Give War a Chance Against the Islamic State
It is time for the United States to seriously consider a declaration of war on the Islamic State (IS); it has already declared war on us. The last time a foreign nation formally declared war on us was when Hitler announced belligerency several days after the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor. When Hitler signed the war declaration, he also sealed his doom. The American counter declaration was followed by a stated war aim of destroying the poisonous Nazi ideology and the destruction of the German Army that propped it up. We never did completely stamp out the Nazi movement, but we destroyed the army that allowed Hitler and his minions to keep most of Europe and parts of Africa in thrall. We cannot destroy the ISIS ideology, but we can destroy the army of jihadist foreign fighters that occupy much of Iraq and Syria and free the populations of those regions from bondage. The clear objective would be to force religious-political movement of ISIS back to the status of fugitive terrorists who would again lack a political sanctuary or a revenue base.
Before declaring war, we should build a real coalition of Sunni states that can manage the territory liberated from the destroyed IS until legitimate Iraqi and Syrian governments can exercise governance. President Obama’s estimate that it would take a force of over a hundred thousand to destroy the Islamic State in ground combat is a gross exaggeration based on the assumption of an extended occupation of liberated territory. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan are capable of putting together a coalition that could provide governance in those areas of Syria and Iraq now occupied by the forces of ISIS. The military destruction of the army of the would-be IS caliphate could be accomplished by the 20,000 American troops that retired Marine Corps general Anthony Zinni estimates. American troops are capable of using a combination of ground and airpower constituting the only tool that could liberate cities such as Mosul, Ramadi, and Raqqa without killing the thousands of civilians that the jihadists would use as human shields. The campaign would be admittedly bloody, but it would be relatively short. It would likely take three to six months to liberate the urban areas that the IS now controls. If multiple 20,000 personnel task forces were employed, the time frame could be compressed. The bottom line here is that Sunni troops, not Americans, would provide the post-combat occupation force.
This proposal has three major strategic advantages for the United States. First, it would ensure that America would reassert its leadership in the Sunni portion of the strategically vital Gulf region. Iran and Russia have a lock on the Shiite populations of the region. However, the Shiites are a minority and are increasingly isolated in the region; they blew their chance of establishing moral superiority in their misgoverning of Iraq. If they want to regain control of the Sunni portions of Iraq, Shiites will have to convince the Sunni leaders of the proposed coalition that they will treat the Sunni population of Iraq as equals.
A second advantage is that it would force Russia and Iran to be part of the solution in the region because they are part of the problem now. Absent the Islamic State, the Russians and Iranians will have no excuse to support the Assad regime as it is currently constituted. Surrounded by anti-Assad Sunni coalition, the Assad regime and its authoritarian allies will feel constrained to negotiate for a coalition government ending current civil war.
Finally, a declaration of war would force the President and Congress to work together toward a common goal. The Republican majority in Congress would have to fish or cut bait regarding its get tough rhetoric regarding the ISIS threat. A declaration of war would force the president to use all aspects of national power to win or face the prospect of being the first sitting American president to lose a declared war.
Some will say that a declaration of war will give the Islamic State legitimacy that it does not deserve; nonsense, if we fight and win the war the war properly, there will be no Islamic state to claim legitimacy. There may be neo-Nazis scuttling around in the alleys of the world, but there is no Third Reich to threaten the civilized world.
One of the great lies in life is that wars never solve anything; there are some bad guys that truly merit killing.