Last Friday, Nov. 13, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria carried out a series of coordinated attacks in Paris and its northern suburb of Saint-Denis. A small contingent of men, most of which were either French or Belgian nationals, carried out the attacks with suicide bombers at the Stade de France and a mass shooting at the Bataclan theatre. At the time of this writing, there are 136 confirmed deaths, including seven of the perpetrators, and over 350 non-fatal injuries. In response to the atrocities, the countries of the world have all decried the attack as a grotesque display of radical terrorism. Many have offered support to France financially, militarily, and emotionally in this time of tragedy, namely the European Union, Russia, and the United States. On the whole, the world has let France know that we stand by it united.
The question now becomes: How exactly do we stand by France?
Militarily, it would appear that the U.S. has its hands tied. After two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have failed to stabilize the Middle East, along with running up our national debt, to try and swing the idea of yet another war to the American public would seem like an ineffective proposal. We no longer possess the drive as a populace to carry the biggest stick with impetus. Instead, we have become complacently detached from what is happening out in the world. It appears that at this moment, our government is content with that.
On Monday, Nov. 16, President Barack Obama spoke on ISIS at this year’s G20 summit in Turkey, saying that a direct ground war with ISIS “would be a mistake.” The reporters that were on hand apparently found that idea to be as head scratching a comment as I do. Was this a mistake? We have the strongest military on the planet, with over 1.4 million active personnel along with 1.1 million in reserves, a defense budget of over $500 billion annually – keep in mind that that is nearly 10 times the defense budget of the second strongest rated military, Russia – and the backing of almost every major world power. What could possibly hold us back?
Once the time came for a press conference on Monday, the reporters did not hold back. The defining moment came when CNN’s Jim Acosta rose to speak.
“I wanted to go back to something you said… earlier when you said you have not underestimated ISIS’s abilities. This is an organization that you once described as a JV team, that evolved into a now occupied territory in Iraq and Syria and is now able to use that safe haven to launch attacks in other parts of the world,” Acosta noted.
He continued, “How is that not underestimating their capabilities? And how is that ‘contained,’ quite frankly? And I think a lot of Americans have this frustration that they see that the United States has the greatest military in the world, it has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS. I guess the question is – and if you’ll forgive the language – why can’t we take out these bastards?”
Obama appeared to be appalled by the question and was quick to rebuke Acosta from the podium.
“Jim, I just spent the last three questions answering that very question, so I don’t know what more you want me to add. I think I’ve described very specifically what our strategy is, and I’ve described very specifically why we do not pursue some of the other strategies that have been suggested.”
Our strategy, as of right now, is to continue what we have been doing: training local militias and funding the Kurds to fight ISIS for us. However, the continued growing power of ISIS has proven that this tactic may not be as effective as we want to believe. In order for us to properly undermine ISIS by the grassroots as President Obama would like for us to do, we would have to gain the support of the anti-West Sunni Arab populations living in and around the area ISIS controls. The Sunni Arabs became disillusioned by the Shia regimes in Iraq and Syria, and with nowhere else to go, they have taken refuge with ISIS, who has offered them protection. Unfortunately, for the U.S., our only real ally in the region is the Kurds, who do not have the trust of these Sunni groups after announcing their intention to create a state of their own on the land ISIS currently occupies. Doing so would leave the Sunni Arabs without a place to call home. Without the support of the Sunni Arabs, the hopes of the Kurds or local militias being able to uproot ISIS is, and will remain, unlikely without intervention by a world power.
It almost feels like our country has become too lethargic to deal with any issue out in the world. When Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin essentially stole Crimea from under the noses of the Ukrainian people, everyone looked to the U.S. to issue a harsh response. Instead, we issued a warning and levied heavy economic sanctions on Russia along with the rest of the EU. Sure, the sanctions inflicted severe damage to the Russian economy, but they still hold Crimea currently and, given the backfire decline of the EU’s economies, there are now talks in place to lift the sanctions all together. When Syrian dictator Basshar al-Assad began using chlorine gas as a way to bypass the Chemical Weapons Convention agreed upon last year, which Obama made mention of not crossing the “clear red line” on using chemical weapons, our government had no response. It’s strange to watch the U.S. be the world’s passive parent, always the first to reprimand with our holier-than-thou attitude but too afraid to enact the punishment we threaten when someone misbehaves. The U.S. has been trying to simply talk a big game on the stage of global politics, but it appears we have become too terrified of making enemies out in the world to stand for what is right and stop any of these atrocities from occurring.
So, we have reached a crossroads in this current crisis: Do we continue to stick our heads in the sand in the hopes that someone else eradicates ISIS, or do we seize this opportunity to pounce on this “JV team” while we still have the support of Russia and China? The opportunity for America to make a statement against radical jihadists is directly before us, and I think that the government underestimates the public support for this idea. Unlike with the war with Iraq, we have a clear and proven enemy that stands against the civilized societies of the world. There are little to no reasons for the public to feel misled: no assumptions of WMDs, nor backhanded oil motives that are readily apparent. In the eyes of the American people, ISIS is merely an evil organization that is being allowed to fester within Iraq and Syria like a parasite with no humanitarian values or empathy for others. They have effectively no support from anyone not directly affiliated with them.
Acosta’s question really seems to ring louder now more than ever before: Mr. President, if ISIS truly is inferior, and we truly are the leaders of the free world, then “why can’t we take out these bastards?”
Scott Vogel is a first-year student majoring in English. He can be reached at SV845618@wcupa.edu.