It occurred to me long ago that we may be missing a real opportunity in our war against terrorism. This has always been an awkward war for us. It is unlike any of the wars we have fought before in that our opponents are amorphous, and they have few fixed locations that they control and protect. They are hard to find amongst innocents camouflaging their fighters, and they employ unconventional tactics that blunt our powerful weapons. But now ISIS has arisen as chief among the various terrorist groups and it uncharacteristically professes to want a real state, with boundaries, government structures and even international standing.
We have fought more or less vigorously against ISIS both to defeat it and to prevent the creation of its Caliphate in Syria and Iraq. And ISIS is going to fail in its dream of a Caliphate. It has lost 12% of its territory in western Iraq and northern Syria just this year alone. The end is inevitable given the forces arrayed against it. And when it does, the terrorist threat will get worse!
Wait, what? That’s what FBI Director James Comey predicts. He says that when ISIS’ self-proclaimed Caliphate is finally crushed, a terrorist diaspora will fan out across the world, launching ever more attacks. We already see that developing, in Libya, Yemen, Bangladesh, Nigeria and elsewhere, not to mention the sporadic horrific incidents in the West.
So what is this opportunity we have been missing? We should have let the Caliphate develop! I am not proposing that we should have actively promoted it against the opposition of other Middle Eastern countries, just that we should not have interfered. The reason is that it is in our best interest to evolve ISIS into a conventional opponent, more susceptible to the threat of our power and with something substantial to lose. It is true that this Caliphate would present a genuine threat to its neighbors, but then so do established states in the region like Iran and Syria. An actual country, with assets of value, is a potential hostage to constrain bad behavior. Moreover it filters out the enemy from those we wish to protect. As in all conventional conflicts, anyone within the territory and control of our enemy is fair game. The full panoply of our instrumentalities of war can be employed without the niceties of limited rules of engagement.
In other words, let’s give them a place to congregate and lay down roots, then threaten to lay waste to their treasure and society. If they truly want a place of their own where strict Shari’a law prevails, where they can run their affairs to match their absolutist philosophy, that would hold real value for them. They wouldn’t rashly sacrifice it. Anyway, that’s the idea. It’s a calculated risk, but not one that couldn’t be reversed if its hopes are not realized.