If you were to discover a melanoma on your forearm, would you take a pen-knife to your arm and try to extract it? After all, you do need to get rid of the cancer, kill the cancer cells, every last one of them, right? Such an approach is preposterous, yet somehow, when the threat emanates from Baghdadi gangsters, such thinking is called "wisdom." The reason the former example is preposterous is that when it comes to dealing with cancer, there is such a thing as expertise.
Thus, when presented with a melanoma, one would see an oncologist. Similarly, to rein in the threat from triumphalist Islam, there is such a thing as expertise, and to be successful, we would need to take counsel from those with such expertise. Stating this does not mean that any particular political philosophy or any approach has a monopoly on it or that non-experts should not weigh in. Indeed, both Jack Keane and Andrew Bacevich could be considered experts despite having diametrically opposed approaches.
With an eye towards listening to experts, Brig. Gen. Huba Wass de Czege (ret.) has an article at Small Wars Journal on defeating the Baghdadi Gang. A select distillation of Gen. Wass de Czege's points:
- Don't promote their propaganda. Part of their propaganda is their name: "Islamic" advertises that joining them would be an expression of piety for any Muslim and "State" advertises that they have a rightful place among the nations. As such, we should not call them what they call themselves. Rather, we should ascribe a name to them that advertises that they are just common gangsters, albeit uncommonly deadly common gangsters, hence the designation Baghdadi Gang (BG).
- The goal should be to destroy BG's governing structure, bring its operatives to justice, leave behind an extremist-resistant indigenous force capable of bringing order to where BG currently reigns, and establish a precedent for responding to similar threats in the future.
- Shutting down BG's recruitment efforts and financing are as critical as physically hindering their operatives in Raqaa.
- An important lesson from the Afghanistan War is that while the Taliban were expelled from Kabul, they never lost their legitimacy, particularly among the Pashtuns. This continued hold on legitimacy allowed them to continue the fight.
- One characteristic of war is that when the fighting stops, prior participation in the war is not in and of itself a crime, though it is possible to actions committed while fighting to be crimes. In contrast, fighting on the side of BG is in and of itself a crime. Thus there is a difference between the campaign against BG and war. We should further refrain from promoting BG's propaganda that they engaged in a "holy" war.
- Four lines of effort are required against BG. These are 1) Building an alternative to rule the areas currently ruled by BG that the locals will consider legitimate. 2) Defend the occupied population from BG's armed propaganda. 3) Destroy BG in place with a combined NATO and Sunni Arab force. 4) Build a globally legitimate judicial process to prosecute BG criminals. All four lines are critical.
- Legitimacy is granted from below, not imposed from above. The occupied population will initially welcome those overthrowing the tyrants as liberators, but will quickly turn on the "liberators" if the liberators do not quickly demonstrate that they are better than what came before. The experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate this.
- Destroying BG should start with occupying the rural areas. This would give us the ability to deny them freedom of movement and lines of communication without getting involved in urban fighting and the resulting non-combatant casualties. During the occupation of the rural areas, the civilian population of the BG-occupied cities would have the opportunity to flee BG-occupation, reducing the civilian presence for when the urban stage of fighting begins thus giving allied forces a freer hand to operate.