Monday, February 16, 2015

What would happen if we invade Iraq to go after ISIS?

A social media acquaintance recently posted a link to the horrid video of ISIS beheading 21 Coptic Christians, accompanied by the message "Congress and the President must act!". I replied asking him which action he would like them to undertake, and he said that while he wasn't an expert on the details, he'd support some kind of invasion with allied forces, ideally without any nation building component. He also asked me what the non-interventionist approach to this sort of problem would be. This was my reply.

An invasion would succeed rather quickly in terms of territorial advancement. We have tanks, they don't, that sort of thing. We'd kill a few, lose only a handful, and drive the rest of them from the field within months if it even took that long.

would then happen is ISIS would go underground and fight an insurgency war very similar to the one we just got out of against Al Qaeda. This would give us two options:

1. Leave, watch ISIS come back out from under their rock and continue doing what they were doing before we momentarily interrupted them.

2. Stick around as an occupying counterinsurgency force AGAIN, trying to pick off ISIS whenever they pop their heads up, rebuild the same Iraqi troops we just unsuccessfully trained for a decade, with no clear end state and tons of civilians being caught in the cross fire. Last time we did this, there were more global terrorists when we left than there were when we arrived, because the middle east hated our drones and occupation so much that the terrorists recruited faster than we could kill them. This would go on indefinitely, until we quit, which returns us to option #1.

Listen, my blood curdles when I see these videos too. If I'm sent there, I'll have no moral qualms whatsoever about fighting them. If there were a button I could press to make all of them die, I would press it and the world would be better off. But there exists no such button, and hawkish bluster doesn't provide one.

So to answer your question, the non-interventionist position is just general skepticism about the wisdom of foreign intervention - the same skepticism you apply to the government's likelihood of succeeding without unintended consequences for economic regulations. That doesn't mean there aren't a few scenarios in which it's worth it, and perhaps this is one of them - that's for people with higher rank than me to decide. All I know is that there will never be a day when the US finally kills the last terrorist. If terrorism is to end over the long term, its demise will not be externally orchestrated: that requires a social change that will have to come from within the region. We can only hasten that day's arrival through soft power by exporting our culture and building our peaceful, relatively tolerant democracy so high and enticing that the people of the middle east will come to yearn for it, and so make radical violent Jihad socially unacceptable by comparison. Eliminating excuses for them to view the west as an imperial Christian conqueror wouldn't hurt either.

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