Last night Marie Harf, the State Department spokesman with those glasses, showed once again why they are the smartest thing about her. Chris Matthews asks if the United States is killing enough of ISIS. Here’s Harf’s response (emphasis mine):
“We’re killing a lot of them and we’re going to keep killing more of them. So are the Egyptians, so are the Jordanians. They’re in this fight with us. But we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs, whether — “
Matthews, breaking in: “We’re not going to be able to stop that in our lifetime or fifty lifetimes. There’s always going to be poor people. There’s always going to be poor muslims, and as long as there are poor Muslims, the trumpet’s blowing and they’ll join. We can’t stop that, can we?”
Harf’s response: “We can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance. We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people…”
I see. So the Obama administration’s solution for ISIS amounts to: “The poor – must they always be with us?” A jobs program for the dedicated Islamic extremist? Best get working on that. It sounds very fetch.
I strongly recommend you read this important and well-constructed piece by Graeme Wood in next month’s Atlantic which explains what is truly dangerous about ISIS, its aims and beliefs. That this piece is running in The Atlantic is all the better, as it explains this movement not to an audience familiar with its dangers, but to one that to this point might have only received a politically correct framing of ISIS as just another radical Islamist movement along the lines of al Qaeda. Perhaps even Harf herself is a subscriber. She may not like reading this: “The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior,” Wood writes. “Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.”
The unfortunate inability to speak honestly about ISIS and other groups – instead of suggesting the problem is a lack of gainful employment, referring to terror attacks as “random”, and treating extremism as if it was unmotivated by anything attached to strains of Islam – is also the subject of M.G. Oprea’s piece today. Both parties have engaged in this unfortunate linguistic twisting in recent years, likely seeking to avoid causing domestic strains or encouraging anti-Muslim sentiments, or being seen as doing so in the press. But this political correctness is not without cost: it restricts the conversation, discourages frank talk, and fails to be accurate in appreciating the danger of an enemy not just of the west but of civilization itself. And that’s never a good idea.
ISIS has continued to expand its territory despite U.S.-led air strikes which have killed thousands of their soldiers and destroyed their equipment. “Coalition aircraft have struck more than 4,800 targets in Syria and Iraq over the past six months, destroying vehicles, tanks, fighting positions and training camps, according to U.S. Central Command. The Pentagon said the strikes have weakened the group’s leadership structure.” And yet still they are succeeding.
The American people realize that this is the case, and they increasingly disapprove of President Obama’s position on ISIS. CNN reports:
“In the poll, Americans increasingly believe the U.S. military action against ISIS is going badly, with 58% saying so in the latest survey, up from 49% who said the fight wasn’t going well in October. Even among Democrats, nearly half — 46% — say things aren’t going well in the battle against ISIS… The survey suggests Americans are warming up to the idea of sending ground troops to combat the terrorist organization. In November, just 43% supported deploying ground troops, while 55% of Americans opposed it; now the number in support has ticked up to 47%, the highest level of support yet measured, with just half of Americans opposed.”
The questions for the president and the White House are clear. Is the destruction of ISIS a just priority for the United States, in defense of our allies and Middle East stability? Is this destruction feasible using the current strategy, or does it demand more, including ground troops? Is this a mere regional conflict best handled by our allies, or is it a national priority? The necessity of using ground troops if the defeat ISIS is the goal is increasingly clear… but for many analysts, that has been the position since the beginning – it is even the administration’s own position. But a discussion about the relative merits of such an approach – what a realistic strategy would entail – is not in this White House’s priority list.
The president has no appetite for this discussion. He is currently pushing an AUMF which will intentionally hamper his ability, and the ability of the next president, to do what his own administration has concluded is necessary to destroy ISIS – allowing him to place blame for not becoming more dedicated to that destruction on others, despite the frustations of the American people. This is not the responsible approach of any commander in chief. If the destruction of ISIS is a just and necessary priority of the United States, the president ought to do it, and do it right. The longer he waits to be dragged into this conflict, the more people will die.
This does not require a Harf-style jobs program; it does not require nation-building; it requires killing a lot of people. As it happens, the American military is rather good at that.