Should We Destroy ISIS?

Most, if not all, of the presidential candidates participating in the two Fox News Channel debates on January 28 told us that as president of the United States they would destroy the Islamic State, ISIS.  They only differed somewhat in their operational concepts to achieve that end.  Not one of them, however, discussed the overarching strategic question of the “What Next?”  How would each prepare a strategy to deal with a Middle East featuring an ascendant Jihadist, terrorist, nuclear expansionist Shiia Iran?  Due to American success against ISIS, the mullahs would be unchallenged on the ground by significant Sunni forces.  To be fair to the candidates, the moderators never asked this all-important question.

The Islamic State is a self-declared 7th Century Islamic Caliphate in the form of a 21st Century Islamist supremacist state.  We know the horrors its adherents are inflicting on Christians and other non-Muslim populations which fall into its grasp -- and on the many Muslims with a different interpretation of Islam from theirs.  Together with the many other groups which are practitioners of the Worldwide Jihad, ISIS is inspiring home grown Jihadists in the United States, many of them American citizens, many of them converts to Islam. 

Islamic Jihadist terrorism is growing in the West, including in the United States.  More and more Americans recognize that their current federal government has demonstrated no effective strategy to protect them from terrorist attacks here.  They also recognize that our first responders, despite their best intentions, cannot respond quickly enough to save us from terrorist attacks.  So Americans are buying guns to protect themselves and their families, and are learning how to use them.  This is an individual, defense-only, strategy.

We need to play domestic protective offense, and only the federal government, tasked by the Constitution to defend the citizens of the United States, can develop and implement a successful counter-Jihad strategy within our country. 

Most military experts who publically discuss the practicality of eliminating ISIS in the Middle East, primarily retired flag officers, are convinced that President Obama’s current “strategy” will not destroy ISIS.  The estimate we often hear is that with a full-up U.S. effort, one involving a significant contingent of U.S. combat troops, we could destroy ISIS in six months. 

There is great public pressure to develop and implement a strategy to take the fight to ISIS, and to destroy it -- right now.  One result of that pressure was the positions taken by the Republican candidates on this issue on January 28.  Any U.S. administration’s goal must be to make us safer here in the homeland. The question which must be answered before committing American troops to combat in the Middle East is, would the destruction of ISIS advance this domestic safety goal in a meaningful way?  With this goal in mind, what are the considerations for and against the United States removing ISIS as a player in the former Iraq and Syria? 

There are certainly moral arguments for eliminating ISIS, and we are a moral people.  ISIS is evil and brutal.  ISIS is killing or forcibly converting to Islam thousands of Christians and other religious minorities in the land it controls.  ISIS is destroying Christian churches and other shrines, some of them over 1,000 years old.  As a criminal organization, ISIS has stolen oil and treasure and is engaging in drug trafficking and sex slavery.

ISIS inspires “lone wolf” Jihadists within the U.S. to commit attacks on American civilians, first responders, and military personnel.  Certainly true, but to what extent is the Islamic State itself responsible?  An argument has been made that ISIS’s success in conquering territory in the Middle East creates more Jihadism here at home because self-radicalized Jihadists here like to be associated with a “winning team.”  Perhaps, but there are no metrics, no verified data, demonstrating that the existence of ISIS itself, and most significantly, ISIS alone, acts as this kind of recruiting tool within the U.S. 

Jihadism is a world-wide flood.  It is inspired not by any one, or even several, Jihadist organizations.  It is inspired by the Koranic obligation that Muslims wage Jihad, armed and by settlement and infiltration, for the purpose of imposing Shari’a law on all non-Muslim inhabitants of the planet.  Even if ISIS were to be eliminated, the mandate would not change, and violent Jihad in the U.S. would not abate.  If ISIS were gone, other Jihadist organizations would step up to propagate the inspirational message.  They already are.

Let’s consider an alternative.  Can an argument be made that destroying ISIS at this time would be a bad policy for the United States?  At this moment it would, as demonstrated at the debates, be a very bad move in domestic politics, but what of the long-term global strategic interest of the United States?

If a U.S. president would decide to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria and would commit the forces to do so; and if he or she were successful in that endeavor, what would be the result from the U.S. perspective?  If past practice is any guide, immediately upon declaring victory over ISIS we would bring our troops home, leaving “our side” of the field to whatever Sunni Arabs we would have attracted to our side in the fight.  Possibly some Al Qaeda militias.  Possibly Syrian rebels who had taken up arms against Assad of Syria.  The Kurds in northern Iraq and Syria. 

