Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Afraid New World: What To Do About ISIS

2 X-TREAM 4 AL-QAEDA!!1! (Except, not really, this was always Al Qaeda's wheelhouse)

'Gary Brecher,' aka, Gary Brecher*, aka The War Nerd tells you everything you need to know about ISIS (including that the Arabic acronym is actually 'Daash' and that they're not some super-storm ultra-terrorist group but pretty much standard Islamist Atrocity Machines who, by process of militarized natural selection are simply better than the entirely craven Iraqi force). Of course, it doesn't matter how limp they are (or are not) if (a) they have looted tens or hundreds of millions of dollars from Iraq, (b) captured tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in US weapons (which are then being channeled back to Syria), and (c) the Iraqi army is teetering on the brink of psychological collapse.

In other words, they're going to win. This is bad for the US. Why?

The reason it's bad is that Iraq will split into three states: a relatively friendly Kurdish state, a terrorist pan-Syria/Iraq caliphate under ISIS (success breeds momentum, momentum breeds success), and a radicalized pro-Iranian terrorist regime. Two out of three terrorists states ... are bad.

On the other hand, the US's options, as always, aren't much better than just letting it go. For example:
  • We could attack (air-strike / drone strike) ISIS. Then we're on Al-Malaki's side and his repressive, exclusionary, legitimately elected regime.
  • We could try to have Al-Malaki step down and institute a 'much fairer' less sectarian and abusive government in Baghdad as a precondition to getting more heavily involved--except then we're taking sides against the nationally elected government.
So What Do We Do?

The theory right now is that ISIS (which is, sorry, a far cooler name than Daash or ISL, I'm sorry) is committing atrocities in order to provoke Shia-atrocity back-lash, which will cement their followers outside their immediate regime. The Omnivore suspects that terrifying the opposition is part of the plan as well: if you were never really thrilled about fighting for Motherland Iraq and you know you'll be summarily executed in a ditch if you lose, running away to live and fight another day makes a certain amount of sense.

Before we get to The Omnivorous solution ('solution'), let's look at yesterday's HuffPo piece: 10 Reasons Airstrikes in Iraq Are A Terrible Idea:

  1. Air strikes (two words here, 1 in the headline) will not resolve anything significant they haven't historically (uh, yes they have--Bosnia?)
  2. "But air strikes are crucial to buying the Iraqi government time to seek a politically!"--He's had nine years! Let Malaki live with it! (Uh, now that it's all falling apart, uh--maybe political solutions look better than previously?)
  3. John Kerry flying around the world diplomizing on Iraq is an airstrike (one-word here) of its own. (If we agreed to drop Kerry on the enemy, would you sign on then? Also: 'diplomizing'?!?)
  4. Airstrikes (one word) are surgical: "Oh, please." (This guy doesn't have any idea what 'surgical means--he can Google carpet-bombing).
  5. Airstrikes are not a counterinsurgency tool. "You cannot kill an idea that motivates millions of people with a Hellfire missile." (yes, yes you can--and drone-strikes--slightly different than high-ordinance conventional airstrikes--are, indeed, a premier counterinsurgency tool).
  6. Airstrikes (we have decided it's one word) mean the US is taking sides in a pitbull fight. (Well, yes).
  7. Airstrikes are just more of "whack-a-mole" foreign policy. (Your foreign policy will, thankfully, never win a general election).
  8. Airstrikes are necessary because the US must "do something." (Yes, sometimes the answer is to just stand back--that's correct: when your enemy is making a mistake you let them continue to make it--that's not what you mean here, though.)
  9. ISIS is a threat to the US and has to be air struck to stop another 9/11. They'll be small-ball league so long as the Ebil US doesn't get involved. (Well, yes--for right now, ISIS is interested in consolidating a large power-base. Then they will be rich and ideologically extreme. It will, obviously, never occur to them to attack America because they are fundamentally good at heart. Uh, right.)
  10. Bottom line why airstrikes are a terrible waste: we lost the Iraq war in 2003! (Uh ... okay, dude.)
The Omnivore's solution: Airstrike the ever-living fuck out of ISIS.

The ISIS Solution

If You Weren't Thinking This, You Should Have Been
So here's the deal, The Omnivore isn't actually a military strategist--he just plays one on TV--but there is something he does know a lot about: arguing on the Internet. Arguing on the Internet is a battle of words and concepts that has certain recurring patterns--or, if you will, strategies. Think of these like an opening-move library for chess.

In Internet arguments, one of the biggest errors you can make is to over commit. Over committing (in Internet terms) is when you try for too much of a land-grab--rhetorically speaking. For example, when you claim that all X are Y--and then you have to back-track when someone points out #NotAllX (or, you know, you just dig in--but you're losing mindshare there). It happens when you over invest: when you are attacking someone on their own blog (especially if not friended / followed), you are losing ground automatically because you (generally speaking) haven't been invited there--you're just a 'righteous soul,' (selfrighteous) cruising the Internet, dispensing your 'wisdom' (opinions) like anyone gives-a-damn because you're just that cool (self-important) that everyone needs to hear what you have to say!


But when you're dispensing your opinions on your own blog, people who come and criticize you are in the opposite position: you were writing your (yes, public--but still very personal) on-line diary and they just came and read it: no one forced them to click and read your offensive bullshit.

