How are we going to fight this war we’re already in?

Whether this time or only after another time, we have to realize we're already in the war. (Dmitry Kostyukov / The New York Times)

Whether this time or only after another time, we have to realize we’re already in the war. (Dmitry Kostyukov / The New York Times)

There is only one question to ask about the U.S. response to the attacks in Paris: Are we going to wait until it happens here (again) to act like we are in a war with radical Islamists? I hope not, because we clearly are in one: the same war we have been fighting since 9/11 or even before.

I suspect history will not look back on the past decade and a half as a series of separate wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria — no more than we consider the Pacific, European and North African theaters in the 1940s to have been three wars, rather than three fronts in the Second World War. For all the people who warn about this president or that one “getting us into World War III,” the fact is that we and our allies have been engaged in a world war of varying intensity against radical Islamists for well more than 14 years: from the first World Trade Center bombing to Khobar to Dar es Salaam and Nairobi to the USS Cole to 9/11 to Bali to Madrid to London to Mumbai to Fort Hood to Benghazi to Boston to Paris, with scores of attacks and thousands more dead along the way.

That is not, however, how we have treated this era. If we had, we would have fully recognized the folly of withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan when we did. Many of us, weary of the human and financial sacrifices our country had made, saw President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq as an inevitability that might be premature but which had to happen at some point. Our short-sightedness, and that of leaders who are supposed to take a longer view, directly opened the vacuum that has been filled by the Islamic State.

What Paris tells us, like 9/11 in its time, is that the war is not over, that radical Islamists are not content to commit murder “over there,” that we don’t limit our risk when we limit the intensity of our own maneuvers, that we face an adversary that does not play by the rules we have set for ourselves, that we can’t retreat from a war that repeatedly has found us, that our adversary doesn’t nurse some sort of legitimate grievance even as it justifies attacking Paris as “the capital of prostitution and obscenity.”

French President Francois Hollande said Friday night, as the attackers were still being confronted, that France would lead a “pitiless” or “merciless” war against the Islamic State. Such words sound jarring in the ears of a generation or two of Americans who believe the relatively low casualties of the first Gulf War and the air war over Kosovo set a standard by which we should measure all wars. Sadly, that is unrealistic. We tried to fight with measures of pity and mercy in Afghanistan and Iraq, putting our own soldiers at greater risk and spending untold amounts of money to rebuild cities even as war raged on nearby. Sadly, the wars that come to an end are the ones that are fought as Hollande described the one he intends to lead. The winning of hearts and minds comes afterward, and it is notable that our past adversaries in Germany, Italy, Japan and even Vietnam do not regard us as enemies, even though our wars with them in decades past were certainly pitiless and merciless in many ways.

So again, the question is whether we, and our leadership, will wait for another Paris, or another 9/11, before we act like we are in a war with radical Islamists. For they are at war with us, and there is no pity or mercy coming our way from Raqqa.

 

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69 comments
Starik
Starik

The truth of the matter is that the situation in Iraq was mismanaged from the start, by both the bush administration and the Obama administration. We are now in an intolerable situation that we can't fix through what we do well, which is to drop bombs.  Do we want to rebuild the military from a professional, but small force or do we want to build the larger force we clearly need?  Perhaps we can form an alliance with Putin, as we once did with Stalin?

TheRealJDW
TheRealJDW

"That is not, however, how we have treated this era. If we had, we would have fully recognized the folly of withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan when we did. "


The folly was not in withdrawing troops from Iraq it was in sending them in the first place.  We ignored the root of the issue in Afghanistan to create this problem for ourselves. The folly was fooling ourselves into invading Iraq to "finish Dad's war" all the while thinking those "liberated" would love us.


Point stop, we started something we did not bother to understand and had no intention of finishing. 

332-206
332-206

This column falls neatly after Veterans Day.

November 16: Chickenhawk Day.

lvg
lvg

How are we going to fight this war? How about for starters banning any encryption of phone calls on wireless phones. Thanks to Snowden and the Libertarian folks, phone calls of terrorists can no longer be easily monitored due to readily available anti-NSA apps. That's why twice the French were caught unprepared for attacks with no warnings. We are equally unprepared.

And the traitor sits in Moscow untouched.Lets hear from the Blame Obama folks on this.

sssinff
sssinff

" Our short-sightedness, and that of leaders who are supposed to take a longer view, directly opened the vacuum that has been filled by the Islamic State."


Are you talking about Bush here? Deposing Saddam created the vacuum that you speak of. I can't miss an opportunity to point out that this whole mess descends in a pretty direct line from the invasion of Iraq. And now the same people who tried to convince me that war in Iraq was necessary say the same thing about Syria, and "radical Islamists." Those people don't care about dying. You are fighting an idea. Help me to understand how you triumph under these conditions.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

This is completely illogical. Paris was attacked because they we're bombing ISIS, and the answer is that we never should have left Iraq? In a way, we never left. We just transitioned from controlling the entire country to fighting against ISIS.

