also notes that "we cannot kill our way out of this war" or we'll be at it for centuries. Rather, America's battle with ISIS, or in "any war against a totalitarian organization … will only come when you have adequately undermined and delegitimized the ideology of the organization. You have to destroy the brand."

Gorka suggests that the U.S. needs an analog to Reagan's Berlin Wall speech, in which the president shamed the communists, "blew their credibility," and made them "uncool."

The State Department is trying something of that sort with a social media campaign called "Look Again, Turn Away." It sends the right messages: ISIS primarily targets other Muslims, its fighters are deserters, and they do not really practice Islam or have real authority over Islamic beliefs.


But, again, the U.S. may not be the best equipped to handle this front. Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis at the global intelligence firmStratfor, says, "America is seen as an outsider and a crusader. It really doesn't have any entre into that battlefield. Quite frankly, the stuff the State Department is doing is almost goofy."

One of ISIS's greatest strengths is its social media propaganda campaign, which makes the organization appear fearsome and enticing, whereas the State Department's work looks poorly Photoshopped. Best suited to break ISIS's grip on ideas, suggests Stewart, will be prestigious religious authorities at Saudi Arabia's Council of Senior Scholars and Egypt's Al Azhar University. "This is a battle for the soul of Islam, it's something that has to be battled between Muslims themselves," Stewart says.

None of these are short-term or singularly effective strategies—it's much harder to end a war than to start one. But they are important strategies that the American-led coalition must consider if the threat of totalitarian Jihadism is to be eliminated and the U.S. is to actually end its long counter-terror campaigns in the Middle East.

NEXT: Offended Mob Demands Head of SNL Comedian Over Catcalling Comments, Airstrikes Not Stopping ISIS Recruitment, Michael Jordan Says Obama Is a Shitty Golfer: P.M. Links

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  1. The looming question is, how does war with a totalitarian Jihadist group actually end successfully,

    When they are cornered and slaughtered to the last man?

    Ex. A: Tamil Tigers.

    1. I was literally just about to cite that.

      The looming question is, how does war with a totalitarian Jihadist group actually end successfully, rather than morph from one military campaign into another ad infinitum? Zenon Evans spoke to a range of policy analysts who say it’s going to take more than just bullets and bombs. And it’s not going to be a simple “we win, they lose” scenario.

      This is more of the kind of bullshit that non-science ‘experts’ churn out to justify their careers. Shame on Reason for citing it. These same people thought the USSR would never collapse.

    2. Well, I thought we were going to eliminate Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but militants keep popping up. That’s also after 10+ years of fighting, hundreds of thousands dead, and trillions spent.

      1. That’s because the US used a kid-glove approach on them and then worse yet engaged in ‘nation-building’. Both of these folly’s were done to ‘win hearts and minds’.

        1. Yes, but with the right millennial-led PR firm engaged we’ll have new apps, social media, and speeches with the lingo needed to change hearts and minds.

        2. How would you suggest we fight them? By completely ignoring the laws of war and our treaty obligations? Spend even more resources on regions/countries that have a marginal impact on our core national security interests?

          You seem to be insinuating there is a purely military solution to deal with these groups. Maybe, but it would likely mean conducting an absolutely brutal campaign that disregards the rights (and lives) of innocents in these same countries.

          1. It would mean fighting them like America fought Japan and Germany: Total War. No consideration for avoiding civilian casualties and even intentionally targeting civilians if it helps us win.

            The only moral imperative of the USG is protecting the rights of American citizens. Everything else is immoral, including going out of the way to not kill enemy civilians.

            1. First off, ISIS is a relatively minor threat in the grand scheme of things. Nazi Germany and Japan were far more powerful economically and militarily.

              Also, I suppose we vehemently disagree in regards to the US’ moral imperatives. I strongly oppose the intentional targeting of civilians and the blatant disregard for the law that you are championing. Our government has absolutely no business engaging in such barbarism.

              1. ISIS is not Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be annihilated.

                Our government has absolutely no business engaging in such barbarism.

                It’s not barbarism, you’re just morally perverted. Go to the Ayn Rand Institute and read up why.

                1. That’s rich coming from someone who wants to extend collective punishment in about as brutal a manner as possible.

                  Who’s stopping you from fighting ISIS? If your views are that strong then I’m sure you can find a way.

                  1. 1) It’s not punishment 2) This is the USG’s job, not mine. But I’d love to donate to Kurdish fighters if I could. Reason should arrange a bake(d) sale.

                    1. It’s the US’ job to pursue a total war in order to deal with/manage a minor threat? I think there are much more cost effective and less destructive ways to do so.

                      I get it. You aren’t punishing them when you intentionally target some of them because ISIS has gotten a foothold in their region.

