Do we really know our enemy in ISIS?
The primary school grasp of our 21st century world of war was shockingly revealed by knee-jerk reactions of the male presidential candidates to the last week's escalation of terrorism. Trump's war on refugees, Jeb's Islamophobia, Bernie's begging CNN to hold off on national security questions, Rubio's repeat of George W's fatal policy of crashing of another country's civil war -- all these are emotional outbursts.
Isn't that supposed to be women's weakness?
Hillary Clinton was the only candidate ready to respond in real time, and able to speak with a tone of Presidential authority, on how to fight this metastasizing monster. That's because she has what none of her competitors do - global experience and a steel trap over her emotions.
None of the other candidates was prepared to articulate a strategy for dealing with the primary threat - taking down the despotic leader of Syria, President Bashir al-Assad. And where are those those "moderate Syrian rebels" the White House always references as our fallback friends? Why don't they ever show up on our non-stop breaking news about the Paris attacks?
The remnants of those Syrian rebels who haven't already joined up with ISIS or the Nusra Front are right now fighting to hold off a fatal siege of Aleppo, Syria's largest city. They learned their bitter lesson much earlier in this five-year war: relying on the fantasy of America's promises to help arm them in the fight against President Assad is futile.
Every time Assad unloads a devastating barrel bomb on a school or a market or uses weaponized sarin gas to devastate a rebel-held neighborhood without leaving traceable evidence, he recruits more desperate Syrian moderates to ISIS. Assad is the despot who created the vacuum and invited in a mashup of terrorist groups that the diehard rebels have been fighting all along.
Another, even more poisonous layer, lies beneath the religious rhetoric of ISIS, and nobody is talking about it. The New York Times finally mentioned the name of Hajii Bakr, nicknamed "the Prince of Shadows." He became second in command to the current leader of the Islamic State, a Jordanian known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The Prince of Shadows was in charge of setting up Islamic State operations in Syria back in the early 2000's. He was killed in 2004.
But the Prince of Shadows left secret files which were published by Der Spiegel. They reveal that the organization, at the leadership level, was not driven by a manifesto of faith. It was actually a coldly calculating plan for an "Islamic Intelligence State" run like East Germany's notorious Stasi domestic intelligence agency. The "brothers," meaning recruits (and later, presumably, foreign fighters) would be married off to daughters of the most influential families in each town, to "ensure penetration of these families without their knowledge." Core tactics of this most successful terrorist army in recent history are, as Hajii Bakr wrote, "surveillance, murder and kidnapping."
How do we fight an infiltrated civilian population in Syria? It sounds eerily like the human minefield we faced in North Vietnam.
The first step is a White House that fully emerges from denial and uses every means - social media, diplomatic massage to build a coalition bolder than WWII, serious support for moderate Syrian rebels, if there are any left. This can't be America's fight alone, on that the American public shows in polls that they agree with Clinton. But we know what happened when we walked away from the Middle East, convinced that we had won the war in Iraq.
It's time for America to lead.