The simple fact is that we are at war and have killed 20,000 ISIS fighters so far. The amount of bombs dropped versus Kosovo means nothing. There are probably 1/7th the fighters. We aren't generals or military planners. You don't know anything about that aside from what you heard on TV. Let them do their job.

As Paris goes, bad things happen and I'm truly saddened, but let's not pretend that we are completely innocent bystanders. We have killed them in droves, but we have a stomach for no casualties on our side. That's not how war works. They are allowed to hit back. We are winning and will win, and the implication that we haven't been trying hard enough is hogwash.

We are fighting the battle you wrote about already, but now whiny and scared because it led to some Westerners to die. Man up.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JFMcNamara "Paris was attacked because they we're bombing ISIS, and the answer is that we never should have left Iraq?"

Did ISIS exist while we were in Iraq? No. The whole region was calmer in 2008 than it is now. Agree or disagree with the 2003 invasion -- and I've said plenty of times before I disliked the idea at the time -- we had to make the best of the situation once it was done. 

"We are fighting the battle you wrote about already, but now whiny and scared because it led to some Westerners to die. Man up."

Thanks for my daily dose of peevishness from the comment thread. But do you really want to stick with that? That we're "fighting the battle (I) wrote about" in an effective way? That we should "let (the general and military planners) do their job," when there are reports that, like many presidents before him, Obama isn't letting them do that? Yes, we're in a war -- as was fully acknowledged in this post from the headline on down -- but we are not fighting it as if it's a real war with real stakes. We're fighting it as if it's a mild distraction from transforming society back home -- which, to this president, it seems to be. The time for pretending that's OK is over.

sssinff
sssinff

@Kyle_Wingfield


"Did ISIS exist while we were in Iraq? No. The whole region was calmer in 2008 than it is now. "


Seriously? How can you genuinely put this on Obama when there would be no need for troops in Iraq in 2008 if not for Bush's decision to go to war. The region was calmer in 2008. Yeah, it was all puppy dogs and moonbeams in 2008. Iraq didn't go down the toilet until Obama was inaugurated in 2009.


Riiiiight.....


The sense of revisionism from the Right is pretty sickening. No amount of rhetorical gymnastics will invalidate this point: if not for the war in Iraq, we wouldn't be in this mess.

TheRealJDW
TheRealJDW

@Kyle_Wingfield @JFMcNamara


"Did ISIS exist while we were in Iraq?"


Duhhhhhh of course not...ISIS was created in 2006 in the ruins of Iraq and Camp Bucca that we were nice enough to create for them...no Iraq invasion...no ISIS.



lvg
lvg

Also missing here is correct historical context. 


Radical Islam arose in 1979 after the heresy of an Arab state signing a peace accord with Israel. Iran was allied with Israel under the Shah and he was overthrown by the Ayatollahs who were radical Islamist leaders of the Shiites. They immediately targeted the US and Israel with terrorism. The GOP darling president coddled and pacified them even after they killed 247 Americans. Another GOP president handed them Iraq on a silver platter. They are allied with US against Al Queda and ISIL,  but cons hate the Iranians .


And then there are the Saudis who also had a revolution in 1979 with radical Wahabis gaining control They are continuously preaching radical Sunni Islam with hatred of the West as  part of their religion. And we all know what happened in 2001 due to the Bush dynasty permanently housing American troops there.We all know how they preach hatred of infidels in their mosques but cons won't disparage the Saudis, just the Iranians. They are allied and fighting with Al Queda in Yemen. Obama is the first US president since before WW II to defy the Saudis. Real no-no according to the Bush dynasty and the cons.


Problem is people like Kyle do not see the overall political and historical issues of US involvement in the Mideast.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@lvg : "We all know how they preach hatred of infidels in their mosques but cons won't disparage the Saudis, just the Iranians."

Plenty of Cons are critical of Saudi Arabia--See my post in Kyle's initial article about the Paris killings for proof.

"Problem is people like Kyle do not see the overall political and historical issues of US involvement in the Mideast."

And if you think publicly criticizing Saudi Arabia and losing one of our main sources of petroleum is a good idea, then your grasp of the overall economic issues of US involvement in the Middle East is a little shaky.  Our only hope there is quiet diplomacy.

lvg
lvg

@Bruno2 @lvg Saudis want us to to join them and Al queda in fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen . Should we do that quietly? Should we condemn them quietly for supporting radical Muslim hatred of infidels through Mosques here and elsewhere?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@lvg "Obama is the first US president since before WW II to defy the Saudis. Real no-no according to the Bush dynasty and the cons."

