A Philosopher's Blog


Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 17, 2014

ISIS (or ISIL) got America’s attention and now the war of rhetoric has begun in ernest. While the Republicans seem generally pleased that we are saddling up again, they have raised some criticism against President Obama’s strategy. Interestingly, many of these criticisms have been aimed at Obama’s word choices.

I recently heard an interview with Senator Marco Rubio on NPR. Rubio’s main criticism seemed to be that Obama was unwilling to commit to destroying ISIS completely.  The interviewer pointed out that such groups tend to reform or create spin-off groups rather than be destroyed. When the interviewer asked him if that goal was realistic or not, Rubio responded by saying that it could be done and gave an example of how the group that became ISIS had been destroyed previously. The interviewer politely noted that Rubio had actually supported his (the interviewer’s) point, but let Rubio ignore his own example and switch quickly to another issue.

As a general rule, it seems difficult to bomb such groups out of existence, mainly because the groups are defined by ideas and killing old members tends to merely attract new members. Obviously, this method could work-with enough killing a group would run out of possible members. However, the history of radicalism and America’s attempts to kill its way out of a problem show that destroying a group by bombing seems unrealistic. After all, we are still fighting Al Qaeda and ISIS can be plausibly seen as a new brand of Al Qaeda.

Another common criticism of Obama’s words is that he did not say that he would do whatever it takes to destroy ISIS. He merely said he would do what it takes to do so. On the one hand, this could be seen as a petty semantic point, a mere whining about words. On the other hand, this could be taken as a more substantial point. After struggling to end the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that he inherited, Obama has been reluctant to get the United States into yet another costly, protracted and likely futile ground war in the Middle East. As such, when he has acted, he has done so with limited goals and minimal engagement. Interestingly, the results have been somewhat similar: we dumped billions into Iraq and ended up with a chaotic mess. We dumped far less into Libya and ended up with a chaotic mess. I suppose that it is better to get a mess on the cheap than for a high price.

Obama, I think, is wise to keep American involvement limited. The hawks crying for war seem to have amnesia regarding our last few adventures since Viet Nam. Unfortunately, escalating involvement (trying to do whatever it takes) has never paid off. It seems unlikely that this time will be the charm.

The obvious reply is that we have to do something, we cannot just let ISIS behead Americans and establish a state. I agree. My concern is the obvious one: doing something is not a good strategy and neither is doing whatever it takes. We should be honest and admit that we have not gotten it right in the past and that doing the same damn thing will not result in different results.

I am not going to tell McCain or Cheney to shut up-they have every right to express their views. However, they have no credibility left. So, they should talk-but it would be unwise to listen.

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20 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on September 17, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Care to comment on Biden’s credibility, Mike?

  2. T. J. Babson said, on September 17, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Biden: “Iraq…one of the great achievements of this administration.”

    Mike: what was the achievement Biden was boasting about?

    Mike: can you bring yourself to admit that Obama threw away the victory in Iraq that Biden was crowing about?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 17, 2014 at 11:57 am

      Perhaps Joe was referring to the departure of the troops, which was technically a Bush achievement since the agreement was made during the Bush years.

      It would be more accurate to say that Biden was wrong in his claim about victory. But, it is worth considering if we could have done things differently in rebuilding Iraq. If, for example, Iraq had not been invaded, then ISIS would most likely not be there now. If the reconstruction of Iraq had been handled much better, ISIS would most likely not be there now. While Obama no doubt missed opportunities, these missed opportunities date way back, so placing blame on Obama would be somewhat unfair-after all, he got the problem from Bush and Bush claimed that the mission had been accomplished.

      Iraq has served mainly as another example of how badly we handle these sorts of things, though we often have the best intentions.

      • T. J. Babson said, on September 17, 2014 at 12:13 pm

        “If, for example, Iraq had not been invaded, then ISIS would most likely not be there now.”

        I’m not sure “most likely” is warranted. ISIS is supported by the same people who supported Saddam.

