ISIS is a bad bunch. A deliberately macabre and diabolical death cult. Their shock and horror strategy fuels fear in their subjects, and pride in their growing band of messianic losers, freaks and disaffected Ba'athists (thank you, Douglas Feith).
However, in many ways, they are no different than other marauding bands of bad guys around the planet: from Uganda's (now possibly Congo's) Acholi-Christian-Islamic madman Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army (guilty of abduction and rape of tens of thousands of children, ethnic cleansing and other unspeakable horrors) to North Korea's Kim Jong-un, whose regime routinely conducts mass public executions for crimes ranging from possessing a Bible to watching unsanctioned South Korean TV (and whose gulags would make Stalin blush). Throw in the bloodthirsty Boko Haram in petro-rich Nigeria and the ruthless drug cartels on our southern flank and you have quite the rogue's gallery of potential US liberation targets.
Instead, this nation is again focused on the age-old theocratic crazies of the Middle East. Surely, it can't be because of oil. After all, new research suggests that the US is almost energy independent.
Surely, it can't be to protect Israel, which has nukes, the Iron Dome and enough money and weapons to thwart any ISIS incursion.
Surely, it can't be for general humanitarian reasons. If so, we would have intervened years ago in Syria to prevent the mass slaughter (by chemical and other means) of civilians. Or we would have directly bombed Putin's drunken rebels in Eastern Ukraine, who, you might recall, downed Malaysian Airliner MH17 on July 17, killing all 299 innocents onboard. Or we would have intervened in all manner of man-made crises from Darfur to Rwanda (purportedly the new frontier of global capital investment).
The rationales, instead, seem to be three-fold. The first rationale is to protect highly specific religious minorities. If you are an endangered esoteric religious group like the Yazidis, or a politically important one like Iraqi Christians (akin to being a minority Muslim in Kosovo and Bosnia in the the wars against Christian Serbia), the US will get involved.
The second rationale is to achieve a degree of Hobbesian stability, as if the restive Arab and Persian world -- marked as it is by civil wars dating back to the death of Muhammad in 632 AD -- is currently even capable of stability.
And, of course, there's that tired trope that must be thrown in to convince war-wearing voters back home: ISIS -- unlike the nuclear-armed Jong-un and Putin, or the virulent drug cartels to our south -- is a "direct and imminent threat" to US homeland security. In fact, they are such an imminent threat -- never mind that less than 12 Americans have joined ISIS -- that we need to expend sizable blood and treasure again in Iraq (and now also in Syria) to keep them from our shores.
Hyperbole anyone? This is not pre-9/11 US, no matter how much a suddenly unhinged -- and clearly terrorized -- Lindsay "We May All Get Killed by ISIS" Graham wants to believe it is.
As much as I'd like to see these sociopathic ISIS punks delivered into the hands of our most sadistic prison wardens, Gitmo interrogators, or a switch-wielding Adrian Peterson and a drunk Ray Rice, I think we need to think long and hard on whether this latest Iraq incursion serves our national interest.
Here are five things to consider as we discuss this latest insertion of US military personnel, money and weaponry into, potentially, another Mideast quagmire -- this one being pitched as the "good" or "justified" Iraq War -- as real threats to our well-being go unaddressed on our southern border and on the eastern edge of NATO.
ONE: ISIS Wants Us There
The Google-like logline for our President's foreign policy has been summed by Mr. Obama as "Don't Do Anything Stupid." Wouldn't sending US special forces back into Iraq -- invariably a prelude to the more politically unpopular act of sending in US ground forces to finish the job -- be precisely the vaguely conceived act that cogent Americans thought was so preposterous after 9/11?
Yes, the very jihadist nutballs who attacked us on 9/11 are now squarely inside Iraq (which they weren't when Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Bush deceived gullible Americans into backing the 2003 Iraqi misadventure, which partially fueled the growth of ISIS). However, wasn't part of the anti-Iraq-War narrative in 2003 based on our justifiable outrage that President George W. Bush was going against his initial, and refreshing, post-9/11 narrative of waging a "quiet war" against Al Qaeda? According to the quiet war narrative, we would cut off the snake's head by deep, clever and unpredictable subterfuge, instead of telegraphing our strategies in advance -- with thousands of highly visible US service personnel on Mideast soil -- as Dubya ended up doing, and as Mr. Obama did again last week.
Putting large numbers of U.S. troops on what Osama bin Laden and his minions considered sacred Islamic soil was precisely the trap that Al Qaeda wanted us to fall into when they flew planes into our buildings. In fact, it is precisely what Osama bin Laden said was his objective: to draw infidel America to Islamic home turf.
Bin Laden had history on his side. After all, his strategy worked in trapping the mighty Soviet army in Afghanistan. In fact, the brutal lessons of Afghanistan -- not Obama's feckless sanctions and finger waiving -- are precisely what are keeping Mr. Putin from a full-scale invasion of the Ukraine.
What better opportunity for death-loving nihilists like ISIS -- now bolstered by an executioner with a sinister British accent -- then to suddenly have thousands of American targets to capture, hold for ridiculous ransoms and then gruesomely be-head. Moreover, sending more US troops back into Iraq would suddenly give ISIS an enormous recruitment tool for all those Sunni Muslims who shun ISIS's methods, but who find the US presence on Islamic soil an even greater sacrilege.
Such a large incursion would particularly help in recruiting more British and American losers, who can't make it in either nation but who can suddenly find meaning in their pathetic lives by mass immolating themselves for glorious Allah or at least Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Tyler Durden of the transnational Islamic loser set.
