Korner: Can the U.S. Defeat ISIS?
who let the dogs out :: woof, woof-woof, woof-WOOF


... well, General Mattis thinks we can.  Which is something like Bill James saying, "Sure, I think we can identify who belongs in the Hall of Fame."  It's a source worth considering.

A great question came up:  What can Trump do to defeat ISIS, that hasn't already been done?  My answer:  I'd give my generals 30 days to draft a plan to annihilate - not contain - ISIS.  There are still Nazis and drunk drivers, but it's not as cool any more.  :- )  Firm resolve is half the battle.

Trump's Executive Order on ISIS (delivered his second day in office) detailed that Secretary of State Mattis must deliver,


“(A) a comprehensive strategy and plans for the defeat of ISIS;

(B) recommended changes to any United States rules of engagement and other United States policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of international law regarding the use of force against ISIS;

(C) public diplomacy, information operations, and cyber strategies to isolate and delegitimize ISIS and its radical Islamist ideology;

(D) identification of new coalition partners in the fight against ISIS and policies to empower coalition partners to fight ISIS and its affiliates;

(E) mechanisms to cut off or seize ISIS’s financial support, including financial transfers, money laundering, oil revenue, human trafficking, sales of looted art and historical artifacts, and other revenue sources; and

(F) a detailed strategy to robustly fund the Plan.”


Point (B), for example ... if you ask a U.S. Servicemember what is the key to defeating ISIS, the first thing he'll say -- guaranteed -- is that he needs harder rules of engagement.  Hence the language of point (B) above.  U.S. Soldiers say again and again that their hands have been tied.  No swipe against previous years intended; it's just an illustration of the way that civilian (Presidential) attitudes can bring impactful changes to the way the military does business.

As we discussed in the other thread, there is also the question of engaging governments on non-military levels -- of supporting their good guys and discouraging their bad guys.  But Trump's EO spells out the fundamentals of what Mattis would do.

How effective will it be?  Good question.


It would make a good Konspiracy Korner to discuss each Executive Order, probably (though we don't want to wear people out).  The language of an EO can serve as a primer on an issue.






So a federal judge in Seattle blocked Trump's immigration EO, and this now applies to the whole nation.

What's the check and balance against this?  e.g. Obama's deportation protection EO in 2015 ... what if Republicans simply file suit in every circuit of the U.S. until a judge somewhere decides for his opponents?  Only takes one judge.  Why doesn't this happen to every EO on both sides?

And we know that Trump's high-power lawyers knew that a bunch of lawsuits would be filed, and that a judge somewhere could be found to block the EO.  What was their general plan for countering this?

Am totally lost.  Don't understand how this works --- > umpty-leven different federal judges any one of whom can cancel an EO, at least in the interim.

- Jeff


Nobody KNOWS for sure whether district courts can issue nationwide rulings and make them stick.  Not a great plan, Tony.

Also get the impression that "comity" (not Comey!) means that districts are nice to one another ... until they're not.  The "not" comes when the Constitution is on the line?

Alan Dershowitz disagrees vehemently with the immigration EO, but praised Trump highly for NOT arguing "well, the Boston court agreed with me" and instead appealing the Seattle court.  Dershowitz said that any pushback from the White House would have produced a true Constitutional crisis - with two of the three branches in a death struggle over power.


Washington AG Bob Ferguson is a tournament chess master from my era.  Knew him well.  I understand he put up about 20 exhibits arguing that Trump's "true motivation" was religious discrimination.  Seems to me that a court would prefer written motivation and procedure to mind-reading, but "intent" obviously sometimes winds up an issue in these cases.

When I make a rule at Boeing that Rottweilers, Dobermans and Poodles are not allowed inside based on bite rates, it would seem that "He just hates mean dogs, so he makes mean rules" is pushed to the back burner and bite rates pulled to the front burner in court.  But what do I know :- )


There needs to be a SCOTUS case that limits injunctions when other circuits have not issued them.  A litigant should not be able to keep trying for nationwide injunctions in different federal courts until he hits paydirt.  Not saying that the injunction was right or wrong, but I am saying that a person shouldn't be able to try an issue several times, and only have the winning times count. 


Well, I think Mattis is by quite a distance Trrump's best cabinet pick.

But I'm guessing he looked at this and said, "Whaaa??!!"  Could be wrong, maybe he's a true believer.  

Taking your points:

(a) neither Bush nor Obama asked for a comprehensive strategy?

(b) not exactly sure what's being said here--violating the Geneva Convention?  Maybe unintended consequences could come into play?

(c) if the goal is to 'deligitimize' ISIS, not doing this executive order is probably a good first step. Couldn't all this be done without the grandstanding?

