Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How To Beat ISIS

It's clear that conventional warfare won't beat ISIS.  The Iraqi Army is a joke, and not a very funny one.  Whatever it does, it doesn't fight.  The Shiite militias in Iraq can't be expected to succeed in the mostly Sunni areas of Iraq now controlled by ISIS,  because they present too much risk of sectarian conflict.  The U.S. isn't going to send in ground troops to fight for the Baghdad regime (nor should it).  The Kurds, like the Shiites, can't effectively take and hold Sunni majority areas.  So how to beat ISIS?

Stop fighting World War II.  There isn't a conventional force available that can realistically be expected to beat ISIS, and probably won't be one for the foreseeable future.  Instead, hoist the Islamic insurgents on their own petard.  Sponsor insurgency against ISIS.

The problem ISIS has is that it is trying to establish a caliphate--an actual country representing the promised land of ISIS's ideology.  ISIS doesn't merely conquer.  It endeavors to establish governments, social order and a functioning economy.  If it succeeds at nation building, its legitimacy will be heightened. 

The United States, although the most powerful nation in the world, is in the uncomfortable position of being weaker in Iraq and Syria than ISIS.  Time to take a page from insurgents going back to Ho Chi Minh and Mao Tse-Tung.  When you're weak, go asymmetric.  America doesn't have armored columns to roll into ISIS-land.  The armor was surrendered by the Iraqi Army to ISIS.  Giving the Iraqis more conventional weapons may turn out to be provisioning ISIS even more.  Remember that to this day, Iran flies American F-14 and F-4 fighter-bombers. 

Instead, America should foment rebellion against ISIS.  This would be rebellion by the Sunni population in the areas where ISIS governs.  ISIS imposes a very harsh, medieval form of Islam, complete with diverse and sundry outrages such as televised beheadings, burnings, shootings, and so on.  As time passes, more and more of the population under ISIS's heel will likely harbor desires to turn their Kalashnikovs on their draconian overlords. Organized nations provide easy targets for insurgencies, since governments have to operate openly.  Their facilities, personnel and infrastructure can all be attacked.  ISIS would expend substantial resources trying to defend itself internally, leaving fewer resources for further territorial aggresion.  Predictably, ISIS would respond to insurrection harshly, and that in turn would harden hearts and minds among the oppressed.  The rebellion would continue apace.

Of course, American-supplied weapons for such an insurgency could some day be turned against America.  That was a problem in Afghanistan, when the CIA helped to arm and train Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet occupation.  But would we be better off with a Soviet/Russian controlled Afghanistan today?  What would a guy like Vlad the Invader (you know, that Putin fellow) do if he had Afghanistan as a launching pad for further territorial aggression?

We have no effective conventional options in Iraq.  Let's go unconventional.  Let's go asymmetric.

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