The world is watching to see whether or not the U.S.-led coalition can and will sustain the attack on ISIS. This vigil is especially important given the two open wounds left following nearly a decade of war in Iraq and more than a decade of war in Afghanistan, both led by the United States and both demonstrably ineffective of destroying a radical Islamic ideology.
The Taliban continues to wreak havoc in Afghanistan and have publicly declared their loyalty and support of ISIS. The agreement by the new government in Kabul to permit U.S. forces, around 10,000, to remain in their country to continue to train and support the development of indigenous forces to neutralize the Taliban, while an improvement over the absence of such an agreement with the former Maliki government in Baghdad, at the 'end' of the war in Iraq, is no guarantee that this radical philosophy will not continue to infect the future in Afghanistan.
While women are accessing formal education, a remarkable improvement over conditions prior to the U.S. led intervention in that country, the opposition to what can legitimately be seen both as the liberation of women, and the loss of absolute control of women by the male segment of the Afghan population continues to assert itself in suicide bombings and eruptions of violence around the country. Most of these stories, unfortunately, get minimal news coverage in the west drowned out by the current fixation on ISIS and Ebola.
It is in fact, the degree of willingness of western powers to maintain their level of attention, especially following more than a decade already in the throes of complicated and demonstrably unresolved conflicts in the Islamic world, as well as the compulsion of those power to deploy their hard power to wipe out the enemy that lies at the heart of the scepticism of many that this new effort will have much likelihood of success. In spite of the many proclamations that no "boots on the ground" will come from most western countries, (even a prominent Kurdish spokesman on CNN's GPS with Fareed Zakaria declared that Kurdish Pesh Merga forces will not fight ISIS in the Sunni areas of Iraq, considering themselves 'foreigners' in such a proposal), there is nearly unanimous agreement that ISIS will not be defeated, nor even contained, the new framing of the goal by the U.S. administration, unless and until face-to-face armed combat is undertaken. It is the task of finding those forces that could prove to be the Achilles Heel in the current approach to decimating ISIS.
Will such forces come from the disaffected Sunni's in Iraq? Doubtful. These people have been so alienated and disaffected under the Maliki regime that there appears little likelihood they can be recruited to join the fight against ISIS. Will the Saudi's or the Qatari's provide "boots on the ground"? Again, this prospect seems unlikely.
Will the government of Turkey offer "boots on the ground" in this fight? Their foreign minister declares that a full strategy will have to be worked out prior to the Turkish government's full consideration of such a request. Critics of the Obama administration observe that the president has cobbled together a cluster of tactics without an overall strategy, and that this approach is crippling the effort.
What does a strategy to contain or destroy ISIS look like? Obama has told the American people that this conflict will take considerable time. He has not, however, given much indication of the twists and turns, nor the range of alternatives that will be used to complete the mission. He has pointed to the need for local, regional forces, including forces comprised of moderate Sunni Muslims, to engage their Sunni radical combatants, without articulating where such forces will come from.
Unfortunately, and perhaps even inevitably, the world has witnessed previous death-forces under the sway of a single idea over many centuries without being able to wipe out the compelling seduction of such a single idea for those whose lives seem dedicated to its supremacy. These ISIS forces have adopted the single idea of world domination, a caliphate, as their military, political, religious, ideological and even psychological unifying banner. And while no one anywhere wants to live within the confines of such a caliphate, no one in the world can legitimately consider his or her life safe from the violence meted out by such a regime, there is also no apparent commitment to take the steps that most observers agree will be required to tame the beast.
There is an analogy in human therapeutic application, in which most practitioners agree that our individual human demons cannot be excised surgically, nor can they be "tamed" by an over-active and compulsive super-ego parent, like the anal parent attempting to bring a rebellious teen to heel.
While ISIS represents a much more virulent archetype than a rebellious teen, there is a real danger that the response so far, to AlQaeda first, and subsequently to its multiple off-shoots, encapsulates the assumption of superiority, invincibility and the political arrogance that is embedded in such invincibility, comparable to the attitude and approach of a defiant parent in a profound conflict with an equally defiant adolescent. Also similarly, the more force imposed by the defiant parent on a defiant teen, the deeper and more defiant the teen dives into intransigence, fueled more and more by the observation of unfairness that has been imposed by the raging parent. Now, whatever hope of resolution of the domestic dispute, that may and often does begin with the smallest of slight, that may have existed at the beginning has evaporated.
No one in power believes, nor does this writer, that ISIS is a force with which anyone can negotiate to bring about a termination of their defiance. Neither their beliefs nor their methods are subject to amendment. They are not subject to the normal pressures of diplomacy, nor are they amenable to any of the normal 'topical' pain relievers that might serve to reduce their toxicity. Everyone also agrees that the more we drop bombs on their training facilities, or their weapons storages sites, or their strongholds, the more determined they are to go underground, play a different and evasive game, while continuing to plunder with revenues from smuggled oil sales, and to recruit from among the most disaffected Muslim converts to their tyrannical and one-dimensional theology.
Like a virus that mutates in the face of antibiotics, these forces pose the most mercurial threat to our traditional conventional methods of conflict, while also depositing their "seeds of fear" through the most sophisticated propaganda methods from our shared barbaric history, now more easily and quickly disseminated through digital media.
Will we have to out-wait their self-sabotage, in the hope that within their virulence are the seeds of their own destruction? Will our determination and our technologies and our resources finally out-wit their blatant hubris, and bring them down? Will their long-view of the holy purpose of their existence continue to provide motivation for a morphing force that continues to plague the world for decades and even into the next century? Is their devious imagination superior to the deceptions of the creativity residing in their overt and covert opponents?
Or, will the world so penetrate their recruitment pool with counter-information about the dangers of their tyranny, and with sustained and poignant and pungent re-education that the tide will turn against their world view, their domination of women, and their feverish contempt for everything "western" and "modern" and "hypocritical" that their pool of recruits simply dries up through an awakening based on the truths that contradict their propaganda?
So far, the counter-information campaign seems to be receiving much less support than the planning and execution of the military effort. Or, perhaps we are not privy to the counter-information, counter-propaganda campaign that is being waged against their potential recruits. We can only imprison and withhold passports, and drop bombs for a limited time with limited success. We have to become pro-active in our "re-education" efforts through the generation and propagation of information that puts the lie to their own hypocrisy and their own deceptions and their own denials.
We have to engage in a war not exclusively of shells and mortar-fire, but also of ideas of truths of history and of faith that legitimately strip the chicanery and the deceit and the duplicity of their perversion not merely of their own Islamic faith, but also of their potential to rule.
Obama would be well advised to announce a counter-information campaign to the ISIS deceptions in conjunction with his airstrikes. Such a campaign would necessarily engage the Muslim world, the moderate imams and the political leaders who share our contempt and defiance in the face of this scourge. So far, the Muslim world has been and continues to remain far too silent. It needs to be brought together in a concerted effort to mount an informational war illustrating and demonstrating and proving the validity and efficacy of the moderate and tolerant versions of Islam. Failure to engage this most potentially potent Muslim voice not only endangers the future of the faith, but also endangers our capacity to neutralize this Islamic terrorism.