I've been pretty quiet about America's latest military adventure in the Middle East but my silence should in no way be interpreted as support for the bombing campaign against ISIS. As an infantryman and a student of history, I know that the only way to defeat a force like ISIS is to match it force for force, to destroy and degrade its capabilities and to take and hold territory. Can't do that from the air no matter how often the flyboys say they can. Holding territory means "boots on the ground".
Right now the boots on the ground in western Iraq and eastern Syria are mostly ISIS. The Iraqi Army pretty much disintegrated in the Sunni regions and with the exception of the Kurds, a few Iraqi units now fighting for their Shi'ite homeland, some Iranian Revolutionary Guard advisors and (now) US advisors, ISIS doesn't face much likelihood of being forced to give up territory any time soon. Meanwhile, the US does what it always does--bomb, bomb, bomb. Which might do some good if there were any forces on the ground to follow up the aerial attacks.
Locals, the ones most at risk from ISIS are the most logical source for those boots on the ground to resist ISIS. No others have quite the same motivation that the locals do. Sure, other countries in the region and beyond may have interests and concerns about ISIS but for the time being, those concerns are somewhat remote. Locals are fighting for their homes. In this case the locals--Iraqi Sunnis--have chosen ISIS over the central government. They feel far less threatened by ISIS than they do by the Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi government. Until Iraqi Sunnis change their mind, ISIS won't encounter real resistance, our bombs and rockets notwithstanding. In the meantime, those bombs and rockets will give proof to many of those locals that the US and the West are waging war against Islam.
That's one reason to object to the latest strategy--I don't think it will work and is likely to exacerbate the problem. A second reason is that America's interests are at little risk from ISIS. ISIS is not an existential threat to the US; their fighters will not be soon behead people in American town squares. ISIS jihadis, with US passports may pose some risks but those risks are often countered with effective intelligence and good police work.
Dropping bombs in the Middle East does nothing to reduce those risks. It may well worsen them.
Labels: foreign policy, iraq