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Saturday, May 23, 2015


Walter Russell Mead Gets It Wrong

Writing in The American Interest, Mead compares two events:
This weekend saw U.S. Special Forces pull off a stunning raid, flying deep into Syrian territory in an attempt to capture a senior Islamic State leader called Abu Sayyaf. Sayyaf, a Tunisian citizen, was killed in the raid, but his wife was caught and the raid produced “a significant intelligence gain” according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Around the same time, however, the Islamic State made huge strides in Iraq by taking over the city of Ramadi, the largest city in Sunni al-Anbar province, only 68 miles west of Baghdad. ISIS boasted of seizing tanks and executing dozens of Iraqi soldiers and militants. The United States increased its bombing campaign around Ramadi as Shi’a militia began massing for an assault to retake the city.
He says this was A Tactical Success, A Strategic Failure.  But the Abu Sayyaf raid did not rise to the level of a "tactical success." In this war, the death of one man is strategically meaningless unless the death is that of the person creating the strategic loss.

Comparing the "stunning raid" to capture Abu Sayyaf (who was killed, not captured) to the loss of Ramadi is like comparing jaywalking to murder.  Yes, they are both against the law, but that is where the comparison ends.  

When I read reports of American Special Operations successes in the war on Islamic radicals I am reminded of  Otto Skorzeny.  For those who are not amateur historians, Skorzeny was in the Waffen SS during World War 2.  He participated in a number of high visibility raids.  The most famous was his rescue of Mussolini from his captors at Gran Sasso.  But the important thing to remember is that despite some brilliant raids by men like Skorzeny, Germany lost the war.  They lost because they lost ground and were finally overwhelmed. 

I have no doubt that the German press gave lots of coverage to the isolated successes of people like Skorzeny even as the Allies were over-running the Third Reich.  It may even have fooled some Germans into thinking they could win.  But it was just a sideshow and had no effect on the war.
The idea that an ideological/religious movement like ISIS and its offshoots can be defeated by killing the occasional leader here and “important person” there is delusional.  The Islamist movement is not a nation with a capital that can be captured … or a leader that can be killed.  Bin-Laden is dead but the ideology is more alive than ever and its adherents are slaughtering Christians by the seashore for the edification of its followers.  It’s not a movement of poor people that can be bought off with “things.”  It is creating chaos far beyond its immediate area of operations.  See the flight of thousands of refugees arriving not just in the Middle East but in Europe.

So what’s more frightening: That Team Obama believes what they’re doing is effective? Or that he does not?

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