In 2012, President Obama laid down his now-infamous “red line” speech against Bashar al-Assad, warning that the use of chemical weapons by Syria would result in “enormous consequences” from the United States – consequences that America proved both utterly unwilling and unable to follow through on when Assad inevitably used chemical weapons against rebel forces near Damascus in 2013, killing many hundreds of civilians, including over a hundred children. But when Assad decided to wantonly use chemical weapons again in 2017 there was a new President in the White House, and, 59 Tomahawk cruise missile strikes against Al Shayrat airbase later, the message was sent (“Don’t gas babies…”) and a former president’s red line was finally enforced by his successor (albeit about four years after the fact).
But it now seems that President Trump has laid down his own “red line” – this one against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). But unlike his predecessor, he seems willing to swiftly respond to provocation, as indicated by the dropping of a 21,000 pound bomb, the GBU-43/B, colloquially called the “Mother of All Bombs” or just MOAB (among the most powerful non-nuclear weapons in our arsenal) on an ISIS tunnel network in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan. This was done just days after an American Green Beret was killed by ISIS in the same region. This bomb strike killed scores of terrorists but no civilians and, after a week of fairly dramatic flip-flops by Trump, it cannot be denied that he followed through on at least one campaign promise regarding ISIS: namely, to “Bomb the shit out of them.”
Of course, the Right was wildly supportive of dropping 11 tons of awesome explosive force on the heads of some jihadis. And of course, some on the Left went absolutely apocalyptic over it, many in an embarassing fashion. But dealing with ISIS needs to go beyond social media sniping and petty partisanship (it should be noted even Hillary Clinton promised to get tougher on ISIS, including through increased aerial strikes). It really is worth remembering what it is that makes ISIS such a horrific threat and why pushing back against this nasty terrorist group isn’t only justified, but morally imperative.
ISIS was a breakaway al-Qaeda affiliate, strengthened itself in Syria, proved it belonged in the terrorism big leagues when it invaded Iraq, established a self-proclaimed caliphate, and quickly spread its tentacles all over the world through infiltration, recruitment, and social media. Because the list of appalling crimes against humanity committed by ISIS could fill books the size of an encyclopedia collection, a Cliffs Notes version must suffice: ISIS has actually resurrected crucifixion, using it against Christians, spies, “apostates”, and other victims. ISIS beheaded American journalists. ISIS attempted genocide against Christians and Yazidis within its sphere of influence. ISIS has enslaved thousands of women – especially Yazidis – and forced them into sex slavery. ISIS has murdered many thousands of people within its (thankfully now shrinking) caliphate. ISIS managed to set up franchises and affiliates worldwide in Yemen, Libya, & the Sinai, with even brutal groups like Boko Haram swearing their allegiance. ISIS has carried out spectacular terrorist attacks around the world, including the Pulse nightclub shooting, the San Bernardino massacre, the attacks in Nice, the Paris attacks, the Charlie Hebdo attack, the Brussels bombings, the Istanbul attack, the Westminster attack, the Stockholm truck attack, and the recent bombings of Coptic Christian churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday. ISIS is an organization with global jihadist ambition and, even as it is squeezed, with global reach as well. And just like the criminal use of chemical weapons is a red line, so too should global jihad, terrorism, attempted genocide, slavery, and crucifixion each be their own red line as well.
Foolish ideas about pushing the pause button on combating ISIS should be shrugged off as both dangerous & disingenuous. The threat posed by ISIS is immediate and serious, as the recent Palm Sunday attack and killing of our Green Beret should remind us. The President should step up American efforts against this terrorist organization while finally making sure our intelligence services get serious about recognizing and pushing back against its poisonous jihadist ideology. The President must make sure that the rules of engagement allow American soldiers to effectively engage with the enemy – something that will save American military limbs and lives. And, as long as we’re putting together a wish list, Congress needs to formally declare war against ISIS, to make it clear that the full force of the America’s government, America’s representatives, and indeed America’s people are united in this important struggle. ISIS and its affiliates are not just at war with America and her allies – they have shown that they are at war with all civilized people from every different faith – be it Christians, Jews, Yazidis, or even fellow Muslims.
This is a war between a civilized world and a radical jihadist network. This is a war that must be fought. This is a war that must be won. And this is one red line that must actually be enforced. So here’s hoping that the Commander-in-Chief who made a name for himself as a brilliant showman now understands that dropping a MOAB is just the opening scene and not the roll credits.