I was recently sent a gun camera video clip of an American aircraft, presumably a helicopter, “degrading” (what a wonderful euphemism for slaughtering) a unit of ISIS troops after dark. The fighters, who seemed confused, were mostly taken out by canon fire from the helicopter, though a few guided weapons were called in, a seemingly pricey way to kill one man. Though I understand that dehumanizing the enemy is valuable to any military, I am normally uncomfortable with this video game warfare, but not this time. The victims in this case have in effect dehumanized themselves, making traditional bad guys, like the Huns or Mongols or Waffen SS, look relatively benign. Evil exists in the world, and this is it.
Consequently, I am delighted to see my country participate in blowing these guys up, even if it means the military will clamor for more money. After all, we bear some considerable responsibility by taking out Saddam Hussein, who for all that he was a thug did maintain a seemingly stable and secular state. All we did was leave another thug, this one of the Shia persuasion, and a sham Iraqi army equipped with American weaponry just asking to be stolen.
But is ISIS really a threat to American national security? They are definitely a threat to Turkey because of its long frontier with Syria and Iraq, and Turkey seems finally to be waking up to the danger and has announced it will respond if ISIS destroys the Suleyman Shah Shrine commemorating the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire. Oddly enough, though this shrine is in Syria, it is legally part of Turkey and technically would trigger a NATO response if attacked, which of course would involve the US. They are obviously a threat to Iraq, but it has never been clear to me why this jury-rigged and now collapsing state is a major concern to the security of American citizens. They could threaten Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, which because of oil do involve American interests, but most of these places have serious if small military forces and immense amounts of money. Lebanon, the new Kurdistan and Jordan are friends and already swamped with refugees, but what they have to with the security of the American homeland is not immediately apparent.
ISIS is theoretically a threat to Israeli security, but the opinion of the American Congress notwithstanding, Israel is not the United States and to my mind is an ally of questionable value. She also has perhaps the strongest military in the region and is clearly willing to employ it, regardless of civilian casualties inflicted on the Arab populations. The Israelis in fact seem disinterested, knowing that Washington cannot call upon them because of the bad publicity, and Tel Aviv had never shown much concern over Muslims killing one another. As Prime Minister Netanyahu just demonstrated in a speech to the UN, they have their own interests, Iran and Hamas. The possibility that Iran might obtain a nuclear weapon and then be so inconceivably stupid as to use it on Israel was clearly a much bigger concern for Bibi. And while Hamas, an organization midwifed by Israeli security services, is a loathsome group, comparing them to ISIS as he did is like comparing a Brown Bess musket to a Kalashnikov.
Of course Washington has not claimed that we risk seeing an ISIS expeditionary force landing on American shores; the threat is the export of jihadists from the so-called Caliphate, trained terrorists who will kill Americans. There is no denying this, but unless they are able to kill large numbers of citizens this would appear a rather expansive definition of “national security.” Domestic security in the wake of 9/11 is such that it is now extremely unlikely that any attack even remotely close to that scale could take place, and in any case if the deaths of thousands of Americans is a national security question, we have far more compelling issues. According to the FBI, in a five year period – 2008 to 2012 – 45,105 Americans were murdered with firearms, yet the government seems disinclined to take any real action on this issue. In the same period 52,793 Americans died from drunk driving, but this is never mentioned as a threat to national security. Apparently it only counts if some foreign ideology is involved.
One would suppose that the people who are directly threatened by ISIS, the Turks and sundry Arab states, would be the ones most concerned about stopping these sociopaths, but ancient tribal hostilities prevent that. Turkey – or at least Recep Erdoğan – would like to see ISIS destroy the Kurds, even though the jihadists are the greater danger and new oil-rich Kurdistan offers an unprecedented opportunity for cooperation. The Gulf states, medieval kingdoms with 21st century weaponry, are reluctant to attack fellow Sunnis, who are in fact attacking the Alawites (a Shia group) in Damascus, and are afraid of Shiite and non-Arab Iran. Iran, which has no qualms about killing ISIS Sunnis, is reluctant to cooperate with the Gulf states and especially the United States. The government in Baghdad seems more interested in maintaining its sectarian-based political power than protecting their rump state, which actually makes them more like the American Congress than their medieval friends.
Well, ISIS may not be a threat to American national security, but for once my government is bombing people who seriously need killing. The Taliban are medieval creeps and al-Qaeda are anti-American jerks, but ISIS is truly evil and an offense to civilization.