Hillary Clinton does not shrink or shriek in the face of ISIS. She is the only candidate ready to respond in real time, with Presidential authority, on how to fight a metastasizing monster. That’s because she has what none of her competition does – a vision. And yes, I know, that foolishly devalued credential– experience.
Trump’s childish threats, Jeb’s Islamophobia, Bernie’s begging CNN to hold off on national security questions, Rubio’s repeat of George W’s knee-jerk crashing of another country’s civil war — all these are emotional outbursts. (Isn’t that supposed to be women’s weakness?)
None of the other candidates was prepared to articulate a strategy for dealing with the primary threat – taking down Assad. You wonder why those “moderate Syrian rebels” the White House always references as our fallback friends why they never seem to show up on our tv sets?
The remnants of those Syrian rebels who haven’t already joined up with ISIS or the Nusra Front are right now fighting to hold off a fatal siege of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. They learned their bitter lesson much earlier in this five-year war: Relying on the fantasy of America’s promises to help arm them in the fight against President Assad is futile,
Hillary is living in the cold reality. She is properly dubious about any coalition with Russia, as long as Putin insists that Assad remain. As David Brooks points out, every time Assad drops a barrel bomb on a school or a market (or spreads Sarin gas in a rebel-held neighborhood) he recruits more desperate Syrian moderates to ISIS. HE is the despot that the diehard rebels have been fighting all along.
But there is another, even more poisonous layer, beneath the religious rhetoric of ISIS and its claims of a Caliphate that erases the borders of nation-states. The front page New York Times series on the rise of ISIS confirms what I have learned from a brave journalistic colleague, Anna Day. The 26-year-old freelancer has been risking her life to report for the last four years on America’s abandonment of the Syrian rebels battling President Assad. Now we learn that the White House didn’t want to know what its intelligence agencies were warning about as far back as 2012 — the rise of ISIS.
A report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency warned that the mounting chaos in Syria’s civil war was allowing Islamic militants to flourish. They could “declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.” Which is, of course, what they did in 2013.
“This particular report, this was one of those nobody wanted to see,” the Times was told by the general who ran the defense agency at the time.
I was startled to see in the Times report the name of Hajii Bakr, nicknamed “the Prince of Shadows.” He became second in command to the current leader of the Islamic State, a Jordanian of extreme personal violence known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Hajii Bakr was killed in 2004 while he was setting up Islamic State operations in Syria.
But the Prince of Shadows left secret files which were published by Der Spiegel. They revealed that the organization, at the leadership level, was not driven by a manifesto of faith. It was actually a coldly calculating plan for an “Islamic Intelligence State” run like East Germany’s notorious Stasi domestic intelligence agency. The “brothers,” meaning recruits (and later, presumably, foreign fighters) would be married off to daughters of the most influential families in each town, to “ensure penetration of these families without their knowledge.” Core tactics of this most successful terrorist army in recent history are, as Hajii Bakr wrote, were “surveillance, murder and kidnapping.”
How do we fight an infiltrated civilian population in Syria? It sounds eerily like the human minefield we faced in North Vietnam.
The first step is a White House that fully emerges from denial and uses every means – social media, and why not a revived Voice of America? Diplomatic massage to build a coalition bolder than WWII. Serious support for moderate Syrian rebels (if there are any left). This can’t be America’s fight alone, on that I totally agree with Clinton. But we know what happened when we walked away from the Middle East, convinced that we had won the war in Iraq.
It’s time for America to lead.