Why do you think they are be-heading American journalists, Mr. Obama? Because they want us "over there." Moreover, for every 100 of these nutballs we kill, we end up killing 1000 civilians. We thereby grow their propaganda for them.
And when our US-trained Iraqi "partners" chicken out again in 10 years after another Democratic administration comes into power promising to get the US out of Iraq, ISIS or a more virulent form of Islamic insanity will just mow right over these weak-kneed chumps all over again, taking with them another huge haul of US equipment and resources.
It's Groundhog Day in Baghdad, but, unlike Bill Murray, we don't seem to be learning a bloody darn thing.
TWO: Here Comes the Mission Creep
Just as in the prelude to the last Iraq War, there's plenty of chicken hawk courage going around on the media circuit, as commentator after commentator -- not to mention crotchety olde John McCain -- exclaims how easy it will be to degrade and destroy ISIS's "command and control" operations from the air. Fair enough. In every single Iraq War we've been able to quickly and efficiently degrade the opposition's military capability.
However, as the last Iraq War -- and the War in Afghanistan-- taught us, that is only the beginning of the fight. Then the inevitable door-to-door, neighborhood-to-neighborhood, cave-to-cave insurgency begins. Nothing would make ISIS happier than to bog the US down in another one of these protracted nightmares in Mosul or their capital city of Raqqa. In fact, you can bank on it. Where's the exit strategy then, Mr. President? Oh right, you will be out of office.
THREE: ISIS Is Competing With Other Caliphates For Top Jihad Status. A Full-Scale War With the U.S. Would Be A Huge Victory For this Messianic Startup
In ISIS, we are dealing with an organization, a caliphate, a movement that rejects Western Aristotelian logic (and forget about accepted norms of warfare). This is a group that wants to die, will die, will self-sacrifice, in the name of their perverse ideology. They also like to cut off heads and impale them on spikes.
The sudden appearance of western powers back on Mideast soil will instantly garner for ISIS enormous protection from local tribes and political elites. Most important, in the current Darwinian struggle for existence with other Jihadist groups, including al Qaeda, ISIS would become the clear winner on account of being singled out by Uncle Sam. As a consequence, dark pools of Arab and Persian oil money would flow to ISIS at the expense of other competing jihadist groups.
This is precisely what we don't want to happen. Instead, we want jihadists viciously fighting each other, and doing the wet work for us.
FOUR: There Are No "Good Rebels" in Syria
As Assad told us (while presciently warning us that if we weakened or removed him, a far greater evil would take root), the "good Syrian rebels" have also committed atrocities, including several beheadings. Still, Obama is going to thread the needle in Syria and get arms and money to these secular "good guys" while keeping them away from Assad and ISIS? Nonsense. The best solution would be to temporarily collaborate with Assad -- now that we have eliminated most of his chemical weapons capability -- in helping us crush ISIS. Just as we collaborated with the vile and oppressive Stalin to help us defeat the Nazis in WWII.
A President less detached from the realities of Realpolitik would instantly grasp that war and peace make strange bedfellows. By killing off the secular, necessary, if distasteful, strongmen that kept radical Islam in check -- Gaddafi in Libya, Mubarak in Egypt, Hussein in Iraq and potentially Assad in Syria -- we have not enabled a secular Arab Spring, as the protesters in Tahir Square naively hoped. Instead, we've opened the door for radical Islam to use suddenly free and relatively fair elections to gain permanent power for their theocratic ends.
After all, Hitler used free and fair elections to gain power in Germany. We now see the same thing happening throughout the Middle East, from Hamas to the Muslim Brotherhood and soon, perhaps, ISIS affiliates.
FIVE: Where is the Compelling National Interest?
Right now, the greatest threat to US economic and security interests is not ISIS, it's Russia. This popular dictatorship built on religious fundamentalism and the cult of personality surrounding the dangerously insecure and homophobic Vladimir Putin -- backed up by the world's second largest nuclear arsenal -- is running ramshod over all norms of international conflict (the shameful abdication of Crimea was Europe's second Munich moment).
It's Russia that is arming separatists in Ukraine. Its Russia that is making things difficult for us in Syria and Iran. It's Russia that seeks to reconstitute the Soviet empire. And it's Russia that could soon be testing NATO's resolve in Georgia, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and beyond. Instead of sending a 2000 or more special forces into Iraq and Syria, we need to send those forces into the Ukraine, so that the world's most dangerous wingnut, Vlad the Destroyer, gets the message loud and clear that we will not let you distract the Russian people from your failures at home with a megalomaniacal land grab abroad.
Look, it's very possible that everything that President Obama hopes for in his "good" Iraq War comes true. We roll back ISIS. We protect religions minorities. We create a relatively stable, inclusive and enduring Iraqi government.
However, before we begin this latest incursion -- which will likely involve sizable U.S. boots on the ground -- shouldn't we at least have a vigorous, open, and evidence-based public debate, in Congress, on television and in all matter of public forums, lest we repeat our tragic history in the Middle East all over again?
Moreover, shouldn't we demand far more than token air support from our Arab partners, whose fight this is in the long run?
Finally, wouldn't it be wise, at long last, to take the long view (instead of the short-term political one), and step out of the way, so that the competing caliphs and emirates of the Middle East can finally kill each other off in the battle royale they've been aching to wage for centuries?
Have we forgotten the centuries of interneccine European bloodletting -- not to mention our own ghastly Civil War -- that had to precede the establishment of a more perfect and enduring union?
After we have secured the protection of religious minorities through a genuine and broad-based coalition of the willing, for God's sake, let the Muslim world have at each other, so that one, day, generations hence, a European Union of the Middle East can finally take shape.
That's my take. Let me know what you think in the Comments below.