And how is that working out?

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@lvg There has been no revolution in Saudi Arabia.  And Palestinian terrorism was around before Iran was taken over by extremists.

Alberta
Alberta

It's too bad conservatives don't have a firm grasp of the facts, especially a journalist whose job is writing commentary in a newspaper.  Iraq troop withdrawal time table was negotiated by the Bush administration, and Iraq did not want US troops staying past that date.  


The only "shortsightedness" was W invading a country under false pretenses, and lying to us about it, thereby creating this vacuum.  


ISIS is the name given to an ambiguous group.  It can refer, at the same time, to the army fighting in Iraq and Syria AND a loose group of adherents in Europe and Africa.  Where do you think we should start, Kyle.  Would you and the other teafools support a tax increase to fund putting our troops in harms way?


BTW, on Thursday of last week ISIS killed 40 people in Beirut.  If Paris never happened, would you even be talking about this now?

Uncle-Billy
Uncle-Billy

@Kyle_Wingfield @Alberta Why did Bush negotiate an agreement to withdraw American troops in 2011? There must have been a reason.--Also, it was the invasion of Iraq in 2003 which lead to this mess. ISIS was born out of the dregs of that disastrous mistake.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Alberta And it's too bad blog commenters are determined to perpetuate half-truths such as this: "Iraq troop withdrawal time table was negotiated by the Bush administration, and Iraq did not want US troops staying past that date. "

The Bush administration and military brass said at the time that the next administration was expected  to negotiate an extension. And there has been much reporting, notably by Bob Woodward and in Leon Panetta's book, to call into question the Obama administration's effort to do that. 

By the way, language such as "teafools" and your opening line below ("Hey Einstein") are prime examples of why I required pre-approval of comments on my blog for more than a year before changing the policy yesterday, and I will not hesitate to ban commenters who insist on treating others that way. You have been warned.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Uncle-Billy "There must have been a reason."

Probably because it was the best a lame-duck president (it was signed after the 2008 election) could do, and he hoped a new president would use his leverage to do better.

Alberta
Alberta

@concernedoldtimer  Hey Einstein, during Obama's administration, more people have been killed in the US by mentally ill white Christian men with guns than by radical Muslims. 


Just last week 2 ISIS leaders were killed in a drone attack.


Instead of falling for the typical shoot-from-the-hip drivel from neoconservatives like Wingfield, try educating yourself.  Start by turning off Faux News.

lvg
lvg

Fleeing from terrorists after they killed 247 Marines who were on a peace mission and not active combatants started this deadly spiral of terrorists believing they can  intimidate the West.

RexHavoc
RexHavoc

This war has been raging for hundreds of years, not just since 2001.  The Imperial Islamists have pushed west just to be met by force and pushed back by dedicated people who wish to save their way of life.  That dedication seems to be lacking now.  We now bring them willingly into our own communities and will be surprised when they rise up against us.


RafeHollister
RafeHollister

If Bush 43 hadn't gone into Iraq under false pretenses.....and bent over to kiss the bin Laden family's @$$, we wouldn't be in this mess........


Yeah, right, tell that to Leon Klinghoffer's family and the passengers of the Achille Lauro or the families of the Marines killed in Beirut, or the folks killed in the first World Trade Center bombing, or the hostages held in Tehran, or the European families killed when Hannibal and his troops invaded Europe.  


This Muslim violence started prior to the crusades, which were launched to avenge the Muslim violence. 

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@RafeHollister Hannibal???  Do try to get your timelines straight!  Christianity didn't exist, let alone Islam when Hannibal took his elephants over the Pyrenees.

Brewmaster1960
Brewmaster1960

Kyle, I'm afraid you may already have your answer. Our current occupant of the White House says the horror in Paris is a "setback." Not surprising from a man who repeatedly says that Climate Change is our biggest threat. I know everyone is sleeping comfortably knowing he's committed to destroying the coal industry. Somehow, Isis retreat if the sea level falls a tenth of an inch.

JeffreyEav
JeffreyEav

Thanks for mentioning we are doing 1/7 of the air strikes we did in Kosovo. I'd start there.

HDB0329
HDB0329

"If we had, we would have fully recognized the folly of withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan when we did. Many of us, weary of the human and financial sacrifices our country had made, saw President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq as an inevitability that might be premature but which had to happen at some point.".....interesting in the the SOFA Agreement that was negotiated for troop WITHDRAWAL was negotiated by BUSH....and when the Obama Administration wanted to renegotiate and leave troops behind, the IRAQI PARLIAMENT said "NO".....