                    2. Cytotoxic, a lazy Canadian armchair general who wants another country’s military to engage in genocide to fulfill his bloodlust. But actually join the military and support his own brutal policies? Soldiering is for the peasants and plebs, I’m only willing to give some money here and there.

                      Say what you want about 20th century Marxists, at least they were willing to die for what they believed in. Unlike some cowardly fucks.

                    3. He’s Canadian?

                    4. Yes he’s Canadian. He’s also an egotistical civie moron who thinks that ‘shoot ’em all and let God sort them out’ is a legitimate strategy. Radical Islam isn’t Nazi Germany, and bombing fucking Sana’a into dust isn’t going to make it magically go away.

                    5. If true, it’s funny that he wants the US to take the risks rather than his own country.

                    6. To be fair to Cytotoxic I don’t think he would be against Canada supporting his Tenth Crusade through military means with JTF2 and such. But he’s still a smug bastard who wants to throw soldier’s lives away while he comfortably sits at home lecturing people on his genocide’s moral superiority. At least John has actively serviced and his opinions come from actual military experience.

                    7. *actively served, I should really stop using my phone with this site. Or actually proofread. Meh.

                    8. If a book were written about you guys it would be titled The Two Twits.

                      Doesn’t matter if I’m a smug bastard. I’m still right, and your dedication to attacking my character as if that mattered is an admission as much.

                      ‘shoot ’em all and let God sort them out’ is a legitimate strategy

                      Yeah, just because it’s always worked is no reason to do it. Lets just hug.

                    9. Always worked? The indiscriminate targeting of civilians/non-combatants (didn’t just start in WWII) throughout history worked in sending millions of innocents to their graves early.

                      I’m not saying we should just hug ISIS militants, but I think your proposal for total war would have an absolutely toxic impact.

                    10. That’s irrelevant. Those defending themselves from aggression have the right to fight back anyway they have to.

                      I think your proposal for total war would have an absolutely toxic impact.

                      No, that’s you want to believe. History is clear: I’m right.

                    11. Yes, it’s ‘admission’ by attacking your character. While you call us ‘the Two Twits’. Your lack of self-awareness is stunning.

                      I attack your character because you pathetically believe anyone should listen to what you have to say about military policy. But you’re a sad, scared little man who would be unable to even obey the chain of command due to your ego. And, as you are a coward, you expect other people to do your dirty work for you. You talk a big game, but when the chips are down? Oh, I’ll ‘give money’ and spew your crap online. If you were actually ‘defending yourself from aggression’ you’ve be volunteering for the Peshmerga right now.

                      Unfortunately for you, we’re not all murderous little shits. The military is not your personal squad of murderers and guess what, they kind of like those international agreements you shit on. So you just go ahead and keep talking, because the only person who will ever take you seriously on your position is yours.

                    12. The purpose of a military IS organized murder.

                    13. MSimon|10.30.14 @ 10:49PM|#

                      The purpose of a military IS organized murder.

                      Killing in self defense is not murder.

                    14. Well, human lives are very relevant to me. History is rife with examples where rival rulers and/or governments engaged in violence for their own respective gains or prestige rather than in defense of or for the benefit of civilians.

                      I realize you don’t like it, but there are laws that place restrictions on a government’s military actions.

                      And, again, the US hasn’t even been attacked by ISIS at home. They are a terrible group, but they are really only a minor threat to the US. One can plausibly argue that the US has never been more secure in its position than it is today.

                    15. “I think your proposal for total war would have an absolutely toxic impact.

                      No, that’s you want to believe. History is clear: I’m right.”

                      Yes, because this will do nothing to justify every complaint about ‘U.S. imperialism’ ever. And a ton of servicemen who did not join their country’s army to be genocidal morons won’t respond to that policy in any negative way whatsoever. Cytotoxic, there’s more people in your country’s military willing to eliminate a government for even suggesting this stuff than ignore major international treaties and engage in Middle Eastern mass murder.

                    16. By that rationale the women and children you are carpet bombing would have a moral imperative to fight back as well in any way they could, including say a suicide bombing. Perspective is a virtue

                    17. “Radical Islam isn’t Nazi Germany”

                      Ideologically or militarily?

                    18. I dare say that you will change your tune–as would most everybody doing the moralistic huffing and puffing on this thread–about 15 minutes after the first large US city is vaporized by an nuclear weapon of unknown origin. If you fail to consider how the dominoes would tumble following such an event–or following the second or third such event–then you’re not a serious person. I hate to break it to you, but while ISIS may not now have such capabilities, the poisonous ideology that drive ISIS and many other millions of adherents in the Islamic world have such attacks as their goal.

              2. “I strongly oppose the intentional targeting of civilians”

                Then you oppose ISIS?

