Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Lessons from Moscow: Obliterating Terrorism

One of this president's top priorities and promises has been to "obliterate ISIS."  Since 9/11, the shadow of terrorist attacks from extreme Islamist elements has certainly loomed large over our nation.  But how do you kill an ideology?  Is it even possible?

One could argue that the reason we have not been successful in "obliterating" terrorism is that we haven't been aggressive enough in prosecuting the war.  Our foreign policy has certainly wavered under both of the previous administrations at different points.

Fortunately, we have other examples to learn from.  One big one is Russia's efforts to stamp out their own Islamist extremist group in Chechnya.

Now, nobody could accuse Russia of being reluctant to prosecute this war.  Over the course of the last 17 years (pre- 9/11), over 50,000 people have been killed on both sides, many of them civilians.  Exactly how many and on which sides varies based on who you ask, but all estimates are well north of 50,000.  That is a level of commitment that America hasn't come close to delivering in 45 years.  The Russians are serious.

So what have they gotten for their efforts (besides killing 50,000 people)?  Here's just a brief list of things:

  • Chechen fighters have become some of the most hardened mujahedin in the world
  • Fighters from other nations, including Afghanistan and Syria, have come in to fight alongside their brothers, bringing networks and knowledge with them (and taking them home again).
  • Chechen fighters have gone to Syria and Afghanistan during surge periods to shore up their ranks
  • Grozny, the capital city of the Chechen Republic, is essentially a pile of rubble
  • And, they're still fighting.  In fact, indications are, as the Syrian conflict takes a turn, many fighters are returning to Chechnya to fight another day
Long story short, a full-fledged aggressive military campaign has not successfully eliminated the threat from these extremist elements.  And that says a lot about how mujahedin operate around the world.  They are the ultimate opportunists, seeking (and sometimes cultivating) conflict in areas where they can lend their lives to the cause.  The conflicts don't normally start out with jihadis, but they wind up with them.  They form, scatter, and re-form wherever strife exists.  They come in like Robin Hood's band of Merry Men, distributing money and support, recruiting new fighters, and tipping the scales.  All the while, they promote the most extreme version (or perversion) of basically 14th century Islam.  

But these aren't the only examples.  Consider the revolution in Northern Ireland or the battle with the communist FARC in Colombia.  These conflicts, too, lasted for years upon years, and ultimately were unsuccessful, militarily speaking.  You simply can't kill an idea.  

Does that mean that there is no place for military force?  No, it doesn't.  Von Clausewitz said "war is diplomacy by other means."  He was a smart guy.  He realized that the ultimate end is always diplomatic, and that military force is applied for the purpose of making the alternative unacceptably costly.  But it starts and ends with the tools of State.  

An all-out war on ISIS will certainly kill a lot of those fighting today.  But it will also kill tens of thousands of civilians in its path.  And will certainly cement the idea for yet another generation that America is an enemy worth hating and worthy of jihad.  And, like past ones, this new generation will come from all corners of the earth to join the fight.  Fear-driven warfare is not the solution.  It is the recipe for an entirely new round of conflict that will consume the best years of our millennial generation.  

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