Sunday, September 7, 2014

Why Don't We Just Wipe Out ISIS?

ISIS fighters (about to execute some poor schmuck in a jacket and a tie) are bad news in so many ways.  They are so bad, in fact, that they remind me of another group in recent popular culture.  Could it be...
These guys?


ISIS (short for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) fighters are a lot like the Orcs in the recent JRR Tolkien movies.

You know ISIS, right?  They've been fighting to topple the Syrian government for the past few years, but it seemed like they came rampaging out of a nightmare about the Dark Ages sometime this past winter.  

Muslim extremists, they were affiliated with Al-Qaeda until this spring, when Al-Qaeda decided they were too extreme and cut off ties with them.  

You know you're an extremist when Al-Qaeda thinks you're too extreme.

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ISIS are a formidable fighting force.  In rapid succession this spring and summer, they seized huge chunks of eastern Syria and western Iraq, seized the border crossings between the two areas, and declared the whole damn thing a country, the Islamic State.  

ISIS are hideous in every possible way.  They have no respect for human life, they carry out summary executions of captured enemies by the thousands, they torture and kill children, they rape the women they come across and sell them into sexual slavery (for about $100 a pop, apparently).  As we've all seen, they behead journalists.  

They even crucify people.  Haven't seen that one in a while, have we?  I kind of thought crucifixions went out of style before the Dark Ages.

By all accounts, they revel in this wanton slaughter.  They enjoy it.  

But they're not unstoppable.  We've seen that as well.  In the past few weeks, the United States has carried out air strikes against them in western Iraq using mostly F-18 fighter planes, as well as B-2 bombers and drones.

These air strikes sent the ISIS fighters into disarray very quickly, which I guess is no big surprise.  The ear-splitting shriek of jet airplanes going 1,200 miles per hour, about to drop 500 pound bombs on your head, will demoralize pretty much anybody.  By the time you hear the planes, you've got about five seconds to live. 

If you survive, when you crawl out of your hole, the mangled, incinerated corpses of your former roll dawgs will get you thinking about how nice it would be to return to London or Riyadh, or just about anywhere.

And we bombed them with impunity.  We didn't lose a single plane or drone, while obliterating numerous ISIS outposts and convoys, and killing hundreds of their fighters.  

They had to surrender the Mosul Dam to Kurdish and Iraqi Shiite fighters, and they had to cancel their plans to commit genocide against the Yazidi people.

So why not keep going?  ISIS, as we mentioned, are a lot like Orcs.  No one minds killing Orcs.  They're scum.  They're vermin.  Why not wipe them out?  Indeed, there's no reason to let even one of them remain alive.

Is there?

It's Complicated

It's always complicated when we get into the twisted, secretive world of American foreign policy.  Ever notice that?  Things are never quite what they seem.  

This is doubly so when we're talking about the oil-rich battleground of the Middle East. 

I know, I know.  We're not supposed to say that.  It's absurd to think that our involvement in the Middle East has anything to do with oil.  Why would we care about the most precious commodity the human race has thus far discovered, and the very underpinning of modern civilization?

Right.  It's silly.  We like to get mixed up in ancient, savage feuds in faraway lands because... well, because we're nosy.

But we were talking about ISIS.  So why don't we just destroy them, chase them to the Gates of Hell (as Joe Biden says), and kill every last stinking one of them?  It's nothing more than they deserve, and something we could accomplish with relative ease.  

Yes, the terrain they operate in makes it easy for us to kill them.  The lands they hold are mostly wide open desert.  We control the skies above that desert.  There is nowhere for them to hide.  The cities they hold have emptied out - the former residents are now mostly refugees living in other places.

And anyway, when did killing a few civilians ever bother us before?  We could carpet bomb ISIS and make their beloved Islamic State into a large parking lot, possibly for some future water park or concert venue.  

So what's complicated about it?

The Enemy of My Enemy

ISIS has powerful enemies, who also happen to be our enemies.  And oddly enough, their friends happen to be our friends.  

ISIS are Sunni Muslims.  Being extremists, they believe their first task is to purify their own religion.  This means eradicating Shiite Muslims, primarily.  Shiite Muslims are more than mere heretics to ISIS - they have corrupted Islam and are an affront in the eyes of Allah.  

Who are the Shiites?  Well, the major Shiite country in the world is Iran.  Since the American invasion, Iraq has also been dominated by Shiite tribes with close ties to Iran.  Syria, until the recent apocalyptic civil war, was controlled by the Assad family, who are members of the Shiite Alawite sect.  And how about the Lebanese "terrorist organization" Hezbollah?  Hezbollah are also Shiites.  