        I think it mostly depends on what would have happened in Iraq with the Arab Spring.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 17, 2014 at 2:04 pm

          But, if Iraq had not been invaded, it would probably still be a dictatorship that would keep terrorist groups from taking its territory. What could be worse than Saddam? Well, maybe ISIS.

          The spring seems to have gone right to winter.

          • magus71 said, on September 17, 2014 at 8:05 pm

            But Mike, what did the current administration learn after all the criticisms they gave Bush? Many warned Obama not to leave Iraq. He ignored them. Ralph Peters called it his biggest gaff.

            Obama is using the exact legislation that he tried to get rid of to justify his current efforts.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 18, 2014 at 4:05 pm

              Nothing. American foreign policy is largely based on the idea that if we keep doing the same thing, we will surely get different results.

              Some folks point out that Bush signed the U.S.–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement which included a deadline of 31 December 2011 for US troops to leave. So Obama was just doing what we agreed to do. Others claim that Obama could have insisted that the troops remain since agreements matter not.

              Yes, there is considerably irony in Obama using the same legislation that he opposed.

              As with Bush, anything Obama does will be criticized. We’ll have to wait about 50 years to get an historical perspective on the two.

  3. ajmacdonaldjr said, on September 17, 2014 at 10:36 am

    ISIS is another US, Saudi, Israeli Creation… just like al Qaeda was/is… designed to destabilize the enemies of Israel and give NATO a pretext for destroying those enemies (e.g., Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iran). They are pitting Sunni mercenaries against innocent Shias as a divide and conquer strategy to defeat and control the enemies of Israel throughout the Middle East.

    A Clean Break to Secure the Jewish State

    “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” (commonly known as the “Clean Break” report) is a policy document that was prepared in 1996 by a study group led by Richard Perle for Benjamin Netanyahu, the then Prime Minister of Israel. The report explained a new approach to solving Israel’s security problems in the Middle East with an emphasis on “Western values”. It has since been criticized for advocating an aggressive new policy including the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, and the containment of Syria by engaging in proxy warfare and highlighting their possession of “weapons of mass destruction… Rather than pursuing a “comprehensive peace” with the entire Arab world, Israel should work jointly with Jordan and Turkey to “contain, destabilize, and roll-back” those entities that are threats to all three… Given the nature of the regime in Damascus, it is both natural and moral that Israel abandon the slogan comprehensive peace and move to contain Syria…”

    Read more: A Clean Break: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Clean_Break:_A_New_Strategy_for_Securing_the_Realm

    The Powers Behind The Islamic State: http://youtu.be/7FdnMJyiiwg via @YouTube

    Western Leaders Fear-Monger to Mobilize Support for Air-Strikes on Syria http://wp.me/p3rKs-DH via @wordpressdotcom

    Obama’s ‘Moderate’ Syrian Rebels Are Nowhere to Be Found: http://youtu.be/G7q_hY57lco via @YouTube

    Obama Plans on “Attacking” the Terrorists that America Fostered: http://youtu.be/F0dxSJzsmGQ via @YouTube

    Red Ice Radio – Patrick Henningsen – Hour 1 – ISIS Crisis & Israel’s Strategy – http://youtu.be/d3JYLlxCnRQ

    John McCain, Conductor of the “Arab Spring” and the Caliph – http://www.voltairenet.org/article185085.html

    How the West Created the Islamic State – http://go.shr.lc/1wukYsv via @Shareaholic #ISIS

    The Atlantic Alliance’s “Holy War” against the Islamic State (ISIS): NATO’s Role in the Recruitment of Islamic Terrorists http://shar.es/11Z4oH via @grtvnews

    Who does ISIS work for? | @ConspiracyStuff: http://youtu.be/I33dO021lx8 via @YouTube

    ISIS Wants the US Drawn into a Ground War: http://youtu.be/Dn6f5InhcfQ via @YouTube

    US Begins Selling “Syria Intervention” Using ISIS Pretext: http://shar.es/1nTOOE via @grtvnews

