With apologies to Oscar Hammerstein, “How do you solve a problem like ISIS?”

That is not an easy question to answer. A popular suggestion is akin to the militant cry often expressed in identical or similar terms, “Bomb ’em back to the Stone Age!” The difficulty with that position vis a vis ISIS is that there is a salient argument that the organization has never really left the Stone Age.

But strategic and tactical and practical solutions cannot exist without an understanding of what…precisely…ISIS is. (And please do not invoke the common pro athlete’s cop out, “It ISIS what it is”)

I’m not really sure I trust the government…ours or any other nation’s…to determine and act on this forthrightly. To do so would be to delve into self-interest, self-righteousness, and self-delusion.

On the other hand we have many honest, hard-working journalists with apparently vast amounts of time on their hands. If they did not we would not have witnessed a plethora and effusion of stories about Brian Williams’s war lies, and now Bill O’Reilly’s emulation of Williams which, curiously, took place much more than a decade prior to the foggy mind of war Williams experienced in Iraq.

Just today I have read a friend’s praise for a well-researched essay in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood which, beneath the story’s title, What  ISIS Really Wants, summarizes Wood’s findings as “The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.”

That immediately called to mind a headline I had read on Salon titled “The Atlantic’s Big Muslim Lie: What Muslims Really Believe About ISIS”. Obviously a negative critique of Wood’s work, it was written by American Muslim scholar and frequent contributor to many media outlets, Haroon Moghul. (For more background on him visit this:

Moghul attacks Wood for his over-reliance on learning what ISIS is  from ISIS members and supporters themselves.

Imagine a group of people who rape.  Enslave.  Maim.  Murder.  Ethnically cleanse.  Extort.  Burn.  Behead.  But then imagine this—they don’t lie?  Can’t lie.  Won’t lie. That’s what Graeme Wood…really wants us to believe.

That a movement that has earned the world’s nearly universal opprobrium for its grotesque violence and wickedness is nevertheless honest in describing why it does what it does.  I beg to differ.  The only Muslims who think ISIS represents Islam, or even Muslims, are ISIS themselves.

But is Moghul’s piece in any way definitive?

Well, the common response to perceived Islamaphobia is to deny that it is a hateful violent religion but is at heart a peaceful one, and that the Jihadists are outliers.

Then along comes President Barack Obama, at the National Prayer Breakfast, making note of the overall peacefulness of Islam, with very notable exceptions. In that manner Obama likened it to Christianity while highlighting that faith’s iown violent past both distant—the Crusades and the Inquisition—and more recently in America supporting slavery, Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan. All that in stressing that his approach to ISIS, among other issues, is that we are fighting extremists and their religious background is of relative unimportance.

“But not so fast there, Mr. President”, Jeffrey Tayler seems to be saying in his criticism of Obama’s speech, very different from the other criticism Obama generated.

The chief impetus for all this bloodshed and mayhem is, obviously, religion – the commonality Obama conveniently skirted. Had religion not existed, had it waned by our time, all this violence would just not have happened. If some of these people would have found other reasons to fight, the religious aspect of the conflicts renders them intractable, even insoluble.

and adds later regarding Christianity

Straightaway, remember that both the Old Testament and the New sanction and even sanctify slavery, as well as proffer helpful advice to slave masters. The Catholic Church embarked on the Holy Inquisition not to do inexplicable violence “in the name of Christ,” but to rid its “flock” of unclean “sheep” – most notably “secret Muslims” and Jews, heretics and witches.

And, of course, for the “lighter side” of attacks on Islam as a religion per se, we always have Bill Maher.

Are any of these opinions 100% correct? Is there any sense attempting to make religious sense of ISIS?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

This piece appeared in Slate recently

Here Joshua Keating posits that the funding mechanisms for ISIS have been interrupted severely enough that it may possibly collapse or implode of its own accord before the United States or any other power can dispose of it through force.

I posted that story on Facebook together with my own brief commentary.

