We Must Act Now to Thwart ISIS and Protect the Homeland
By Dr. Robert “Smitty” Smith, faculty at American Military University
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a major threat to the U.S. homeland. Our current response is to build a coalition. Vice President Biden stated: “We will follow them to the gates of hell.” Yet, Secretary of State John Kerry, has said that we will put no boots on the ground. This disconnect within the administration is just a continuation of American foreign policy for the last 20 years.
[Related: ISIS, Syria and Common Sense]
Let us start with Biden’s comments about following ISIS to the gates of hell. Do you think this worries those with a long-term vision? No, and it shouldn’t. The U.S. bailed in Iraq. Now it’s bailing in Afghanistan. We’ve stuck it out in only one place really—the Balkans—where they don’t kill us, they only kill each other, and it’s a good place to look responsible.
In his book, This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History, venerable historian TR Fehrbach imparted a lesson that no one in any of our recent administrations understands: to defend the homeland, you must fight and defend borders and frontiers. The Roman legions guarded the ramparts of the Roman Empire against the barbarians and threats to its peace and security.
If we have an empire, it’s an empire of ideas that are shared by much of the world. Yet, the frontier is porous, from our sieve-like borders to a policy drift reminiscent of France and Great Britain in the late 1930s—and we know what that end result was for civilization.
Defending the frontiers doesn’t always mean steel on target. It can mean partnering with other militaries to grow their capability, economic assistance, or concepts like George W. Bush’s African Aid initiative.
What we still fail to understand is that ISIS and groups like it really do want us dead. There’s really no way to accommodate them. The PLO, Hamas, and Hezbollah are moving into functioning prototype states. But ISIS beheads Westerners to send a chilling message. Is it that hard to grasp their intentions?
Instead, we use shock-and-awe thinking again, with a heavy dose of Special Operations Forces thrown in. Shock-and-awe failed in WWII and it failed in Vietnam. It failed in the Gulf War. It failed before Operation Enduring Freedom. But somehow we still hold onto the thinking that it can work.
I’m not in favor of sending anyone down-range into harm’s way unless we mean to stay the course. I have my own selfish reasons; my son is an infantryman and, if we are to send him into combat again, I want to know we really have a vision and long-term plan.
If you’re ISIS, you certainly aren’t shuddering in your Nikes or Reeboks. The West will pick on you for a while to show it means business before drifting yet again. ISIS knows the West has no stomach for confrontation. It has studied the lessons of the last five years, concluding that the West is, in Mao’s words, a “paper tiger.”
Russia invades Georgia. We do nothing. Syria allegedly steps over President Obama’s bright lines. Again—nothing, but words. Our inability to galvanize into action is a boon to those that seek to do harm to the United States.
The threat to the homeland has increased substantially and continues to do so daily. If that isn’t cause for concern, then I don’t know what is.
About the Author: LTC Robert G. Smith has served in the capacity of an armor officer, logistician, military intelligence and engineer officer. He is a graduate of the Armor Basic Course, the Armor Advanced Course, Command and General Staff College and Army Combined Arms Staff College and the Advanced Joint Professional Military Course in Joint Warfare.
After 9/11 he was recalled to active duty, serving as the lead Army military historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History for the attack on the Pentagon. He has subsequently served as the Vth Corps historian for the initial invasion of Iraq and in the Deputy Directorate of Special Operation (DDSO) on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While on the DDSO he wrote a highly classified study on SOF in the Global War on Terror. He was the CoS of the Army one man GWOT record collector, tasked to collect all the lost records. In three years he collected 7.5 TB of records. In addition, he served as the Deputy Command Historian at CENTCOM. He was appointed as a Kentucky Colonel by the Governor of Kentucky in 2010. He currently is in the Army Wounded Warrior Program.
Among his awards are the Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal and Combat Action Badge. He is currently a faculty member at American Military University, teaching courses in intelligence, national security and military science studies. He recently received the university’s 2014 Faculty Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award.