          2. “By completely ignoring the laws of war and our treaty obligations?”

            If they’re not convenient, yes.

            “Maybe, but it would likely mean conducting an absolutely brutal campaign that disregards the rights (and lives) of innocents in these same countries.”

            Civilians in hostile countries do get killed during wars. Collateral damage is a thing. This is new to you?

            Huge numbers of civilians are being slaughtered on purpose by ISIS. Do they count?

            1. You are a government’s dream subject. Ignore laws so long as they are inconvenient. That is certainly a slippery slope to go down.

              1. The ”laws” you talk about are the phoney international kind that no real libertarian gives a shit about.

                1. The Supremacy Clause complicates your claim doesn’t it? For instance, the Fourth Geneva Convention was ratified in 1955, so the US government is prohibited from engaging in the kind of behavior you favor.

                  1. No one cares. International law is antithetical to liberty.

                    1. Plus, the winners write the history books and the rules as an afterthought.

                      Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the firebombing of Tokyo say “Hi”.

                    2. Maybe, the winners realized that those actions should never be repeated and were morally dubious at the time

                    3. “Maybe, the winners realized that those actions should never be repeated and were morally dubious at the time.”

                      There is this: “I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal. Fortunately, we were on the winning side.”
                      – US General Curtis LeMay, commander of the 1945 Tokyo fire bombing operation.

                    4. Some may be, but not the Fourth Geneva Convention

                2. Cytotoxic|10.30.14 @ 5:24PM|#
                  “The ”laws” you talk about are the phoney international kind that no real libertarian gives a shit about.”

                  You speak for whom?

                  1. Libertarianism.

                    The Nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was one the most noble, glorious actions of the USG. The USG chose to protect the lives of Americans over the enemy.

                    1. Yes that view fits the NAP perfectly……

                    2. Rightly so. Rightly so.

      2. No shit. That’s the same mentality that bemoans the bankruptcy of GM because they will stop making cars and all those jobs will be lost.

        No, the org, the insubstantial paper org chart, will cease to have any meaning. The people, the human capital, will go on to other jobs if necessary, but the majority will remain with the org as it changes names.

        1. What an incredibly inapt analogy.

          1. Your war boner is the inapt aspect.

      3. So we should just give up fighting and bombard them with high decibels of “Give peace a Chance.” Pacifists make great prisoners.

        1. Why even fight them? They aren’t a danger to us unless we go over there, and the people they are a danger too have enough military might; if they can’t be fussed to defend their own territory, why should we do it for them?

          1. They aren’t a danger to us unless we go over there

            Just like AQ is totally never going to destroy the World Trade Center.

            Here we see one of the central fallacies of peacenazis: they believe non-intervention is always zero risk. Fact is there is risk either way.

      4. The problem is that the number of dead is all wrong. Reliable and relatively recent polling shows that 15-25 percent of Muslims (depends on how the question is phrased) believe that it is acceptable to kill to further the goals of Islam. To keep the arithmetic simple let’s assume 1.5 billion Muslims and the mid-range answer of 20 percent.

        This suggests that to end this war we will end up needing to kill 300 million people at least. More if the killing radicalizes some portion of the remaining living.

        Read it and weep, Musselmen.…..40-of.html

    3. MegaloMonocle,

      Weren’t the Tamil Tigers the first to use a “suicide vest” in an attempt to violently achieve political ends?

      I think Grant Wardlaw covered this years ago and I admit that I need to re-read my (few) hard copy books on terrorism but if you can guide us to online links I think it will benefit the discussion. Additionally, if you would provide links to the successful/final defeat of the Tamil Tigers I would appreciate it. I’ll search tomorrow when I have more time but I appreciate any help you provide earlier.



      1. This looks like a good one:…

        Note the principles underlying the utter destruction of this terrorist group:

        Sri Lankan military and civilian leaders believe the application of these principles enabled the government’s victory:

        ?political will
        ?go to hell (that is, ignore domestic and international criticism)
        ?no negotiations
        ?regulate media
        ?no ceasefire
        ?complete operational freedom
        ?accent on young commanders
        ?keep your neighbors in the loop.

        1. “B-but they’ll come back just like a broke automaker!” /peacenazi

        2. What a cogent analysis Mr. Smith presents us with! Thank you very much MegaloMonocle.

          I read the entirety and highly recommend it to our fellow readers here. Nonetheless I’ll paste some of Mr. Smith’s final words.