But primarily we would leave the field to President Assad of Syria, to Hezb’allah, to Shiite militias, to Iran and its Revolutionary Guard and Quds Forces, and to the Russians.  

On the Persian Gulf front, Saudi Arabia is continuing the Sunni world’s sectarian conflict with Shiia Iran, a fight which goes back 1,400 years and which now could escalate into modern combat between these two heavily armed nation states.  In American Thinker on January 20 Mike Konrad excoriates the Saudi Regime thusly: “[A] more detestable regime than Saudi Arabia could not be found.  Arguably the most repressive regime on earth.  An absolute monarchy.  A Wahhabist theocratic nightmare that arms ISIS.” Mr. Konrad then sets out an economic argument based on present and future crude oil prices and production that, he concludes, will result inevitably in the fall of the rulers of Saudi Arabia.  He believes this would be a very good outcome.

If this happens, and given the recent history of Middle East chaos it certainly could, can the fall of the present rulers of the other Gulf States to a Shiia takeover be far behind?   The Shiia populations of these nations would then be in charge and under the influence, and possibly under the direct control, of Iran.  Unless we would fight for it, the United States could be expelled from our strategically vital naval base in Bahrain and air bases in Qatar.  The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps would control both sides of the Gulf, including the Strait of Hormuz, and the Persian Gulf would become an Iranian lake.  Will Jordan and the Kurds be able to stand up to an Iran which will try, possibly successfully even under our next president, to neutralize our country with the threat of nuclear warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at the United States?  Israel may try to help them, but it does not have the depth of numbers to be the guarantor of the security of these potential Middle East allies of the United States, in addition to defending itself against a nuclear Iran.

President Obama, although gone from exercising the power of the presidency, will have achieved his objective:  From the border of Turkey a redrawn map of the Middle East will be dominated by a hegemonic Shiia Iran, still possibly supported by Russia.

The war being fought by ISIS is part of the continuing 1,400 year Sunni/Shiia sectarian conflict which Sunni Saudi Arabia also is fighting against surrogates of Shiia Iran.  There are advisors very knowledgeable in the Middle East, its history, and the tenets of Shari’a law, who argue that the U.S. has no business getting involved in this sectarian, ethnic, and tribal conflict.  Clare Lopez, former CIA officer and Vice President for Research and Analysis at the Center for Security Policy, and Pete Hoekstra, former Congressman from Michigan’s 2nd District and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, now working with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, have put it this way:

Have we considered that the very rise of ISIS, with broad support from local Sunni states, was itself a reaction to the removal of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi army as the only credible counterweight to the Shiite rulers in Tehran? These states, from Saudi Arabia to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, will and must have a say in what happens next. They will not allow a nuclear-armed Iranian hegemony to expand unchallenged. They recognize that the U.S. has been an unreliable ally at best, as it has facilitated the overthrow of Sunni regimes in Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Yemen and allowed for the advancement of Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities.

Further, the Middle East battleground is crowded with competing ethnic, sectarian and tribal interests, most of which harbor jihadist sympathies. So, with which should the U.S. ally itself against ISIS: the al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra? The Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham? Are we helping Bashar al-Assad cling to power by fighting side-by-side with Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp? What about our relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia?

Clare Lopez, speaking on the Bob Frantz Authority show on Salem Radio’s Cleveland affiliate, WHK 1420, on January 22, 2016, reiterated her opinion that America should stay out of the fight against ISIS because it will help neither us nor the people we would be going to war to help.  She feels very strongly that regardless of what happens to ISIS in the Middle East, radicalization of Americans as Jihadists will continue and expand, fueled by the world-wide Jihadist community. Lopez states, however, that the U.S. should find a way to protect Middle East Christians and other minority religious groups, and must keep faith with and protect our regional allies, specifically mentioning Jordan, Israel, and the Kurds.

Shall the new United States administration protect the Obama legacy by destroying ISIS, the foremost threat to his anointed hegemon, Iran, spilling more American blood and expending more of our borrowed treasure in the process?  Or shall we allow the Middle East religious, ethnic, and tribal factions to get their own house in order or leave it in disorder, while we protect our regional allies?  This question deserves much thought and expert strategic consultation by our presidential candidates, beginning now.

Michael S. Goldstein is an attorney in private practice in Ohio, a retired naval officer, and a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Intelligence Community.  Mr. Goldstein is active with eGeneration Foundation, a charitable educational foundation in the Generation IV Advanced Nuclear Energy community, at www.eGeneration.org.  Readers can contact him at michaelgoldstein3386@gmail.com.