(d) empower partners: tell them to violate the Geneva Convention too?  That might be a little tough.  Wonder how our friends in Australia would respond.

(e) financial support: seems like we've probably done much (all?) of this already.  And I assume that ISIS is really doing 99%+ of its business with other countries.  So I guess this would require all of those countries to operate in ways that they've already decided are not in their best interest.  For example, Belgium tells us to stop fracking.  Do we capitulate?

(f) funding: well, if we can raid the treasury to build a multi-billion dollar wall, why not go whole hog?  Somehow, the Democrats will be to blame.

"Hands tied."  I'm not fully informed here, I confess.  What does that mean?  Changing their status in the Middle East from "aiding" to actually fighting?  Dropping bombs more indiscriminately?  Seriously, what exactly happens when hands are freed?

Anyway, my main reaction here is the same one that TJM cited about the immigration EO.  It's for show.  None of the things mentioned here couldn't be done better behind the scenes.  But I guess the Roman Circus is the whole point now.  


And the American people at large. Theatrics, to be sure. And like Moe said somewhere else, nothing wrong with that.

It is the job of a good CEO to be theatrical, especially if he's the new guy. You gotta come in, and show you mean business. Trump knows this. He's spent a lifetime preparing for this role.


Obama took the very 'high road' approach to governance.  He didn't go in for theatrics like Trump is--that's not a glitch in the system, it's a feature.

Trump, and a huge chunk of his voters, disapproved of the 'high road' approach to foreign policy--or, possibly, policy of any stripe.  Staying 'above the fray' and not grandstanding were *definitely key features* of the Obama presidency.  But the people who elected Trump clearly didn't approve of Obama's policies and/or process enough to elect a successor who served at the highest level of his administration and moved lock-step with him on many of the issues Trump ran on as a dissident to the status quo.

So when you boggle to the tune of 'couldn't this have been done without the grandstanding?' you *seem* to be missing that the grandstanding--which is NOT all-style-and-no-substance, contrary to quasi-popular opinion--is a key feature of a Trump presidency, and it's one his supporters *wanted* him to employ.  They didn't show up, 20-30 thousand a pop to fill stadiums, asking him to be bombastic and theatrical on the road but then to Tone It Down once he made it into the Oval.  This is precisely what they wanted--and they want it precisely because it's a departure from the Old Way under Obama.

As to your Geneva Convention query, that's one that has serious traction--and should *NOT* be grounds for dismissal of the point President Trump raised in the EO, but rather it should cause each of us to reflect on *why* the Geneva Convention was a thing in the first place, and why the Civilized Nations of the world agreed to abide by it.

Are there something fundamentally different factors pertaining to the clash with Islamo-fascism/Radical Islamic Terrorism that *might* invalidate some of the fundamental values upon which the Geneva Convention's signatories' societies were built?  If so, what might they be?

It's a messy, messy subject.  But if we're not read to roll up our sleeves and ask, honestly and without rancor, "Should Universal Human Rights apply here?" then we've got no business commenting on the subject.  And that sucks--that REALLY sucks--for everyone involved, but that's the world we presently live in.  I would hope that we could arrive at a calm, rational and empirically-valid position which would indeed support Universal Human Rights and mechanisms, like the Geneva Convention, that seek to preserve and promulgate them for everyone.  But if we're not willing to at least *consider* the matter, in a fresh and unbiased fashion, we might be missing the forest for the trees.


This debate has nothing to do with mustard gas or bombing hospitals.  The phrase, "Examine rules of engagement that exceed international requirements" doesn't mean Trump wants to go past laws.  It means that Obama was holding a line far "softer" than necessary.  

Mattis wants to re-visit to see if America needs to be THAT MUCH "kinder" than everybody else is.  If Geneva laws are a 10 for no-holds-barred ethical combat, Obama was at a 3, and Mattis wants to go back to 7-9.

That people would suspect Trump is issuing a formal E.O. towards war crimes ... ? ... and putting that in writing?! ... ??


...Next ...


Well, he is on record many times supporting torture. Waterboarding is against the Geneva convention and he wants "much, much worse". Mattis is too principled to do it but Pompeo certainly isn't.  

I really hope Trump's supporters don't fall down the same "he can do no evil" rabbit hole that Obama's supporters fell down but that's pretty much exactly what I see happening. It's very baffling to me how Christians could so enthusiastically endorese torturing other human beings. Sad. 


The secular left hasn't been too sympathetic with them - they have some real differences of belief when it comes to the social issues and it has created a ton of tension, but I think most of Trump's supporters are good people who are just very afraid that the trend in America toward secularism, leftism, and big government is threatening their way of life.  They see Trump as delivering on his promises right now...they see the possibility that they can halt the rapid changes that have left them feeling marginalized and get back into the national conversation on fairer ground.

