Is the Islamic State Worth Destroying? From a moral standpoint, one can’t help but answer the question in the affirmative. How can one sit idly by, as the world did when Fascism spread throughout Europe and Southeast Asia? Then again, none of the major powers really became heavily involved until either a surprise attack befell them, and/or their treaty obligations with another major power required them to act. Even then, the British merely sent an Expeditionary Force and the U.S. steered clear of major combat operations in Europe, until the enemy’s weaknesses could be favorably exploited. Nonetheless, acting against modern-day fascists is a worthy cause. And fascism is precisely the term to describe the so-called Islamic State and their ilk.
Ceding a Small Victory to a Competitor is Better than Ceding a Large One to an Enemy
The question then turns on practicality. Can we destroy our enemies? Furthermore, to what end must we engage and destroy our, and the world’s, enemy? Perhaps it is worth remembering that once eliminated, some of the regional powers who have been jockeying for the spoils of war will have gained favorably. Others will experience a loss. Thus is the nature of a zero-sum game. Extra-regional hegemons, such as Russia and the U.S. also stand to gain or lose when the map is re-drawn. Indeed, this is why it’s important to include Russia in the outcome phase of the conflict, while using the leverage we have available at present. In other words, the U.S. has an opportunity to make a deal that enables our enemies to lose more than our competitor stands to gain.
Nothing All that New Here
The Islamic State is the latest reincarnation of political Islam, but with the added twist that they have been able to seize large swaths of territory and hold it for some time. They are not the only Islamist game in town, either. There is a Sunni Islamist leader at the helm in Turkey, a formidable Shi’a Islamist power and potential nuclear aspirant in Iran, and a Saudi Sunni Arab kingdom that would like to maintain its own defense profile. Add to this the notion that there is a mixed series of shifting alliances among the Sunni/Shi’a Arabs across the Iraq/Syria/Lebanon axis, which has substantial interests in maintaining tribal, sectarian and commercial local control. There is also, of course, a competitor transnational al Qa’ida organization vying for a share of the Islamist pie.
Although this toxic mixture is somewhat dampened by the implications of nationalism for the Kurds, who seem to be the least inclined toward political Islam, it nonetheless adds a degree of complexity to the problem. Any gain for the Kurds is viewed as a loss for any other power in the region. Whatever the result of this conflict might be, a redistribution of power is certainly the aim of each party involved. With such a shift, one can expect that some alliances will be built and some will have shattered.
What is Being Left Out of the Conversation is What No One has Dared to Mention
What is typically missed in this discussion is the ideological foundations that have sustained and expanded political Islam over the past several decades. The Gulf states, including some of our dear Saudi “friends,” among others (such as Pakistan), have really played both sides of the issue. On the one hand, they have given life to Wahabbism and the Taliban, and nurtured it through its entry into the world of political Islam. Sometimes tacitly and sometimes not. On the other hand, they have battled some of the monsters they have created, which places them in the interesting category of an “ally” to the West.
There is a lesson to be learned here. We must be honest in our assessment that the inevitable death of the Islamic State as an organized entity will not mean the end of the ideology that propelled it into existence. Nor will it put an end to terrorism. Both will continue to persist, even if we experience a temporary respite.
The problem with pursuing the more organized Islamo-fascists is that their message resonates, in whole or in part, with too many people in the region. Entities such as the Muslim Brotherhood (pick a country), Hezbollah, Hamas, al Qa’ida (its affiliates) and the Islamic State (and its affiliates) have exhibited a penchant for (brutal) governance, guided by Jihadist ideals. Despite such a condition, they have all demonstrated that their power can be devolved to lower echelons, which may include cells, or individuals. Such a diffusion of power connotes resilience. This is the reason terrorism experts have overused the adage that decapitating the snake’s head doesn’t mean the body will not continue to function. It is also why, to continue with the snake analogy, other venomous creatures may emerge to fill the void created by one organization’s demise. Indeed, they are already in existence, but we are overly focused on just one of them. Sheer folly.
Obama is out and Trump is in: Why not Try a New Approach?
Despite what one might think of President-elect Donald J. Trump, it is clear that we will be moving toward a post- “politically correct” leadership style. This presents an opportunity that has not been available for the past eight years: calling the enemy what they are and pressing any advantages that are gained on, and off, the battlefield. Rather than being concerned that we may offend adherents of a religion by calling attention to their terroristic co-religionists, it is they who must join us in our effort.
What is the nature of our mutual concern? To rid the world of a cancer that has infected it. Such a disease does what it naturally would, in that it seeks to thrive where resistance is weak. We must work to ensure that it doesn’t metastasize by this very same logic. Therefore, we need to convince our Arab friends, many of whom may harbor some friendly sentiment toward our enemies, to rid themselves of a dual allegiance and definitively choose a side. How do we do this? I suppose it starts with a little straight talk about the role our “friends” have played in enabling our common enemy to wreak havoc on our mutual population. This is, after all, the sort of straightforward language for which President-elect Trump is known. It is only fair that we now call upon him to make good on his persona as a decisive deal maker.