These Shiite groups are allies with a couple other groups you may have heard of.  One is Hamas, the Palestinian militia so often decimated by Israel.  Although the Palestinians are Sunnis, they get the bulk of their funding and weaponry from Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.

The other group, which is more of a country, and in fact a world superpower, is Russia.  Mother Russia is allies with Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and to a much smaller extent, Hamas.

ISIS is sworn to destroy all of these.  Indeed, ISIS threatened Vladimir Putin himself the other day.  Which made Putin smile.  Or gave him gas.  It was hard to tell.  

"Did somebody step on a duck?"

It's quite a coincidence, isn't it?  It just so happens that ISIS has all these enemies, and they're our enemies, too.

So who are ISIS's friends?  

Also names you might have heard of.  In the early days of ISIS, they got most of their start-up funding from wealthy individuals living in the oil-rich Sunni Muslim countries of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, with the tacit approval (and probably the outright cooperation) of the governments of those countries.  

Remember our great ally Saudi Arabia?  The largest oil-producing country in the world?  Homeland of Osama bin Laden and the alleged 9/11 attackers?  

The majority of the foreign fighters in ISIS are Saudi Arabians.  Hmmm.  Wouldn't want to annoy the wealthy Saudis by wiping out their little cat's paw, would we?  I mean, the Saudis have all the...

Yeah.  I know.  We're not supposed to talk about that.

"Yeah.  Let's have some meats."

And It Gets Even More Complicated 

This being the Middle East, it wouldn't be enough if this whole ISIS thing was a simple proxy war between us and Russia, would it?

Nope.  Naturally, there are a few added twists.

One is Turkey.  Turkey has been allowing ISIS convoys to pass through their territory.  They've been buying oil from the Syrian and Iraqi oil fields that ISIS has seized, and selling it on the world markets.   

And they wink at all the raw ISIS recruits pouring in from places like Europe and the US and Canada and Australia.  

If you're a disaffected Muslim kid in England, and you decide you want to join ISIS and get in on all the beheadings and rapes and mass executions, what do you do?  

First, you get in touch with them through the internet.  Then you go to Turkey and hang out for a few days until your contact picks you up.  Then you cross the border into Syria.  

Of course, the Turkish secret police take note of your presence (you stick out like a big pulsating sore thumb), but they don't arrest you or send you home.  They let you pass through, even though they know you intend to commit atrocities against civilians.       

What gives with Turkey?  We know they have the sexy Turkish baths.  And we remember that old movie where the American kid ends up in a nightmarish Turkish prison.  

But that's all we know.

Well, Turkey is a modern, largely secular country that likes to dabble in Islamic religiosity from time to time.  They are an ally of ours.  Sort of.  Eh.  

They like us, but they don't like our friend Israel.  They like to send food and supplies to the besieged Palestinians.  They also like to send weapons to Hamas.  But as much as they don't like Israel, who they really don't like are the Kurds.  

We think of the Kurds as our friendly ally in Iraq.  Those independent-minded Kurds, with their battle-hardened fighting force, the Peshmerga. 

But the Kurds are actually a despised minority, that live in a region they call Kurdistan.  Kurdistan doesn't exist on any map of the world.  Unfortunately for the Kurds, Kurdistan is largely imaginary.  

The Kurds don't have their own country.  The place they think of as Kurdistan is made up of small parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.  Until the collapse of Iraq and Syria, there was zero chance of there ever being a real Kurdistan.

But now Iraq barely exists.  Syria is totally demolished.  And the Kurds see their chance.  

No way is Turkey going to allow that to happen.  They'd rather let the Orcs have a country than the Kurds.   So they've quietly thrown their lot in with ISIS.

Whose Side Are We Really On?
As always, we are on our own side.

Did you notice when we started bombing ISIS?  We only started bombing them when it looked like they were about to overrun our friends the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi Shiites.  We bombed them because they overstepped, not because we think they're evil.   

We were careful to make it clear that our objectives were limited.  Namely, to put them in check and keep them from overrunning the Kurds and Shiites.  Also, since we were in the neighborhood, to save the Yazidis, which was admittedly a nice gesture on our part.  

In Iraq, we like the Shiites.  Of course, the Iraqi Shiites have close ties to the Iranian Shiites.  The tribal and kinship ties are so strong, in fact, that the two groups don't see any difference between themselves.

But we don't like the Iranian Shiites.  And we are very reluctant to partner with Iran to fight ISIS.  In fact, we like the fact that Iran has to face off against ISIS, and waste blood and treasure fighting them. 

In Iraq, we also like the Kurds.  But we don't like Turkish Kurds.  This is true even though Turkish Kurds and Iraqi Kurds (and Syrian and Iranian Kurds for that matter) see themselves as one people.  