          “An examination of Sri Lanka’s victory reveals the [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] LTTE’s collapse was the result of cumulative external and internal forces, not simply the employment of ruthless new tactics. Indeed, there is little beside the ability to disregard Western criticism that distinguishes Sri Lankan tactics or brutality post-2005 from earlier eras, as the conflict was already one of the most violent and ruthless in the world. Critical blows from internal defections, loss of external funding, a global antiterrorist mindset after 9/11, and second order effects of the 2004 tsunami crippled the LTTE. At the same time, foreign aid, domestic politics, and external political cover from China enabled the Sri Lankan government to resume its [Counterinsurgency] campaign from a position of strength. The combination of these factors proved decisive in the defeat of the LTTE.”

          Thanks again and have a great day,


  2. “Let’s get really Machiavellian,” says Edward Turzanski of the Foreign Policy Research Center. “And let’s say they’re less interested in some sort of Islamist ideal than they are in carving out their own sphere of influence” and “protecting Sunni Arabs in Iraq.

    What if they are just wonderful and really want to start their own life free or die type country with gay marriage and all of the other important things? I mean if you are going to pretend here, let’s at least pretend something good.

    The bottom line is that radical Islam provides power and a sense of meaning to a lot of people. And part of the way it does that is by being at constant war with other Muslims and the West. When you understand that the people who join and support Isis didn’t do so because they want to live happily ever after or get their own 40 acres, you quickly realize how ridiculous the various options given in this article really are. The people of Isis have no desire to make peace with us and are not going to make peace with us because peace isn’t why they are doing what they are doing. They are doing it because they want to be involved in a struggle to transform the world. Its the same reason why third world communists were so impossible to negotiate with. Some people really don’t want peace no matter how much we wish they did.

    1. John,

      There are times where we agree, albeit from different perspectives.

      You wrote in part “They are doing it because they want to be involved in a struggle to transform the world.”

      I could in all honesty write a similar statement when describing individuals that were or are currently in our own government (President Wilson, President Obama, and many others).

      I also agree with something else you wrote: “Some people really don’t want peace no matter how much we wish they did.”

      I posit that there are a great many individuals and groups in our own country who benefit financially or otherwise from constant conflict/war who fit this description despite the wishes of many of their countrypersons.

      There are indeed amoral individuals at work in the world. The willing members of ISIS/ISIL/IS aren’t the only ones.


      1. There are indeed amoral individuals at work in the world. The willing members of ISIS/ISIL/IS aren’t the only ones.

        But they are the ones most likely to blow us up for pictures of Mohammed.

      2. “There are indeed amoral individuals at work in the world. The willing members of ISIS/ISIL/IS aren’t the only ones”

        People say this a lot, as though it is an argument against killing the ones who present a specific geopolitical problem and/or threat.

        I’m perfectly comfortable with the idea of completely obliterating *these* particular murderous scumbags, while leaving millions of other murderous scumbags to go about their business making other people miserable. I don’t consider that ‘hypocrisy’ or inconsistent in any way.

        No one ever said that ‘once you choose to fight one group of assholes – by some ridiculous unspoken moral calculus – you are obligated to fight *them all*

        I also don’t object to eliminating horrible people just because there may be some side-benefit exploited by ‘oil companies, the military industrial complex, the Rand Corporation, or Coca Cola’. So what? Those same people benefit from all sorts of other shit that provide no particular benefit.

        In short, I’m not sure I see any argument at all in your statements that suggests that “going to war with ISIS” is somehow a huge error by default.

        1. As a side note = the recent Frontline documentary on ISIS was not bad.

          Nothing new there if you already read the paper every day, but worth checking out. Do not watch if cold-blooded executions ruin your dinner.

          1. It isn’t my appetite for dinner that they ruin.

        2. “In short, I’m not sure I see any argument at all in your statements that suggests that ‘going to war with ISIS’ is somehow a huge error by default.”


          Actually I was attempting to generate some thought regarding the irony I saw in a couple of John’s statements.

          Looking back, I probably should have pointed out where I agree with his assessment regarding the goals of ISIS/ISI/IS.


  3. No amount of negotiations or groveling or concessions is going to solve this problem. At best it will just delay the problem and make it worse down the road because the concessions empowered them. The only way to win this struggle and obtain peace is to create conditions such that people see this movement as a dead end and therefore stop getting their purpose and meaning from doing that. One way to do that is to murder them at such a high rate that joining the movement is seen as suicide rather than becoming part of something big. I am open for suggestions of other ways.

  4. Moronic nonsense. Keep killing them ’til they stop makin’ ’em. If that doesn’t work, start bombing the factories. Yes, you can read into that exactly what you want.

    1. I will take it as written. Good work.

  5. We need to discredit Islam, But due to political correctness (and fear), it’s never gonna happen.

    1. JeremyR,

      Do you actually think it is possible to discredit any religion sufficiently to disabuse its adherents from their beliefs?