ISIS is not another terrorist group a la Al Qaeda. It is not really a terrorist group at all but instead a form of rebel army with territorial aspirations seeking to establish its status as a true Caliphate. It mirrors the regular tactics of war while occasionally committing horrific acts of intimidation akin to the terrorism we know and hate. You know, like the KKK and Timothy McVeigh.
But that also makes it more vulnerable to traditional military opposition than have been Al Qaeda and other known terrorist organizations. If indeed its funding mechanisms have been interrupted, perhaps irreparably so, then the utterly misguided idealists flocking to join the “cause” from many corners of the Earth are going to be rapidly disillusioned when they learn they have left the comforts of home for near starvation and only a hole in the desert, not a pot, to piss in.

I’ll reconsider my remarks to this extent. I am not in total agreement with any of the assessments above regarding Islam as irredeemably violent or simply a peaceful ideology perverted beyond reason.

Rather I would offer this.

There are evil people in this world, some of whom only demonstrate those tendencies in a small way…one-on-one murders, spousal abuse, and certain professional sports come instantly to mind. Each of them has a distorted rationale as justification for their actions.

But those with more grandiose ambitions of achieving glory through mass annihilation or war often are not creative enough to develop these more mundane rationales and so revert to the teachings that were inherent in their upbringing or were fervently adopted at more mature stages of their lives, and those teachings are religious in nature.

Yet, in the end, evil is evil and ultimately is due to greed. Whether that greed manifests as financial, territorial, sexual, or religious is irrelevant as to determining motivation. It is relevant as to determining counter-measures.

In applying these counter-measures we must caution ourselves not to become who we deem evil. That has frequently not been too easy for us to accomplish.


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    • Devildog  On February 22, 2015 at 5:22 PM

      Thanks for linking all these Salon analyses. But, to answer your (easy to answer) question, “how do you solve a problem like ISIS”, the answer is you kill them, then you kill more of them, then you kill the few remaining who have neither fled back to their tepees nor been already killed. It’s been done before, successfully, with guerrilas having various reasons for being and can be done again.

      How to kill and by whom can be discussed.

      • umoc193  On February 23, 2015 at 10:34 PM

        I presented the Salon…and Slate…analyses because they were not of a mind or at least examined different aspects of ISIS and seemed, at times, in conflict with each other. Thus my title.

        It is easy to find other pieces that express still other views and, of course, those that take an absolutely militant approach.

        If you have any you believe to be apt by all means share them.

  • toadsly  On February 22, 2015 at 11:38 PM

    A well-researched, intelligent and engaging post…as usual. Let’s hope ISIS AND al-Qaeda don’t resolve their differences and join forces. And, when the Islamic State is destroyed, a void must be avoided so something similar doesn’t fill it.

    • Devildog  On February 23, 2015 at 12:40 AM

      “When the Islamic State is destroyed”? I thought the question on the table is how do you solve the problem; that is, HOW do you destroy it.

    • umoc193  On February 23, 2015 at 10:28 PM

      Let me throw out this statement for consideration

      ISIS depends on manpower. Al Qaeda depends on dedication.

  • Tourist  On February 23, 2015 at 1:09 AM

    Devildog, you say the answer to a problem like ISIS is easy: Kill them. You say how and by whom can be discussed. That suggests it may not be so easy after all. You should also know by now that I agree with you.

    UMOC, you seem to be evolving. In your final paragraph you refer to counter-measures to evil, which I take to mean there may (permissive) be some, whether the evil is a threat to us or not. (I see that Toadsly reads it that way, too.) You then warn that we must guard against becoming evil in the process. Of course. Then we may kill them.

    You also say evil “ultimately is due to greed.” I’m not sure where that comes from, other than a stretched interpretation of greed. Then: “Whether that greed manifests as financial, territorial, sexual, or religious is irrelevant as to determining motivation.” Motivation for greed, or motivation for (acting) evil? I cannot tell. Either way, you say the manifestation is irrelevant to “determining” it. I’m sorry. What?

    “It is relevant as to determining counter-measures.” Yes, if “it” is the manifestation. The manifestation is relevant. The subject here is ISIS. The manifestation determines the counter-measure.

    I know it when I see it.


    The day Le Monde declared on its front page that “We Are All Americans,” bands and orchestras in cities around the world were playing the Star Spangled Banner for the very first time. When it became clear that we would be invading Afghanistan, nations large and small asked to be part of it. To be sure, on September 20 President Bush had told them: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Most of it was not that. Most of it was continued, true outrage.

    They knew it when they saw it.

