A tragic war with no end in sight


Our revulsion at the Paris attacks and subsequent Isis violence was palpable, and our reaction almost universal. We want action.

But are we prepared to accept the difficult truth? The only answer to brute force by evil and depraved fanatics is brute force by the good guys—working with some of the not-so-good guys.

The French wasted no time launching counterstrikes against ISIS targets in retaliation for the brutal slaughter of 129 citizens at multiple Paris locations. At the same time, the Russians, once confirming their airliner was brought down by a terrorist bomb (ISIS took responsibility) have unleashed some heavy ordnance on targets in ISIS’ growing territory. There will be no shortage of payback for these outrages, and the ones sadly to come, and the U.S., under increasing pressure to take leadership, will keep up or increase its own strikes.

The burning question: Will it matter?

This is not a war over territory that can be easily won by controlling airspace, ports and resources and by depleting the other side’s troops. It’s a war against an ideology that almost effortlessly gains new recruits and sympathizers, not just people in bunkers in Iraq and Syria, but well-educated people in Europe, in peaceful Mideast states and even in the U.S., willing to give their lives in a conflict that we can barely understand, let alone contain.

There are those who believe we are playing right into Isis’s hands with our response. More bombings create more civilian casualties, and more angry orphans to join Isis. Our suspicion of and, on the part of some, hostility toward Muslim refugees in Europe and those trying to enter the U.S. also creates radicals. The Russians, always with an agenda of their own, stand to benefit from this too: The refugee problem boosts the fortunes of right-wing political parties in Europe more inclined to align themselves with Vladimir Putin, and less concerned about his subjugation of Ukraine.

If chaos is what Isis craves, it is meeting its own objectives handily. Despite the above concerns, we have no choice but to drop bombs, and no choice but to carefully scrutinize the refugees to weed out potential terrorists, despite the notion on the left that it is un-American not to quickly open our doors.

Leaving us with so few choices, Isis is outmaneuvering us.

But there’s one aspect of this no-choice conundrum that, as perplexing as it may be, could lead to the eventual defeat of Isis. They are gripped by a powerful delusional vision of what some call “volcanic jihad” that can establish a beachhead in the Middle East that spreads radicalized Islam around the world, and that vision affects everyone around them, creating the unlikeliest bedfellows.

Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Kurds, even Hezbollah in Beirut, Sunni tribes in Iraq and of course the Russians all have the same interest in excising this cancer, as do the U.S. and its NATO allies. Can they all join together in a workable coalition? Do we dare even work with Bashar Assad’s forces? Or is keeping him in power too bitter a bill to swallow?

It may be precisely because of the odds mounting against them that Isis operatives have struck or so many times in recent weeks—the Russian airline, Paris, Beirut—and may be planning new attacks in Brussels or the U.S.

According to a New York Times analysis, nearly 1,000 deaths have caused by Isis outside Iraq and Syria so far in 2015. A former CIA official told the paper the group is moving beyond inspiring “lone wolf” attacks by sympathizers, and now seems to have the ability to coordinate its own operatives.

It remains to be seen if this power could withstand the disruption of focused attacks by a coordinated coalition of enemies, which could break off communication from the stronghold in Raqqa, Syria, to its operatives abroad. Perhaps in the best case scenario, such force reverts Isis to inspiring the lone wolves again through brutal videotapes and fundamentalist rantings, and there will be fewer recruits if they see the cause losing steam rather than ascendant.

But if inciting a global, apocalyptic war is a key goal of Isis, uniting some of the most disparate powers can achieve exactly the opposite effect.

To achieve this coalition, western powers must step up their efforts to convince Arab powers to take an active role, not just cheerlead, meaning, troops and logistical support, including use of airspace and bases. It should not be the job of French or American troops to clean up their neighborhood for them. A key strategy for Isis is to rely heavily on fence-sitters to be scared into silence and inaction.

A 2004 manifesto written by the precursor group to Isis, entitled “The Management of Savagery,” as reported in a recent essay by Scott Atran and Nefess Hamid in the New York Review of Books, calls for followers to “diversify and widen the vexation strikes against the Crusader-Zionist enemy in every place in the Islamic world, and even outside if possible, so as to disperse the efforts of the alliance of the enemy...”

Divide and conquer is a time-proven strategy, and it has made Isis more powerful, but as the conflict grinds on, it may backfire as disparate enemies have no choice but to work together.

It may be a long, sad and often terrifying conflict, with no immediate end in sight, and the ideology behind ISIS will never be completely eliminated. But with the right amount of determination and unity a coalition could disrupt its leadership, disperse its elements, dissuade volunteers and, most importantly, save thousands of future innocent lives.

Eli Verschleiser is a financier, real estate developer, and investor in commercial real estate. He is a board member of the American Jewish Congress, co-founder of Magenu.org, and president for OurPlace, a non-profit organization that provides support, shelter, and counseling for troubled Jewish youth. Verschleiser is a frequent commentator on political and social services matters.


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