      How many times have you attempted to discredit a “team blue” or a “team red” hot button issue with someone who identifies with/is dedicated to his or her political identification? I would suggest that religious views are more deeply adhered to.

      1. It ain’t a religion. It’s an ideology cloaked as a religion. It imposes its dictates on the personal, the political, and the cultural. Everything. There is no room to maneuver. Unlike other religions, Islam is intended to be all-encompassing.

    2. I’m of the opinion that all organized religion has been discredited to some extent. There is certainly plenty of intellectual ammunition out there. Unfortunately, some of it isn’t available to the masses in developing countries (like those in the Islamic world) for various reasons.

      Economic development appears to play a major role in decreasing a given country’s religiosity, so it may just be a waiting game. Markets really are great things.

      1. If we’re waiting for countries run by and for Islamists to develop economically, we’re going to wait a long, long time.

        Islamism is incompatible with a modern economy. Full stop. The only reason that Islamists have any resources at all is the great good luck of living on top of oil reserves.

        1. That may very well be the case, but I do believe it will happen. It’s what we should be trying to encourage. Well, that and greater intellectual openness. Easier said then done, of course.

          We’ll also see what kind of pull the Islamists have as countries in the region stabilize and begin to vote in elections. That’s not a certainty in many of these countries though. However, Tunisia did just remove the Islamists from power, so we do have a case where voters held them accountable.

      2. “Economic development appears to play a major role in decreasing a given country’s religiosity, so it may just be a waiting game. Markets really are great things.”

        The United States is – arguably – the most economically developed nation on Earth.

        It also has the most thriving and diverse religiosity of any developed nation on Earth.

        Your thesis works if you limit yourself to Europe alone. But even then it is problematic. Because there is no clear correlation between ‘highly economic developed’ nations and comparatively poorer European countries. They showed relatively similar levels of decline overall.

        There have been dozens of studies about this phenomena, and it seems that the conventional understanding of a direct-correlation is generally false.

        The more accurate description would be that economic development changes the role religion plays in the *makeup of the society* – i.e. it allows for more diversity and less influence of any single religion on the wider society – but it does not directly correlate to any widespread ‘decrease’ in the religiosity of *already religious groups*.

        Some argue that the base level of religiosity is fairly constant (~20-30%), but that ‘how rigorously it is practiced’ declines. I still go to midnight mass *once a year*. Am I ‘catholic’?

        1. Thanks for the information. That’s fine with me. Certainly superior to a dominant religion that tries to enmesh itself with the state.

  6. Perhaps the best response is just to despair that there is never a resolution.

    No amount of intervention will ever change the situation. Also there will never be instance where the US will abide for untrammeled rape, murder and pillage throughout the region.

    A stalemate and then we all eventually die.

  7. The way to defeat ISIS is to convert them all to libertarian thinking. Because killing the perpetrators never works. You need to look at the failures to defeat Nazi ideology and the failure of the war against Japan.

    Military effort never works.

  8. I think it’s good to accept some facts which may feel wrong or inconvenient but ultimately have borne fruit throughout history:

    1. Complete and utter military devastation works. It is not always necessary, but it is always sufficient, and if your enemy believes without a doubt that you have the will and means to carry it out, you’ve already won.

    1. Oh FFS the Submit and Preview buttons are swapped if you post a new thread vs. reply to an existing one.


      2. International law on war is worthless. The best it can do is bind small players to the will of major powers but only insofar as the latter are willing to back it up with force. The only reason anybody obeys “the rules of war” in a conflict of equal powers is because they want their opponent to follow those rules, too (i.e., if we gas your soldiers, you will gas ours, and we don’t want that).

      3. Anything less than total war is ineffectual against an opponent who will accept nothing less than total defeat. In fact, military dalliances are likely to create more problems than they solve in such cases. Not to mention the soldiers who are sent to throw their lives away.

      4. Total war is an effort that requires the commitment of the populace to win. In a democracy, this means the population has to be far more committed to action than a 50%+1 vote that could have gone either way.

      1. All excellent points except maybe #4. I’m…agnostic on that point.

        1. Well I think that’s the most important possible point of disagreement (arguing with the rest is just denial of reality).

          I don’t think you can wage an effective war as a nation without the commitment of the populace. Superior forces (by numbers, weapons, training, …) may win a battle, but superior commitment wins the war (of course, if you can win no battles, you aren’t winning the war, no matter how committed you are).

          Really, where it is apt to apply libertarianism here is that if the population has the will, then it will act on its own. US citizens have played important roles in “unofficial” capacities in military conflicts outside the country’s borders throughout history.

          The insidious thing about the modern military mentality is that the state has become the only actor. Sure, we have contractors, but they act at the behest of the government, and so don’t really qualify as private actors.

