‘There are roads which must not be followed,
armies which must not be attacked,
towns which must not be besieged,
positions which must not be contested,
commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.’
Sun Tzu ~ On the Art of War
‘Don’t do anything stupid.’
President Barack Obama
War hysteria is a fascinating and horrifying thing to watch. I’ve seen it several times now in my life and it is always beyond ugly, like watching scorpions mate.
Aside from the verminous lies that tumble over each other like a swarm of filthy rats to electrify public opinion with fear and frenzy, our national leaders — grown men and women whose strength of character and deliberative judgment we rely on — daily prove susceptible themselves to the most transparent mendacity and appear spineless in the face of true moral challenge.
Until a few short months ago, the American public had never heard of ISIL and didn’t know a thing about them, even though ISIL has been fighting an insurgency in Syria against the Assad regime for years, and for years it has committed unspeakable atrocities against the Syrian people. The brutal murders of two American journalists notwithstanding, why now the sudden sense of urgency and demand for action in the public discourse and among our leadership?
The answer lies in war hysteria.
As the New York Times put it:
“… as President Obama prepares to send the United States on what could be a years-long military campaign against the militant group, American intelligence agencies have concluded that it poses no immediate threat to the United States. Some officials and terrorism experts believe that the actual danger posed by ISIS has been distorted in hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians, and that there has been little substantive public debate about the unintended consequences of expanding American military action in the Middle East.”
In other words, war hysteria has become a prime mover of public opinion and by extension our foreign policy. To my way of thinking, that’s clearly doing something stupid.
Let’s review: Everything changed when ISIL overran the Iraqi Army and seized a swath of territory the size of Belgium straddling Syria and Iraq. Subsequently, armed with several divisions worth of armaments and supplies courteously left behind and intact by the Iraqi Army when they unceremoniously unassed the A-O, ISIL rolled over major cities capturing banks and arsenals and oil refineries which provided them with the money, fuel and arms they needed to field a large army. Within a matter of a few weeks, ISIL’s dream of re-establishing a New Caliphate spanning the entire Middle-East seemed, conceivably, within the realm of possibility. Even our national leaders have been quick to assume that that is what the future holds and to react to it as if it were already a reality.
But that is a false assumption. The greater body of evidence on the ground argues against it.
ISIL is a guerilla force, not a conventional army. It had already far exceeded its operational capabilities when it took Mosul and Fallujah. Subsequently, it’s leadership quickly found out that it’s one thing to take territory, but it’s a very different thing to hold it. ISIL simply does not have the troops it needs to maintain both a fighting force and an occupation force simultaneously, nor are there reliable lines of supply established and the operational structure needed to hold the ground they’ve captured for very long. Only the twin windfalls of huge amounts of money and arms has allowed it to continue to hold the territory it has captured to this point. Without a constant infusion of new recruits, without sustained and reliable financing, without reliable means of resupply, the day will inevitably come when they will have to withdraw. ISIL’s leadership knows it.
Still, they’d rather not give up their gains if they can avoid it. Taking and holding a large territory has electrified the imaginations of starry-eyed dreamers and big money donors in the Muslim world that a New Caliphate is indeed at hand. They need to hold out that dream to keep the flow of recruits and money coming in.
That’s the reason why ISIL publicly, brutally murdered two American journalists and had the seeming arrogance to directly challenge the President of the United States and American power. It has nothing to do with any “existential threats” to the United States, no matter what the warmongers claim. It has to do with publicity, at which they’ve proven themselves quite competent. ISIL’s challenge to the US is simply a recruiting tool — a means to attract volunteers and money. According to some sources, they’ve already recruited “thousands” of fighters from Europe. Who’s to say they can’t recruit tens-of-thousands from across the globe?
Attacking them now with a sustained campaign of air strikes is exactly what ISIL wants and would prove to be a public relations bonanza in the Muslim world. They can achieve that goal if they can simply create the kind of war hysteria among opinion-makers and the American public that causes Congress and the President to take rash action and attack them. In response, ISIL will issue a call for recruits from around the world to come to the defense of Islam and the New Caliphate and we’ll have played directly into their hands. It will do nothing to further our efforts to bring peace to the Middle-East and will almost certainly degrade those efforts for years to come.
The right thing to do is to starve them out. To destroy by collective action of regional partners their will and means to fight. To force them to die on the vine. A coalition of nations in the region can accomplish that goal.
But war hysteria is never based on rational thought and unbiased analysis. It is based on fear and anger and the emotions of revenge. It is based on a willingness to be provoked. That’s exactly when we should take a step back, take a deep breath, and take stock of the situation with clear eyes and sound judgment.
Let’s not make another serious mistake. Please, Mr. President, let’s don’t do anything stupid.