These are patterns that, when they arise, can be taken rhetorical advantage of (all things being equal, anyway--which is not always the case)--and can produce an advantage if wielded correctly.

In the case of a land war in the middle east, the pattern looks like this: never establish an actual  terrorist nation-state that can legitimately be said to be an enemy of America. 

Oh, sure, Iran (kinda) gets away with it--and, well, North Korea has had a pretty good run. If you can come into existence with nukes + Seoul right next door or a 1000+ year history of occupying the same land (along with a lot of very sympathetic moderate pro-democracy students under your aegis) you go for it you crazy kid dictator.

But if not? If you're 'liberating' desert cities under a terrorist flag in full balaclava? Tweeting mass executions? Or just Kittens and AK-47s?
Awww ... It's Even Got a Cute Folding Stock!
Well, you may have a problem: Nobody likes you (including the big Sunni boosters, Saudi Arabia). When that happens, well, You Can Haz Problem. Specifically, the problem is this: The US War Machine is designed to totally destroy the crap out of nation-states.

Yes, we do CI decently well now (all things considered)--and CT kinda-sorta-okay these days (kiiiinda-soooortta)--but what do we really do? Good-old-20th-Century shoot-em-up. That's our wheelhouse.

When 2X-TREAM-4-AL-QAEDA (in Monster-Truck voice because that's not actually true) seize and hold the Caliphate belt they want? That's suddenly a problem. All it takes is for them to massacre some of those Iranian shock-troopers who could be granted (temporarily, for sure, American air-cover) and we get to tell ISIS-land this: Everyone in those liberated cities? Disarm and move to a controlled boarder (with checks for smuggled weapons and munitions).

Or else?

Or else what?

Or else a for-real air-strike (as in of the non-surgical variety). Forget 'shock and awe' and go for 'what this thing was made for'--turn infrastructure into ash (Note: If an un-reformed Al-Malaki government moves in, they get the joy of trying to rebuild refineries and such--good luck attracting investment without some stability enhancing policies!). Trust The Omnivore: it will be shocking and awe-inspiring enough for generations. Assume anyone in an ISIS terror-state city is a hostile and lay them waste. Do it with support of the entire voting Middle East (Iran and SA on the same team? Well, ISIS made that possible). If you can? Convince AQP to issue a "we're sitting this one out guys" message since ISIS's real crime was usurping the 'AQI rights' in the first place.

If you can line up that kind of agreement, the only serious obstruction will be congress.
Give me that Old Time Religion,
    Give me that Old Time Religion,
    Give me that Old Time Religion ...
    It's good enough for me!

It was good enough for Isis,
'Cause she comes through in a crisis
And she's never raised her prices
So she's good enough for me.

* Not his real name ... apparently.


  1. Ha ha! Those fools! They fell victim to one of the classic blunders - the most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia" - but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never antagonize a nuclear superpower whose leadership has historically low approval ratings!" Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha

    -- Ω.


      -The Omnivore

    2. Beats me, man. It's your blog!


      -- Ω

  2. I'm not onboard with this plan. At all. Murdering thousands of innocent civilians is not okay no matter how awful their government is. Even if you ignore the morality of the issue, a blasted wasteland is worse for the world than a terrorist state.

    And honestly, you can't scare people into submission when fear is the reason they fight you in the first place. You can only scare them into fighting harder.

    Besides, bombing people is expensive and the American government is short on money.

    1. Just to be clear, since the mushroom cloud is misleading: I am NOT suggesting (even at the level-of-seriousness of tone of the blog-post--which is not deadly serious) *nuking* the cities ISIS occupies. Even at humorous levels of bloodthirstyness, that's not what this is suggesting.

      It's suggesting attacking infrastructure--oil refineries, power plants, governmental buildings.

      Now, this would create a humanitarian crisis--but at some point ISIS goes from being a terrorist nation to an enemy state with what are arguably clear designs on causing us and our allies harm (I say arguably because where there is, apparently, some argument about how long term those guy's plans are, there is little contest about where their eventual goals go).

      I'll also note that giving people in not-yet-fallen cities a "run for it or be part of the enemy state" choice is a hellishly brutal one--but perhaps less brutal than being placed under an eager-to-amputate Shira-law regime.

      -The Omnivore

    2. Even then, there will be a significant death toll. And for what?

      ISIS is not a threat to the West. It just isn't. It's a small group with poor organization, little money, and no standing on the international stage. Plus they're on the other side of the planet. They can't hurt us meaningfully.

      So why attack them? To protect the Iraqis? I don't think killing them, wrecking their economy, and destroying their central organization so that ex-ISIS gangs run everything will help them much.

      To prevent terrorist attacks? Ridiculous. ISIS could still perpetrate attacks if it was fragmented by bombing. And the math doesn't work out; the attacks we'd prevent could never kill as many people as our prevention efforts.

      To send a message? The message we'd be sending is that we are dangerous maniacs who should be overthrown. You have to remember, fear is part of a terrorist's motivation. It pushes them to become more extreme, not to relax.

      Here's an article I agree with on the subject, maybe it'll explain my position better than I can:

    3. This deserves its own reply--I'll do it tomorrow.

      -The Omnivore