Defeating ISIS: Thesis / Antithesis / Synthesis

Georg Friedrich Hegel’s structure for the development of ideas – thesis; antithesis; synthesis – provides a good framework for understanding the current state of debate about the war against ISIS.

President Obama tried to do the right thing with his address to the nation about terrorism – explain the military strategy in the Middle East; explain the strategy for combating domestic terrorism; call for calm in dealing with Muslims in America. He failed because his strategies are patently not working, and because he has forfeited the public’s trust after years of meaningless commitments – “keep your doctor”; “Red Line” in Syria; reliable inspection of Iran’s nuclear program; ISIS “contained”.  His obvious failure gives conservatives some amount of satisfaction, but it is not good for the country in perilous times.

Thesis (Barack Obama)

– As laid out in his speech, we are confronted by a group of barbarous thugs who need to be brought to justice. We have assembled a coalition of 65 countries to contain and eventually destroy their sanctuary in Iraq and Syria. Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies are on the alert domestically, but need more help from the leaders of the Muslim community. We must not abandon our American values by discriminating against all Muslims. Key elements of his strategy will be proven right over time – Assad must go; there must be no significant American ground troops involved; leadership in defeating extremists must come from the Muslim community itself.

– As described recently in speeches at the United Nations, in Paris, in Malaysia, and elsewhere: the greatest threat facing the world is global warming; ISIL is contained (just before the Paris bombing); there is no active threat to the Homeland (just before the San Bernadino shooting); Congress’ reaction to domestic terrorism should be to enact tighter gun control laws; the prison at Guantanamo must be closed and the remaining prisoners tried in civilian courts or transferred abroad.

– Perpetrators of mass murders should not be referred to as radical Islamic terrorists – regardless of where they have been trained, what support they receive, who they declare allegiance to, or who claims responsibility for their actions –  lest we stigmatize an entire group. They should be handled through the criminal justice system rather than through  military prisons and courts.

Obama seems to be frustrated by the fact that he can lay out a logical framework consistent with his world view; and that ISIS, our friends and opponents in the Middle East, and the American public are not smart enough to understand that the world is better off without an American policeman, and that time is on our side.

Antithesis (The strongest case)

    – But, the wish that ISIS can be defeated by air power alone is a politically comfortable fiction; there is no effective ground force in Iraq or Syria to retake territory from ISIS. Rather than being contained as in Obama’s narrative, ISIS is rapidly expanding with nodes in Libya, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Yemen,  and a dozen other countries; effective cells of adherents are demonstrably present in France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the United States, and increasingly throughout Europe.

– Growing voices in Europe call for re-imposition of borders, rejecting the European Union’s demand for immigration quotas, closing radical mosques, increasing police and military, accepting foreign tyrants who maintain order, and revoking joint citizenship. (Marine Le Pen)

– The rules of engagement in Syria and Iraq need to be changed. We should “carpet bomb” ISIS territory regardless of civilian casualties, implicitly using tactical nuclear weapons “until the sand glows”. ([mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ])

– No Muslims should be allowed to enter the country until we understand how to sort out the terrorists. There should be no distinction between Sunni and Shia; between Arabs and other ethnicities; and (in its first iteration) between US citizens and non-citizens. (Donald Trump)

Some of the Trump bluster is attributable to the presidential candidate’s style, but much is a predictable “equal and opposite” reaction to Obama and years of growing political correctness. Refusal to recognize reality on the President’s part creates insecurity for the public and invites hyperbole on the other side. And the press loves to focus on Trump’s inappropriate language as the White House press secretary rants about any Republican not repudiating Trump as being unqualified to be president because of his despicable position, his “carnival barker” campaign, and his fake hair. Such is the level of discourse at the highest levels.

Synthesis (A hopeful view)

    But there is some room for hope if serious minds can put aside Obama’s nothing and Trump’s blather.

– Despite the rhetoric – including the implication in Obama’s speech – there has been no significant increase in incidents targeting Muslims. In fact, since George W Bush visited a mosque in New York a few days after 9/11 there has been almost no evidence of increase in anti-Muslim discrimination. The FBI apparently has a solid working relationship with many Muslim leaders, and most preach moderation.

– In the Congress there has been a quick consensus to tighten laws for visitors from the 38 countries which had previously not required the fingerprinting, photographs, and interviews necessary for visas. Those who have visited Iraq or Syria in the past five years will now require visas; there will be an increase in sharing of information about foreign travelers.

– There are military answers in Iraq and Syria:

— Air power should be used where it can do the job. It is not as if satellites and reconnaissance aircraft were inhibited by cloud cover, difficult terrain, or surface to air missiles. There is no reason for ISIS to derive any revenue from oil. There is no reason for any military encampment or government building to be left standing in Raqqa, Mosul, Ramadi, or anywhere else in ISIS territory.

— Feckless allies should be brought to heel. The border with Turkey should be sealed for ISIS recruits and smugglers. There should be no Iraqi government payments to anyone in ISIS territory. Saudi funding of the al-Queda affiliated al Nusra Front in Syria must be stopped. Whatever their issues with the PKK in Turkey, the Turks must not attack the Kurds in Iraq or Syria.

— Special Operations personnel should be increased with the specific objectives of taking out ISIS leaders (al Baghdadi as a priority), identifying targets for allied aircraft, and training Iraqi and Free Syrian Army counterparts. As Defense Secretary Ash Carter has finally promised, we should provide attack helicopter support in Iraq.

— [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ] has the right idea on ground forces – some thousands, for the period of defeating ISIS, as the need is identified by military commanders. This must be part of a predominantly Sunni Arab force supported by NATO. As the Polish Foreign Minister has recently proposed, we should recruit an army from the refugees taking their families north into Europe, and give them a chance to restore their homelands. (Duh!)

— Syria should be partitioned with no fly zones protecting areas controlled by the Kurds, the Turkomen, the Free Syrian Army, and other friendly forces.  Assad should remain in power in the territory allocated to the Alawites; that includes the naval and air facilities of interest to the Russians.

The problem with all of these ideas is that they can only be implemented by a Commander in Chief who is willing to be pushed. Some of that seems to be happening – 2500 troops in Iraq; a few Special Ops folks in Syria – but it may well be 2017 before the necessary actions are taken.


This week’s video is provided for those who despair that Americans are no longer able to solve the world’s major problems.

And a second bonus – Larry Sabato’s excellent recap of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

www.RightinSanFrancisco.com – 12/11/15