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Don't Bother Talking to ISIS

Jonathan Powell, formerly the chief of staff of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has done the impossible. He has written an article for The Guardian that is almost entirely correctly yet utterly wrong.

Bombing ISIS is not enough—we’ll need to talk to them too.

That’s his headline.

But he’s not a fraction as naïve as you might think. He gets pretty much everything right until he asserts that we’ll have to talk to ISIS eventually.

He’s not the kind of guy who thinks wars can be ended on the Dr. Phil show. He doesn’t believe diplomacy will ever convince a genocidal terrorist army that’s massacring innocent people on three continents to join the civilized mainstream.

He recognizes that bombing ISIS is necessary.

He also realizes destroying ISIS will require boots on the ground. But whose? Kurdish militias do very well in battle, but they’re neither equipped nor willing to conquer or liberate the vast swaths of Arab territory.

And Powell realizes that Iranian-backed Shia militias like Hezbollah are out of the question for entirely different reasons. Unlike the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, Iranian militias are themselves terrorist organizations.

Sunni militias in Syria, meanwhile, are mostly unwilling to fight ISIS until they first drag Bashar al-Assad out of his palace in Damascus.

So he thinks we’ll have no choice but to talk to ISIS at some point.

What on earth would we say?

Well, he acknowledges that we have nothing to say to each other right now, but he thinks we’ll eventually think of something once everyone realizes there is no military solution.

He’s wrong.

Look. It’s true that there is no viable military solution right now. The West could in theory send tens of thousands or even hundreds of ground troops to Syria and Iraq and smash the ISIS “caliphate” in short order, but it’s not going to happen for a very simple reason:

We don’t want to.

There is virtually zero appetite in the West right now to launch any kind of a rerun of the Iraq war. 

Another 9/11-style attack could change public opinion in an instant, of course. A series of Paris-style attacks in New York City or anywhere else in America might have the same effect over time. But in the meantime, we’re in a holding pattern.

The thing about holding patterns is that they’re temporary. At some point, something is going to change even if it takes a l-o-n-g time.

Perhaps Assad will be overthrown and Sunni wrath in Syria will shift from the capital and toward the deranged “caliphate” out in the desert. Perhaps the civilian population in ISIS-held territory will finally say enough and fight the bastards themselves. Maybe Russia will say eff it and go in there whole hog.

Maybe something totally unpredictable will happen. It’s the Middle East we’re talking about, after all.

Even if the holding pattern lasts years, we still won’t be able to resolve the ISIS problem by talking to ISIS because we’ll have no more to say at that time than we have today.

ISIS is a genocidal army. It murders Yezidis, Shia Muslims, Christians, Alawites and Westerners not because of anything they’ve done but because of who they are. There is no conceivable political solution to be had with these kinds of people. They will continue to kill until they are no longer able to kill.

That’s how it always is with genocidaires.

“It is important to understand that talking to terrorists is not the same as agreeing with them,” Powell writes. “The British would never have discussed a united Ireland at the barrel of a gun against the wishes of the majority in Northern Ireland. But when we sat down with the IRA, its leaders wanted to talk about legitimate subjects like power-sharing and human rights. The same will be true of Isis. No one is going to talk to them about a universal caliphate, but we can talk about Sunni grievances and a way of ending violence.”

ISIS is not the Irish Republican Army. It is not even Hezbollah. It has far more in common with the Nazis. And we didn't resolve the Nazi problem by talking.

The IRA was at least somewhat interested in human rights. Obviously ISIS is not. Nor are its leaders and fighters interested in “ending violence.”

Abu Bakr Naji, one of ISIS’s intellectual architects, made it abundantly clear what they’re interested in when he published The Management of Savagery. “Jihad,” he wrote, “is naught but violence, crudeness, terrorism, frightening [people], and massacring.”

That’s what ISIS wants. They're not even trying to hide it.

“I am not arguing that talking is an alternative to fighting,” Powell writes. “Unless there is military pressure the armed group will never be prepared to talk. But judging by history, fighting is unlikely to provide an answer by itself.”

History has proven over and over again that fighting can provide an answer all by itself. Not always. But sometimes. And sometimes there’s no other option.

The Nazi regime no longer exists. The Empire of Japan no longer exists. Moammar Qaddafi’s regime no longer exists. Saddam Hussein’s Arab Socialist Baath Party no longer exists. Thanks to Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1977, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge government no longer exists.

At some point—lord only know when—ISIS will no longer exist. And it won’t happen because anybody talked them out of existence.

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