Streetwise Professor

February 16, 2015

ISIS’s Eschatology Is Its Greatest Vulnerability, Not a Reason to Shrink From Confronting It

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Uncategorized — The Professor @ 11:09 pm

I am a distant relative of William Tecumseh Sherman: we share a common ancestor (a Puritan who settled in Connecticut n the 1630s). I like to think that my red beard and slightly crazed look is a reflection of that genetic connection. Be that as it may, I do share something of a philosophic affinity for him. Ruthlessly practical and unromantic (even though he lived in a decidedly Romantic era). Nothing demonstrated this better than his views on war, including in particular this quote:

War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.

@libertylynx reminded me of this quote when she was debating a wannabe wonk on Twitter. Said wonk claimed that ISIS should not be confronted militarily, because that is what they want. He therefore condemned the Egyptian bombing raids on ISIS in response to its latest atrocity, the slaughter of 21 innocent Copts for the crime of being Christian “crusaders.” (Copts have been in the Middle East since hundreds of years before Mohammed. Just who are the invading holy warriors here? Continuing its craven refusal to acknowledge the reality of ISIS’s religiously inspired rampage, the White House condemned the murder of “21 Egyptian citizens.” The words “Copt” and “Christian” were absent.)

It is becoming a idée fixe on the Left that confronting ISIS militarily is futile. There will be civilian casualties! Yes, those are inevitable: but how many civilian casualties will there be while such monsters are on the loose? Attacking them will rally recruits to their standard! Apparently the killing ISIS fighters is akin to sowing dragon’s teeth: it will just make more enemies. So we might as well just give up, until their blood lust is sated. Or something.

This meme reached the levels of absurdity in the hands of State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, who apparently strives daily to make a box of rocks look like John von Neumann by comparison to her, and largely succeeds in her mission:

HARF: We’re killing a lot of them and we’re going to keep killing more of them. So are the Egyptians, so are the Jordanians. They’re in this fight with us. But we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs, whether —

MATTHEWS: We’re not going to be able to stop that in our lifetime or fifty lifetimes. There’s always going to be poor people. There’s always going to be poor muslims, and as long as there are poor Muslims, the trumpet’s blowing and they’ll join. We can’t stop that, can we?

HARF: We can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance. We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people…

Memo to Marie: when Chris Matthews makes a lot more sense than you do, it’s time to give up.

And yeah. It’s all about jobs and governance.

It’s not really, as this excellent article from the Atlantic demonstrates. ISIS is not of this age, or even of this world. Materialistic concerns projected by western leftists are completely irrelevant to it. Obama’s and other western leaders’ denials to the contrary, it is a fanatical religious movement imbued with a fervor totally alien to comfortable western minds, and progressive minds in particular, who believe that such forces were left behind several turns of the dialectical wheel ago.

In particular, as the Atlantic piece brings out, ISIS has an apocalyptic vision, and crucially, its adherents fervently believe in an imminent eschatology, culminating in a climactic battle against the “Romans” on the Plains of Dabiq in Syria. (Note that the latest ISIS snuff film documenting the beheading of the innocent Copts included a warning that they were coming to Rome.)

So yes, they want a battle. In the worst way.

So why not give it to them? Now usually, one tries to avoid doing what the enemy wants. But when the enemy’s firmest desire is based on delusion, that rule no longer applies. ISIS has no real conception of how militarily mismatched it is. Yes, Kobane gave them something of an inkling, but even there the US deployed and displayed only a fraction its capabilities. Nothing like an Arc Light raid of the Vietnam War, or the kind of power unleashed in Desert Storm.

This does not mean rushing in to fight on their terms. It means forcing or maneuvering them into a position where they have to stand and fight in a way that makes them vulnerable to a pounding. To use their eagerness to fight a climactic battle to lure them into a fight they cannot win.

The closest historical analog to ISIS is the Mahdist War of 1881-1899. This conflict culminated in the Battle of Omdurman, in which a massive Islamist army was lured into attacking a much smaller British-Egyptian army equipped with the latest in small arms, machine guns, and artillery, which resulted in the Mahdists’ utter destruction: they lost over 50 percent casualties. The very fanaticism that had carried the Mahdists to victory after victory was the cause of their utter ruin. That could be a model for the war on ISIS.

