POLITICO, November 14

Boots on the ground to hunt ISIL



This is a war, and must be fought like a war.

2015-11-14 by Andrew Roberts


September 11th in New York, then Madrid, then Bali, then 7/7 in London, then Mumbai, then Charlie Hebdo, then Sharm-el-Sheikh, and now Paris, with hundreds of smaller incidents in between.


The world has almost got used to the horror; world leaders have certainly got their rhetoric down pat, the phrases of shock and resolution that can be trotted out again and again and again. Yet what is missing, even from President François Hollande’s otherwise excellent phraseology about France “ruthlessly” pursuing ISIS, is the political will to do the only thing in war that actually wins victory: shattering the enemy’s belief in any possible hope of ultimate success.


For while ISIS controls huge swathes of western Iraq and northeastern Syria, and has a capital at Raqqa, the concept of the Caliphate for which hundreds, indeed thousands, have been willing to die not only exists but actually looks like it might survive. For all its drone strikes and occasional propaganda coups such as the death of Jihadi John, the West has so far failed dismally to destroy the Islamic State, a fact that stands as testament to yet another of President Barack Obama’s broken promises. ISIL still has the outward appearances of a state, with its own army, police force, sprawling territories, Sharia laws, flag and raison d’etre — all of which the West needs to destroy utterly, and that can only be done by putting Western boots on the ground.


There will be monstrous acts of terrorism throughout our lifetimes, and London is rightly bracing itself for one that will probably come sooner rather than later, especially with 700 Britons having fought in Syria over the past six years. Islamic fundamentalist terrorism predated the Islamic State. It will continue long after it, but it will be more isolated, uncoordinated and — unless a terrorist group gets biological weaponry — probably less costly if the greatest recruiting sergeant for gigantic terror attacks, the belief in victory, is forever ended. Ultimately the losses that will undoubtedly be incurred by the West in a ground campaign against ISIL will be more than offset by the far worse dangers incurred if we let the Caliphate become a long-term reality, as we currently are doing.


There might not be much appetite in the West for a massive, sustained ground war against ISIL, because of the losses incurred in Iraq and Afghanistan, but atrocities like the one we are mourning in Paris ought to increase our resolve, because the will of ISIL cannot be broken any other way than at home on its doorstep, and drones cannot achieve that.


The men who carried out the Paris attacks are thought to have undergone military training in ISIL camps: these must be closed down. ISIL is well-funded; the sources of this funding must be closed off. The command and control networks are believed to emanate from Raqqa: they must be destroyed. Not “degraded,” in Obama’s pusillanimous language, but actively destroyed. And the sole way of achieving these objectives is to recapture all the land currently controlled by ISIL, which can only be done on the ground and not just from the air.


For that, however, the West needs a strong leader, and Obama is clearly not that man. It was his withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in May 2011 that created the vacuum that ISIL filled in the first place, after all the blood and treasure that the United States had put into successfully pacifying Iraq since the Surge of 2007.


It was he who backed away from the “red lines” he proclaimed against President Assad in 2012. It was he who was persuaded on security grounds not to march through Paris in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January. It was he who allowed Russia to bomb anti-Assad forces rather than primarily ISIL this year, in the first reappearance of Russia in the Middle East since the days of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.


It was he who cleaved toward Iran with his disastrous nuclear deal, while being more antagonistic towards Israel than any American president in history. It was he who allowed several Guantanamo prisoners to rejoin their comrades in the jihadist struggle. Above all, it was he who declared a wholly spurious victory over the Taliban and then scuttled out of Afghanistan. The world will have to wait until Obama is finally gone in January 2017 before any kind of meaningful counterattack against Islamic fundamentalist terrorism can take place.


In the meantime, Britain should pass the legislation necessary to allow the security services to know which web site pages terrorist suspects are searching, a measure that is still opposed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the great panjandrums of the human rights industry. (How pleased Corbyn must be that these attacks in Paris were not undertaken by Hamas or Hezbollah, or any of the other terrorist organizations he has described as his “friends.”) Extra resources need to be thrown at MI5 and MI6, whose record in foiling terrorist plots over the past decade has been exemplary. Concerned citizens and private foundations should be channeling resources to those think tanks and research bodies, such as Policy Exchange and King’s College London’s War Studies Department, which have a proven track record of persuading the government of the need for tougher anti-radicalization projects.


Above all, all returning Britons who have been fighting in Syria need to be interned indefinitely and en masse, on the same basis as IRA suspects were interned in the 1970s, until we can be sure they have renounced barbarism.


The best, indeed about the only, good news to have come from Paris was the fact that the Stade de France crowd spontaneously burst into singing the Marseillaise on learning of the attacks outside, and that Hollande used the word “guerre” (war) to describe what had happened. French patriotism and resolve will be crucial to this terribly long-awaited fightback. For this has been an existential war for many years, though leaders like Obama and Corbyn have been loath to admit it; and the West must win it, but they will not do that unless they take the war direct to the enemy — face to face, not from 10,000 feet. Terrible as each individual death always is, the overall numbers of Western troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan together as a proportion of population has been lower than in any comparable struggle of modern times, however much the media, anti-war protesters and political Left might not want to face that fact.


This is war, and it needs to be brought into the homes of the enemy as swiftly and devastatingly as possible.

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