Timing and terror
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The latest terror attacks in Paris indicate a distressing increase in sophistication on the part of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Equally troubling was the choice of targets, some of which were soft, but all of which were chosen to inflict maximal casualties.


An increase in capability often goes hand in hand with increased operational tempo. Because we cannot hope to guard everything, we must be particularly concerned about the amount of time we take to root out ISIS-related terrorism. We no longer have the luxury to dawdle, as is implied in the feckless New York Times editorial written the morning after the Paris attacks, which showed more concern about how long France would be under a state of emergency rather than a decisive way forward. The more time we take to liquidate the threat, the more likely we are to face additional events.

Liberals will advocate for patience, introspection and, whatever else, not dare to reflect on the relationship between terrorism and the waves of unvetted refugees pouring into Europe and soon to be admitted into the United States. One suspects that nothing will be done about the refugees. If that is the case, then the only approach that makes sense is to tear out the terrorist tree by the roots rather than simply trim the branches.

No one is more reluctant to commit U.S. forces to foreign adventure than this writer, but the time for discussion may be at an end. Let us recognize that there are distinct issues related to any strategy. There are three in particular if we decide to strike.

First, destroying ISIS will not fix the Middle East, nor will it diminish the hatred felt for the United States in that region stemming from our support for Israel. When ISIS is gone, something will inevitably take its place. You can imagine it may be the resurgence of al Qaeda, but what difference does it make what you call it? It will be some manifestation of Islamic extremism. What's necessary is to crush the scourge that threatens us now. One does not refuse to operate on cancer because everyone is going to die of something sooner or later. One confronts the most proximate problem, and worries about the next threat when it shows up.

Second, if we commit, it should be with the proviso that the mission is to crush ISIS. As soon as the mission ends, we leave. Our intervention would not be to recreate a Syria or an Iraq that no longer exists. If either is to happen, people indigenous to the region must drive events. There would likely be more bloodshed, but at least the odds are that such bloodshed would remain local, at least until the next ISIS wannabe comes along. This doesn't mean that we can't support the Kurds or moderate Syrians. It does mean that when the mission is up, our people come home.

Third, if we fight, we fight. My own preference would be to devastate Raqqa with B-52 strikes and clean up ISIS there and elsewhere with full-scale military operations. A-10 and AC-130 gunships would be overhead as often as possible. There will be civilian casualties, but this is war, and it is unlikely that France will cry over collateral damage. Deconfliction would be important to allow everyone else's forces to operate alongside ours. This is not the time to worry about whether Iran scores points in the region.

There is one other thing. Something must be done about our so-called allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Turkey has shown nothing but self-interest in allowing militants to cross to and from Europe, exacerbating fighting in Iraq and Syria, and terrorism elsewhere. In addition, despite having the largest army in the region, it has done nothing but fight the Kurds and impede our own progress. This is a member of NATO? What will happen if NATO declares ISIS a NATO problem?

The Saudis have been a chronic supporter of Islamic extremism in the hope that the royal family will remain off-limits to terrorists. With petroleum a decreasing strategic necessity, the United States must consider holding Saudi sandals to the fire.

There are some who feel we should vacate and allow the locals to stew in their own juice while we maximize defenses at home. It was my own preference until things got completely out of hand. Besides, Europe and the United States already have too many potential internal enemies for this approach to be likely to succeed.

So that leaves engagement. The engagement must be for victory; not a victory that turns the Middle East into a fully functional collection of democracies, but, rather, a Middle East that will not be responsible for us being afraid to go to dinner. This may not be a permanent result, but we can certainly use a break. And we need it now.

Blady, M.D., is a former program officer for the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and senior analyst for the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.