With Washington and European capitals wrapped tightly around the ISIS axle, which is a larger victory for ISIS than any massacre, I thought and Olympian perspective might prove useful. Here’s how the whole mess looks from on high.
The inevitable American response to anything from mass murder to hangnails, airstrikes, are again failing. They do inhibit ISIS’s movements of large numbers of men on roads, something air power has historically done well. They may stiffen the backbones of whatever allies we have on the ground. But they have little chance of achieving a decision, at least as presently employed.
In such cases of frustration, it can be helpful to turn to the work of Colonel John Boyd. Boyd advised that in any conflict, you want to pull your enemy apart, not help him cohere. How might we pull ISIS apart?
I previously made one suggestion, namely to offer an alliance with the former Baathists who enable ISIS to function. The Baathists and the religious fanatics are uncomfortable bedfellows. If not pushed toward coherence by our policies, they would be likely to cut each others’ throats. The throats we would like cut are the fanatics’, which should make the Baathists (most of whom were in Saddam’s security services) our natural allies. We could offer them money, plus what is likely anyway, a new Sunni state made from eastern Syria and western Iraq. Our determination to uphold the borders of 1919 has no strategic basis.
Another way to pull ISIS apart is by encouraging all civilians to flee any area occupied by ISIS. Many are doing so; encouraging more should not be too difficult. ISIS cannot function without civilians, who represent its tax base and logistics train. Again, money is the best weapon; offer, say, $1000 to any Iraqi or Syrian who leaves ISIS territory for those portions of Iraq and Syria still in government hands.
Here, air power might play a useful role. After the next ISIS-inspired massacre in Europe or the U.S., give 72 hours warning to all civilians to leave ISIS-controlled areas. Then, bomb Raqqa flat. No “precision” strikes: good old fashioned carpet bombing, where the objective is to leave not one stone upon another. If we don’t have the guts, the Russians do. Then start hitting other ISIS-held towns the same way. The civilians will flee.
I’m sure others may come up with more ways to disaggregate ISIS. But here is where the view from Olympus changes the picture. Our main mistake is obsessing over ISIS.
Al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, all will come and go. When one Fourth Generation entity fails, others will arise to replace it. The problem is not any one or several of these organizations. The problem is Fourth Generation war itself and the threat it poses to the state system.
Meeting that threat requires an alliance of all states against non-state forces. War between states is obsolete. Its outcome will usually be the creation of one or more failed states, each of which represents a victory for the Fourth Generation.
That alliance of all states, in turn, should usually seek to isolate, not engage, 4GW opponents. Isolation means stopping refugee flows into First World countries, blockades, financial measures both positive and negative (paying civilans to flee; cutting the 4GW entities off from outside finance), and doing our best to encourage 4GW forces in a given area to fight each other, something they are prone to do. If we think of 4GW just as states vs. non-state entities, we see only part of the picture. As Libya illustrates, 4GW elements also fight each other. This is especially valuable to states in place such as the Middle East where demographics make war a certainty (what I call supply-side war). Far from seeking peace, we want to stoke the fires of such wars until they consume all the available fuel. Only then is peace a real possibility in any case.
Let me re-emphasize one point. It is essential for the survival of the West that refugees from other cultures fleeing 4GW not be let in. If they come, they will bring 4GW with them, turning our countries into hell-holes like the ones they have fled.
So, the view from Olympus suggests we fight ISIS very differently from the way we are fighting it now. It also suggests we stop our obsession with this or that bogeyman and focus instead on the bigger picture, namely 4GW. If Washington ever gets to the point where it can do that, it will find President Putin already there.