A day after the horrible events in Orlando, Americans are again finding themselves in the traumatic and painful wake of a domestic terrorist attack. Yesterday the President remarked that we would all find out more regarding the killer’s motives and intentions, but based on initial reporting we already know what to expect. A radical jihadist with familial ties to the Taliban, and explicit support from ISIL? Anyone living in the United States can finish that narrative. The Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, Umpqua College – the story is becoming all too familiar and all too frequent.
“Senseless” is a word already being utilized to describe the mass murder. It certainly feels that way, and from our Western perspective we struggle to imagine why anyone would ever do such an appalling thing. However, this event wasn’t random and it certainly wasn’t incidental. What occurred was a premeditated, purposeful act of hate originated and planned by a known enemy. The United States is at war with ISIL, and as Sunday’s events agonizingly showed, they are certainly at war with us.
This is the reality which Americans must accept – while our opponent may be Syrian-based, the war we are fighting against them knows no geographical bounds. ISIL’s social media propaganda solicits support from over 48 countries, and every year they bring in far more recruits than our military air strikes terminate. Domestically, the FBI is managing over 900 active investigations into ISIL-related activity, including at least one in every American state. For ISIL, this is total war.
The front lines to this struggle are not merely towns like Fallujah or Mosul. They are familiar cities like Orlando and Los Angeles. Popular nightclubs, sporting events, public transportation, universities, holiday festivals – all of these otherwise enjoyable and peaceful venues are now potential targets for attack. And worst of all, such attacks are being carried out by an enemy most Americans would otherwise never encounter or know much about. What, the mournful residents of Orlando must be asking, did we ever do to them?
It doesn’t help that in a war against ISIL, our government’s leaders rarely frame it as such. Not only should they be accurately portraying the enemy we face and preparing us for the threat, our leaders should be doing everything they can to empower the US military to fully exterminate ISIL. Right now they are not.
The truth is that America can do more, and we should be doing more. This sentiment has been frequently articulated by Republicans and the right, even to such extremes as former presidential candidate Ted Cruz claiming he would “carpet bomb ISIS to see if the sand glows.” Presumptive nominee Donald Trump has said much of the same, advocating both a freeze on immigration as well as the targeting of Syrian civilians to punish terrorists. But these aren’t strategies as much as they are tactics. Simply killing more ISIL members won’t defeat their ideology or stop radicalization, and barring immigration while spreading the violence to civilians will only serve to radicalize more of the 1.6 billion Muslims living in the world.
To actually root out ISIL, and to prevent events like Orlando from recurring, the United States needs a better and more comprehensive strategy. We need a thorough, nuanced, and expansive plan of action which will undermine the terrorist group’s support from the ground up. Such a strategy must incorporate an accurate understanding of existing players in the Middle East, recognition of the appeal that ISIL uses to solicit and maintain its widespread support, and bold initiatives which incorporate successful ventures from the past with new ideas for the future. Nothing less will eliminate the fierce and resilient enemy we face at home and abroad.
We owe our prayers, thoughts, and sympathy to the victims of Orlando and their families. Along with this, we owe them our very best efforts at enacting justice for what occurred. In the upcoming posts I will offer an outline of a military strategy which can accomplish precisely that.