General John Allen wants to “destroy the Islamic State now.” So he says in an article for Defense One. Allen, a retired Marine Corps general who led troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, is currently a distinguished fellow at the Brookings Institution. But what is distinguishing him in this article is his crusader-speak, a remarkable blend of religious extremism and chauvinistic parochialism.
Let’s tackle the latter first. For Allen, the good people of Iraq are “poor” and “benighted.” But some of them can serve as our “boots on the ground” in the region, i.e. they can serve as bullet magnets while the U.S. provides air support with impunity. It’s up to the U.S. to “orchestrate” their attacks against the Islamic State. As long as they follow our conductor’s baton, all will end well, perhaps with a crescendo of U.S. bombs. (As an aside, he describes the Taliban in Afghanistan as “cavemen” when compared to the new enemy in Iraq. Some of those “cavemen” did fairly well against the former Soviet Union, did they not?)
My charge that the general’s language is that of “religious extremism” may itself appear extreme, but take a close look at his article. The general refers to the Islamic State as a “scourge” and an “abomination.” (I’ve read my Bible and recognize the religious resonances here.) They are “beyond the pale of humanity” and must be “eradicated” because they are engaged in “total war” aided by a “witch’s brew” of foreign recruits.
In sum, General Allen has demonized the enemy while at the same time diminishing potential allies (those “poor benighted” people in need of an American conductor). The answer is eradication, i.e. extermination of that enemy. Now!
Remind me again: Which side is engaged in religious war here?
As Richard Nixon used to say, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I’m not in any way defending the murderous extremism of the Islamic State. What I’m saying is that the best solution is not to return the favor (unless you’re truly seeking a crusade). I’m also suggesting that the general’s article is (unintentionally) indicative of a mindset that explains much about why American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have failed.