2016 election, Afghanistan, airstrikes, Al Qaeda, amnesty, Ashton Carter, boots on the ground, Cheap Labor Lobby, Donald Trump, Following Up, Immigration, ISIS, Middle East, offshoring, offshoring lobby, Republicans, Ross Douthat, special forces, terrorism, The New York Times, Trade
Since I have no evidence that either anyone with President Obama’s ear or New York Times columnist Ross Douthat reads RealityChek, I can’t take credit for important insights each one has arrived at in recent days. Even so, it’s gratifying that both America’s latest decision on tactics for fighting ISIS, and Douthat’s new column on dealing with the rise of Donald Trump in American politics, both echo points I’ve been making here for many months.
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the Obama administration would send to Iraq American commandos from a unit whose mission has been capturing or killing top terrorist leaders overseas. Carter euphemistically called the commando team a “specialized expeditionary targeting force.” But its deployment represents the most important and useful escalation of the fight against ISIS that the president has approved – and potentially a move toward a strategy I’ve long described as America’s best hope for neutralizing this and similar terror threats.
The conventional wisdom is correct in observing that airstrikes alone are no lasting solution against ISIS and comparable groups. In order to defeat the terrorists on foreign battlefields – thereby preventing them from striking the American homeland – terrorist-held territory will need to be recaptured and then secured, and only significant ground troops can achieve that objective. The conventional wisdom is also correct in observing that the more these boots on the ground are dominated by troops from Middle Eastern countries, the less likely it is to provoke a backlash from local populations.
But as I’ve noted, the conventional wisdom is completely loopy in assigning any chance that Middle Eastern countries will rise to this occasion. For local conflicts pit so many religious and ethnic forces against each other, and thus have so many dimensions, that each local power invariably has numerous other agendas than defeating ISIS – including those they consider more important.
So the beginning of wisdom in countering ISIS begins with realizing that no major locally dominated ground campaign is in the offing, and then searching for substitutes. The best that I can think of is focusing not on decisively defeating terrorists on the battlefield, but on keeping them off balance enough to deny them the secure control of territory needed to create bases for planning strikes on the United States, and to prevent their leaders from spending significant time for planning – as opposed to running for their lives.
In conjunction with strengthening border security, such an approach would concentrate on interests that are truly vital to America – protecting the homeland, as opposed to the pipe dream of pacifying or reforming the Middle East. And unlike those aims, it has the added virtue of being achievable at acceptable cost and risk. And as I’ve also noted, this very strategy showed real promise in Afghanistan, where it long neutralized and actually did “degrade” Al Qaeda, to use a favorite Obama term.
Mr. Obama’s decision to send commandos after ISIS leaders means that one leg of my preferred strategy is being put in place – though their numbers may not be adequate. Intensified airstrikes could represent the second leg – though their intensity may still not suffice. If only genuine resolve to secure America’s borders wasn’t still sorely lacking.
This morning, The New York Times‘ Douthat provided more reinforcement for recent RealityChek posts on the presidential campaign. He wrote compellingly (and it’s worth quoting in full) that:
“[F]reaking out over Trump-the-fascist is a good way for the political class to ignore the legitimate reasons he’s gotten this far — the deep disaffection with the Republican Party’s economic policies among working-class conservatives, the reasonable skepticism about the bipartisan consensus favoring ever more mass low-skilled immigration, the accurate sense that the American elite has misgoverned the country at home and abroad.
“If Republicans don’t want Trump the phenomenon to turn into an actual movement, if they don’t want the intimations of fascism in his appeal to cohere into something programmatically dangerous, then tarring his supporters with the brush of Mussolini and Der Führer right now seems like a shortsighted step — a way to repress the problem rather than dealing with it, to dismiss discontents and have them return, stronger and deadlier, further down the road.
“The best way to stop a proto-fascist, in the long run, is not to scream ‘Hitler!’ on a crowded debate stage. It’s to make sure that he never has a point.”
I made similar arguments last Saturday, and can only say “Amen.” Here’s hoping that Douthat’s good sense will start spreading to his fellow journalists (including at The New York Times) – and more important, to both other Republicans and Democrats. But I have my doubt, since the corporate Offshoring and pro-amnesty Cheap Labor Lobbies remain so influential over both parties, and since many Democrats and liberals in particular seem to value ever greater immigration inflows over the interests of native-born workers. So you can expect me to keep calling out those who prioritize Trump demonization over ensuring that America’s economy starts working for the great majority of Americans once again.