Thursday, November 19, 2015

How to fight the IS

Jeb Bush is calling for U.S. ground troops to be deployed in Syria. The other Republican candidates likely have made or will make similar calls. Meanwhile, governors of 31 states, last I heard, have said publicly that they would reject settlement of any Syrian refugees in their states; Indiana's Mike Pence already has made good on that promise.

News flash for Gov. Pence and his fellow Republicans (and it really might be news to them): none of the Paris assailants were Syrian refugees. They have all been identified as European.

News flash for Jeb Bush and his fellow Republicans (and this damned well shouldn't be news to any of them given our invasion of Iraq, but who knows the depths of their ignorance): U.S. troops on the ground prompted the Iraqi insurgency. Why? Well, a lot of these guys resented the fact that the U.S. flattened large parts of their country and killed hundreds of thousands of their family and friends. Saddam was a beast who deserved consignment to hell, but Iraqis didn't ask the U.S. to do the deed and they sure as hell didn't ask the U.S. to destroy their country in the process.

Do you, Gov. Bush, think U.S. troops would be welcomed in Syria just as former Defense Secretary (and grievously, hopelessly, seemingly professionally wrong person) Donald Rumsfeld confidently predicted they'd be welcomed in Iraq after toppling Saddam?

Actually, Gov. Bush, let me ask you a different, more important question. What exactly do you think U.S. troops should do on the ground in Syria?

I'm fed up with idiots who have too-ready access to microphones thundering that the U.S. should send troops in to fight ISIS, because these idiots never say exactly what the military mission should be. What the fuck are you people talking about? Do you have any fucking clue what this country should do, or are you just verbally jerking off?

Here are just some of the questions you should be prepared to answer in a serious, non-half-assed way before you bleat one more syllable about fighting ISIS:

  • Do you have a plan, a genuine, long-term plan for degrading ISIS not just as a military force but as an ideological one as well? Do you even comprehend that the much greater challenge is the non-military work that must be done?
  • Do you know where ISIS gets its money to buy things? Have you considered how you'd dry up their income beyond what we're already doing? Do you even know what we're already doing on that score?
  • Do you have any goddamned idea how to stabilize Syria and Iraq (or at least the war-torn parts thereof) to keep the next terrorist group from colonizing the region, sucking up the disaffected and seriously pissed-off survivors of ISIS and other violent groups?
  • Do you know who's fighting whom in and around the IS, and what their interests are? Which of them are willing to work with the U.S.? Which of the several contingents hostile to the U.S. should take priority? (I'll give you a freebie here: ISIS. You're on your own for the rest.) What will you do about the people who aren't our friends (the ones who are willing to say so, anyway)?
Here is another set of questions you need to answer before you say another word about responding to ISIS generally:
  • Do you realize that fomenting fear, suspicion and hatred against the Syrian refugees plays into the narrative ISIS tells the world, that America hates Muslims, Islam, and brown people? Are you willing to stand up and say, "I do not hate Muslims, Islam, or brown people"?
  • Do you comprehend that one of ISIS' goals is to provoke us into saying and doing things that are anti-Islamic?
  • Do you realize that ISIS wants us to be terrified? That ISIS glories in making us scared of their shadow?
  • Do you really believe that stopping one set of people from entering the country (like Syrian refugees) will stop the terrorist threat against the U.S.? Do you think ISIS can't forge passports from other countries if they want?
The Paris attacks were scary, yes. So were the Beirut attacks that went virtually unnoticed in this country. So are scores of other attacks around the world.

In the U.S., we do a lot to prevent them. As the saying goes, we can always do more. However, should we?

If we close our borders to Syrians, where does it stop? Is it excusable for the U.S., the richest nation on Earth, to turn away refugees when we expect other nations to take them? Europe, of course, has taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrians. Jordan has taken in over 600,000, Lebanon over 1 million, Turkey over 2 million.

But set aside the Syrian refugee crisis for a moment. Ask yourself a more fundamental question: is it really possible to make the U.S. 100% safe from terrorist attack?

We do what we can, and not all of it is security theater. Even so, we can't realistically expect to stop every attack. Worse, remember that the bloodiest massacres of Americans since 11 September 2001 have occurred at the hands of Americans. All those school shootings have been carried out by born-and-bred Americans. The Fort Hood shooter was an American. ISIS very likely can find American candidates to do its bidding without much trouble: it doesn't need to send anybody from its territory. Heck, ISIS doesn't even have to do the planning: its propaganda already inspires people to freelance for it without prompting.

You might feel that taking in refugees from Syria is inviting trouble. I can't say definitively that you're wrong: we simply don't know. However, this nation's influence is greatest when it leads by example. If we close our borders to any group without concrete evidence of a threat, we're diminishing one of our greatest assets: our moral authority. We've already lost a lot of it since Viet Nam. How much more are we willing to give up?

American exceptionalism requires a certain amount of courage. If you believe in it, stand up for it.

I don't believe in American exceptionalism. I do, however, believe that the way we live can serve as an example to others. What kind of example we set is up to us.

If you still think accepting Syrian refugees is unsafe, then justify your concern. Again, I'm not saying you're wrong. I am, however, insisting that we have a serious discussion. We must not set national policy without threshing out the pros and cons.

Here's the bottom line for me: a ton of the rhetoric from politicians and pundits, mostly conservative, in response to the Paris attacks is ill-considered, xenophobic, uninformed and/or belligerent. It's frankly embarrassing. It's also harmful to our national interests, because it shows ISIS just how easily we can be goaded into responding irrationally. It shows how readily we're willing to change our national spirit in the vain hope of making ourselves "safe". (Much of the rhetoric also shows just how ignorant a lot of us are about America's role in creating the disaster in Syria and Iraq, not just during the G. W. Bush administration but going back decades and over multiple presidencies. If we don't understand that, we have no hope of groping toward a peaceful resolution to the mess.)

It's a cliché but it's still true: by giving in to suspicion and paranoia, we do the terrorists' work for them.

A lot of people fret about not being able to help out our military. Well, here's your chance. Do the hard thing: don't give in to fear.

Stand up for a free society that is watchful, but not afraid. Demand that we not sacrifice our national soul for the illusion of safety. Reject easy but pointless gestures in favor of meaningful actions.

Oh, and take joy in life. Joy is the ultimate denial of ISIS' nihilism.

That's how we all fight the Islamic State.

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