Some thoughts on ISIS and foreign policy
Note: This was written as a FB comment so it includes some shorthand. Also, I wrote it off the top of my head so it does not include links, but please let me know if you believe there are any factual errors.
I promised myself I wouldn’t respond to FB threads on politics, but will make an exception for this one because there is so much ignorance accompanying the topic. I’ll start with a brief and relevant history, followed by conclusions.
If you go back to early 2009, Al Qaeda in Iraq (now known as ISIS or ISIL) was basically decimated. In fact, the current leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, was held in a US prison in Iraq for most of our time there. Once Obama became President, his admin began negotiations for a SOFA (status of forces agreement) to keep U.S. troops in Iraq, but Obama had spent so much time during the campaign promising to withdraw all troops that he didn’t put much pressure on Maliki to agree to one. Maliki, seeing that he was about to be abandoned by us, turned to Iran to secure his power. The result is that almost as soon as U.S. troops left in 2011, AQ Iraq began reforming and recruiting as a counter to Iran. A few years later, AQ Iraq started expanding and brutally attacking other Muslims in Syria with rapes, beheadings, and mass executions. When they started ignoring Al Qaeda leadership’s demands that they stop being so brutal towards other Muslims, AQ disowned them.
At the same time, there was a civil war beginning in Syria. Militant groups were trying to take out Assad, a brutal dictator that was oppressing his own people. The main group, FSA, was actually made up by mostly moderate militants focused on Syria. Assad started worrying that he would be ousted if these groups received help from the west so he made a strategic choice: Assad essentially agreed he would not fight ISIS and let them do whatever they wanted as long as they would start fighting and cannibalizing the FSA, eventually even buying oil from ISIS. Assad rightly figured that if he reduced the two sides to him and ISIS, the west wouldn’t get involved. The war essentially became ISIS and Assad vs. FSA. Once they had co-opted parts of FSA, ISIS went back into Iraq, where they began taking cities and managed to seize large stashes of cash and U.S. weapons that had been supplied to the Iraqi military.
It is not a coincidence that all of the world’s bad actors (ISIS, Libyan Militants, Hamas, Russia, and China) are all acting up right now. This is a direct result of years of disengagement and a lack of global leadership. They know they have free reign and we no longer have the influence to stop them. That’s what happens when your foreign actions consist mostly of abandoning allies in order to appease enemies. The reality is we will have to deal with all of these in one way or another, but ISIS presents a unique threat. This is the most savage force we have seen since the Nazis. They are raping and enslaving women, beheading dissenters, and executing anyone who refuses to join their cause. They are actually lining people up at gravesites and killing them by firing squad. They have no interest in stopping at any territorial limits so you should have no doubt that eventually these attacks will come here.
These threats do not disappear because we ignore them. The fatal flaw of a disengaged foreign policy is that it requires us to do nothing until the cost of dealing with a threat becomes enormous, which is exactly what happened here. ISIS could have been destroyed with minimal effort in 2009, with little effort last year, and can still be addressed with limited casualties now, but the cost goes up every day. ISIS is taking new cities and gaining influence daily. The longer we wait, the more the cost goes up. As for a “coalition”, the world is almost completely united against ISIS, but western leaders are too cowardly to do anything about it. They have a long history of trying to appease evil, and they have learned nothing from that history. They hope that if they ignore the problem now, it will somehow go away or at least they will be last to be affected by it. In this case, we are very lucky that we have a force willing to fight on our behalf. The Kurds, who are the most pro-western force in the Middle East outside of Israel, have taken it upon themselves to defeat this evil. Unfortunately, they are currently outgunned because ISIS has U.S. weapons that they stole from the Iraqi army. The least we can do is to provide them air support and weapons to make it a fair fight. I pray that we act now and support our friends so that we don’t have to fight this inevitable conflict on our own. The Germans have already started arming them, but we have chosen to sit back and hope for the best thus far. Inaction in the face of such evil is morally repugnant. There is no negotiation or appeasement with the likes of ISIS. Eventually it will come down to our survival or theirs, and waiting only ensures that the costs of winning grow. These aren’t new lessons, but we refuse to learn from history.
I will leave you with some foreign policy lessons via a 1964 speech from the last leader to win an inter-generational conflict on our behalf:
“We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb by committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion human beings now enslaved behind the Iron Curtain, “Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skins, we’re willing to make a deal with your slave masters.” Alexander Hamilton said, “A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one.” Now let’s set the record straight. There’s no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there’s only one guaranteed way you can have peace—and you can have it in the next second—surrender.
Admittedly, there’s a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson of history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face—that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand—the ultimatum. And what then—when Nikita Khrushchev has told his people he knows what our answer will be? He has told them that we’re retreating under the pressure of the Cold War, and someday when the time comes to deliver the final ultimatum, our surrender will be voluntary, because by that time we will have been weakened from within spiritually, morally, and economically. He believes this because from our side he’s heard voices pleading for “peace at any price” or “better Red than dead,” or as one commentator put it, he’d rather “live on his knees than die on his feet.” And therein lies the road to war, because those voices don’t speak for the rest of us.
You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin—just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at ConcordBridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard ’round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn’t die in vain. Where, then, is the road to peace? Well it’s a simple answer after all.
You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” “There is a point beyond which they must not advance.” And this—this is the meaning in the phrase of Barry Goldwater’s “peace through strength.” Winston Churchill said, “The destiny of man is not measured by material computations. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we’re spirits—not animals.” And he said, “There’s something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.”
You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.
We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”