The Turkish Kurds have a fighting force called the PPK, which is on the ground, fighting side by side with the Peshmerga against ISIS.  In the United States (and Turkey), the PPK is officially a terrorist organization. 

So while we like the Kurds having a semi-autonomous region in Iraq, we have no plans to allow them to establish a country that includes part of Turkey.  If they try to do that, they will find themselves in a very unpleasant place.

This is a place that Saddam Hussein, Mohammar Qaddafi, and Osama bin Laden all found themselves.  Which is to say the place reserved for former friends of the USA.  Which is to say dead. 

Meanwhile, although we did bomb ISIS in Iraq, we haven't touched them in Syria.  In Syria, they're fighting against the Assad regime, who we don't like.  

In fact, we encouraged the protest movement that originally destabilized the Assad government, and until very recently, we were helping fund and arm the rebel groups in Syria.  We may still be, but we don't talk much about it anymore because ISIS is one of the rebel groups in Syria.  

It wouldn't make a lot of sense if we were simultaneously helping and bombing ISIS, now would it?

Uh, would it?

For their part, it's clear that ISIS doesn't want to think of us as their enemy.  They only started beheading American journalists after we started bombing them.  The message in the beheading videos isn't, "We're coming to get you."  

The message is "Leave us alone and we'll leave you alone."

Our intention is probably to do exactly that.  They can have western Iraq.  They can have eastern Syria.  If they can keep Assad on his back foot, and serve as a check to Iranian power in the region, so much the better.  

They can keep their weird little Islamic State pseudo-country, and commit whatever medieval atrocities they like within it.  As long as they continue to serve our purposes.  

The painful truth is, if you're like me and want to see ISIS exterminated, we'll both probably have to hope that Putin and the Russians do it.  

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  1. Now that's an assessment no NSA official nor US Chief of Staff could make. Either they're stupid or you're a genius ! My guess is the former.

  2. Thank you for this summary. It's an enjoyable read and I got a lot more out of it than most other articles.

  3. Best read I've had in a long time. Well done! It's quite complicated.

  4. Great article!
    The Middle East is like a fucked up jigsaw where the pieces will never fit together. Time to create a new Jigsaw.

  5. I didn't really like Putin and his army, but this time, I hope he takes action and eliminate those terrorists. I am very disgusted by all the TV reports showing the IS killing innocent people for their own pleasure.

  6. From a description of Orcs:

    "Orcs were cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted, and hated everybody and everything, particularly the orderly and prosperous. They made no beautiful things, but many clever ones including machines, tools, weapons, and instruments of torture. Wickedness and violence are their nature, and they are known to quarrel and kill each other over petty things. The result is a violent and warlike race in a perpetual state of chaos with itself and others."

  7. So why in the first place are we bombing Islamic state?

  8. This is the first article I've read that I've followed (and enjoyed following) with extreme ease. I've gotten more out of it than anything else I've read or watched. I plan on reading more of your articles and hope you have written a book or two.

    P.S. I like the comparison to Orcs.

  9. Thank you. Very kind of you to say.

    I have written eight books, that we know of. Possibly many more. But none of them are about ISIS, or world events, or anything like that.

  10. Actually, it's rather simplistic. ISIS is arguably the most sizable group of organized barbarians the world has seen in the past 100 years. At some point, we as a nation must decide when the proverbial line in the sand has been crossed and ISIS needs to be eliminated, the Kurd's, Shiite's or any other who struck John aside.

  11. If you've been as confused as I've been throughout this political circus in the sand, this is THE article to read! I may finally be able to discontinue the electroconvulsive therapy...thank you!

  12. I get sick and tired of reading the same old cynical garbage about how awful the US is. We may have our problems, but in the grand scheme of things the US is an overwhelmingly positive force in the world. So what if we are more interested in the middle east because of oil? This is the real world, and the global economy depends on oil. In the future it might not be so dependent on oil, but that is the way things are right now. If there was some catastrophe with the world's oil supply everyone would blame the US for the ensuing economic carnage. There would be photos of starving children around the world, and it would all be the US's fault. In fact, the storyline would be that we intentionally let it happen so we could boost Exxon Mobile's profits with higher oil prices.

    At least the US tried to do something instead of sitting on our hands and whining about the way things are. Now, everyone blames the US for ISIS. It is easy to sit back doing nothing, and then complain about everything that the US is doing wrong. If the US is so self-centered then where is this utopian country that has a selfless foreign policy? I do think the US should do more to rid the world of these bastards, but the airstrikes are something. Maybe someone else can step up, and risk the lives of their soldiers to make the world a better place.

