How do we defend ourselves?

Niall Ferguson in an opinion piece, Paris and the Fall of Rome, in the Boston Globe of November 16, cites this passage from Edward Gibbon’s “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”:

“In the hour of savage license, when every passion was inflamed, and every restraint was removed a cruel slaughter was made of the Romans; and the streets of the city were filled with dead bodies. Whenever the Barbarians were provoked by opposition, they extended the promiscuous massacre to the feeble, the innocent, and the helpless…”

And he goes on to say, doesn’t this passage from Gibbon (actually a description of the Goths’ sack of Rome in August 410 AD) describe very well the scenes we all witnessed in Paris on Friday night?

Well, no, Niall. We may be on the way there, but are not yet there, not even close.

In the same newspaper, the Globe of November 16, Andrew J. Bacevich, writing his piece, A War the West cannot Win, has this to say:

In proposing to pour yet more fuel on that fire, Hollande demonstrates a crippling absence of imagination, ….It’s past time for the West, and above all for the United States as the West’s primary military power, to consider trying something different.In proposing to pour yet more fuel on that fire, Hollande demonstrates a crippling absence of imagination, one that has characterized recent Western statesmanship more generally when it comes to the Islamic world… simply trying harder will not suffice as a basis of policy.
It’s past time for the West, and above all for the United States as the West’s primary military power, to consider trying something different.
Rather than assuming an offensive posture, the West should revert to a defensive one. … Rather than vainly attempting to police or control, this revised strategy should seek to contain….Hollande views the tragedy that has befallen Paris as a summons to yet more war. The rest of us would do well to see it as a moment to reexamine the assumptions that have enmeshed the West in a war that it cannot win and should not perpetuate.

While Ferguson makes no proposal of his own, other than to suggest this is war, war to the death, and that if we would not be overwhelmed we need to “simply try harder,” a lot harder than we have up until now.

The implication of what Bacevich is saying is that Obama’s strategy is the right one for containing ISIS, or better, Daesch.

Here is Obama:

“We have the right strategy and we’re going to see it through,” Mr. Obama told reporters as he wrapped up a summit meeting with world leaders before flying to the Philippines. He has consistently said that it would take time, he noted, and he would not change that strategy simply because of domestic pressure. “What I do not do is take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough or make me look tough.”
If he did not gratify a public hunger for retribution, or at least the language of it, the president gambled that his position was actually closer to the broader American reluctance to get entangled in another land war in the Middle East. Sending large numbers of American ground troops to fight the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, would repeat what he sees as the error of the Iraq invasion of 2003 without solving the problem at hand.
“That would be a mistake, not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before,” Mr. Obama said. Victory over terrorist groups, he said, requires local populations to reject the ideology of extremism “unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.”
Moreover, he added that sending significant numbers of ground forces into Syria would set an untenable precedent. “Let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria,” he said. “What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist network that’s operating anywhere else in North Africa or in Southeast Asia?”


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