Monday, November 16, 2015

What Not To Do About ISIS

My opinion: Everyone pretty much agrees on the immediate emotional response (shock, horror, outrage) to the Paris attacks, setting aside the quibbling over whether to pay lots of attention to other terrorist attacks besides this one. The hard part is figuring out the long-term policy response.

In the New York Times today, an unnamed (of course) senior intelligence official said “This was a game changer… Paris shows they can attack soft targets on any day, anywhere, including in any major American city”.

Bullshit. That’s not a “game changer”. That’s been happening since at least 2008 in Mumbai, if not London 2005 or Madrid 2004, and it’s not unique to ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. Everyone has been very well aware of the threat, especially from returning ISIS veterans, for quite some time now and working pretty hard on border control. This is exactly the same threat as we’ve had for a long time now; the only difference is that now it’s not a threat, it’s actually happened. The threat of bad guys with guns and explosives murdering lots of people in the West is otherwise just as bad this week as it was last week, which is to say, it is very out of the ordinary.

If we learned anything from 9/11, it should’ve been not to let our immediate emotional response drive long-term policymaking!

We’re already hearing rumblings about the terrorists using commercial encryption to plan their attack, and how that translates into an argument for more government oversight of the software industry and more back doors with which they can spy. We're already seeing brave, courageous 'governors' like Scott Walker deny safe harbor to victims of terror because one in 10,000 of them might be an enemy, even though they can't do that. And we’re already feeling pressure for America to commit more money, planes, intelligence, and ground troops to fight ISIS; that is to say, for America to take another couple of steps on the path to another long, ugly, costly, indecisive, Middle East ground war that we will not win and will solve nothing.

After 9/11, we let the Patriot Act be passed, we acceded to the Iraq invasion, we allowed Bush and Co. to torture innocent men and detain them indefinitely, we allowed NSA spying on our private communications, we elected a President who has presided over hundreds if not thousands of drone strikes without a declaration of war, we elected a President who has so far killed three American citizens without a trial, and on, and on, and on, and on. It’s been fourteen years and we haven’t reined in the security state yet, and more importantly, the war begun in Afghanistan in 2001 is not yet over!

After Bashar al-Assad gassed hundreds of his citizens, there was tremendous public pressure for America to take a more active role in the Syrian war, because to the public, gassing them was worse than shooting them. Obama, although the “red line” comment made him look weak, didn’t give in to it. The early indications are that he’ll be just as reluctant to put (more) American troops on the ground vs. ISIS after Paris, to which I say, GOOD. Would ten U.S. Army divisions beat ISIS in a straight fight? Probably. Would that solve the problem of why ISIS exists, or stop the next Paris-style terrorist attack from happening? Probably not.

There will always be an ISIS. There will always be terror. We’ve created a lot of terrorists, probably more than we've killed, but right this instant we don’t get to choose whether or not there will be terrorists. We do get to choose how we respond to what they do.  Whatever we decide, let’s do it because we’ve considered it carefully and decided that it’s best in the long term, not because we’re hurt and angry and need to do something RIGHT NOW. And I can’t see how getting into yet another Middle East ground war, or giving back some of our hard-won civil liberties, or denying safe harbor to victims of terror, would work out well in the long term.

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