I am deeply skeptical of Trump's more authoritarian impulses...but I believe it is possible for bad men to be used for good and I sincerely hope that, whatever negative consequences come from his administration, he does more good than harm long term.

Hope...not optimistically expect...not yet.


 The media calls every single thing he says disturbing, and then when he says something disturbing, it truly does get lost in the noise. 

 I haven't heard any Christians at all iendorse torture, but the danger is that they might get distracted by the debate over whether it is effective. Of course it's effective. We don't torture because we are the good guys.  That is what we need to clarify.

 Christians are aware that Trump is not one of them, but there are moments when they are reminded of that quite painfully.

tjm's picture

There's a whole library out there arguing exactly the opposite. In particular, what most analysts agree with is that torture produces information but information that is untrustworthy. People will tell you anything to make you stop. And do.

There's a famous CIA memo regarding the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed titled "Khalid Shaykh Muhammed's Threat Reporting--Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies." I've had FBI agents tell me there were so many false reports from KSM's interrogation “He had us chasing the geese in Central Park because he said some of them had explosives stuffed up their butts."

Beyond this it's effectiveness is surely limited by what happens when it is revealed. Unless you think the Abu Ghraib photos helped America's standing in the world.

Taro's picture

I have no problem with torture morally, considering what ISIS does to their prisoners and what they 'intend' to do the innoncent citizens. Its very tame IMO compared to the intentions of the enemy. I would be okay with worse than waterboarding on a moral standpoint.

My issue though is whether torture more effective than other forms of interrogation. Mattis and others seem to believe that torture actually makes prisoners scared or incoherent to the point that you can't believe the information they give you. You lose your "trust" with them and the prisoner-interrogator relationship is shattered.

The most important thing is getting the information and using the most effective form of interrogation to get it. If thats torture then do it, but if not, then use a different method.


No one here is saying this, but my problem is when people point at studies, or expert witnesses and such to make the point that "torture doesn't work." I can tell you quite confidently that it would work on me. No study or expert is going to convince me otherwise. 

Torture may not be as effective as other methods, and if a pack of cigarette and a nice talk works better, then that is great. I hope I get the same treatment If someone is trying to extract info from me.

The enemy knows it works, and is willing to use it. The enemy would do it for sport even if it didn't work. That is a good place to begin to draw the line. Are you torturing for information that humanity deserves to have?  The enemy kills civilians for sport. responding with torture is actually humane by comparison.

Or are you torturing because you are a sadistic creep? I'll draw the line against that.

Taro's picture

Yeah, I feel like it would work on me too. Although, I can see how someone being tortured would just throw out false information. But if you get caught spouting false information, and the interrogator doubles down on something worse? I'm pretty sure the truth is coming out at that point.

Whether or not it is the most effective method is the only question for me. ISIS has disqualified themselves to basic human rights.


Trump likely knows very little about interrogating a terrorist for info to save lives...I wouldn't worry about what he thinks is OK to do...Mattis is making those calls anyway


At various times:

1.  Zero-collateral directives.  Keep your weapon on "SAFE," even if fired upon, unless you can guarantee NO risk to ENEMY civilians.

2.  Air support decisions made by lawyers in remote sites, not by military commanders in the hot zone.

3.  Simple artillery fire withheld -- leaving U.S. Soldiers to die -- because a lawyer didn't approve it from his remote headset.

4.  Do not fire until fired upon - and we are talking about war zones here, hot combat -- next morning they get to shoot first, at a time and place of THEIR choosing.  (Try that in an Old West gunfight.)

5.  etc etc etc.

HERE IS A LINK that will give you a feel for it.  A few excerpts:


The rules of engagement (ROE) put into place in 2009 and the early part of 2010 limited air and artillery strikes in the name of preventing civilian casualties, and at times called upon soldiers to restrain from firing their weapons. The report in the Washington Times indicates that, upon approaching Taliban fighters, a ground unit would often have to convince a remote commander that the threat was armed before engaging.

Perhaps the most striking example of a bureaucracy putting lives at risk came in September 2009 at the battle of Ganjgal. Two soldiers were award the Medal of Honor for their actions in the in 10-hour fight in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, yet one of them – former Army Captain William Swenson – has said that the military’s reluctance to provide an air strike nearly killed him.

“It’s not JAG (military attorney) responsibility to interject to say, ‘Hey, we are concerned that you’re going to hit a building,’” he told the Washington Times last month. “I can tell you that I am concerned with saving as many lives as I can, not necessarily one. Unfortunately, this is combat. I can’t be perfect, but I can do what I feel what’s right at the time.”