Most, if not all, of the presidential candidates participating in the two Fox News Channel debates on January 28 told us that as president of the United States they would destroy the Islamic State, ISIS.  They only differed somewhat in their operational concepts to achieve that end.  Not one of them, however, discussed the overarching strategic question of the “What Next?”  How would each prepare a strategy to deal with a Middle East featuring an ascendant Jihadist, terrorist, nuclear expansionist Shiia Iran?  Due to American success against ISIS, the mullahs would be unchallenged on the ground by significant Sunni forces.  To be fair to the candidates, the moderators never asked this all-important question.

The Islamic State is a self-declared 7th Century Islamic Caliphate in the form of a 21st Century Islamist supremacist state.  We know the horrors its adherents are inflicting on Christians and other non-Muslim populations which fall into its grasp -- and on the many Muslims with a different interpretation of Islam from theirs.  Together with the many other groups which are practitioners of the Worldwide Jihad, ISIS is inspiring home grown Jihadists in the United States, many of them American citizens, many of them converts to Islam. 

Islamic Jihadist terrorism is growing in the West, including in the United States.  More and more Americans recognize that their current federal government has demonstrated no effective strategy to protect them from terrorist attacks here.  They also recognize that our first responders, despite their best intentions, cannot respond quickly enough to save us from terrorist attacks.  So Americans are buying guns to protect themselves and their families, and are learning how to use them.  This is an individual, defense-only, strategy.

We need to play domestic protective offense, and only the federal government, tasked by the Constitution to defend the citizens of the United States, can develop and implement a successful counter-Jihad strategy within our country. 

Most military experts who publically discuss the practicality of eliminating ISIS in the Middle East, primarily retired flag officers, are convinced that President Obama’s current “strategy” will not destroy ISIS.  The estimate we often hear is that with a full-up U.S. effort, one involving a significant contingent of U.S. combat troops, we could destroy ISIS in six months. 

There is great public pressure to develop and implement a strategy to take the fight to ISIS, and to destroy it -- right now.  One result of that pressure was the positions taken by the Republican candidates on this issue on January 28.  Any U.S. administration’s goal must be to make us safer here in the homeland. The question which must be answered before committing American troops to combat in the Middle East is, would the destruction of ISIS advance this domestic safety goal in a meaningful way?  With this goal in mind, what are the considerations for and against the United States removing ISIS as a player in the former Iraq and Syria? 

There are certainly moral arguments for eliminating ISIS, and we are a moral people.  ISIS is evil and brutal.  ISIS is killing or forcibly converting to Islam thousands of Christians and other religious minorities in the land it controls.  ISIS is destroying Christian churches and other shrines, some of them over 1,000 years old.  As a criminal organization, ISIS has stolen oil and treasure and is engaging in drug trafficking and sex slavery.

ISIS inspires “lone wolf” Jihadists within the U.S. to commit attacks on American civilians, first responders, and military personnel.  Certainly true, but to what extent is the Islamic State itself responsible?  An argument has been made that ISIS’s success in conquering territory in the Middle East creates more Jihadism here at home because self-radicalized Jihadists here like to be associated with a “winning team.”  Perhaps, but there are no metrics, no verified data, demonstrating that the existence of ISIS itself, and most significantly, ISIS alone, acts as this kind of recruiting tool within the U.S. 

Jihadism is a world-wide flood.  It is inspired not by any one, or even several, Jihadist organizations.  It is inspired by the Koranic obligation that Muslims wage Jihad, armed and by settlement and infiltration, for the purpose of imposing Shari’a law on all non-Muslim inhabitants of the planet.  Even if ISIS were to be eliminated, the mandate would not change, and violent Jihad in the U.S. would not abate.  If ISIS were gone, other Jihadist organizations would step up to propagate the inspirational message.  They already are.

Let’s consider an alternative.  Can an argument be made that destroying ISIS at this time would be a bad policy for the United States?  At this moment it would, as demonstrated at the debates, be a very bad move in domestic politics, but what of the long-term global strategic interest of the United States?

If a U.S. president would decide to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria and would commit the forces to do so; and if he or she were successful in that endeavor, what would be the result from the U.S. perspective?  If past practice is any guide, immediately upon declaring victory over ISIS we would bring our troops home, leaving “our side” of the field to whatever Sunni Arabs we would have attracted to our side in the fight.  Possibly some Al Qaeda militias.  Possibly Syrian rebels who had taken up arms against Assad of Syria.  The Kurds in northern Iraq and Syria. 