We only defeated the fanatical Japanese and the fanatical Nazis in WWII by killing them in vast numbers. That is the only way to defeat the current breed of fanatic. And fortunately, ISIS is neither so numerous, nor militarily capable, as either such foe, and current American capability makes the forces of the 1940s look like toys by comparison.

So rather than being a reason to shrink from fighting it, ISIS’s eschatological vision and mad thirst for battle against the New Romans is its greatest vulnerability. The smart thing for them to do would be hit and run: but we can use their fanaticism to get them to stand and fight. American strategy should be focused on making their dearest wishes come true. As Sherman said, War is the remedy ISIS has chosen, and I say let us give them all they want, but on our terms, exploiting our advantages.

ISIS needs to be introduced to the America of Billy Sherman and Andy Jackson. But we have Barry Obama.

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  1. And fortunately, ISIS is neither so numerous, nor militarily capable, as either such foe, and current American capability makes the forces of the 1940s look like toys by comparison.

    I think the whole perception of war has changed so much since Vietnam that just engaging in battle is becoming too risky for most nowadays. I think it was Hackworth who wrote that Vietnam was the first war America fought where a battalion commander had almost no chance of losing his entire unit. Even at Ia Drang, the Americans were able to call in overwhelming air support to at least make sure the unit is not completely wiped out. Hackworth was probably contrasting this with his experience in Korea where an entire regiment could be, and was, wiped out of existence altogether. When the Americans took on the Germans in WWII, they were up against a seriously tough, experienced, equipped, and skilled enemy that was more than capable of wiping out whole units: there was a real, serious risk that the American army might be defeated in the conventional manner, i.e. by having its men and equipment destroyed or captured rather than those at home throwing the towel in. I recently read an account of the fighting in Normandy in the months after the D-Day landings, and was astonished by how difficult the Germans made it for the Americans and how many casualties the latter took. The commander’s memoirs made clear he was up against a seriously formidable and fiendishly intelligent enemy who could inflict untold damage if he ever let his guard down for a moment. Yet they went in and fought anyway, and kept at it.

    Compared to what the Allies faced when they fought the Germans, ISIS should be a breeze. No American unit is going to be lost. No casualty lists are going to read like a telephone directory. Probably no officer above lieutenant is going to die from enemy action. Yet despite the indisputable evil of ISIS, nobody seems to have the stomach for the fight. I’m wonder who the 101st Airborne at Bastogne would have preferred to fight: ISIS or the Waffen SS?

    Comment by Tim Newman — February 17, 2015 @ 1:47 am

  2. @Tim-Exactly. It is a matter of will, not capability. The odd thing is that capability and will have moved inversely.

    You are right regarding the risks that American units face now vis a vis the situation in WWII or even Korea. Some other examples, in addition to Normandy. Kasserine. Monte Cassino, which chewed up myriad American and Commonwealth divisions. The Bulge, which threatened the Allies with a major operational defeat. In the Pacific: Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. In Korea, there were numerous occasions where American battalions were cut off and nearly annihilated.

    You mention the 101st. I had the thought of plopping the 101st in the middle of Dabiq, and saying: “This is what you wanted, motherfuckers. Bring it on. See how it works out for you.”

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 17, 2015 @ 10:11 am

  3. There is an ongoing delusion by many that the enemy’s morale is always high and cannot be degraded. In fact, they are human beings just like us and after enough defeats, their morale suffers and even collapses. I remember when people were talking about taking action against the Somali pirates, and one NYT op ed said that doing so would only cause the pirates to seek revenge and make the problem worse.

    ISIS’ long term ability to recruit will be much higher if they are left alone and allowed to fashion an actual state than if they are attacked and killed.

    The problem in dealing with ISIS is that at some point, an actual ground force is needed not just to engage them in battle, but to seize and occupy the land they hold. This force does not exist, at least not in a form we’d like. The Kurdish Peshmerga could do so, but they would only do so for land they already consider theirs, and wouldn’t occupy any area outside a reasonable security zone bordering Rojava. Some form of Iraqi army could do it in Iraq, but they would not cross their border. The Jordanian Army could invade Syria, but they won’t stay to occupy any land – perhaps except for a security zone to protect Jordan. Assad’s forces would be willing to do it, but the US won’t cooperate with him. The non-ISIS rebels don’t have a force that could do it, and they are probably 2 years away from being built up in the best case scenario.