In Afghanistan, the [rules of engagement] that were put in place in 2009 and 2010 have created a hesitation and confusion for our war fighters,” Wayne Simmons, a retired US intelligence officer who worked at NATO headquarters in Kabul under McChrystal and Petraeus, told the Times.


Like we said to start with, ask ANY Servicemember from Afghanistan about this.  They're in a silent rage about it.  U.S. troop casualties tripled (3x) the year that Obama's rules took place.  Lots of U.S. soldiers died because they weren't allowed to shoot.

Collateral damage occurs in a war, and the U.S. is more benign about collateral damage than any country.   But in a firefight, there are judgment calls about self-defense vs. collateral damage -- and these are made by Soldiers in the fight, or by their commanders.  Not by liberal attorneys sitting in a U.S. base in real time.

CS Lewis once said, "Since WWI I have resented those who behind the lines, themselves in safety and comfort, exhorted those in danger to bear suffering quietly."


And now we are too!

This reminds me of early on in the election cycle, when the media would purportedly comment on Trump's comments and/or lack of policies.

My sister (who I don't think was a Trump fan AT ALL to begin the election cycle) talks about wanting to get a good mad worked up over Trump's 'comments' as the media reported them.  So she'd dig up the transcripts of his speeches and look through them for the offending quotes.  She concluded they were all taken grossly out of context, which only spurred her to check out DJT's campaign website--where his policy papers had been printed since the beginning of his campaign.

Has DJT, by breaking the media's stranglehold, scored a YUGE victory for critical thinking and investigative tools?  How many people actually read EO's before him?

Tectonic shifts are presently underway beneath our flip-flops...


I'll bet you dollars to donuts that Gen. Mattis co-wrote that EO, and handed it to Trump, to hand it back to Mattis in a public ceremony.  Trump knows doodly about any of that, or didn't until he took office.


It would be an epic mistake *not* to have a lifelong military man at least co-write such an order.  That's why you appoint department heads, isn't it?

Great administrators *rarely* know as much about their various departments' internal nuances as the heads of those departments themselves.  Great administrators know how to create coherent teams, how to impose top-down strategic priorities, and how to let their people do the job--all the way up to the second those departmen heads need to be replaced.

But I assume that, even if he's successful to the 90th percentile projections, all we'll hear about is how he doesn't *really* know anything about the duties of the President; that his appointees are playing him like a fiddle; that he's not interested in doing the Real Work of governing and just wants to stand in front of cameras to make bombastic speeches; etc..



Wait a minnit.  "Dollars to donuts..."  sudden thought.  How much IS an apple fritter at Starbucks these days!?  I'm the underdog on this bet!


I sincerely appreciate the the work you did to put this together.  I learned something.


you just couldn't help yourself, could you?  "Liberal attorneys", huh?

Couldn't possibly be very conservative attorneys simply following the orders of their commander in chief, right?  Because any non-liberal attorney would simply take it on himself to disobey a liberal president, which clearly must be the right thing to do?

I don't know where this stuff comes from...


A 'very conservative' bureaucrat does not eagerly radio in to the other hemisphere to say "that building is only 1.7 miles away so I'd like you to ground the F-15 rescuing the troops" because of a vague preference the President has.  

Take this week, for example.  Which EPA bureaucrats right now are eagerly implementing Trump's EO's -- and which are dragging their feet?

This whole thread started because you have begun to demand proof of the obvious.  It only obfuscates the discussion for you to pretend you don't know what type of bureaucrat supports Obama with day-to-day alacrity.  

It's getting to be like you are laying down harrying fire.  About two more "challenge everything your opponent says" from you, and I'm going to start nodding politely and directing my responses to others.  My rules of engagement ;- ) don't require me to accept harrying fire without response.  


The bar is way higher than that.  :- )  And by the way, I enjoy your input Diderot, not that my enjoyment is relevant.  Ruining the site for open discussion and ignoring warnings is the only thing that could get anybody blocked.

Please keep it comin' bro.

Taro's picture

I actually like diderot commenting because he comes from a position that I don't think most other posters here come from. 

I don't agree with most diderot's arguments, but I think the perspective is important to have in a discussion like this.


Not that it is needed, but I have fully enjoyed reading the comments and banter here over the last week, and I am not very political, as I think I have shown in prior threads.

In fact, there has never been a time that I have gone and just read 200+ comments on varying political views... but you guys have been amazing!!!

Thank you all... even Diderot   ;)


Despite your lower-end 160 IQ you add your own dynamic streak, a completely distinctive worldview and logical approach.  Aside from being confirmed Secretary of Sabermetrics by a 96-2 vote (Bernie and King abstaining because they were unclear about what math is).