But primarily we would leave the field to President Assad of Syria, to Hezb’allah, to Shiite militias, to Iran and its Revolutionary Guard and Quds Forces, and to the Russians.  

On the Persian Gulf front, Saudi Arabia is continuing the Sunni world’s sectarian conflict with Shiia Iran, a fight which goes back 1,400 years and which now could escalate into modern combat between these two heavily armed nation states.  In American Thinker on January 20 Mike Konrad excoriates the Saudi Regime thusly: “[A] more detestable regime than Saudi Arabia could not be found.  Arguably the most repressive regime on earth.  An absolute monarchy.  A Wahhabist theocratic nightmare that arms ISIS.” Mr. Konrad then sets out an economic argument based on present and future crude oil prices and production that, he concludes, will result inevitably in the fall of the rulers of Saudi Arabia.  He believes this would be a very good outcome.

If this happens, and given the recent history of Middle East chaos it certainly could, can the fall of the present rulers of the other Gulf States to a Shiia takeover be far behind?   The Shiia populations of these nations would then be in charge and under the influence, and possibly under the direct control, of Iran.  Unless we would fight for it, the United States could be expelled from our strategically vital naval base in Bahrain and air bases in Qatar.  The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps would control both sides of the Gulf, including the Strait of Hormuz, and the Persian Gulf would become an Iranian lake.  Will Jordan and the Kurds be able to stand up to an Iran which will try, possibly successfully even under our next president, to neutralize our country with the threat of nuclear warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at the United States?  Israel may try to help them, but it does not have the depth of numbers to be the guarantor of the security of these potential Middle East allies of the United States, in addition to defending itself against a nuclear Iran.

President Obama, although gone from exercising the power of the presidency, will have achieved his objective:  From the border of Turkey a redrawn map of the Middle East will be dominated by a hegemonic Shiia Iran, still possibly supported by Russia.

The war being fought by ISIS is part of the continuing 1,400 year Sunni/Shiia sectarian conflict which Sunni Saudi Arabia also is fighting against surrogates of Shiia Iran.  There are advisors very knowledgeable in the Middle East, its history, and the tenets of Shari’a law, who argue that the U.S. has no business getting involved in this sectarian, ethnic, and tribal conflict.  Clare Lopez, former CIA officer and Vice President for Research and Analysis at the Center for Security Policy, and Pete Hoekstra, former Congressman from Michigan’s 2nd District and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, now working with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, have put it this way:

Have we considered that the very rise of ISIS, with broad support from local Sunni states, was itself a reaction to the removal of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi army as the only credible counterweight to the Shiite rulers in Tehran? These states, from Saudi Arabia to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, will and must have a say in what happens next. They will not allow a nuclear-armed Iranian hegemony to expand unchallenged. They recognize that the U.S. has been an unreliable ally at best, as it has facilitated the overthrow of Sunni regimes in Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Yemen and allowed for the advancement of Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities.

Further, the Middle East battleground is crowded with competing ethnic, sectarian and tribal interests, most of which harbor jihadist sympathies. So, with which should the U.S. ally itself against ISIS: the al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra? The Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham? Are we helping Bashar al-Assad cling to power by fighting side-by-side with Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp? What about our relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia?

Clare Lopez, speaking on the Bob Frantz Authority show on Salem Radio’s Cleveland affiliate, WHK 1420, on January 22, 2016, reiterated her opinion that America should stay out of the fight against ISIS because it will help neither us nor the people we would be going to war to help.  She feels very strongly that regardless of what happens to ISIS in the Middle East, radicalization of Americans as Jihadists will continue and expand, fueled by the world-wide Jihadist community. Lopez states, however, that the U.S. should find a way to protect Middle East Christians and other minority religious groups, and must keep faith with and protect our regional allies, specifically mentioning Jordan, Israel, and the Kurds.

Shall the new United States administration protect the Obama legacy by destroying ISIS, the foremost threat to his anointed hegemon, Iran, spilling more American blood and expending more of our borrowed treasure in the process?  Or shall we allow the Middle East religious, ethnic, and tribal factions to get their own house in order or leave it in disorder, while we protect our regional allies?  This question deserves much thought and expert strategic consultation by our presidential candidates, beginning now.

Michael S. Goldstein is an attorney in private practice in Ohio, a retired naval officer, and a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Intelligence Community.  Mr. Goldstein is active with eGeneration Foundation, a charitable educational foundation in the Generation IV Advanced Nuclear Energy community, at www.eGeneration.org.  Readers can contact him at michaelgoldstein3386@gmail.com.