Human beings are incredibly good at recognizing patterns. It is an amazing skill, both practically and creatively. But it can get us into trouble, too. And it is doing that now.
We observe ISIS’s horrific behavior and we see a pattern: A terrorist group bent on destroying our way of life. This pattern lends itself to certain assumptions. We assume that its propaganda accurately states its true motivations. We assume that anyone who supports ISIS must agree with all it says. These assumptions imply a purely military solution: Destroy the evildoers, wherever they are.
I’ll open my first contribution with a confession: I chose a deliberately provocative title. Though of course I did this to draw attention, the statement is nevertheless true.
Before delving into why, let’s ask an easier question: Why is the title provocative? In other words, why would we expect military force to work in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency? The reason, I believe, is that in both terrorism and insurgency there are armed, organized people trying to kill us. This recalls war, and anything short of a show of military force in war smacks of appeasement. Even if a settlement is sought, force acts as a signal of strength. And without force, an enemy comparable to us in strength can run right over us.