Especially in this last round of Konspiracy Korners the input has been top-notch amigo.  :- )  Always look forward to checking a SABRMatt take when we click on them in the Active Threads tab.


I think many on the right start out assuming that the vast majority of military servicemen are honorable, hard-working, decent, and skillful men and women who uphold a rigid moral standard and genuinely want to promote peace and save lives, including the lives of civilians trapped under hostile foreign rulers. I think many on the left assume that the military is mostly populated by hot-headed, uber-macho, reckless, power-crazed killers - that such men and women may be necessary for our defense, but it is an ugly necessity that must be heavily restrained.

Both sides oversimplify, but, as the son of a Navy submariner and the friend to many in all branches of the armed forces, the first interpretation is closer from my view.  Some here will object to my characterization of the left, but you need only look to the popular culture to see what the left thinks of our military as a general movement, regardless of what some of its individuals may now assert. Or, you can look at the campaign rhetoric of Democrats running for office during the second half of the Bush administration and the first half of Obama's presidency.

Anonymous's picture

If ISIS was willing to sign up for Geneva Convention restrictions, then by all means let us follow them. But of course, that is not the case. The Geneva Convention was just that, a convention of negotiation that produced an agreement that all signees could agree to for some moral restraints in the conduct of war. But when you fight an enemy that repudiates not only the agreement but any sort of moral restraint at all, you have to take that into account in your own rules of engagement.

If you arbitrarily limit yourself but allow your opponent unrestricted warfare, you have started down a path to losing. You may not lose in the classic sense of the word, i.e., ISIS is not going to invade and take over the US, but you lose in the sense that you (fatally?) frustrate your efforts to destroy your enemies capacity for continuing the war. You also risk gradually losing the national will continue it yourself.

This does not mean you must sink to your enemy's level. Part of what separates terrorists from regular military combatants is their proclivity for PURPOSEFULLY targeting innocent civililans (as opposed the ACCIDENTAL harming of civilians by Geneva Convention adherents). Somehow in our consideration of rules of engagement we have totally confused the issue, as if we must go so far to avoid accidental casualties that we end up allowing the enemy the safe haven they use so well, blending in with the civilians rather than fighting as a uniformed army. They know our rules of engagement, and so they take advantage of their protections while not following the same limitations themselves.

In World War 2 Americans knew they were in a fight to the death. They had to kill their enemy by whatever means necessary. Once Germany started bombing Allied civilians in cities, the Allies gave them back double. These were terrible tragedies, but we had the backbone to do what needed to be done to win and end the war, up to and including Cologne, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Fighting terrorists who wear no uniform and follow no rules of engagement requires that we do more to take the gloves off. Every American knows this, we just don't like it. We like playing by the rules. The question is, how much will it take to get us to the point where we exceed the boundaries set by nice little lawyers in safe, tidy rooms? After all, it's not THEIR lives that are at risk.


If any here have not heard of the prisoner's dilemma, a quick summary.


Or, watch an episode of the game show "Friend or Foe"

The idea is that it is advantageous to cooperate as often as possible rather than betraying a rival, but that people will often choose not to do so.

This same paradox has been applied to the art of politics and the art of war. Computer simulations have even been run using historical data to assess the best strategy to ensure the most cooperation between rival nations or political parties.

What they find when they do those sorts of studies is that, in a repeating simulation (repeat the dilemma over and over, as happens in real life politics and war), if you enter the game betraying your rival too often, they will also betray you too often (result = bad for everyone), if you refuse to betray your rival even after they have betrayed you, they will betray you more.  Result = really bad for you, great for your rival. If you enter the game by attempting to cooperate, and continue cooperating so long as they do, but respond exactly in proportion and in kind if and when they betray you, the result will be a gradual but certain move toward the cooperative outcome (your rival learns that they can't gain advantage by betraying you and, in his own self-interest, they will start cooperating).

In politics, that means that rival political parties should respond to a betrayal of their agreed-upon rules by the rival by responding exactly proportionally.

