THE BLOG
01/27/2016 11:20 am ET Updated Jan 27, 2017

We Never Learn, Do We?

Osama bin Laden made it his strategy to lure the U.S. into war, and we obliged, spending trillions, costing thousands of American lives, and hundreds of thousands of Afghani and Iraqi lives. With boots on the ground, we failed to stabilize either country, and particularly mismanaged Iraq. Instead of promoting Sunni-Shia reconciliation, we supported a regime which polarized the two religious groups. IS, or rather NB, the New Barbarians, rose from the ashes of our policies.

We encouraged the Arab Spring, then failed to support the reformers, because some of them did not agree with our values. Syria has become part of the great game between Russia and the U.S. Many thousands have died, and millions have fled. The U.S. avoids major responsibility for the flood of refugees.The Middle East is in flames, and the NB continues like a mosquito to sting the elephant, who thrashes around trying to relieve the itch.

Now our failures have spread to Europe, which is following a similarly foolish path. The European Union, facing an apparently unlimited numbers of refugees, responds by trying to shut the door. Paying Turkey and others to close the borders and house the refugees looks attractive in the short-run. What will happen when the refugee camps fail to offer adequate housing, education, integration and jobs? The refugees will attempt to move North, and then what? Shoot them?

Right-wingers everywhere have equated refugees with terrorists, and many country's leaders are tightening the borders and increasing intrusive security measures. Germany is isolated in the European Union, and the pressure on Chancellor Merkel to reverse her humanitarian course increases daily. Her only way out may be to call for every EU member to accept up to 2 percent of its population in refugees, and embarrass the EU into agreeing. It is not at all clear that the EU cares enough to be embarrassed.

Now, the EU and the U.S. are attempting to bomb the NB into oblivion. It will not work. What is certain is that the bombing will kill more civilians than it will the NB. How will that help solve the problem?

Remember Vietnam, where we treated anything that moved as an enemy, killed millions, and still lost? No one can really believe that an air campaign will succeed. The NB will increase the number of stings, and soon we will hear calls for more boots on the ground. And if the EU and the U.S. again bring troops into the Middle East? It will be a war of the West against Islam. We cannot win such a war.

Instead of short-term thrashing around, we need to consider a more realistic and effective strategy. The only boots on the ground with a chance of neutralizing the NB are Islamic boots. Sunni's, in particular, have to lead the fight. But why should they bother when the elephant is so obliging?

We need to do everything possible to bring our Islamic allies into this fight. Radical imams should lose their state support. Extremism in the Middle Eastern media needs to be managed and muted. Education, jobs and support services need to be strengthened everywhere. This is not a call for democracy as much as a call for responsibility. Saudi Arabia, especially, needs to be a voice for tolerance. This will not be easy to achieve, but it is an essential goal.

And if our Middle Eastern allies continue to sit on the sidelines? Perhaps we should withdraw, and wait for them to recognize that the fight is theirs to win or lose. Perhaps if they feel threatened by the NB, they will respond.This is not a religious war. It is a conflict between the values of a civilized world, especially the objective rule of law, with fairness and security for everyone, versus the values of the NB.

It is essential to remember that the elephant can tolerate the stings, painful as they are. The U.S. and the EU can handle and cope with terrorist attacks without mindless retaliation. The U.S. and the EU can accept many more refugees, and save many lives.

The U.S. and the EU can substantially increase aid to the other countries with refugee problems We need to play our game instead of the terrorists' game. Patience is hard, but it is possible. If and when Sunnis lead the fight against the NB, we can win. In the meantime, we all need to keep our heads and refuse the temptation to strike out blindly, like a wild elephant.