Small World: Our second war on terrorism


Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Terrorism is the topic of the day. That is one proposition that all can agree on. Beyond that, the floor is held by politics, ideologies, ethnicities, religions and the cacophony of voices that fill our public arenas. The range of solutions proposed stretches wide: unrelenting military force on one extreme; trying to persuade — or at least seek to understand — the enemy at the other end.

I guess I sit in between and adhere to President Obama’s rule, “Don’t do dumb stuff.” That is, think through the consequences, predictable as well as potential (that is, unintended).

Our venture into Afghanistan to punish it and cleanse it of Al Qaeda quickly became a war against the Taliban rulers. Then, we decided to reform and modernize the place in a hastily formulated series of ideas for one of the world’s most primitive societies. From apprehending those who had assisted Al Qaeda we moved to establishing rights for women and other indisputably worthy projects. But more than the traditional folks (i.e., males) could bear.

Next, too soon some argued, we used 9/11 complicity as one of the justifications for invading Iraq. I believe that rationale was as contrived and phony as the asserted object of removing a nuclear weapons threat. In fact, 9/11 became the advertised imperative for a number of measures — infringement on constitutionally protected rights and political advantage.

But enough of what went wrong in the past (even though we are still suffering the consequences thereof). What should we do to eradicate the Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS or Daesh)?

The unhappy basic answer is that we almost certainly will not be able to eliminate it in my lifetime and probably not in the youngest of you all. We can best hope to chain it up like a mad dog. And like a mad dog, it will sometime break free and do us harm.

The harshly realistic posture in these circumstances is to use all our military, economic and military means to diminish its appeal and power, to isolate it and quiet its voice. Militarily that will mean selective use of air and special ops assets — bombing to cut off oil sales, destroying training and headquarters units, jamming broadcasts, blockading supplies and new recruits. All of these actions to be taken with scrupulous attention to the well being of civilians living under ISIS control.

For isolation to be effective, we the West will need the unstinting cooperation of Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf states and Turkey. The latter must seal its border with Syria and Iraq and we should apply the necessary diplomatic pressure to see that is done. Similar pressure must be applied to the Gulf oil regimes and through them on their private citizens who are benefactors of ISIS.

While seeking to accomplish these good works we must not neglect the long-term tasks, working seriously for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, ending the war in Syria and Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen, helping to bring stability to Libya and greater freedom to Egypt and on and on. An impossible agenda? Yes, but worthy of enough effort to keep embers of hope alive.

So much for the role of Washington and other capitals. What do we as citizens do? Rather what do we not do?

We don’t treat all Moslems as the enemy. We don’t turn back Syrian refugees from our shores. We have screening procedures that can protect us. We know that, in part, we are responsible for the plight of refugees in Syria and Iraq. If we had started earlier to work for a peace accord in the former and hadn’t destroyed the fabric of the latter, we would not confront today’s tragic humanitarian disaster.

The millions of ordinary Moslems in the Middle East are not our enemy; the hundreds of barbarians are. If we treat them all as our enemies, we will antagonize the thousands of neutral people, who will come to hate us when they hear our politicians and pundits rant against them. For example, it may seem simple, down-home politics that we ought to give preference to Christian refugees. To rejected Moslems, it will seem a message of hate and racism.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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