The Right Way and Wrong Way to Defeat ISIS
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?
MESSALA: 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 the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria: One is to defeat it militarily — but that will never be sufficient. We and the rest of the civilized world must also win the battle of ideas.
On the military front, former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate 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." 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," she said, "it's that local people and nations have to secure their own communities."
Clinton also supported an intensification of the air campaign by U.S. and international coalition partners, and agreed with President Obama that some U.S. advisers 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."
As noted by New York Times columnist David Brooks, "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."
But 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," she argued.
Compare that to the Republican presidential candidates.
Last week, Donald Trump said that there needs to be some form of registration for only Syrian refugees. He then said that "thousands and thousands of people were cheering" in Jersey City, N.J., when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11 — a flat-out, 100 percent lie.
And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie actually said — I am not making this up — "I don't think [Syrian refugee] orphans under 5 ... should be admitted into the United States at this point."
These comments are not the way to defeat the ISIS jihadists. The comments are more likely to evoke high-fives from the ISIS propagandists, helping their misguided argument that America is waging a 21st-century version of the Crusades against Islam.
As 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, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) got it right when he rejected Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) proposal to limit refugees to Christians, and not Muslims. "My faith is that all children are God's children," McCain said.
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, human decency and liberty: the core strategy for winning the war of ideas.
Maybe the Republican presidential candidates should follow President George W. Bush's and Sen. McCain's examples and then go to the Statue of Liberty and reread these words.