Just when we thought the war on terror was over (we got out of Iraq and are getting out of Afghanistan), it raises its head in the grotesque beheading of an American journalist. It shouldn’t be a surprise. We’ve never not been at war with the Muslim extremists.
Just because a new group, ISIS or ISIL headed by a psychopath, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, whom we released from an Iraqi jail, has emerged to supplant or absorb Al-Qaeda, the basic factors haven’t changed since 9/11 and before: Islamists seek to create an extreme Muslim world that means death or subjugation of all others – Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, believers and unbelievers. And, as always, as demonstrated by the first attack on the World Trade Center, 9/11, the Boston Bombing, and attacks, separate and collective against all Westerners, particularly Americans, they are going to take the attacks to us wherever we are. They say they want to kill us. Why shouldn’t we believe them?
We may have declared the war over with the killing of Bin Laden and the selective killing of Al-Qaeda leaders, but war is a two or more sided game. Right now ISIS/ISIL, which stands for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or Islamic State In the Levant (eastern Mediterranean), has declared a caliphate, or center of the Muslim world. Other Muslims may or may not recognize it, but it is drawing radicals from around the world and it is a significant symbol reaching back to the Ottoman Empire and Muslim ascendancy from the Prophet through the 13th Century. Interestingly, Glenn Beck, the controversial political commentator was ridiculed a couple of years back for saying that a caliphate was the objective of the radical Islamic movement.
Whichever way you look at it, ISIS/ISIL/Al-Qaeda/Taliban or Boko Haram of Nigeria are all pieces of one and they embody Evil. There is nothing really new. Beheadings are standard and routine as are forced conversions, slavery, rape, capture and ransom, and strict Sharia Law in its most radical form. The movement is funded as never before. Before it was millions. Now it is billions in captured bank dollars and assets, stolen oil fields, captured military equipment, as well as continued donations from wealthy Muslims in oil rich states. Money talks and walks and flies and it funds a war that never ended. We cannot be bystanders.
That’s the problem, of course. If we can’t stand back and watch and wait and respond to separate incidents whether against an American individual, America itself, or our allies, what can we do? Invasion and nation-building haven’t worked out too well although the invasion parts were successful. National building or preservation as represented by our still-heavy presence in Europe, Japan and Korea worked well then, but the extreme tribal and religious conflicts in of the Levant don’t provide a strong base for governing. Even building a coalition with parties mutually threatened is a formidable task although one way or another it will have to be done, strange bed-fellows or not.
Perhaps annihilation with no nation building is a strategy. Boom. We’re in. Boom, we’re out. Drone and cruise missiles. Arms length war. It works, but not for long. In the immediate case, at least for a short time, we have an alternatives with the Kurds in northern Iraq. They don’t even have a recognized country of their own (technically, they’re a part of Iraq), but do have a functioning regional government, resources, and a functioning militia. They need arms, intelligence and advisors. They don’t want our foot soldiers. That works.
Getting to the source of ISIL is another matter. An alliance with other radicals and the more moderate original anti-Assad revolutionary groups in Syria and maybe even with Assad is a possibility with very little stability. Likewise an alliance with Iran. Jordan, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia are no brainers. A big player could be Turkey, the only Middle Eastern Muslim country with a functioning, truly democratic government. Turkey, however, is a big supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood of which Hamas is a wing. So is Qatar, a small, rich country and owner of Al-Jazeera. However, there’s neither time nor space to address all these aspects.
I suspect that a combination of any and all of these initiatives overlaid with a heavy dose of counter intelligence work is the only alternative to the dreaded “troops on the ground.” The difficulty is to get this administration to act at all and when we act to act with strength and purpose. There is no doubt we’re in a war whatever you call it. The question is how to fight it. It can’t be done with wishful thinking or words.
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