Why Should We Care about ISIS?

The war hawks in Washington are again beating the tom-toms.  Despite the fact that we’re $17.5 trillion in debt, Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain are doing their best to goad President Obama into attacking the Islamic State In Syria (ISIS), which has now occupied most of northern Iraq.  Obama seems to want to be goaded into more war; he has – despite his announcement a few days ago that he has no real strategy – already ordered air strikes against ISIS.  His secretary of state, John Kerry, announced that ISIS “must be destroyed.”  And White House spokesman Josh Earnest announced that the U.S. would pursue ISIS beyond Iraq into Syria, “regardless of borders.”  (No mention was made of asking Congress to declare war, which that little inconvenience called “the Constitution” requires.)

The ironies of all of this are most profound.  It was, after all, Mr. Obama who failed – perhaps refused – to negotiate a status of forces agreement with Iraq, withdrawing all American forces in 2011.  Despite the loss of 4,500 American lives in the Iraq war, Obama was quite comfortable leaving a power vacuum in Iraq that has now been filled by the ISIS jihadists.  Mr. Obama’s disdain for the lives of 4,500 American troops lost in Iraq can likely be explained by his characterization of the Iraq War as a “dumb” war when he campaigned for office in 2008.

But that’s when George Bush was president.  Now that Iraq is collapsing on his watch, Obama seems to think that what happens in Iraq requires an American military response.  The irony is compounded by the fact that Vice-President Biden, supposedly a major contributor to Obama’s foreign policy, once proposed that Iraq be partitioned.  Today, partition of Iraq is essentially what has happened; yet now we are to believe that this somehow profoundly undermines U.S. security.

Even more ironic – if not bizarre – is the fact that the Obama administration has called for the ouster of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad and covertly aided the Syrian insurgents.  Now, Obama and the Republican war hawks want war against Assad’s most effective opponents.

Perhaps it’s time to take a deep breath and ask, “Why should we care about ISIS?” and “How does a fundamentalist Islamic state in the barren desert of eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq affect American security interests?”  The answers are simple: we shouldn’t, and it doesn’t.

The casus belli of the war hawks seems to be the savage beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by ISIS radicals.  While these murders are horrific indeed, they are no cause for war.  The plain fact is that the Islamic world is convulsed by violent, savage radicals from one end to the other.  Boko Haram in Nigeria kidnapped some 300 schoolgirls recently.  Libyan al-Qaeda militants burned our consulate and murdered our ambassador in Benghazi.  A few years back, an Islamic sharia court in Pakistan sentenced an 18-year-old girl to be gang-raped as punishment for being in the presence of a 12-year-old boy without a chaperone.  Palestinians in Gaza have kidnapped and murdered Israeli soldiers, and Pakistani militants shot dead nearly 300 people in India.  And, lest we forget, Foley and Sotloff are not the first Westerners beheaded by Islamic radicals – Nick Berg and Daniel Pearl met the same fate back in 2004.

(It’s worth noting that Sotloff, Berg, and Pearl were all American Jews.  Of course, you’re not supposed to notice that – you’re supposed to put one of those “Coexist” bumper stickers on your Subaru and nod in agreement when President Obama says, “The future does not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam.”)

All of this is horrible stuff, but it’s difficult to see how any of it truly affects American security.  After all, the type of savagery that ISIS is willing to engage in doesn’t seem to be very different from what goes on routinely in Saudi Arabia, our chief “ally” in the region.  In Saudi Arabia, apostates and “witches” are sentenced to death, adulterers are flogged, and thieves are subject to “judicial amputation.”  Women must be veiled and chaperoned in public and are forbidden to drive.  It’s illegal to possess a Bible there.  Yet I don’t hear anyone proposing that the U.S. bomb Riyadh or Mecca.  (Maybe we should – after all, 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis.)  Our other main “ally” in the region is Pakistan, a seething cauldron of fanatics and assassins who harbored Osama bin Laden for a decade and possess dozens of nuclear warheads.  Iran, a theocratic dictatorship that puts teenage girls to death for “crimes against chastity,” shoots dissenters down in the streets, and threatened to “wipe Israel off the map,” is in the process of acquiring nuclear weapons.  The Obama administration has ruled out the use of force against Iran, and all but acquiesced to an Iranian A-bomb.  Why is it that the U.S. can live with violent Muslim radicals in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran, but not in the desert wasteland of northern Iraq?

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates once remarked that anyone who proposes sending a land army into Asia again ought to have his head examined.  Five times in the last century – six if you include the invasion of the Philippines in 1898 – the U.S. sent armies to Asia.  What have we gotten for it?  Sixty years after the Korean War, North Korea is still communist – but now has a crackpot dictator with nukes.  Vietnam has been communist for the last 40 years, and hasn’t threatened us at all in that time.  Why, then, did we lose 58,000 American lives there?  We inconclusively confronted three bloody Islamic insurgencies, in the Philippines, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  Iraq is now certainly far worse off than it was in 2003.

Of course, McCain and Graham argue that they’re talking about “only” air strikes and special forces, not “ground troops.”  (Precisely the same argument made regarding Vietnam in the early 1960s.  How’d that work out?)  And what would we do about pilots and spec ops troops lost or captured?  John McCain, of all people, should understand that when you “merely” engage in air strikes against a foreign enemy, they will try to shoot you down, capture, imprison, and torture you.  Perhaps McCain learned nothing during his five years of captivity in the “Hanoi Hilton.”  

Is ISIS truly a threat to the U.S.?  The following proposal should answer the question decisively: let’s renew the draft, invade the Middle East once again, and send Malia Obama, Alexandra Kerry, and Meghan McCain to lead the troops.  If you hear crickets chirping in Washington after that proposal is made, you’ll have your answer.