Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Do we still have a dark heart to choose the path where no-one goes?

Hopefully by now, everyone has had the chance to read Graeme Wood's article in The Atlantic, What ISIS Really Wants. (BTW, BZ to TheAtl, nice work putting it out)

If not, here is just one pull quote to set the stage - but you need to read it all;
For certain true believers—the kind who long for epic good-versus-evil battles—visions of apocalyptic bloodbaths fulfill a deep psychological need. Of the Islamic State supporters I met, Musa Cerantonio, the Australian, expressed the deepest interest in the apocalypse and how the remaining days of the Islamic State—and the world—might look. Parts of that prediction are original to him, and do not yet have the status of doctrine. But other parts are based on mainstream Sunni sources and appear all over the Islamic State’s propaganda. These include the belief that there will be only 12 legitimate caliphs, and Baghdadi is the eighth; that the armies of Rome will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria; and that Islam’s final showdown with an anti-Messiah will occur in Jerusalem after a period of renewed Islamic conquest.

The Islamic State has attached great importance to the Syrian city of Dabiq, near Aleppo. It named its propaganda magazine after the town, and celebrated madly when (at great cost) it conquered Dabiq’s strategically unimportant plains. It is here, the Prophet reportedly said, that the armies of Rome will set up their camp. The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome’s Waterloo or its Antietam.

“Dabiq is basically all farmland,” one Islamic State supporter recently tweeted. “You could imagine large battles taking place there.” The Islamic State’s propagandists drool with anticipation of this event, and constantly imply that it will come soon. The state’s magazine quotes Zarqawi as saying, “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify … until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.” A recent propaganda video shows clips from Hollywood war movies set in medieval times—perhaps because many of the prophecies specify that the armies will be on horseback or carrying ancient weapons.
Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it, through air strikes and proxy warfare, appears the best of bad military options. Neither the Kurds nor the Shia will ever subdue and control the whole Sunni heartland of Syria and Iraq—they are hated there, and have no appetite for such an adventure anyway. But they can keep the Islamic State from fulfilling its duty to expand. And with every month that it fails to expand, it resembles less the conquering state of the Prophet Muhammad than yet another Middle Eastern government failing to bring prosperity to its people.
There's your shot. Now, if Graeme is close ... here is the chaser.

How do we help the bleeding? Forget the Weinberger (PBUH) Doctrine, and especially the archaic Powell Doctrine. Being that our political system, national character, and feckless allies have shown they cannot execute the Bush Doctrine, then perhaps we should dust off one of the pre-approved Salamander COAs; modify it slightly, and maybe we need to look at the Metz Doctrine.
... none of these tried and tested methods hold much promise in the conflict with IS. It is not a conventional military. Bolstering local partners is necessary but not sufficient. IS is not fragile like the governments that the U.S. military toppled in Panama or Grenada. And large-scale, protracted counterinsurgency by U.S. ground forces is politically infeasible.

There are, however, other possibilities. As is so often true, history offers clues. For millennia, advanced states sometimes made war on each other, but also used their military forces for a different purpose: to manage the “barbarians” who lived on, and often preyed upon, their peripheries. At times, civilizations such as ancient Rome and China found that it was easier to buy peace with these marauders, paying them to stay away. At other times, they empowered proxies to serve as a buffer or first line of defense. Some states built walls and fortifications to keep the barbarians at bay. Most of the time, these methods were combined in different ways as conditions changed.

What can this history tell us about today? In many ways, the conflict with IS mirrors the challenge faced by civilizations as they managed the barbarians on their periphery, but the traditional methods will not work. IS is too benighted to be bought off. There are no effective proxies. And walls don’t work in an interconnected world.

But there is one more technique from history that has fallen into disuse but may warrant a revival: punitive raids or expeditions. When the threat from the barbarians exceeded some threshold or their behavior became unacceptable, and buying them off, hiring proxies or building walls didn’t work, civilizations would launch punishing military expeditions intended not to impose permanent control over the land beyond their frontiers, but to strike and then leave, sending the message that if the barbarian behavior again became unacceptable, there would be another expedition.
With the Islamic State offers no quarter, none should be given. We just took one B-52 out of the boneyard - let's take some more. Plenty of gainful employment against targets with limited high-altitude AAW.

Hoist the red flag - it is the best of all the worst options. The longer a war goes, the harder the hearts grow - and frankly, not just supporting in, a large portion of the US population would welcome a few well placed punitive expeditions.

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