ISIS

Why Ground Troops Won't Work Against ISIS

Sometimes even when there is a will there is no way

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Some problems don't get solved because those who have the will don't have the way — and those who have the way

ISIS
Akula Lopotev via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

don't have the will.

Defeating ISIS is just such a problem.

The West — especially after Paris and San Bernardino — has the will right now, but has no way. The Middle East has the way, but not the will. Nothing makes these dual points more obvious than recent GOP bloviating and the bogus anti-terrorism military alliance of 30-plus Muslim countries that Saudi Arabia spearheaded earlier this month.

If will alone could defeat ISIS, then sending a fighting force of a dozen or so Republican presidential candidates (with the exception of Rand Paul) might do the job all by itself, at least judging by all the saber rattling they go around doing. Then again, the GOP candidates managed to offer two different strategies to deal with ISIS — neither of which will work.

Ted Cruz, who even looks like a hawk, recommended carpet-bombing ISIS till the "sand glows in the dark." He had to back away from this idea when it was pointed out that such a campaign would mean dropping bombs on highly populated ISIS-controlled cities like Raqqa. This would not only generate massive civilian casualties — a war crime under international law — but wouldn't be as effective as he thinks, since ISIS, a highly mobile force, would quickly relocate its men and arms. (And if you think ISIS is dangerous now, wait till the children orphaned by American bombs grow up.)

The other suggestion, floated by Lindsey Graham, an unrepentant neocon (who is nevertheless endearing for his unequaled ability to land a punch on Trump), involves contributing 10,000 U.S. ground troops as part of a regional army. Marco Rubio and others have endorsed variations of this idea, and it is enjoying renewed support among the American people in the wake of the San Bernardino attack. But it's unclear that such resolve would endure much past the first videotaped beheading or burning of a captured American soldier. Indeed, the twin lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan are that even deep domestic support tends to peter out in a long, protracted war. There is little reason to think that obliterating ISIS would be a quick in-and-out job.

But the main drawback of an American ground force — even one that is part of a broader coalition — is that it plays right into the hands of ISIS. Under its reading of the Islamic scriptures, there is supposed to be a final showdown with the Great Satan before the countdown to the apocalypse begins, as The Atlantic's Graeme Wood has reported. U.S. ground troops would only energize ISIS's call to arms.

An exclusively Muslim fighting force — in which it isn't the West vs. ISIS — wouldn't suffer from that problem. And this idea's huge upside is that if Islam stamps out its own fanatical offshoots, that would help cure the growing tendency in the West to equate Islam with terrorism. This would make it much easier to contain the growing anti-Muslim backlash that only drives a wedge between the West and its Muslim population — delivering more recruits to ISIS. That's why the statement by Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former Saudi ambassador to the U.S., that Islamic terrorism is the "seed of evil" that the Muslim world has "let out of the can" and needs to take responsibility for vanquishing was so encouraging.

Still, it would be a mistake to invest too much hope in the Saudi-led anti-terrorism coalition.

First of all, the irony that the country most responsible for creating the jihadi monster now wants to lead the fight against it isn't going to be lost on the Muslim world. There is huge reason to be skeptical of this initiative just on the face of it.

Then again, Saudi Arabia certainly has reason to hate ISIS, which has launched more attacks and has killed more people in Saudi Arabia than the 14 people killed in the lone ISIS-inspired massacre in San Bernardino. Indeed, since ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's speech last year instructing his followers to target the kingdom, Saudi Arabia has faced nearly a dozen attacks with the two deadliest this year claiming 34 lives.

But here's the thing: Saudi Arabia largely tolerates ISIS terror, because unlike the U.S., it has other bigger worries.

ISIS is a Sunni group that has mostly targeted Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority. This makes it hard for the rulers to gin up anti-ISIS outrage, especially since for the last many years they have been busy trying to quash a Shiite insurgency — inspired by its mortal enemy, Iran — in Yemen that the whole country regards as a far bigger existential threat.

But this brings up another fundamental problem. Saudi Arabia's coalition will be successful only if all Muslim countries set aside their internal divisions and join ranks against the terror group. That would mean Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran burying the hatchet. This would basically be like the NAACP teaming up with the KKK to fight climate change. It is hardly a coincidence that Iran — along with its Shiite client states like Algeria and Iraq — are not part of Saudi Arabia's coalition, points out Cato Institute's Emma Ashford.

All of this suggests that the coalition is more of a PR stunt meant to get America and the West off Saudi Arabia's back than a serious solution to deal with the ISIS menace. But, then, the hard truth is that there may be no good solutions — only bad and less bad ones

This column originally appeared in The Week.

 

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  1. Good article, but it needs a title appropriate to the argument.

    Mao’s guerrilla theory explains why ground troops won’t work against ISIS. ISIS cannot withstand a direct conflict with a modern western military, and will retreat to sanctuary.

    1. What sanctuary? Mao retreated to far north of China out of reach of the Nationalist. Where can ISIS retreat to? It is a Sunni based movement so Shia dominated Iraq will offer no sanctuary. Turkey will not offer sanctuary. It is legally the actual heir to the caliphate that ISIS wanted to establish. Lebanon cannot offer sanctuary as Hezzbollah will fight. Syria can offer only sanctuary as long as the civil war chaos reigns. Obama may prefer a Syria in perpetual civil war but his successor of either party may well ally with Russia to restore Assad to end ISIS by ending the civil war.

