President Obama is acting as if ISIS is terrorism as usual, slightly upgraded. Donald Trump is acting as if Muslims are the enemy, no exceptions. The reality is that with ISIS, we are no longer playing with fire, we are playing with dynamite. This is what Obama does not yet understand. The solution is to eliminate ISIS, not discriminate against Muslims. This is what Trump refuses to understand. We need to enlarge the framework to move beyond these polarities. I believe we need to go back to World War II for an historical challenge of the magnitude of ISIS.
ISIS is a level of evil equal to the Nazis. It has drunk of the same poison as the perpetrators of the Holocaust. This was demonstrated so poignantly in San Bernardino when a young couple, having just given birth, went out to slaughter scores of people just as innocent as their own newborn child. And this is celebrated as some form of distorted "martyrdom." ISIS is an evil that feeds into the darkness of Holocaust. As the world said then, we must say today: Never Again.
Even as the Nazis ignited a world war, so ISIS is waging world war. In Paris, it showed it can act with discipline and military skill in Europe. In San Bernardino, it showed it can inspire isolated individuals acting on their own to perpetuate mass slaughter of innocent lives in the U.S. It has taken down a Russian airplane, executed scores of nationalities, and its suicide bombers have taken lives in scores of cities around the Middle East and elsewhere. ISIS has now made mass murder a chic global brand through very skillfully orchestrated social media, complete with youtube videos on how to kill at mass levels, construct suicide vests, and make bombs. Their magazines, widely displayed by the national media, celebrate violence against civilians as an act of jihadist solidarity. Disenchanted youths worldwide are encouraged to join and fight from their hometowns. We are unleashing a virulent global virus that will attack us in our core.
Obama must rise above his defense of policies that are not working and declare war on ISIS like Roosevelt declared war on Hitler. Obama must declare ISIS for what it is -- an evil like the Nazis -- forge the alliance to stop it, and execute the plan with the full power and force of the U.S. military, including troops on the ground wherever necessary. ISIS, like the Nazis, must be eliminated. Nothing less than a WWII level response to ISIS will suffice to protect the world, or its infection will destroy much of what we are as a civilization, just like the Nazis would have done if left unchecked.
Compared to dealing with Hitler and a two-front war from Germany to Japan, ISIS is a much smaller, more manageable entity, although it has the advantage of being an extended global network. This will require extensive multi-national cooperation and very sophisticated precision and execution to overcome. But eliminating ISIS is not an insurmountable challenge.
The deeper challenge is to eradicate the toxic mixture out of which ISIS arose. The infection that created ISIS is not Islam, it is 70 years of war in the Middle East since the creation of Israel. This means that the ultimate weapon against ISIS cannot simply be for more war, but war and peace. To truly eradicate ISIS, the entire Middle Eastern region must transition from a war zone into a free trade zone with regional demilitarization in process as soon as possible. The Middle East must collectively shift state, much like Europe did after World War II when Europeans recognized that what they had just gone through was never to happen again. ISIS compels this just as powerfully today as the Holocaust did back then -- completely change, in a short period of time, how we basically relate with one another in a specific region of the world.
If peace and a new order could take hold in Europe after what they went through, it can happen in the Middle East today, after what the entire region has gone through. It just needs leadership, vision, and force of will, which is where the president of the United States can and must come in. In dealing with ISIS, the United States must lead the world in its annihilation and must also convene a real peace process in the Middle East, just like Roosevelt and Truman did in Europe with Stalin and Churchill after WWII. Fight the war. Lead the peace. So far, Obama is doing neither and thus war intensifies and peace dwindles.
After World War II, the immediate first step was dividing Germany into zones, securing European borders, and beginning the process that was to culminate in the European Union. Similarly, establishing the peace in the Middle East must begin with finalizing the map of this war torn region and creating one single free trade zone with regional security forces, all secured by the United States and Allies.
Finalizing the map in the Middle East must start with the most basic fact in the region: Israel. Israel has established a powerful state and must now be openly recognized by everyone everywhere as a legal and official fact. No more denial of Israel. The Holocaust happened. Israel happened. Period. As has been stated for many years by many people, this is the predicate for normal relations. What is necessary for Middle East peace is the proper framework to integrate the fact of Israel.
