The Anti-ISIS Campaign: Beware the Seeds of Escalation
The emerging military campaign against ISIS will not become another World War I or Vietnam War, but all of the above factors are seeds of escalation of that campaign, possibly to levels well above what either the Obama administration or its more hawkish critics are talking about. Some of the factors are already quite evidently in play. The absolutist vocabulary about being at war and having to win the war is very prevalent. The president already has been pushed by the political and rhetorical forces this vocabulary represents toward greater use of military force than he otherwise would have preferred. The dynamic of each side in the armed conflict escalating in response to the other side's escalation also has already begun. A major stimulant for the American public's alarmist and militant attitude toward ISIS was the group's intentionally provocative videotaped killings—which the group described as retaliation for U.S. military strikes against it.
The military's operational requirements are also starting to come into play as a mechanism of escalation, as we hear military experts telling us how air and ground operations really are inseparable, and how effective air strikes depend on reliable spotters on the ground. There also will no doubt be decision points ahead about whether a little more use of force will do the job, as the United States pursues the impossible to accomplish declared objective of “destroying” ISIS. Finally, the potential for mission creep is substantial, with unanswered questions about what will follow in the countries in conflict even if ISIS could be “destroyed.” Perhaps the most glaring such question is in Syria, where, given the anathema toward dealing with the Assad regime, it remains unclear what would fill any vacuum left by a destroyed ISIS—and what the United States can, should, or will do about it. The much-discussed "moderate" forces are far from constituting a credible answer to that question
There is significant danger of the campaign against ISIS and the costs it incurs getting far, far out of proportion to any threat the group poses to U.S. interests.
Image: U.S. Army Flickr.