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ISIS is an interesting situation, in a terrible way, because on the surface there is no solution. Here's what the U.S. military is thinking:
We can't use a nuclear weapon for all the obvious reasons.
We can't invade and stay long enough for a permanent solution.
We can't use precision attacks because the bad guys hide.
We can't bomb stuff and walk away.
We can't attack with an army and get a meaningful surrender.
And...you can't ignore the situation because ISIS has announced that it plans to come after us. And in this regard they are credible.
Are there any options that I left out?
In my novel The Religion War
, the sequel to God's Debris
, I imagined an ISIS-like group forming a caliphate and using drone technology to strike targets around the world. That future is fast approaching; the news says ISIS is already using drones in the battlefield and they have vowed to attack foreign targets. In the book, the governments of the world were in exactly the no-win situation we have now. So what did they do?
In The Religion War
, the first step involved shutting down all communication going into or out of the Caliphate. The border was surrounded and sealed. All cell phones were disabled. All news crews were expelled. In order for phase two of the plan to work, the rest of the world needed to be kept in the dark. That's because phase two involved methodically killing every man, woman, and child in the caliphate.
I don't recommend that plan. But if we are being serious adults, you have to put it on the table. The world is nowhere near the point where such a thing could be seriously considered, but we are heading toward that point quickly and I haven't heard a better plan.
So allow me to suggest a new idea. I call it the Filter Fence.
Instead of finding and killing the bad guys among the innocent population, the invading army first conquers and controls a sparsely populated part of the caliphate that also has good natural resources. Within those protected borders the allied governments of the world would build homes, schools, utilities and all the good stuff. It would be like a little civilized paradise on the border of the evil caliphate. And let's say it is governed by one of the friendlier Islamic countries at least temporarily.
The next step involves attracting civilians to move to the protected area. You could get some folks to come voluntarily to escape ISIS. But ISIS would try to keep as many human shields as possible. Instead of fighting ISIS militarily, you gradually drain away their civilian cover. Every time our military captures some new ISIS territory it would depopulate it and move the innocents to the protected territory. It wouldn't take long before most of ISIS' resources are dedicated to keeping their civilians from scrambling to the protected territories.
At some point, and it might take ten years, the military would announce plans to kill everything left living in the caliphate. And it could do that just by sealing the borders and destroying the food supply. You wouldn't need to fire a bullet.
This plan is horrific, obviously. Lots of civilians would die trying to escape ISIS and many more would die while staying to support them. All I am suggesting is that if we want a better outcome someone needs to come up with a better plan. If you only have one option, you have to take it. And as far as I can tell the only other option is to someday surrender and join the caliphate after they get their nuclear weapons.
If you don't like that plan, here is another.
Suppose we just step back and let ISIS form its caliphate and consolidate power. The irony of a guerrilla army is that once it succeeds in its conquest it has to become something more like a standing army to maintain control. And as Saddam Hussein learned the hard way, it sucks to have an army that is nothing but target practice for the better army. This plan assumes that the worst fate for ISIS involves achieving their near term goals. The moment they become a standing government with government buildings and organized armies with barracks you have excellent targets. ISIS as currently formed would never surrender. But a government formed by ISIS, and infected by bureaucrats until it softened, could be capable of surrender. In other words, you let ISIS win its current battles because doing so makes them an easier target. It is easier to find and kill an elephant in the forest than an ant.
Those are the two plans I can imagine. Do you have one to add?
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com
Author of this book