Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.
— Barack Obama, Sept. 10, 2014
Make no mistake about it: We are At War now —
with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.
— Hunter S. Thompson, Sept. 12, 2001
Perhaps wars weren’t won any more. Maybe they went on forever.
— Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
Here we stand, yet again, on the precipice of yet another war — or something that approximates war, something in which bombs are dropped from on high against faceless adversaries and evildoers, something that is Over There, something we watch on television in the comfort of our living rooms. It seems that we are, indeed, At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives, in a war that went on forever.
Over on page 6, we’ve published a column by University of North Florida sociology professor David Jaffee, who is, shall we say, dubious of President Obama’s anti-ISIS campaign. Many analysts believe it was George W. Bush’s ill-conceived Middle East adventures that gave rise to the Islamic State in the first place, he points out; why should we expect better results this time around?
That’s a good question, one I pondered while watching Obama’s speech to the nation last week announcing that, “while we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland,” we’re going to bomb the shit out of ISIS-held territories in Iraq and Syria anyway, and send a few hundred military “advisors” — not in a combat role, promise — to help the Iraqi military learn how to shoot straight.
Yes, Jaffee is right to be skeptical — about whether another 475 troops and bombs from
afar will be able to accomplish much of anything, about how long they’ll be there, about mission creep, about whether the so-called Syrian moderates are worth helping, about the inevitable errant bomb that takes out women and children, about whether the bombs we drop will only lead to the next round of terrorists, which will only lead to the next 9/11, which will only lead to the next round of war, an endless cycle from which there seems to be no escape. Yes, ISIS, though well-funded, is a relatively small force, somewhere between 20,000 and 31,000 combatants, according to the CIA, not exactly in a position to fully conquer Iraq or unleash mayhem on American soil or overthrow Western civilization. And yes, America’s missteps in the region are legion, and hardly inspire confidence.
We’ve seen the atrocities: not just the journalists and aid workers so cruelly beheaded, but also the nearly 10,000 civilian deaths in the last year alone, the 1,700 captives slaughtered in Tikrit and 650 in Mosul, the 1,000 Turkmen (including 100 children) murdered, the mass graves in Kocho and Qiniyeh and Jdali, the ethnic cleansing in Northern Iraq, the thousands upon thousands of women who’ve been raped and sold, the children who’ve been kidnapped or executed, the countless refugees.
As skeptical as we are, as we should be, we should also not lose sight of the price of doing nothing — for there is a price, as there was two decades ago when the world watched 800,000 perish in Rwanda and did nothing, because it was not our problem.