A few weeks ago the Des Moines Register carried an article I wrote regarding declaring war on the Islamic State. It was posted here on my blog in late November. This editorial is written to explain what I believe are the important elements of that decision
This war is in many ways a religious war and those, as history has shown, are tough ones to fight. In that regard it is critically important that the larger moderate Muslim community be included as our ally in this struggle. A full court press should be forthcoming to include their religious leadership, in the execution of this war. It is in their interests as much as our own to defeat ISIS and it’s warped view of their faith. If we let the horrific, but few examples, of home grown radical terrorists such as the recent tragedies in San Bernardino, California or Ford Hood, Texas determine government policies toward our five million Muslim US citizens and the billion plus Muslims world wide we will have lost the war before it even begins. Yes, we should ferret out those who are radicalized, especially if they are US citizens bent on doing their neighbors harm, however, that should be done with the help of the larger Muslim community.
In addition although military or “hard power “ is important in this conflict, “soft power” must play an important a role. Soft power includes diplomatic power, which entails a sustained push to get many countries to join the effort. With recent shootings in Paris, Europe should now be on board with this effort. Even those countries who we have traditionally had problems with such as Russia and Iran should be enlisted in this effort.
Beyond diplomacy, a dramatic increase in aid to help manage the flow of refuges into camps in the Middle East as well to support aggressive vetting for refugees, when they move to future homes in Europe and the US, is critical. Meanwhile, many more resources need to be made available to make life bearable in refugee camps while the war is fought. These camps must not turn into a breeding ground for ISIS.
A number of experts have called for a “no fly zone” in Syria. This is critical in establishing safe areas for refugee camps where a better management of the flow of refugees including vetting could occur. This would also ease the pressure on our friends the Jordanians who have taken in huge numbers of displaced Syrians.
ISIS has beaten us badly in the use of Social Media and other Internet tools. We need to engage then on that front and draw on our private sector experts to help. The recent work of the group called Anonymous is a small start in that direction.
Although I would not begin to predict the amount of military necessary to defeat ISIS, I do believe this is not like past wars and does require a more multifaceted response. Thousands of US soldiers, and an air campaign will not work in this new kind of war. What is needed is an inclusive, comprehensive and sustained strategy, which takes into account the culture of the region, the historical nature of the adversary and a deep understanding of it’s attraction among a few.
Although this would be difficult to achieve, efforts should be put forth to create a unified command to defeat ISIS. Currently there are too many competing priorities. If a unified command structure had been in place the recent event of Turkey shooting down a Russian military aircraft would not have happened.
This will not be a war easily fought and will take time to win. Americans have a culture of getting things done quickly and we tire easily of overseas conflicts. My two greatest fears are that we will want to quit before it is over and that we might fight it in the wrong way. Those have been our problems in the past but hopefully we have learned from our mistakes.