President Obama’s reluctance to just “do something” about ISIS is correct. He should be applauded, not criticized, for saying we do not yet have a strategy to deal with ISIS. It is not a simple problem. I suggested a strategy in a previous column, but if we adopt it, no one will notice. It is covert and takes time to work.
However, ISIS’s execution of another American may put irresistible pressure on the president. If so, there is something he can do that would have an effect. It would not be decisive, but it would create a problem for ISIS.
ISIS has wisely adopted the Hezbollah model for 4GW organizations.It not only fights, it also provides the people under its control (if they are strict Sunnis) good government. Taxes are lowered, officials don’t require bribes to do something, crime is suppressed, and people get services the state should provide but long ago ceased to do so. The obvious goal is to build legitimacy, the coin of the realm in Fourth Generation war.
The U.S. could drive a wedge between ISIS and the people to whom it is trying to appeal. We should announce that we will “severely punish” ISIS for its murder of American citizens, and warn all civilians to leave all town and cities under ISIS’s control. Then, we pick a town or small city, not too large, not too small, and flatten it. Not just “precision” strikes from an F-18 or two; we hit it with every B-52 and B-1 that can fly. Most of the bombs will just be making the rubble bounce.
Then, we announce that we may (or by implication may not) give other places the same treatment. If the civilians flee, ISIS loses its logistics base and it has shown it cannot protect them. If ISIS forces people to stay, then we do hit some more places and lots of civilians die. Either way, ISIS loses legitimacy. Its bonds with the population are damaged if not shattered.
Such an operation–we might call it Templar Express–requires stronger nerves than the Washington Establishment possesses. It relfects the reality that in this situation, if you are going to do anything, it has to seem big. Strategically, it isn’t. It will not destroy ISIS.
The usual hand-wringers will howl if we flatten a place full of civilians, but the Hama rule applies. It has to be over fast. You cannot keep up a campaign like this very long.
As the FMFM 1A, Fourth Generation War (K.u.K Austro-Hungarian Marine Corps) argues, for a state to prevail in 4GW, it must either take a slow, patient, careful approach in which it may suffer more casualties than it inflicts, or it must get very violent very fast–and get it over quickly. That is the Hama model. Regrettably, the leadership of almost all states tries to split the difference, because that is what politicians normally do. But that guarantees that the state loses.
In the event that we do not split the difference here–most probably because Obama has the courage to continue to do nothing until we can identify a strategy with some promise of success–the president would do well to remember in future teapot crises two bits of advice. The first is from President Nixon, who was far and away our best president on foreign policy in the 20th century: It can be useful to be thought just a little bit mad. The other advice comes from a fellow who had some prominence mid-century: if you are going to act in a crisis, your action should be “Eiskalt und Blitzschnell“–icy cold and lightning fast. And don’t ever, ever split the difference.