    I guess the onus is on the US though because they created ISIS in the first place, though. It was so terrible that the US got rid of Saddam Hussein. He would have probably been up for the Nobel Peace prize if the US hadn't interfered. What a nice guy he was to go around gassing his own people. Since the US did that they are now responsible for everything in the region for the foreseeable future.

    Sometimes I wish the US would go back to an absolute isolationist policy, and see how the rest of the world likes that. No one appreciates anything the US does anyway, and hates our guts no matter what we do.

    I for one am glad that the US at least tries to make the world better. People can say what they want to about Bush, but he would have at least had the balls to crush ISIS.

  13. I'm sorry if someone hurt your feelings. A big, huge, overwhelmingly positive force like the US probably doesn't need you to protect it from cynical mee.

    Anyway, I wasn't criticizing anyone. Merely pointing out what might not be clear. We don't wipe out ISIS because they serve a purpose.

    We don't wipe out Russia because we can't. Or because the losses would be staggering and the world might end. Ditto China.

    ISIS? We don't wipe them out because we are playing a game and they are one of the pieces. If it ever comes to pass that we don't want them anymore, we will roll them up and destroy them in 5 or 6 weeks. Bank on it.

  14. America is actually a pretty nice country. There's lots of cool stuff to see and do. Big cities. Natural wonders. Friendly people. You should visit sometime.

  15. Fantastic read. Thank you so much for cutting through all the BS the mass media so shamelessly promotes.

  16. Simple solution, bomb the most populated isis locations, innocent people are being murdered all over the world, so if innocent people do die by wiping out some isis scum at least they die for something. Not just because some idiotic, poor excuse of a man wants to kill someone for their own fun or so called religion, isis are all weedy little men who need taking out, any one who defends isis should be wiped out alongside them. No excuses for any isis attacks. British people should remember what our country did for us in previous wars, who are we Today? What are we Doing? We are Just sitting ducks accepting that our people are being killed and doing nothing about it, let's start defending ourselves and start by making an example of some isis scum. We are great Britain and it's time we remembered that, Stand up for ourselves and let's destroy isis.

  17. Thanks a lot for this. Now I can actually understand and talk with people about what exactly goes on. Really detailed and very clear, as well as straight to the point.

  18. Go ahead, click on it. For what it's worth, it's a declassified US department of defense memo predicting the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, dated August 12, 2012, about two years before it happened.

    It also describes the major supporters of Al Qaeda in Iraq (soon to be re-named ISIS) as the Arab Gulf states (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, in case you're wondering) and "the west." I'll let you guess who "the west" is.

    Hint: it's where we live.

  19. What the U.S army should do is set up sniper crews and stake out for ISIS members. Or just blow them up. Either way is fine with me.

  20. olrite this is the best article you can find on internet about ISIS .. I never knew all this about ISIS group and what they are actually all about ... Very well written by author .. thanks for sharing

  21. Very good article and ahead of it's time because the date stamp says was written over a year ago. It looks like the Russians are gonna wipe them all out after all. Go Vlad the impaler! Kill those ISIS. Make them run like cowards that they are.

  22. Why do not all countries get together and decide to wripe out ISIS and stop all Immagrattion Services and leave all people thee as they are not the type any Country will want

  23. Middle East = Middle Earth

    Sounds logical to me these days

  24. Just a very minor physics point. Jet bombers don't fly at 1200 mph dropping bombs. The bombs would tear their wings off. Typical bombing runs are around 300mph, for sensible reasons.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out. Blogging is more of an art than a science. I'm just going to leave the mistake there in any event. Mistakes are beautiful, in their way.

  25. It comes down to bombing the whole f*cking world of islam. Start with ISIS since they are the most immediate threat... then hit Mecca and Medina with the largest nukes we have. Then take over the former Saudi oil fields. If we need to, hit the asian countries that support islam. Wipe that "religion" from hell off the face of the earth, in exactly the way they threaten Israel. The only good muslim is a dead one. They are the Imperialist Japan of the 21st Century.

  26. Eh. A little extreme, isn't it? ISIS is one thing, Islam itself is quite another. And Israel seems to bring a lot of its problems upon itself. Wherever you go, there you are. ISIS, by the way, has never publicly threatened Israel, at least as far as I'm aware.

  27. Why should we only kill ISIS, when we could kill EVERYONE. I'd much rather engineer a plague specifically targeting the human genome, and unleash it upon the world. Reduce the human race to rubble, along with all life on earth. Would the end result not be peace?

  28. Good point. NOW you're cooking with gas!

  29. if America got rid of isis then it would take like 2 months and they got a new leader and we have been fighting them for 15 years
    but if we do successfully get rid of them then about 10 years or so oil prices will go down if big corps. use American oil and don't get it from other countries