Michael Totten, on keeping clear-eyed about military intervention against ISIS:
Let’s not kid ourselves. ISIS — or ISIL as the President calls it — is cancerous. And it is not a benign tumor. It is metastasizing and will not stop growing stronger and deadlier until it is dealt with aggressively and, at the absolute minimum, contained.
Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region, would quite possibly have fallen a couple of weeks ago if the U.S. hadn’t halted an ISIS advance with a series of air strikes.
As we wade back in, it behooves those of us who support military action to be honest about two big things.
First: There will be no clear end. We fought these guys before, when they called themselves Al Qaeda in Iraq. They ruled much of the same territory they currently hold until U.S. forces, in alliance with the Sunni tribes, ran the bastards out on greased rails.
They disappeared into the shadows and stayed there for years, not daring to pop up their psychotic heads until Assad lost ground next door to a ragtag rebellion. We could defeat them all over again this year, and they’ll spring back in 2015 or 2016, perhaps in the same place and perhaps somewhere else.
Just because this is going to be a very long fight doesn’t mean it’s an unnecessary one.
Yes, it’s true, ISIS or no ISIS, there’s virtually no chance the U.S. has the power to turn Iraq or Syria into Belgium. But so what? We don’t have to. All we have to do is back a third faction that can weaken ISIS and Assad so they don’t become even bigger menaces than they already are.
Supporters of deeper U.S. engagement must also acknowledge that American efforts could easily fail. The “moderates” may prove to be an impotent force, especially since Washington sat on the sidelines for so long while ISIS grew into a behemoth. It’s also possible that the “moderates” will prove to be insufficiently moderate and give us no shortage of headaches and regrets down the road.
But you wage a proxy war with the proxies you have, and the fact that it might not work out is no reason to play golf while the problem festers.
This is obvious now, if not to everyone, then at least to the President and leaders of both political parties. When the downsides of interventionism pile up, as they did after Iraq and Afghanistan proved so disappointing, we swing toward isolationism.
And when the downsides of isolationism become harder to ignore, which is happening now that ISIS is blitzkrieging its way across the region, we swing back again. It was bound to happen sooner or later.
Don’t get too bent out of shape if this bothers you. The cycle will begin anew and we’ll reverse course yet again. Because Syria and Iraq aren’t the only unfixable countries. The entire Middle East has been a disaster for thousands of years and, even if the U.S. does everything right, there’s no chance whatsoever that it will change any time soon.