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Editorial: The wrong-headed appeal to using force on ISIS

It is no secret that using military force against the Islamic State, or ISIS, in the wake of the Paris attacks holds a prevailing appeal to a majority of Republicans. They like a president who takes charge of the situation, hits them with “shock and awe” and says, in effect, “Here, take that, and don’t do it again or we’ll hit you harder.”
The proof is just an administration away. George W. Bush responded to the 9-11 attacks just as his enemies had hoped. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, in particular, was the destabilizing spark that lit the Middle East on fire, his most wanted terrorists hit list (with Osama bin Laden at the top of that list) and his premature “mission accomplished” statement on an aircraft carrier were the height of Bush’s folly. The result was predictable: Bush’s over-reach squandered the worldwide support of the U.S. in the aftermath of 9-11. He left office with America deeply enmeshed in two costly wars, scorned throughout the world, in an economic disaster as the nation entered the Great Recession, and in a foreign policy mess. How do so many Republican candidates for president, or GOP voters, not remember such recent history?
Yet, calls from Republican presidential candidates to have American troops land in Syria and rout the Islamic State are again part of their reckless rhetoric.
What is understandable, however, is the desire for President Obama to be less dismissive of American’s need for a sharper response to the attack on Paris and threats to the Western world. Rather than be reserved and calm in the face of terror, he should use his rhetorical skills to more fully explain his resolve and spot-on thinking.
He is not adjusting his course against the Islamic State’s terrorist tactics, he should emphasize, because it would fuel the problem, not solve it. He should explain the religious goals of the extremists so that the American public understands his bolder game plan. He should explain how America’s open-arms to refugees of war, especially of Muslim victims even in the wake of the Paris attacks, makes America stronger in the eyes of the world, and undermines the propaganda of ISIS in their attacks on the West. He should explain how putting boots on the ground in Syria would be the worst thing to do, as many political analysts also agree.
“An expanded U.S.-led military operation would play directly into narratives favored by ISIS and like-minded radicals about Middle Eastern Muslims being the targets of forceful domination by a predominantly Christian West,” explains Paul R. Pillar, a 28-year veteran of the CIA from 1977-2005, and currently a non-resident senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies. “(It also) expands the radicalizing resentment, and the resulting recruiting ability of ISIS and extremist groups, from collateral damage from the military operations. This would be a result not only of a ground war but also a more indiscriminate air war. It certainly would be a result of following Ted Cruz’s foolish advice that we should just not care about collateral damage….
“President Obama spoke trenchant truths at his press conference in Turkey on Monday. In response to a series of questions that were all just reworded versions of ‘Gee, those Paris attacks were really awful — don’t you think you should do something much different from what you have been doing so far about ISIS?’ Mr. Obama demonstrated much better understanding of the challenges involved than his ‘do something — anything’ critics. In describing the nature of the terrorist threat we face, President Obama explained, ‘It’s not their sophistication or the particular weapon that they possess, but it is the ideology that they carry with them and their willingness to die.’”
Pillar then drew a comparison to the war in Iraq and the mistakes made there: “One of the oft-voiced, but invalid comments about the previous administration’s signature military adventure is that the escalation, several years into the Iraq War, that became known as the ‘surge’ was an ‘act of courage’ on the part of President George W. Bush. It was nothing of the sort. It was a way to tamp down temporarily the surging violence in Iraq and to hold it at a less egregious level long enough to get out of Washington and bequeath the remaining mess, including all the still-unresolved political problems in Iraq, to the next administration.
“President Obama, with just 14 months left in his presidency and getting all the political flak he is getting about ISIS, must feel tempted to do the same sort of thing now in Syria. Think about it: if he did so he would not only take wind out of the sails of hawkish critics, but also be able to claim a place in history as the leader who smashed ISIS. Of course, the terrorism and the chaos would still be there, as would an even messier and more complicated situation than before in Syria. But that would all be a problem for the next administration. We should be glad that President Obama is showing enough responsibility and true leadership not to do anything like that.”
Let’s hope the American voter is smart enough to understand which approach has the better chance of long-term stability, if not peace.
— Angelo S. Lynn

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