          The only thing the nation-state can bring to the table is coordination; the will is essential and without it, as I said, all you can really do is fuck around (with other people’s lives and livelihoods).

          1. Mostly fair enough, but you can’t have Total War without the state. There are no private actors that can come close-yet. PMCs are becoming huge.

            1. PMCs are in the present just the government’s lapdogs. They can’t survive without the big bucks that departments/ministries of defense shell out. I can’t say they will never be a meaningful force on their own in the future, but it’s highly unlikely given the legal and regulatory climate in most of the world.

              The state is necessary because the state has made itself necessary. It really is just a bigger and more stable mafia.

      2. Insofar as ISIS/ISIL/IS is a threat to the United States, it is a threat that will require total defeat to be beaten. It will require a military commitment the likes of which this country has not seen since WW2. It will require the mustering of political capital in a way that is nonexistent in the present political climate.

        Note that this has little to do with the size of the threat. The size of the threat just translates into the number of divisions, tanks, planes, ships, bombs, etc. By the inherent collectivization of nation states, it is impossible to compartmentalize the effective waging of a small total war. The necessary level of commitment is irrespective of the size of the threat, and it is either met or it is not.

        In a way, Cytotoxic is right despite being a chickenhawk. Anything less than what is necessary to win is just throwing lives away.

        The corollary however to all of this is that if you cannot meet this burden of necessity, then you do not have the moral justification to act. Most of what this administration and its predecessors have done militarily amounts to bumbling into half-assed fights without any will to win. The objectives and the means to accomplish them are not aligned.

        Since peoples lives and livelihoods are on the line, it truly is a travesty.

        1. Yes, to completely eradicate ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, etc. over a relatively short time span it would likely take a large, sustained ground campaign and significant resources. There is little support among the American people for this, so I highly doubt we’ll ever see it. There would also be legitimate concerns about unintended consequences.

          Support isn’t likely to grow substantially because these groups don’t look like they pose a major threat to our national security. The media has already done a pretty good job of stirring up fear, but support for ground forces remains quite weak and it would probably take something truly momentous to convince Americans we need to engage in a total war.

          From what I can gather, ISIS is a force that we can effectively contain, weaken, and manage.

          1. The_Millenial|10.30.14 @ 8:23PM|#
            “Yes, to completely eradicate ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, etc. over a relatively short time span it would likely take a large, sustained ground campaign and significant resources.”

            I doubt that would accomplish the goal.
            ISI(X) isn’t a fixed group of people; it’s the people willing to do something at a given time. Kill the ones doing it now, and what stops the next ‘gang’ next year with a new (X)?
            This ‘process’ is a result of an anachronistic, resentful culture. They may not hate us for our freedoms, but they hate that the kids wear our T shirts and might not require the women to wear a rag on their heads.
            Like gangs in LA, one or another will be there until that culture ends.

            1. That’s an issue I see as well. It’s kind of what I was getting at with my reference to unintended consequences.

              1. Of course, “culture” in this sense is really just “the elders and other elites trying to control people”. The revealed preferences of their populations is for capitalism. But their leaders make sure that the associated ideas of liberalism are thoroughly stamped out, so that really you just end up with a bunch of thugs in designer t-shirts.

          2. There is little support among the American people for this, so I highly doubt we’ll ever see it.

            This I agree with wholeheartedly. We do not have the political will to carry out the sort of campaign that would eradicate the enemy.

            There would also be legitimate concerns about unintended consequences.

            We already live in the “unintended consequences” world. In fact, a key part of what I am arguing is that “limited” engagements result in far more unintended consequences than total war does. I suppose you could call it a definitions game, since in total war you simply broaden your intentions, but the key factor is whether or not you are willing to do what it takes to accomplish your objectives.

            Put another way, in a “limited” engagement, you only control so much. That leaves a lot of control in the hands of your opponents and other players. In a total engagement, you control as much as you are able, and that leaves much less control to others.

            From what I can gather, ISIS is a force that we can effectively contain, weaken, and manage.

            Perhaps. I am always willing to be disproved. But I don’t think it is going to accomplish anything meaningful in the long term. Another force will rise to take its place, most likely just as bad but in a different way.

            1. I would point out that ISIS isn’t a traditional state actor and is built on almost entirely on ideology, so I do think there would still be the possibility of another force rising to take its place.

              1. I would point out that ISIS isn’t a traditional state actor and is built on almost entirely on ideology, so I do think there would still be the possibility of another force rising to take its place.

                Indeed, anything less than total war is going to leave the ideology with legitimacy. They will consider themselves temporarily beaten but still superior because they have not lost their will.

                Where I differ sharply from Cytotoxic is in the notion that the US carries any obligation to act here. That obligation necessitates total war, and we don’t have the will (nor really the justification) to do it.