Harry Reid betrayed the Senate by changing one of its' most important protections for the minority party by simple majority vote and, thus, ending the filibuster for judicial and administrative appointments (other than SCOTUS) with no say at all on such an important matter by the minority GOP. That benefited the democrats at the time, but the game repeats.  Now the GOP has the majority. It would be a bad result for the GOP to change the rule back immediately (because then the democrats would simply do the same thing, or perhaps get even bolder the next time they're in power, resulting in less stability in the Senate), and it would be a bad result for the GOP to go further than the democrats did by, for example, nuking the filibuster for SCOTUS judges on a simple majority vote, because then the democrats will do something even worse...for example nuking the filibuster for legislation or somesuch, resulting in majoritarian tyranny and potentially civil war. The only correct play is to, as Mitch McConnell now says he will do, respond exactly in kind. They changed the rules and they need to learn that their actions have consequences and that their rules change is now considered permanent.  They are about to get absolutely CRUSHED at the administrative and judicial level as a narrow GOP majority rams through countless judges and cabinet officials and administrators that they find abhorrent.  Hopefully, they will learn an important lesson from this...don't change the rules to advantage the majority further because you will pay the same price the next time they have control.

By the same token, when you are facing an enemy like ISIS that essentially hits the betray button every time the game starts, the mathematically correct answer to to betray them precisely in kind, because doing anything else means losing the game every time and paying a higher price for the conflict.

Their aim is to destroy western democracy and decency. Our aim must be to utterly obliterate them.



Just posted a reply before realizing my automatic login had not taken place. My reply is in the queue. It touches on the subject of rules of engagement.


I'm with Doc on this one. My interpretation of the "rules of engagement" section is that Drumpf wants the US military, which was trying to keep entirely clear of the line in the sand under Obama, to push right up to the line. Not over it. I dislike the man as much as anyone, but he's certainly not calling for us to violate any international laws here. Of course he does bring assumptions like that upon himself, by saying "torture works" on national television. Would Donald Trump be willing to violate the Geneva Convention if he could get away with it? Seems to me that he very well might, in the right situation, but that's impossible to say right now. Hopefully that question remains strictly hypothetical.

As for whether moving right up to the line will help the military defeat ISIS... that's hard to say. As Doc says, any military leader will tell you they would be more effective if their hands weren't tied. This holds true throughout history as well. War is war, and generals tend to be of the opinion that if the enemy is trying to massacre their divisions, they should be allowed to prevent that by any means necessary. That's how you get that job, isn't it? If we think politicians are ruthless, just imagine the guys they employ to legally kill people for them...

The question is, how far off the line was Obama really standing? Was he keeping a reasonable distance, to ensure no one ever stepped over by accident? Or was he trying to be high-minded, and staying well away from a line he saw as immoral? That's a genuine question, to anyone who knows more than me. What changes can we legally make to the rules of engagement we operate under, and will they actually be significant?

Now, as for why Obama was keeping clear of the line. Because once you know he was doing it, and potentially allowing ISIS more breathing room as a result, you've got to ask why. Obama was no idiot: there must have been a reason. Here's my best guess at that reason, then. Seems to me, Obama was trying to play war and PR simultaneously. Do you guys remember how internationally hated the US became under Bush? Early in his presidency he flipped off the UN, and after that Europe (Tony Blair aside) always seemed to be holding us at arm's length. No one was very happy about Guantanamo either. You may notice this is eerily similar to what Trump appears to be doing now... we'll see if our allies/neutral countries respond well or ill to the policy of tough love. Early returns are inconclusive, but troubling. Recent history is also inconclusive, but troubling.

Of course we won our freedom by violating the rules of engagement and shooting redcoats from the trees. And I'm certainly not complaining about THAT. Just trying to consider all the possibilities, including the possibility that Donald Trump will prove to be all smoke and no substance. That is the prevailing attitude of many fine thinkers around here on topics besides the military, no?


We started withholding routine air support rescue, for example, to underline the point that the nasty old U.S. Army is never responsible for killing people or breaking things.  (Being playful a little bit.)  Honestly, it became paramount that we avoid giving Jane Fonda & Co. the chance to slur us again.

The lives of Soldiers were deemed expendable on that basis.


About 10 degrees off subject ... toward the syndrome of over-placating those who cast Americans as the bad guys ...

Nowadays there are echoes.  It's not enough for the U.S. government to avoid doing anything wrong; it must also avoid anything that opens itself up to an unfair criticism.  Some Democrats - not all! - argued that Trump's temporary travel ban was okay in principle, but it allowed its opponents a chance to mischaracterize it, and was incompetent on that basis.

I would hope we can all see the irony of THAT.  Mrs. Clinton, if you say anything that allows me to twist your words, you are deemed incompetent for giving me the chance to be a jerk.  It's a common tactic once you look for it.

Seattle Sports Outsider's picture

Taking a look at "rules of engagement" brings up a discussion I had a little while ago. Summary: what the powers of the world have deemed "out of bounds" - such as using nuclear weapons, biological/chemical warfare, targeting civillians, terrorist attacks, etc - have the effect (regardless of intention) of setting up a system where the dominant powers can keep down any challengers (both with moral arguments, legal arguments, and eventually military action). The international law of war essentially is targeting what a small group fo challengers would use to defeat a larger more powerful enemy, assymetrical warfare. The major powers deemed these unethical - keeping out the ability of small groups to cause revolution.