    • Devildog  On February 23, 2015 at 1:39 AM

      Au contraire Tourist. I don’t know if it’s that easy but I believe it’s not that difficult. Less than a week ago, I had the honor and pleasure to talk with the Marine commanding officer of the battalion now in training to replace in September the batallion currently in Iraq. Their mission (the unit there now) is to train Iraqi forces but though they take rockets every day with the enemy being 10 miles away, they are not permitted to leave their base and destroy the enemy.

      They are there to train and defend. Two Marine batallions (with supporting tank companies which they are not permitted to have at this time) and close air support would help destroy ISIS. Not easy but not too difficult. It is not the military/industrial/security complex who wants to do this. It’s this Lt. Col. and the Marines he is training. Right from the horse’s mouth! What the hell is our policy with regard to ISIS!

    • umoc193  On February 23, 2015 at 8:35 PM

      I thought the “greed” paragraph was succinct but clear. Perhaps I was wrong.

      Yes, I stretch the definition of greed. But then again, maybe not.

      I look at greed in this sense as desiring something that you are willing to go to great lengths to gain it. If those lengths are evil…i.e. ISIS…then whatever the reason behind the evil it must be fought. However, what the group’s goal is may help determine the proper counter-measures. And not all those counter-measures may involve killing.

  • Tourist  On February 23, 2015 at 4:17 AM


    You: “. . . they [one Marine battalion in Iraq] take rockets every day with the enemy being 10 miles away, they are not permitted to leave their base and destroy the enemy.”

    +++ “Destroy?” Destroy the crews firing the rockets or destroy ISIS?

    “Two Marine batallions (with supporting tank companies which they are not permitted to have at this time) and close air support would help destroy ISIS.”

    +++ Yes, “help.” With a lot more help from a lot more friends. No one has a good handle on the number of ISIS *fighters* anywhere, except the CIA. The smallest estimate is 41,000 total. The largest is more than 230,000. The Syrians say 50,000 in Syria and 30,000 in Iraq, 80,000 total. The Russians say 70,000 between the two. The Kurds say the total is 200,000. The CIA, for Iraq, says 31,548. Let’s go with that one, keeping in mind it’s half a year old. (I made up the “48.”)

    +++ You’re sending in two battalions and support companies – what, 3,000? Remember at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War when the Redcoats were appalled that the Minuteman didn’t come out into the field, line up and fight fair? ISIS will be in defensive positions in towns at the least. Even counting each Marine as two, all else being equal, defense wins.

    +++ All else is not equal, of course. The offense has the technology. ISIS can be “destroyed” if we (whoever “we” turns out to be) decide civilians in unprecedented numbers are expendable. There it is.

    “Not easy but not too difficult. It is not the military/industrial/security complex who wants to do this. It’s this Lt. Col. and the Marines he is training.”

    +++ Oorah!

    +++ “Want to do this”? Want to destroy ISIS? Who does not at this point? All I would like, just every now and then, occasionally, once in a while, from you, from UMOC, from a single economic wingnut, is recognition that although the plan, the principle, the theory – the “answer” – may sound simple, the situations and the execution are not.

    • Devildog  On February 23, 2015 at 6:04 PM

      Tourist, Marines and local tribes liberated that area once and can do it again without too much difficulty if given the opportunity. Why they have to do it again is open to debate-my opinion is that notwithstanding the SoFA, it is because Obama wanted our forces out of there prematurely.

      I think the strength of ISIS is exaggerated and that when punched in the mouth, some will die and some will flee to Syria (what to do there I don’t know).

      Who wants to destroy ISIS? Everyone, including Obama. However, some know what is required and will do it while others either don’t know or won’t do it. The answer, I believe, is more simple for Iraq than for Syria. Execution is never simple, however; anywhere, any time, any situation.

  • Tourist  On February 23, 2015 at 8:12 PM

    Devildog, no one is disputing that Marines win battles. Destroying ISIS is a different question. You say you think the strength of ISIS is exaggerated. At what level of estimate – 200,000 or 80,000 or 40,000?

    You: “[S]ome know what is required and will do it.” Me: “ISIS can be ‘destroyed’ if we . . . decide civilians in unprecedented numbers are expendable.”

    Are we talking about the same thing?

