by Wayne McCormack for the Global Justice Blog.
[Note: I have three close colleagues and friends with on-the-ground combat experience on whom I tried a draft of this essay. I have never been in a military uniform and never fired a weapon. My friend and colleague Amos Guiora disagreed with my rant but promised to write a response after the President’s speech on September 10. Then my friend and colleague Jim Holbrook, a veteran grunt from the jungles of Vietnam, advised me to “re-check the tone.” At first, I concluded that I had no credibility as a nonveteran; then I realized that maybe I’m the perfect observer to react with outrage when I see others being put in harm’s way for no discernible (i.e. strategic) gain. Whatever the truth of those observations, I have decided to publish this in advance of the President’s speech. Why? I suppose it’s just to clear my own conscience that I didn’t stand by silently to watch another debacle unfold. So in the end, this is really just selfish behavior on my part – but I did try to tone it down.]
All the ranting over “we don’t have a strategy” undercut the U.S. position to the point of goading the President into giving the jihadists another recruiting tool. We’re going to war and you can be sure it will be known as “war against Islam.”
Even the Washington Post chimed in: “When Mr. Obama refuses to acknowledge the reality, allies naturally wonder whether he will also refuse to respond to it.”The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd weighed in with astonishing virulence: “In some situations, panic is a sign of clear thinking. Reality is reality, whether it’s tweeted or not. . . . Now we’d kill to see Obama baring his teeth.” And the New York Daily News set another record for disgustingness with its front page of a jihadist beheader with the caption “Do you have a strategy now, Mr. President?”
Who said the President doesn’t acknowledge reality? The reality is that we cannot solve all the world’s problems and I’m frankly sick of everyone expecting us to do so. When critics demanded a strategy and ridiculed the statement that “we don’t have a strategy,” the reality is that they were demanding war.
Military action is the only available strategy that can be made public. All other strategies involve hunting down psychopaths and dealing with them – a “strategy” that is best implemented by putting up a front of inattention so as to lull the psychopaths into carelessness. Now instead we are going public with coming after them and more lives will be lost – including American lives.
Yes, ISIL is a threat to Iraq and the rest of the region – so let the region get engaged for a change. The oil-rich fiefdoms have taken our money and used our defense forces for almost a century while doing nothing to turn back the salafist jihadists (in truth, often funding them with “protection money” or worse). It is the leaders in that region who need to deal with the whole “salafi” mindset – it really is their problem and not something that we are likely to understand. One thing we can understand is that widespread killing of jihadists breeds more jihadists.
Yes, the personal pathology of these psychopaths is truly barbaric and they need to be hunted down as best we can, but ISIS/ISIL has been beheading dozens if not hundreds of people for quite some time now. There was no outrage for months until some of the psychopaths figured out how to make videos and post them on the web to goad EuroAmerica into going to war – again.
And make no mistake, that is what we are doing. The promise of “no boots on the ground” is illusory if not blatantly untrue. We have already stated publicly that we have hundreds of “advisors” on the ground, which is just how Vietnam started. And there are plenty of reports of clandestine operatives near the Syrian border – after all, someone has to find the targets and guide the bombs.
Many of the thugs that we have called “terrorists” have no political agenda beyond the vague idea of establishing a second caliphate. Their tactical goals are getting opposition governments to overreact, as the US did in Afghanistan and Iraq. It made sense to wipe out the training camps after 9/11, but it made no sense to attempt dictating governmental structures to countries where we had no knowledge or credibility. It is not our region of the world and not a place to impose our culture – change of ideology can only be accomplished by the leadership of the oil-glutted nations.
Some aspects of guerilla warfare groups have changed in the last 20 years. Originally, analysts thought that psychopaths were not welcome in an organization because they were uncontrollable. But then EuroAmerica provided the adrenaline rush of media coverage, and the recruitment policies changed. Now with ISIS all elements of violence are mixed together – apparently a pretty savvy military leadership with some psychopaths on the side.
So the psychopaths are dragging a bigger and stronger opposition (EuroAmerica) into a war that neither we nor they should be willing to fight. It’s the digital age writ large – instant gratification (porno as some pundits described it) with uncontrollable consequences. It will take some time but the psychopaths will eventually destroy the organization from within. Our role should be to help facilitate that by holding them up to ridicule, finding and kill/capture when possible, but don’t make the total demise of an ideology a EuroAmerican responsibility. The Middle Eastern leaders have to come to terms with organizing their own region – we can help with that but we can’t run their world for them.
Wayne McCormack is the E. W. Thode Professor of Law at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law. Professor McCormack teaches Constitutional Law, Counter-Terrorism, International Criminal Law, Torts, and Civil Procedure.