On ISIS insanity

Apart from the terrible loss of life, the most distressing thing about the San Bernardino murders has been the hyperbolic reaction around the country. People have lost all perspective not simply about ISIS and terrorism, but about our country and the values that have made it strong.

Every day seems to bring new outrages and idiocies. Half the country wants to trash the second amendment; the other half wants to get rid of the first. The fifth and the fourteenth are conveniently ignored. One Republican candidate to be commander in chief talks about carpet bombing ISIS, profoundly ignorant not only of ISIS but military science and capabilities. Donald Trump remains in a category by himself.

It’s easy to blame this circus on the “media,” which is always up for a good session of hyperventilation. But a lot of people who really do know better are talking like crazies as well.
ISIS is not the world beater that it’s being made out to be. It’s a collection of psychotic mass killers who are pretty good at PR as well as murder, and have managed to convince a very small number of sick and pathetic individuals that they too should give in to their psychosis and kill innocent people.

They are one aspect of the civil war that is tearing much of Islam apart. Like all terrorists, they must be dealt with viciously and relentlessly. They are a cancer, but they are neither omnipresent, invincible, or even all that powerful. They have thrived in an area of chaos and apocalyptic disaster; without those conditions, and met with appropriate force, they will shrivel and disappear.

The long term direction of Islam and its people is another matter. Their internal war has many aspects, but one of the strongest is a fight between values of modernity and an idealized (and demonstrably false) past. As a Westerner, I believe it is futile to fight the future, but perhaps that is hubris; in any event, even a lost cause can impose incredibly high costs.

While I do not believe that the U.S. and the West have taken a strong enough or effective enough strategy toward this war and its collateral damage, I do have to admit that there is no course that is not without difficulties or reverses. The U.S. has tried everything from direct intervention (Iraq) to laissez faire sneaking around the edges (Libya, Africa) with very mixed results; there are numerous pro and con arguments for any approach you take. In any event, I don’t think that the people who urge caution or disagree with me are un-American or in on some sort of plot to ruin America. They’re mistaken, badly in some cases, but if I can’t convince them with reason I am surely not going to win the day with name calling.

Name calling and hysteria is fun. It gets attention; it gets clicks and hits and sells ads and maybe makes a few people rich. But it makes it very difficult to keep things in perspective. And it makes it almost impossible to get real work done.

So what should we do?

1) Preserve the Second Amendment. There’s simply no evidence that strict guns law in America would have any impact on this threat.

2) Preserve the First Amendment – freedom of speech and religion. And keep due process (the 5th and 14th) as well. (People inciting violence, let alone committing it, are NOT protected by the First Amendment.)

3) Use military force proportional to the threat. That means ground forces where necessary – and admittedly, that does mean there will be casualties.

4) As for Iraq specifically, in an ideal world I would split the country in three, and help the Sunnis in the west defeat ISIS. That’s what should have been done after the invasion, or at worst during the so-called Surge. It’s unlikely to happen now, which means we’re probably stuck with more of the present muddle. Assuming that is the case, continued attacks against ISIS and support of the Shia-dominated Iraqi forces are the best of crappy options.

5) In Syria, the dictator has to go. The problem for us there isn’t so much ISIS, which everyone hates, but the other rebel groups, which are certainly better but not exactly friends of the West, let alone forward thinkers. While it’s tempting to let Russia and Hamas/Iran continue to get battered in the process – a real politics solution the Israelis seem to favor – the mass exodus from the war shows just how connected the world is. The best of the crappy solutions there is to concentrate on ISIS, then join whatever rump peace process results from the dictator’s eventual defeat. Syria shows that we can’t let future situations devolve into such chaos. Of course, it’s one thing to say that, and quite another to actually have a strategy to prevent it. What started as a democratic awakening in the Middle East has devolved into this. A fully engaged and foreign policy aimed at discouraging nutjobs from taking over the governments would be a start, though.

6) ISIS may be a top priority for us, but for much of the Middle East, the real conflict is between Iran and the Sunni nations. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are currently fighting what they perceive as a proxy war with Iran in Yemen. Their citizens are also funding or otherwise supporting groups including ISIS that don’t particularly like us – at best. Keeping both sides in check – and avoiding more nuclear proliferation – has to be largely accomplished by diplomacy. The Iran nuclear deal – such as it is – has to be vigorously enforced. Reading between the lines of the most recent commission reports, Iran seems to have hit a roadblock in its very real nuke development program, and it was that as much as the sanctions that made it willing to deal. It’s foolish to think that that it will completely renounce its intentions, and the most extreme pressure has to continue to be applied – if only to prevent the rest of the Middle East from arming as well.

None of this fits in a quick sound bite or even the sort of climax scene you’d expect from the author of Dreamland, et al. But the real world is more complicated than thriller fiction.

It’s also not as dangerous, not really. This isn’t a threat to lose your head over, let alone your freedoms.

Let me say one thing more: I know a lot of Muslims. They are all good Americans. A few of them are heroes. They and their families mean a great deal to this country and its future. They belong here. They hate the terrorists even worse than you do. For these Muslim Americans, America is still that shining light on the hill; talking to them, reminds me why I’m proud to be here, why I choke up even at a ballgame when the Star Spangled Banner is played.

If they’re going on a list, I’m signing onto that list with them.

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