What is strange to me is that we've drawn these strange boundaries - you can shoot someone in the face, but can kill them with poison. You can drop a shrapnel bomb and maim hundreds, but you can't dig a pit with a trap door and put spikes in the bottom. Its strange that we condem certain regimes/groups for using tactics the international power community deems out of line. Both maim and kill people - I find it odd that we decide one way to do so is permittable but another is not. (Even as I personally think the rules are beneficial and should many steps further).  I don't doubt for a second that if an army was invading the west coast of the USA and eminent danger was on our doorstep we would use whatever means necessary to fight of the destruction of our society. Why are we suprised/outraged when other groups do the same?

I'd be interested to look into the law of war during the American Revolution. Given the state of warfare, we'll likely never see another revolution of this kind.


My dad told me about mustard gas.  (Don't ask!)  I said something like, "Boy, I hope that never happens to me!"  Don't worry, son, they made a rule against mustard gas.  "Why?"  Because!  It wasn't FAIR!  "Then why didn't they just make a rule against war?"


For MMA fights, there is no eye gouging allowed.  This favors the better fighter but isn't really the motivation for the rule.  A sense of decency is the motivation, and the byproduct is that the worse fighter has fewer ways to bring an upset.

The Geneva negotiators didn't sit down and ask, "Now how do we keep those pesky freedom fighters at bay."  The freedom fighters are going to do what they want.


The American revolutionaries certainly did use tactics that were deemed cowardly and unethical by the British.  This is a cognitive dissonance for those of us who admire the Founding Fathers.  (Of course the Fathers also did many things that were tear-jerkingly heroic and courageous.)


I'd like to think that the typical U.S. Soldier would NOT fire on enemy M.A.S.H. units to protect their home state.  Those I know, would not.  They would give their own lives but they would not target civilians.  This was also generally true of U.S. forces in WWII, though unfortunately not as true in Viet Nam.  There are men with guns who are good men.


Donald Trump himself has several beliefs along this line, though, and most conservatives find them simply outrageous.  For example, "going after terrorists' families."  A statement like this might PLAUSIBLY disqualify him from Presidency (as would Hillary's willingness to "drone" Julian Assange).

But college profs seem too busy with the task of tagging Trump as a "Nazi" over transgender bathrooms and gay marriage, to exploit the question of whether he would endorse actual war crimes.  Some on the left have literally started to lose their ability to define "Hitlerian."


Since WW2, if you are going to be captured by a ferocious enemy, you prefer that enemy to be the U.S. Surrender, in fact, is the best possible outcome in most respects.

The German troops looked for a way to surrender to our GIs. They had no desire at all to surrender to the Red Army. Japanese soldiers were expected to kill themselves before dishonoring themselves with such an idea, but I'm sure they wanted to choose life.

Israel has a similar "problem". There are scruples the civilized world have that their enemies don't need to grapple with. 

I used to think the Americans had some sort of advantage by hiding behind trees, picking off soldiers here and there, uNeil I saw a movie representation of a Hessian phalanx annihilating our rag tag army with a cruel and efficient ferocity. There are times when, in desperation, all you have left is a poke at the eyes. Shooting officers would be somewhat akin to that. When we built a true regular army that could go toe to toe with them, then S hooting officers probably became "bad sport" as well.

ISIS believes they have an advantage in that they love death more than we love life. Perhaps. But as Terry noted elsewhere, that can get old quick, and there aren't as many of those true believers, once the drugs wear off.

tjm's picture

You know, of course, that the US dropped more bombs in Indochina than in any other war, twice the tonnage as was dropped in WWII?


Honestly, there have been some really good points made here.  And as a proud progressive, I want to make sure that it's understood that I FULLY support Truman's decision to drop the A bombs.  

So if the situation is as simple as, "hey, there's a bad guy over there shooting at me--can I shoot back?"--well, that answer seems pretty obvious (to me).

But don't we agree it's a lot more complicated than that?  That there will be collateral damage?  So that's what I'm really driving at.  (And I don't have answers to these questions myself...but am curious what you guys think):

--How many civilian casualties are acceptable for every one ISIS fighter killed.  Ten?  A hundred?  Ten thousand?

--And once you arrive at that answer, what if the ISIS enemies are embedded (somehow) among U.S. citizens in an U.S. city.  Is the number still the same?

You may think I'm being deliberately provocative.  

I'm not.

Because I think this is the kind of thing a President has to decide.  And the fact that Obama would accept a lower level of collateral damage than Trump is really irrelevant now.  