If Bush 43 hadn't gone into Iraq under false pretenses.....and bent over to kiss the bin Laden family's @$$, we wouldn't be in this mess........


Ask yourself this: How did the bin Laden family leave US airspace when it was shut down and the ONLY way to leave was under PRESIDENTIAL EDICT????

HDB0329
HDB0329

@LilBarryBailout @HDB0329 .....I AM grown up....and realize that when the nation was Bushwhacked, he released a bed of snakes that became ISIS!!

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LilBarryBailout One more time: These kinds of comments are the problem I was trying to solve with moderation, and I will ban people who are problems now that I've taken it off.

MargaretHolt
MargaretHolt

Yes, your title question is a good one "How?"  

MargaretHolt
MargaretHolt

So how would we act?  These are not "national wars"- Germany, Italy, Japan and Vietnam are all nations.  How do you act when you are in a war with people who do not have borders?  

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@MargaretHolt ISIS does have borders.  Look at those maps of the conflict in Iraq and Syria.  You need to exterminate them in their "borders" and work on them elsewhere.

332-206
332-206

As the 6,000+ ISIL airstrikes the President has ordered are now found wanting, we anticipate prompt Congressional action to specify the proper American course...

332-206
332-206

Ok. Really found wanting.

332-206
332-206

What parameters would you recommend, to support a potential 700% increase in ISIL targets?

332-206
332-206

Blame for what? You blame the President for what happened in Paris?

And you prefer President Obama's unilateral decisions on ISIL for the next 14 months?

Confronted with risks to Real Americans, you're good with your Party doing nothing with its Congressional majorities?

RexHavoc
RexHavoc

@332-206 It is hilarious that you chose to use ISIL.  You and the President may be the only two in the US who continue to do so.  

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@332-206

Blame for the Commander in Chief not doing his job.  You do know who the Commander in Chief is, don't you?  And of course you're familiar with how the government is organized in Our Constitution, right?

332-206
332-206

@LilBarryBailout @332-206

Pretty certain. American voters elect the Commander in Chief. 

And if they're satisfied with his performance, they re-elect him for another four years.


You're satisfied with the performance of the Republican Congress you elected, aren't you?

Bruno2
Bruno2

Kyle: "...that our adversary doesn’t nurse some sort of legitimate grievance."

I think this statement well highlights one of the main difference between liberal and conservative approaches to foreign policy.  While campaigning in 2008, Obama made a lot of political hay claiming that Bush was the primary trouble maker in the world, that our "friends" in the Middle East and around the world would love us if we just left them alone.  He even got a Nobel Peace Prize for his nice speeches.

Eight years later, I'm not feeling the love....  Nor was I expecting to, and not because a Democrat is the Commander in Chief.  No, it's because these various terror groups exist independently of our involvement or lack of involvement internationally.  As such, playing nice doesn't have much impact.

"The winning of hearts and minds comes afterward"

If at all.  Another critical difference in your comparison to our former WW2 foes is the composition of the populations in question.  Germany and Japan have extremely intelligent populations, who embrace modernity and inclusion in the modern world.  Not so true in the Middle East. The Iraqis had a chance at democracy, and basically rejected it in favor of sectarian favoritism based upon your religious affiliation.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@Bruno2

Easy:  Making speeches.

Difficult:  Building coalitions, defeating counterinsurgencies, freeing tens of millions of people and giving them democracy, as Our President Bush did before Obama turned victory into defeat.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Well said Kyle, we don't win wars that we don't fully commit to.  It is time we commit to this war, because we either kill these Islamists soldiers or they kill us.  You traced the war back to the first World Trade Center bombing, I would say it goes back to Tehran's seizure of the embassy and imprisonment of the hostages, or Beirut, or maybe even back to Jefferson's decision to take on the Barbary Pirates.  In all of these incidents it has been the Islamist extremists that provoke the actions.  They do not allow you to ignore their provocations as more provocations soon ensue.This faction of Islam sees capitulation and appeasement as weakness and an invitation to press on with the attack.


We either fight these people and defeat them or they are going to continue to attack and plague us for eternity.  Their interpretation of their holy obligation is to kill us, convert us, or dominate us.   Further capitulation, appeasement, excuse making, and cheek turning only buys us time and leaves the fight to our progeny and friends.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@RafeHollister In a "multi-cultural" world, we're supposed to accept that all cultures are "equal", yet I see little to like in the cultures of Muslim-dominated countries with their mistreatment of women and disregard for human rights in general.

As for tracing the roots of the current "Arab Spring", don't overlook the role that Nasser played in promoting Arab nationalism in the 1950s:


http://schoolworkhelper.net/nasser-egypt-and-arab-nationalism/