                I do however believe (like a pie-in-the-sky libertarian) that the best solution is to allow the locals to defend themselves, and the way to do that is to remove restrictions to trade in arms and upon American citizens traveling abroad to fight.

            2. This is a good set of points. The fact is that wars end when one side is defeated, accepts they were defeated, and accepts they would be defeated again. Unconditional surrender or near eradication until no one is left to surrender is required.

              This is not compatible with our “touchy-feeling” pie-in-the-sky views. The idea that we can interfere with surgical precision and obtain what we want with little cost rope-a-dopes us into these quagmires.

              Acceptance that this actually more black and white that we like to believe brings us closer to a libertarian view. Since the REAL choices involve mind-our-own-business or kill-them-all-immediately, it makes most things fall into the mind-out-own-business realm.

        2. ISIS doesn’t necessarily have to be eliminated wholly. You just can’t let these guys have a state. Nope, sorry, did that already with Iran and that got enough people killed. Lets not repeat our mistakes.

          We just need to bomb ISIS until it’s another one of Syria’s many insurgencies. From there they are little threat. Also, we had to bomb ISIS to protect our nascent ally of Kurdistan. That will pay such dividends.

          1. Yet Iran itself doesn’t pose much of a threat to us (presently). Maybe to Israel, but even then it would take an alliance with the Sunni Arabs to really be a serious threat.

            Dipping our dick into Iraq again to fight ISIS is not likely going to accomplish much in the long term. Sure, we can defend the Kurds now, but that’s just building dependence.

            The next thug to come along will inevitably necessitate a lather, rinse, repeat structure, and any one of these involvements could turn into the quagmire that Iraq 2003-2012 was.

          2. A better solution vis-a-vis Kurdistan would have been to lift trade restrictions with them (especially on their oil) and recognize them as a distinct state (perhaps as part of a federal union with the rest of Iraq, although that’s really up to the Iraqis and Kurds to sort out).

            That combined with a repeal of ITAR and other bullshit munitions controls would allow US companies to sell hardware directly to the Kurds so that they could take ownership of their own defense.

            Of course, libertarian fantasies are just that…

          3. Cytotoxic|10.30.14 @ 8:27PM|#
            “ISIS doesn’t necessarily have to be eliminated wholly. You just can’t let these guys have a state.”

            Please define “state”.
            You post as if there is some magic inferred once someone claims to be a “state”.

    2. well said,

      The frequently repeated bromide “war never settles anything” is silly. Wars where one side is devastated and destroyed have historically resulted in the eventual end of the losing political entity.

      That does not mean the end of war of course, or that the piece of dirt the losing side was on does not eventually become part of a new conflict, but it is wars that end in negotiated settlements that come again another day. The “losing side” did not lose, they survived to fight another day.

  9. Gawd dammit, Florida State is going to luck into another cheap win tonight. Also I missed the Randy Paul thread trashing the redneck party.

  10. Sounds like a very good plan to me dude.

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  12. It’s not so much that we CAN’T kill our way out of the ISIS war, it’s that we won’t. If we were willing to be sufficiently unenlightened and brutal we could drive the Islamic extremists so far back into the mountains that they’s have to ship in daylight. This would involve a lot of collateral damage, a willingness to ignore howls of protest from organizations like the U.N., and being prepared to leave an area devastated without attempting nation building or even refugee relief.

    I’m not saying we SHOULD do these things. I’m saying we could. I’m also saying that at some point I seriously believe that we will. People talk about 9/11 as if it were Pearl Harbor, but it didn’t motivate the nation NEARLY that strongly. If there is even a terror attack that truly does compare to the shock of Pearl Harbor, then life in the Middle East is going to get really ugly. The sad thing is, I don’t think there’s a good way to convince the Middle East of this in advance.

    Anybody got any ideas?

    1. “Anybody got any ideas?”

      1) Our government should learn from its many repeated mistakes and try something effective.
      2) That’s all I really have, other than to suggest reading the combination of events that led to the utter defeat of the Tamil Tigers (thanks again to MegaloMonocle):…

      Of course, arranging a tsunami-like event would be tricky….

  13. Or, we could give them 24 hours to surrender and then tactical nuke the entire infestation.

    Lots of “non-combatants” would die (as they have in every war), but it would make negotiations with the rest easier since the credibility of our willingness to do whatever it takes would be well established.

    Key to the mentality of these Islamic groups is that they are willing to do whatever it takes to win and that we will eventually get tired and go away. If we believe this is something we must win, then we have to remove the “we will outlast you” option from the table.

    Personally, I am for putting a big fence around the middle east and letting them all fight it out amongst themselves, but if we must be involved it would be nice if we would consider what it would actually take to win.