How much do you think Trump should accept?


It is not appropriate for a remote person, himself in safety and comfort, to make the judgment call "that artillery strike would value U.S. Soliders' lives too highly and German citizens' lives too little."  That decision has to be made by somebody who is ducking bullets.  Or at least somebody who is friends with the person ducking bullets.  Or at the very least by somebody who HAS AT SOME TIME ducked bullets.

Before 2009, that had been clearly understood.  (See the money quote, above, that the ROE's have caused hesitancy and confusion among U.S. Soldiers.)

The Soldiers in forward zones have been trained.  So have their commanders.  They all care very much about collateral damage.  We type on our monitors safely and freely, due to their heroism; how they defend themselves is their call.  They're good men.


Completely apart from that, a policeman making an arrest doesn't have TIME to call the ACLU to ask permission to return fire.  The cop's life is on the line.  Train him and empower him.  He must be able to act quickly.  

The phone call itself is often a terrible rule of engagement.  If the cop makes a malicious or even reckless/negligent decision, we'll investigate later and put him in prison, putting the other cops in the right frame of mind.  Giuliani did this in New York.

- Jeff


But everytime we raise the names Obama and Bush and Clinton and Viet Nam and Giuliani...we're looking backwards.

All I'm asking is what we should do looking forwards.  If the current state of affairs is 100% the fault of Barack Obama, then so be it.  But the current president has to deal with the situation in front of him.  Just like Obama did when he inherited the Wall Street mess.  Would he do a second stimulus?  Bail out Detroit?  He had no choice but to look forward.  As you point out, all we have to do is sit over our keyboards.

So if Trump's priority is to defeat ISIS, it presumably is going to involve killing civilians.  If the answer is, "I don't care--kill them all if it's necessary", we'll then it's pretty easy to drop the bombs.

If it's something less than that--what do you accept?  How many civilian lives per ISIS fighter?

What should Trump do?


Based on what you said earlier, am guessing you're reasonably comfortable with Mattis' oversight of our military policies.


Trump is egomaniacal, crass, mean, impulsive, worldly, etc. etc. etc. but how does anybody say he is not a good listener?  That he doesn't delegate?  He positively EXPLOITS the people he surrounds himself with.

Trump enjoys finding a company VP who knows more than he does.  He's happy to toss a VP the football and then take credit for the win later.  That rock-star Cabinet of his -- Mattis, Dr. Carson, Tillerson, et al - is there to make him look good long-term.


would be scary for any President--even Eisenhower--to make such weighty military decisions by himself.  (Not too sure Trump gave two meows about what Jamie Dimon thought before he scrapped Dodd-Franks...but that's another story.)

So to continue your thought, Mattis comes back and says, "Mr. President, we're confident we can take out 70% of the ISIS leadership that's left...but it will take the lives of about 100,000 civilians."  For Mattis, let's assume that in his estimation, that's the optimal trade off.  Someone's got to make that call. 

But what if Trump says, "not good enough--I want 100%, whatever it takes."

What does Mattis do then?  Resign or give in?  

For any other President I can think of, this would never become an issue.  With this guy, there's no way to tell.  

(OK.  I'm ceasing my harrying fire for the evening.  Enjoyed the return volleys.)

Arne's picture

It occured to me that part of the impetus for Trump's run for the nomination was probably his indignation and anger at how Muslim terrorists-ISIS for the most part-were openly commiting brutal attacks in 2014 and early 2015, with not enough done to stop them. Pure speculation, but I can easily see him thinking "We spent billions and billions in Iraq, lost hundreds of soldiers, went 10 years of hell there, and this is the result? We didn't just not get their oil, now we have to sit here watching them take videos as they rape and behead civilians?" He surely figured he could improve on what Obama was doing and what Hillary would do.

I'm thinking it's much like how Reagan probably responded to the embassy hostages in Iran.


Now that you mention it, Trump has always struck me as rather sincere when talking about foreign policy - especially that he resents other nations getting the better of America.  One of the reasons the Republican Party "disfellowshipped" him was because he sharply criticized the Bushes over Iraq.  His enemies take this as nothing but opportunism, but they did the same with Ray-Gun.

I'd forgotten about the Iran hostages.  Trump seem like Reagan x3 in this area?  How do you think Trump would react in the same situation?  His generals would be restraining him in a bar fight, so to speak.

Arne's picture

I'm afraid you're right about the bar fight element. But, Trump didn't get through however many decades running large businesses without learning some things about delegating authority and letting subordinates make their own decisions. It's also my guess that he's a more patient man than he comes across as. You can't oversee building construction/renovation without having some ability to wait for a plan to be realized.


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