What To Do About ISIS

The United States is leading a solid coalition in a war of air power against ISIS in the Middle East.  Our nation, which is often slandered by people around the world, is nevertheless the one taking the lead there.  China is absent, as is Russia.  India also is nowhere to be seen.  Brazil?  Not present.  Germany and Japan are restrained by post WW II constitutions which limit their overseas military activities.  Other Western and, importantly, some Arab states are adding small contingents of jets and pilots but it is America which is doing the heavy lifting.  Again.  But as troublesome as air power can be, there will be no ultimate victory unless an effective ground force takes the battle into the teeth of ISIS.

Therein lies the rub.  The Kurds, who field an effective and cohesive ground military force, have a limited scope.  They are not going to extend their military reach far outside of traditional Kurdish lands.  The Turks have given no indication that they intend to have anything to do with the chaos below their southern border; to the contrary, they have gone so far as to prevent Kurds from crossing that border into Syria to defend Kurdish territory in that fractured state.  The Syrian government’s military forces have been inadequate to wrest control of territory away from ISIS and Iraq has no functioning military to speak of.  No other Arab state seems at all willing to commit ground forces into the fray, and so ISIS will absorb the punishment delivered from the sky but will not be defeated.

The upshot of all of this is that the defeat of ISIS will require the insertion of ground forces from somewhere outside of Syria or Iraq and probably outside of anywhere else in the Middle East as well, and I see no likelihood that such a ground force could come from anywhere other than the United States of America.  Cobbling together a ground force including countries other than only the U.S. would require the coalition-building capabilities of a George H. W. Bush, and it would be to the credit of President Obama if he could accomplish such a feat.  Whether the President has the skill or the stomach for such a policy is not at all certain.  ISIS will be calculating that he does not.

Over the years I have grown weary of the criticism that my country has endured over it’s various foreign policy initiatives.   I accept that we are not perfect and that policy, tactical and strategic mistakes have occurred, but the thrust has always been to right a wrong, in my opinion.  As a result of that constant criticism, from within this country as well as without, I have been tempted to say “To heck with it.  Let’s return all American military personnel to American soil and let the world do what the world wants to do, and when the next earthquake or genocide or gobbling up of a weak state by a strong one comes along say “Go ask the Russians for help.”

But I can’t do that.  Russia and China and India don’t care if Yazidi men are slaughtered and the women are made sexual slaves (the real war on women).  No skin off of their nose.  Maybe there is no skin off of my nose either, but I know that we have the ability to stop it, and if we do not use than ability then I believe that we are complicit in the wrong itself.  That makes me a reluctant interventionist.  What about you?  Do you care about the victims of ISIS?  Do you care enough to do anything about it?  Am I wrong to care?  We should have a conversation about this.  We are talking not about abstractions but the lives of very real people.  That should mean something to us.

A Murder Disease in America

The world has learned that one more crazy white guy has gone off of his rails and murdered multiple innocent people, this time in Santa Barbara, California.  Even more chilling than the body count of random people shot and stabbed or sliced to death is the lengthy manifesto that the killer left behind.  It seems that the most attractive women in his community were not interested in having sex with him (it is uncertain at this time if he ever asked) and for this he was going to seek his revenge and punish the world.  The manner in which he fantasized getting his revenge makes Voldemort look like a crossing guard. It is known that the murderer had Asperger syndrome and perhaps other mental and emotional issues and yet was still at large and able to purchase or in some other way acquire an impressive array of firearms.  This is meat enough for a book, but I will only scratch the surface of it all in one short post.

To begin with, what has happened to American society that has made these outbreaks of violence by disaffected white males so common?  Fifty years ago this sort of thing was unheard of.  I know because I was alive then and had never heard of it.  Then, forty eight years ago on August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman climbed into a bell tower on the campus of the University of Texas and methodically cut down anyone he could see with a rifle and a very good aim.  Since that time the pattern has been repeated over and over again, with ever more outrageous groups being targeted; high school kids, Amish school girls, elementary school kids, moviegoers and now attractive girls and their boyfriends and anyone else who got in the way.  Something has changed in America since before August 1 of 1966.  Our country was far from perfect then, and more citizens had a right to explode with anger at injustice then than now.  And yet such explosions did not occur.  Why?  And why now?

Mental illness plays a role in many of these tragic events.  The shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary, the one in Aurora Colorado, and now at Santa Barbara were clearly mentally ill.  I suspect that most if not all of the other shooters were clinically mentally ill too, but what of it?  There were plenty of mentally ill people before August 1 1966 and they didn’t pick up a weapon and start taking people out.  There are also multiple thousands of people suffering from mental illness today who have not the slightest intention of harming anyone, other than perhaps themselves.  Why are the mentally ill shooters walking up to and over the cliff now when before they did not?  I wonder if anyone is working on that?

The Santa Barbara shooter was particularly aggrieved because attractive women were ruining his life by not having sex with him. I hardly know where to start with that!  Clearly the shooter believed that he was entitled to have sex with attractive women, and this was not happening because attractive women are wicked and denied him sex with the especial intent to ruin his life.  I remember being in public school in the 1950’s and 60’s.  We had attractive girls back then too, although I look at pictures of the piled-up hair and other accessories now and cringe a little bit.  I and just about all of my friends were not athletes or ruggedly handsome or supremely self-confident, so we never had as much as a kiss or even a conversation with those attractive girls.  Nevertheless, none of us ever even spoke of any feelings of anger towards those girls or the popular boys to whom they were drawn.  It just didn’t even enter our minds.

So where did this sense of entitlement come from?  Why did our Santa Barbara shooter feel that he was being cheated because attractive women (and probably unattractive women as well) preferred to not allow him to masturbate into their bodies?  And if just one young woman would have agreed to enter into a physical relationship with him would he have been cured?  I don’t think so.  His sickness would certainly have driven her away from him and then caused him to kill her for running.  Our shooter appeared to have worshipped sex but really I think he worshipped himself, and sex was only a decoration on his short life of madness and death.

So what do we do about this?  What can we do?  I don’t know.  Maybe we should build more mental hospitals and get the more severely ill out of society.  Maybe we should ban handguns, but then men like our Santa Barbara killer would use knives and explosives.  Maybe we should encourage women to purchase and train in the use of handguns.  A murderer who does not know if a woman is armed or not is less likely to act if the odds are high that she is.  Maybe we are over saturated with sex and violence in all forms of entertainment.  Maybe some form of censorship is necessary to tone down our testosterone-drenched society, but then maybe that wouldn’t do any good at all and leave us with boring and insipid entertainment, although I believe that that proposition sells short the creative abilities of good writers.

I don’t know the answers to these questions.  I don’t even know if I have asked the right questions.  But I do know that our society is badly broken and we need to either ask hard questions and take chances, or shut up and let the carnage continue unabated while we wring our hands do nothing.  That seems a poor choice to me.