    In the meantime, the best we can hope for is that Iran and Hezbollah continue to take casualties while they fight ISIS and hopefully degrade both of them.

    Comment by Chris — February 17, 2015 @ 12:00 pm

  4. Yes, we can defeat them easily if the Will is there, but the question is: what for? What’s the point of making an effort to defeat them. Don’t we have more important fights to worry about?

    Comment by Krzys — February 17, 2015 @ 12:24 pm

  5. Just like the insurgents were defeated in in Afghanistan right? America is bad at counter insurgency wars, if ISIS wont oblige the US to form up into battle lines and charge retardedly into superior firepower all that dropping 20,000 American troops in the middle of some Syrian shithole will mean is a daily barrage of IEDS. And they would sit around and eat those IEDS for 8-9 years before ‘victory is declared’, the army withdraws and some kind of ISIS type group coalesces. To fantasize about conflicts where two regular armies batter each other or where insurgents are made up of idiots who have ignore the last 200 years of history of fighting Europeans is…well fantasy.

    Comment by d — February 17, 2015 @ 1:04 pm

  6. No boots on the ground! And in the age of a volunteer army no less. I am reminded of that really awesome piece you referenced in your American Sniper discussion and the recurring Hollywood depiction of all war as inherently absurdist and purposeless. At least we’re not the EU, where both are long gone and the military is now just an anachronistic slush fund incapable of projecting force without major American handholding.

    Comment by Nick — February 17, 2015 @ 1:08 pm

  7. That is why the 101st must be in Donbass, not in Syria.

    Comment by LL — February 17, 2015 @ 6:39 pm

  8. Step #1 Send Ms. Harf to Syria to strategize with the Caliph with BO and Jaws Kerry to follow to close the deal!

    Comment by eric — February 17, 2015 @ 8:14 pm

  9. Take that Franz Kafka you hyper realistic twit.

    Comment by pahoben — February 18, 2015 @ 2:34 pm

  10. @pahoben-A little mystified by that comment. Care to explain?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 18, 2015 @ 6:30 pm

  11. The idea that if a few Starbucks are opened in Raqqa to employ Jihadis that it will solve the problem with ISIS is so surreal as to put any surreal artist to shame. Their mental model of the world is painted by Dali. It all gets back to the arrogance that there is one proper way to think and it is the way they think. When you impose that on many situations it is surreal-but in this case it is really an arrogant denial of reality.

    If Chris Matthews goes to Raqqa ISIS will get a good test of the hardness of his balls. I am sure the result would be soft as custard.

    Comment by pahoben — February 19, 2015 @ 2:05 am

  12. That was a reference to the name of his program-“Hardball”. What a bloody joke that is.

    Comment by pahoben — February 19, 2015 @ 7:18 am

  13. @Professor
    On what logical basis does killing them not solve the problem? You just have to kill enough up to 100% and then ISIS is not a problem.

    My ancestors arrival in the US was associated with Oliver Cromwell’s victory over Charles II at Worcester. My many times great grandfather was a Jesuit. Deep genetic analysis suggests prior to that paternal line was from Schleswig-Holstein (Frisia).

    You asked one time and my five times great grandfather served in the Cumberland County Pennsylvania Militia Captain James Patton’s Company Fourth or Sixth Battalion. To the best of my knowledge they were not engaged in any of great battles and my ancestor was 15 at the start of the war and I think the Penn Militias formed in 1777. I do know he procreated a lot after the war.

    I read some about the Battle of Germantown and funny that General Stephen was sacked after the battle for being absolutely drunk during the battle.

    Comment by pahoben — February 19, 2015 @ 10:33 am

  14. All the great military commanders realized if you kill enough of the enemy you win. This is the simple secret to success.

    Comment by pahoben — February 24, 2015 @ 12:58 pm

  15. So growing up in Hawaii Obama had to visit Pearl Harbor. I wonder what he thought when he saw it. Maybe something like-the damn homophobes polluted the hell out of this place but good place to shoot a selfie.

    Comment by pahoben — February 24, 2015 @ 1:17 pm

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