    • Devildog  On February 23, 2015 at 9:10 PM

      The ISIS number (to my way of thinking) is irrelevant. I must concede that I may be wrong but I think they are the JV. Whether they will have to go against the varsity or the JV trained by the varsity remains to be seen.

      Not talking about the same thing. I go back to the surge-I don’t think ISIS has the support of the people. I don’t think it would be anything like Shiite Fallujah or Ramadi. We will get a better idea if and when our JV tries to retake Mosul.

      Considering where you are, do you think there even exists the possibility of killing civilians in unprecedented numbers?

  • umoc193  On February 23, 2015 at 8:52 PM

    Here’s a look at the announcement of the pending attack on the ISIS stronghold of Mosul.

    • Devildog  On February 23, 2015 at 9:25 PM

      Thanks UMOC for the link. I didn’t think this guy knew what he was talking about so I checked him out. As far as I could tell, he is a “policy analyst” without a military background. Even in the same Army, there are undermanned, under armed and undertrained units units that will not perform as well as elite units. It’s apples and oranges so I have an open mind regarding Mosul. I think it will turn out ok because ISIS will not be defending home territory. They are the invaders!

      • umoc193  On February 23, 2015 at 10:25 PM

        Remember, I do not always post follow-up links because I agree with them. They are usually offered to stimulate further discussion. Sometimes I present my own comments on them, sometimes not.

        And you offer a very reasonable counterpoint to that article.

  • Tourist  On February 23, 2015 at 9:49 PM

    Devildog, re civilians: I get your point. I was talking about the approach we take more than the numbers, whether absolute or percentages of populations. But I don’t know. At this moment, ISIS controls Mosul. Half a million civilians have fled Mosul. More than a million remain. One city with, reportedly, 1,000 to 2,000 of the estimated 40,000 to 200,000 ISIS fighters we (me included) are talking about “destroying.” What’s it gonna take?

    From UMOC’s second-favorite movie, after “Animal House”:

    Special Agent Johnson: “What do you figure on breakage?”

    Special Agent Johnson (no relation): “I figure we take out all the terrorists,
    and lose 20 percent of the hostages – 25, tops.”

    Special Agent Johnson: “I can live with those numbers.”


    P.S. – What you said about ISIS not having the support of the people, and what you said to UMOC just now about not defending home territory, are both factors. I hope you’re right.

  • Little_Minx  On March 1, 2015 at 4:10 PM

    How come the US isn’t hacking ISIL’s online media presence into oblivion? Surely we have the ability.

    • Tourist  On March 1, 2015 at 6:43 PM

      I don’t know, Minx. Possibilities include (1) can’t; not as easy as it sounds; (2) could, but can’t do everything; not this moment’s priority; (3) don’t want to; (4) are, to the extent we’ve decided we want to.

      (5) mysterious ways:

      • Devildog  On March 1, 2015 at 7:06 PM

        I trust our government-totally! But it better not abridge anyone’s Constitutional rights-nor fairness or morality.

        • Tourist  On March 1, 2015 at 7:19 PM

          Why better it not? Or is this just more of your constructive testing?

          • Devildog  On March 1, 2015 at 7:24 PM

            Whatever! Replace “it better not” with “I hope it doesn’t”. I believe the Constitution, no matter how dire the circumstances, should be sacred even if doing so would make it a “suicide pact”.

            • Tourist  On March 1, 2015 at 7:25 PM

              Now we’re getting somewhere.

    • Tourist  On March 1, 2015 at 6:45 PM

      My bad. I included two links and it went into moderation. (UMOC, please kill the other one.)


      I don’t know, Minx. Possibilities include (1) can’t; not as easy as it sounds; (2) could, but can’t do everything; not this moment’s priority; (3) don’t want to; (4) are, to the extent we’ve decided we want to.

      (5) mysterious ways:

    • Little_Minx  On March 1, 2015 at 11:43 PM

      Or perhaps the US and its allies are letting those websites keep running in order to track down as many ISIL leaders as possible, in hopes it’ll lead to the big fish — sorry re the mixed metaphor, but it’s late 😉 After all, it’s not as though those folks are standing around wearing black hats in public and saying “Bring it on.”

      • Little_Minx  On March 2, 2015 at 7:07 PM

        According to the evening news, Twitter has stopped some 2K ISIL related accounts. About time!