In my view, such a framework would look like this:
At the level of Israel and the Palestinians, the U.S. and allies must enforce an immediate freeze on any further provocations and convene emergency discussions by all parties on how to implement a two-, possibly three-state solution, each independent and within secure borders, and all participating in a regional security and economic zone. Israel, the PLO, and Hamas must all be compelled to come to the table, which is why the United States must be the lead actor and honest broker. No more saying one won't negotiate with terrorists. All parties have engaged in terrorism at one time or another. All must be at the table.
The strategic frame is of Gaza, Israel, and West Bank within a regional Security and Free Trade Zone with a pathway toward demilitarization and prosperity. The religious frame, so critical in this region, is that the Semitic tribes would have come together in the land of their ancestors and agreed to now prosper together in amity and mutual prosperity, both praying to the same God, as their father Abraham surely would have wished.
What is true for Israel is also true for Iraq. Iraq was established by Europeans without regard to natural regional distinctions in 1920. It now needs to return to its more natural ecology. This is part of the reason for the success of ISIS. It has established a caliphate within the lands they have conquered. ISIS must be eliminated but the land they occupy could be designated as a Sunni run state to balance the Shia currently comprising the Iraqi Government. Both Sunnis and Shiites need their own homelands, however those lines are drawn. The Kurds also need their own homeland within secure borders.
This means essentially that Iraq breaks up, something long overdue and something the U.S. and allies should now execute. The current configurations of Sunni, Kurds, and Shiite represent historic powers in the region, just as Israel, Gaza and the West Bank do along the eastern Mediterranean. A new Middle East could be built by simply settling the map and recognizing these facts on the ground as the foundational blocks. This is the best way to cut the Gordian Knot of war and bring peace to for the entire region.
There are related issues: Assad is now backed by Russia and Iran and will be kept in place by his allies whatever the rebels or the West thinks. This is another fact on the ground, which simply has to be recognized and accepted, no matter how unpalatable. History does not always go to the just. It goes more often to the strong. This leaves the contested areas, which can be put under temporary regional military control and/or UN jurisdiction. There are also urgent issues in Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, etc. but if the United States and the Allies would concentrate on the essential core issues, beginning with the existing legal and de facto states, the world and the region would find the answers to all the other issues over time, just as Europe has done.
The key strategic idea is to secure the map and simultaneously turn the entire region into a security and free trade zone. It can be done. Europe did it. The Israelis and the Arabs can now do it. Iraq can do it. Obama, Putin, the EU, and the UN can do it. The will to do so will arise when the West realizes, and indeed the entire Middle East, that in ISIS we are looking at a global re-emergence of Nazism and the civilized world must act as forcefully as the Allies did in 1939 to defeat it and then to construct the peace as creatively as they did in 1945. The challenge this time is to fight the war against ISIS and establish peace in the Middle East simultaneously. Only then will ISIS be defeated and the entire region put on a new basis of regional prosperity, the only way to secure the peace.
The strategic responsibility of the U.S. and its allies would be to ensure the plan's efficacy and normalize relations between the parties as soon as possible, giving everyone space to consolidate and cooperate. Regionally comprised forces would play peace keeping roles. No military forces from the U.S., Russia, or Europe would be permitted except to secure over-all regional security with regard to the rest of the world.
If President Obama took this vision to the people of the world -- eliminating ISIS while establishing regional peace -- he would receive significant support, for it would give the world security from escalating random mass slaughter and the major parties in the region currently holding territory would receive what they most deeply yearn for -- a durable peace in which they have a secure and recognized place.
I believe most progressives, deep down, and indeed most of the world, still hold that Obama is capable of this level of statesmanship. It is what attracted us to him. It is the reason he was given the Nobel Peace Prize as he was coming into office. He is in his final hours of supreme power. What more triumphant concluding act of leadership than for this president to exemplify the theme with which he won our hearts and gained the presidency -- the audacity of hope.