    ISIS: Region-wide Genocide Portended in 2007 Now Fully Realized: http://shar.es/1nDvuc via @grtvnews

    Fighting Al Qaeda by Supporting Al Qaeda in Syria: The Obama Administration is a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” http://shar.es/1nTONR via @grtvnews

    The Fiction of “Fighting the Islamic State”, An Entity Created and Financed by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia http://shar.es/11Gt7Y @grtvnews

    Newspaper: ISIS targeting Pope Francis http://news.msn.com/world/video?videoid=8e4b6392-0cfc-4a76-8d28-a18e1c856941#tscptmt

    Nonprofit says ISIS is in Juarez, US officials reject claim : http://www.elpasotimes.com/latestnews/ci_26432877/nonprofit-claims-islamic-state-iraq-and-greater-syria via @elpasotimes

  4. Glen Wallace said, on September 17, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    I think a case could be made that the Mideast abhors a dictator power vacuum. Under Saddam, Baghdad was a modern westernized city that largely liberated women, had a fine museum housing priceless antiquities dating back to when the area was known as Mesopotamia – the cradle of civilization, and had a large, vibrant Christian community. Virtually all of that disappeared upon the US invasion and toppling of Saddam in Iraq War II.

    Could a case then be made that we should learn from the lessons of our past mistakes and instead of backing the Syrian rebels, do just the opposite and do what we can to support the Assad government? Perhaps we should even try to help bring about an expansion of Syria’s borders under Assad into the territory now held by ISIL. After all, ISIL and Assad are enemies and I have read, among other things, that the Assad government protects Christians in Syria.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 18, 2014 at 4:09 pm

      Thomas Hobbes would agree with you. For Hobbes, the worst thing is chaos and the solution to chaos is a strong, effective government. For him, the exact form of the sovereign did not matter much-while political authority did rest on agreement, people could agree to despotic systems.

      As case can be made for backing Assad against ISIS on the grounds that while Assad is bad, all the likely alternatives are worse.

      All that said, the West helped craft a despotic middle east during the age of European imperialism and then during the cold war. Everyone is paying the price for that now and will continue to do so.

      • magus71 said, on September 29, 2014 at 11:10 am

        “All that said, the West helped craft a despotic middle east during the age of European imperialism and then during the cold war. Everyone is paying the price for that now and will continue to do so.”

        Has nothing to do with Islam itself, huh?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 29, 2014 at 11:34 am

          Nothing in my claim denied the role of religion.

          The experts seem divided about the role of religion in regards to ISIS. On the one hand, ISIS professes a brand of Islam and claims to be religiously motivated (mostly to kill other Muslims). On the other hand, some claim that ISIS is just using religion as a tool and that many of the gun carriers are sociopaths.

          If religion is focused on, the parallels to Christian Europe are interesting: sects battling sects for dominance, heretics and non-believers being brutally killed and so on. ISIS can be seen as being on the cutting edge of the Middle Ages.

          • Anonymous said, on September 29, 2014 at 7:25 pm

            “If religion is focused on, the parallels to Christian Europe are interesting: sects battling sects for dominance, heretics and non-believers being brutally killed and so on.”

            You just can’t help yourself.


          • T. J. Babson said, on September 29, 2014 at 8:19 pm

            Mike, you need to read some Wittgenstein. Instead of “games” read “religions.”

            Philosophical Investigations

            66. Consider for example the proceedings that we call “games”. I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? — Don’t say: “There must be something common, or they would not be called ‘games’ “-but look and see whether there is anything common to all. — For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don’t think, but look! —

  5. nixic951 said, on September 19, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Couldnt agree more, I’d personally limit the US engagement to airstrikes with support from whomever wanted to help. This really doesnt have to be a massive campaign. Unfortunately, I dont see this playing out like that… In this day and age you’d think we would be able to locate and bomb some of those convoys we see all over the videos, demoralize & degrade. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to see a lot more atrocities on video, trying to force our hand… Regards Mr. Labossiere -Ryan Thorpe

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