The Right Way and the Wrong Way to Defeat ISIS

Purple Nation

November 24, 2015

SEXTUS: You can break a man's skull. You can arrest him. You can throw him into a dungeon. But how do you fight an idea?
MESALA: Sextus, you ask how to fight an idea. Well, I'll tell you how...with another idea!
--From the movie, "Ben Hur," 1959

There are two ways to defeat ISIS - one is to defeat them militarily. But that will never be sufficient. In addition, we and the rest of the civilized world must also win the battle of ideas.

On the military front, Secretary Hillary Clinton laid out a comprehensive and detailed approach in a speech last week before the Council on Foreign Relations and she made the international goal clear: "not to deter or contain...but to defeat and destroy ISIS...actually taking back more territory from ISIS." She emphasized that the fight must be led by Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds. "If we have learned anything from 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's that local people and nations have to secure their own communities."

She also supported an intensification of the air campaign by U.S. and international coalition partners, and agreed with President Obama that some U.S. advisors and intelligence resources were needed on the ground. And she declared, "Once and for all the Saudis, the Qataris and others need to stop their citizens from directly funding extremist organizations."

"Clinton offered a multilayered but coherent framework, not only dealing with ISIS but also putting that threat within the crosscutting conflicts that are inflaming the Middle East," wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks.

But Secretary Clinton also made it clear that this war cannot be won by military force alone. "We are in a contest of ideas against an ideology of hate and we have to win." Compare that to the Republican presidential candidates.

Donald Trump said that there needs to be some form of registration for only Syrian refugees and then lied and said that there were "thousands and thousands of people in Jersey City" where many Muslims live cheering when the Twin Towers went down on 9/11 (a flat out, 100% provable lie.)

Ben Carson said some Syrian refugees should be treated like "rabid dogs" and Muslims should not be allowed to serve as U.S. president.

And NJ Governor Chris Christie actually said - I am not making this up -- "I don't think orphans under five...should be admitted into the United States at this point...."

These comments are not the way to defeat the ISIS jihadists. They are more likely to evoke high fives from the ISIS propagandists to prove America is waging a 21st century version of the Crusades against Islam.

Secretary Clinton said: "Let's be clear though: Islam itself is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing to do whatsoever with terrorism." Similar words were spoken by President George W. Bush, six days after 9/11. "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam," he said. "That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war.

Of course we have to increase controls, vetting, and security measures for any Syrian refugee coming to the U.S. or anywhere else to be sure there are no hidden terrorists. But, as usual, Senator John McCain got it right when he rejected Senator Cruz's proposal to limit refugees to "Christians" and no Muslims.

"My faith is that all children are God's children."

In 1903, an excerpt from a poem written by Emma Lazarus was posted at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

These are the words that best exemplify America - our values, our commitment to tolerance and human decency and liberty...the core strategy to winning the war of ideas.

Maybe the GOP presidential candidates should follow President Bush's and Senator McCain's examples and then go to the Statue of Liberty and re-read these words.

# # #

Mr. Davis is a weekly columnist for The Hill newspaper, writing under the name, "Purple Nation." This column appears first and weekly in The Hill and the Hill.com.

Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is executive vice president of the strategic communications firm LEVICK. He is the author of the recently published book "Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life."