      And Mao’s ultimate goal was to replace the Nationalists. That eventually requires coming out of any sanctuary and fighting a convention war. ISIS was formed specifically with the goal to form a new caliphate. This means that guerrilla warfare is an admission of failure and that will hurt the recruitment it needs to survive. It reduces ISIS to a failure that may hang on for a long time but only as an ineffectual fringe terrorist group.

  2. Another pearl of wisdom from the “we can’t do that” caucus.
    You do realize that you’re just repeating what was said at the outset of Gulf War One, that we didn’t have the ability to contest a vetted, and blooded army in the ME like Iraq’s? How’d that turn out (though the conclusion had the taste and smell of Korea where we settled for less than an absolute victory.
    This is America, we can do whatever we put our minds to.
    You may not care for the form that it will take, but – as Winston Churchill is said to have said:
    The Yanks will always do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.
    So, Yes, we can engage and defeat ISIS, but if it means fighting “over there” instead of in the streets of San Berdoo –
    BRING IT ON!

    1. “””we settled for less than an absolute victory.””

      You mean absolute victory like “W” war against Iraq? How has that worked out?

  3. So basically, don’t send in a ground force ’cause it would piss off ISIS, or some Muslim kids who don’t hate us (despite the vicious propaganda they are mired in) will decide to hate us.

    That viewpoint disregards history. Arabs respect force and resolve. Our ground troops, showing that resolve during the surge, did defeat ISIS, (at the time, AQI) .

    The real reason ground troops won’t work is that the west will not allow itself to inflict civilian casualties, no matter how necessary they are. And, we are properly unwilling to lose too many of our own troops protecting enemy civilians. TThe coverage of Vietnam and Iraq show that – we get blamed in the biased media, and that destroys our will to fight.

    The US doesn’t have the balls to win. If we did, and it were important enough, we’d do it. It is bloody obvious that enough force will win. There is, of course, a valid question of whether it is important enough. But if we want to beat ISIS, we can do so militarily, the same way we beat AQI and the North Vietnamese.

    ISIS know us. They are betting we don’t have the balls. They are right, and will continue to be so right up until the time they push us too far. In the meantime, innocent Americans will die from ISIS attacks in our country, while our leaders and our pussy press preen about their moral superiority and lecture us about Islamophobia and “gun violence.”

    1. If only it was Shikha and the rest of the surrender caucus that would face the brunt of the inevitable attacks until we have had enough.
      Though, they could go through that group without the attendant outrage to gear us up for action.
      Maybe if they bombed the Kardashian home.

  4. So basically, don’t send in a ground force ’cause it would piss off ISIS, or some Muslim kids who don’t hate us (despite the vicious propaganda they are mired in) will decide to hate us.

    That viewpoint disregards history. Arabs respect force and resolve. Our ground troops, showing that resolve during the surge, did defeat ISIS, (at the time, AQI) .

    The real reason ground troops won’t work is that the west will not allow itself to inflict civilian casualties, no matter how necessary they are. And, we are properly unwilling to lose too many of our own troops protecting enemy civilians. TThe coverage of Vietnam and Iraq show that – we get blamed in the biased media, and that destroys our will to fight.

    The US doesn’t have the balls to win. If we did, and it were important enough, we’d do it. It is bloody obvious that enough force will win. There is, of course, a valid question of whether it is important enough. But if we want to beat ISIS, we can do so militarily, the same way we beat AQI and the North Vietnamese.

    ISIS know us. They are betting we don’t have the balls. They are right, and will continue to be so right up until the time they push us too far. In the meantime, innocent Americans will die from ISIS attacks in our country, while our leaders and our pussy press preen about their moral superiority and lecture us about Islamophobia and “gun violence.”

    1. The short version is when you’re fighting a war where your guys get a hail of bullets and grenades and when you turn around all you see is an old woman with a bundle of sticks on her back and cow with diarrhea, you either level the whole region or you pick up everything and come home. Pick one and stick to it. Poking a black wasp nest with a stick doesn’t accomplish much.

  5. I think “Syria” not “Algeria” is the other Iranian client state. The Assads are members of a Shia offshoot called the Alawite. They draw support and personnel from the Alawite and the larger Shia community.

    As far as I know, Algeria is Sunni. And Algeria has been having its own battle against Islamist terrorists since the 90’s.

  6. The other suggestion, floated by Lindsey Graham, an unrepentant neocon (who is nevertheless endearing for his unequaled ability to land a punch on Trump),…

    ‘Endearing’ and Lyndsey Graham do not belong in the same article, and definitely not in the same sentence. Anyone can bash a candidate like TrDump.

  7. Um, actually, ground troops are the only thing that can eradicate ISIS. You can argue over whose troops they are, also where and how to employ them, but otherwise this essay is pretty much insipid prattle.

  8. Dalmia makes the all too common mistake of thinking that American boots on the ground means conventional forces. The Taliban was defeated by a handful of Green Beret A teams working with local anti-Taliban Afghans supported by US air power. The same can work against ISIS. There are plenty of locals such as the Kurds and Sunni tribes who are willing to fight. What they lack are arms because Obama has refused to directly supply them with the needed arms. Despite this lack of adequate arms, the Kurds have been successful in expelling ISIS from their territory. A few A Teams embedded with willing locals, getting arms directly from the US and ISIS can be defeated on the ground. Most of the fighting will be done by local Muslims so ISIS cannot claim they are fighting “Crusaders”. Local Muslims cannot be offended by infidel troops on their soil as there will be so few of them.

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