They Just Don’t Know They’re Dead Yet

And now, apparently, we’ll be putting troops on the ground in Syria to combat ISIS. I’m fine with this. As I told my wife a year or so ago, they just don’t know they’re dead yet.

But–and as would befit a war-weary United States–we don’t need to pour in the entire apparatus at our disposal. In conjunction with airpower, special forces will be ranged against ISIS. This makes sense. Think smart bombs and, in their stead, the surgical strike during which we killed Osama Bin Laden. With a carrier group each in the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf, ISIS’ bailiwick will be bracketed. We could then rotate special forces in and out for deployments of varying duration and purpose.

Because we can’t just do nothing, we can’t trust the locals or another power to take successful action, and we can’t just throw airpower alone at ISIS. To not deploy special forces in this fashion would make a mockery of our efforts in Afghanistan, where for more than a decade we have been trying to eliminate the Taliban and the conditions that, having allowed it to thrive, proved a breeding ground and haven for the likes of al Qaeda’s international terrorism. ISIS is similarly metastasizing and must be checked. How long, I wonder, will it be before ISIS is able to mount some kind of attack distant from its own domain?

The difference here–and why it makes sense–is that, unlike in Afghanistan, this will not in the least smack of nation building.

Now, I’m not much of a hawk; but then, this isn’t going to be a war–not if we refrain from using our entire arsenal. It will be pre-emptive self defense. And I don’t want to hear that I’m some sort of adherent to the Bush Doctrine.

I want to hear someone ask, “Whatever happened to that al-Baghdadi guy?”

Because special forces have…erased him. Al-Baghdadi, for those of you still unaware, is the leader of ISIS.

Let’s be clear: We have been contending with threats from the Middle East since before the founding of our country. With the declaration of our independence we forfeited the protection of Britain’s Royal Navy. This lead to the depredation of our commerce by Barbary–North African–pirates in the Mediterranean.

It also lead–at least in part–to the framing of our constitution in 1787 when it became clear that a confederation of states could not in their disunion create a navy to prevent the corsairs’ high-seas crime wave. The traditional European response to this piracy was an annual tribute–a bribe. This did not sit well with the American character, however–although there were those who argued that it was less expensive, overall and in the long run, than building ships and maintaining a navy. It took until 1794 for a congressional vote create a navy “adequate for the protection of the commerce of the United States against Algerian corsairs.”

Tripoli, nevertheless, declared war on us in 1801. Two years later they captured the USS Philadelphia and its crew of 305, and in 1804 we burned the ship in their harbor. In 1805 President Jefferson arranged for a separate peace with Tripoli, but the region as a whole remained problematic. Maritime tensions with Britain–not to mention the War of 1812–distracted American attention from Barbary, so it was not until 1815, a full decade after Jefferson’s peace, that President Madison was able to send a fleet to force Algiers, Tripoli and Tunis to forever cease their piracy.

These things take time, and sometimes other things get in the way.

That’s how it’s going to be against ISIS. We will be distracted by China, North Korea, Russia and al Qaeda–not to mention Syria’s civil war–and there will be those among us who bristle at the thought of sending our troops into Syria for any reason. So be it. I don’t foresee this as being a particularly popular operation, initially. But so long as it remains unpopular at home, and so long as we are perceived as distracted abroad, this necessarily small operation will be looked askance at by ISIS. They won’t know they’re dead yet. And we’ll have them right where we want them.

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