The Corner

National Security & Defense

In the War Against Jihadists, Think ‘Endurance’ Not ‘Endgame’

Donald Trump is continuing and expanding Barack Obama’s late-term expansion of the war against jihadists, and the New York Times is taking notice:

The United States launched more airstrikes in Yemen this month than during all of last year. In Syria, it has airlifted local forces to front-line positions and has been accused of killing civilians in airstrikes. In Iraq, American troops and aircraft are central in supporting an urban offensive in Mosul, where airstrikes killed scores of people on March 17.

Two months after the inauguration of President Trump, indications are mounting that the United States military is deepening its involvement in a string of complex wars in the Middle East that lack clear endgames.

Rather than representing any formal new Trump doctrine on military action, however, American officials say that what is happening is a shift in military decision-making that began under President Barack Obama. On display are some of the first indications of how complicated military operations are continuing under a president who has vowed to make the military “fight to win.”

There’s much more to say about all this, but I want to add a quick note about “endgames.” Wars end when all parties either decide to stop fighting or when so victory (exhaustion) is so complete that defeated combatants are unable to continue the fight. Let’s be blunt: There is no reasonable, plausible scenario under which jihadists will agree to stop fighting the United States or threatening our vital interests. There is no reasonable, plausible military strategy for defeating jihadists so comprehensively that the war ends entirely. Instead, we are left with a persistent enemy combined with a perpetual duty of self-defense. 

Thus, we need to orient our nation more towards endurance rather than provide false promises of “endgames.” Better strategy and superior tactics can suppress the jihadist threat and lead to periods of relative calm. Retreat or poor tactics can lead to periods of relative strife and facilitate jihadist growth (think of how ISIS ran wild when we created a power vacuum in Iraq.) But until jihadist theology is removed from the DNA of Islam, jihadists will always plague this world. So long as we remain the world’s most powerful non-Islamic state, they will view us as an enemy. We have no choice but to fight. 

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