        • Little_Minx  On March 2, 2015 at 11:19 PM

          “Isis threatens Twitter employees over blocked accounts”:

          Monday 2 March 2015 04.58 EST Last modified on Monday 2 March 2015 10.34 EST

          Isis supporters have threatened Twitter employees, including co-founder Jack Dorsey specifically, with death over the social network’s practice of blocking accounts associated with the group.

          In an Arabic post uploaded to the image-sharing site, the group told Twitter that “your virtual war on us will cause a real war on you”. It warned that Jack Dorsey and Twitter employees have “become a target for the soldiers of the Caliphate and supporters scattered among your midst!”

          “You started this failed war … We told you from the beginning it’s not your war, but you didn’t get it and kept closing our accounts on Twitter, but we always come back. But when our lions come and take your breath, you will never come back to life.”

          Twitter’s terms of service explicitly ban “direct, specific threats of violence against others”, and the company has followed YouTube in proactively shutting down Isis-related Twitter accounts, with the aid of the UK’s counter-terrorism internet referral unit.

          When the company has identified a user as being associated with Isis, it moves aggressively to keep them off the social network. As the Guardian reported previously, “one account run by Rayat al-Tawheed, who speaks on behalf of mainly UK-origin pro-Isis fighters, had a replacement account taken down by Twitter within just a few minutes of its relaunch” in September, after sending just three non-offensive tweets.

          During a Lords’ committee hearing in July, Twitter’s Sinéad McSweeney said it had “in excess of 100 people” working 24/7 to examine reports to Twitter across a range of issues.

          A Twitter spokesman told Buzzfeed that “our security team is investigating the veracity of these threats with relevant law enforcement officials”.

  • Tourist  On March 3, 2015 at 4:18 AM

    For Minx: Today is Hina Matsuri (wiki it), literally Dolls’ Festival, more commonly Dolls’ Day, used to be Girls’ Day, the one that was not and still isn’t a holiday, whereas Boys’ Day, now Children’s Day, May 5, always was.

    • Devildog  On March 3, 2015 at 4:14 PM

      Just an excuse for you to get drunk on shirozake!

      • Tourist  On March 3, 2015 at 5:41 PM

        They all are. Google “toso wiki” for a short, strangely deficient article, in that it fails to explain that the o-toso tradition is first thing in the morning for the first three days of the year.

        • Devildog  On March 3, 2015 at 5:58 PM

          It should be drunk daily to flush away the previous day’s maladies. To drink it only on New Years to flush away the previous year’s maladies seems like a wasted opportunity!

          • Tourist  On March 3, 2015 at 6:15 PM

            Well, the first one flushes away New Year’s Eve.

    • Little_Minx  On March 3, 2015 at 11:07 PM

      Thanks, Tourist. To my considerable disappointment, Ch. 13.2 has discontinued the NHK news in Pittsburgh primetime, otherwise I assume we’d have seen something re this. Party hearty!

  • Tourist  On March 3, 2015 at 9:39 PM


    The link is to a Salon article. It doesn’t matter if you read it or not. What I thought you might appreciate is an extended discussion in the comments way down below. (Salon makes sure you see the click-bait.) They appear showing the newest comment first, by default. Click right there to make it oldest first. It begins with “kcwookie.”

    I’m not trying to provoke a discussion. At that level, I would have little to add. I enjoyed it as far as I went, though.

  • Little_Minx  On March 4, 2015 at 9:47 PM


    We were watching one of T.J. Lubinsky’s oldies compilations on Ch. 13 this evening, “My Yearbook: 1960-1964” (hosted by Bobby Vinton and a gal from the King Family) — and a bit after 65 minutes into the program they had B&W film of a young, very handsome Kyu Sakamoto singing “Sukiyaki” before a studio audience. Naturally I recalled the discussion of the song on “Reg on Wry” with UMOC and Tourist. No doubt this fund-raiser special will be re-run several more times over the next few weeks, so watch for it if you’re interested.

    • Little_Minx  On March 4, 2015 at 11:14 PM

      P.S. to Tourist: Are you able to view WQED-TV broadcasts on streaming video?

      • Little_Minx  On March 4, 2015 at 11:15 PM

        Or maybe it’s also on YouTube?

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