    1. I’m not sure “They are willing to do whatever it takes to win” is right. I think it’s more “This is currently working better than being a hill bandit”, at least for the leaders. The suicide bombers? Sure, they have the Kamikazi ethos. The leaders? Not so much.

      My reading of the history of that region is that there have always been bands of land-pirates preying on the little people. When there’s a strong local (or colonial) government that’s willing to break heads, they are limited to hill bandits. When there’s a weak local government, or the local government sees some benefit in encouraging them, they grow to be a serious pain in the ass.

      They may or may not be serious about Jihad. Tactically, it probably doesn’t matter.

      The colonial powers treated them as a criminal nuisance and sent out cavalry to use them for target practice. Post colonial authorities have been much more “sensitive to cultural issues”, which is how we got to this mess.

      It doesn’t matter if they really believe the swill that shout. It doesn’t matter if they are poor and oppressed (unless we are willing to take over running the area, in which case we MIGHT be able to do something). They are barbarians, who should be reminded that coming to the attention of people with laser targeted munitions is not a good long term survival strategy.

      1. Let me clarify, it would be US that needs to have the “ready to do whatever it takes to win” mentality. THEY just need to believe we have it and be faced with complete destruction if they raise themselves to the level that requires we act.

        Currently, they believe all they need do is be a pain-in-the-a$$ long enough for us to get discouraged and go home. This unfortunate understanding they have is based on our modern ego trip of thinking we can dabble militarily to get what we want. The believe they can survive to outlast us because we have taught them they can. It is going to require a truly stark example to change that impression.

        1. I would say that their unfortunate understanding is based on our modern guilt trip, which keeps us from going all Colonial Rule on them. We keep listening to the Western Intellectual Twits who insist on romanticizing violent swine like Che, who have a nave line in revolutionary patter. And the problem is that we can no longer simply go isolationist, if we ever could, because decades of middled immigration policy have allowed some of the barbarians to come here.

          I think that Bush tried to use a limited war for limited ends to demonstrate to the bandits that they REALLY didn’t want to come to our negative attention. I think Iraq was intended to be an object lesson for the edification of Iran (where and invasion would wreck actual existing infrastructure) and Saudi Arabia (which we don’t want to fight, because we don’t want Mecca). It’s a pity that the people who couldn’t BEAR to let Bush do anything right robbed that lesson of much of its clarity.

          I mean, we took down one of the largest militaries in the world – and one built according to a pattern much admired and imitated in the region – with PART of our existing forces. We didn’t call for volunteers (we didn’t turn any away, but we didn’t call for them) and we didn’t institute a draft. And we took down Iraq in two weeks.

          1. contd.

            Bush should have had us pack up and leave at that point. You say the Iraqi infrastructure is wreck, and people are striving? Sucks to be them. Maybe the American People will make private donations to help. But as things were, it could have been an sharp enough object lesson if the Left hadn’t been determined to turn it into a failure.

            What worries me is, sooner or later some Islamotwit is going to put together a really emotionally devastating attack on us. They won’t cripple us as a nation; they haven’t the capability. What they can to is get u thoroughly stirred up. And their mistake is thinking that we will react with fear and trembling. We won’t. As Benjamin Franklin observed, we are a more violent people than our European ancestors. We won’t get cowed, we’ll get mad. Ask the Japanese what happens when we get pissed off.

            It won’t be good for the Middle East, and it won’t be good for us either. And right now I don’t see a way to avoid it.

            1. Not only will that be bad for the Middle East, it will be devastating to our remaining civil liberties. The NSA spying on U.S. citizens–actually having the gall to complain about the existence (I guess?) of legal encryption!–this has all been relegated to the stuff of late night talk show jokes. The simple-minded giant that is most of America stirred, but it’s gone back to sleep. (Or maybe it’s busy watching TV, I dunno.)

              Add another statistically insignificant but panic-inducing 9/11 attack? We’ll give the statists anything they want for a new, shiny illusion of total safety. I mean, look at what fucking Canada is doing over basically nothing.

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  15. *****
    In command are some of the high-ranking Sunni members of the Saddam Hussein regime. Many were driven there by the corrupt, post-war, American-approved Maliki administration, which ousted highly-skilled Sunnis from Iraq’s military and instituted “unabashedly Shiite-first policies.”

    Ah yes, the evil Americans, toppling the totally innocent and benign, not to mention “highly skilled” Stalinist mafia that had the Iraqi nation under it’s boot. How terribly rude.

  16. To win you have to
    – blow their credibility
    – make them uncool
    – destroy their brand.

    Now, if you’ve been outside the US, you may have noticed: that’s exactly what’s happening to “brand USA”.

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