On Nov. 16, Luke Gamble wrote an opinion article titled “Mr. Hollande, No new wars”. In the article, Gamble cautioned France against making the same mistakes the US did after 9/11 by creating a “broad and blind war on terror.” While I agree with the sentiment of restraint shown in the article, I believe that such absolute pacifism is not the answer. Rather, we must use a combination of drone strikes and local allies both to destroy the Islamic State and to fight similar wars in the future.
To not fight the Islamic State at all is a horrible idea. The Islamic State is the most powerful terrorist organization in the world and has quickly gained an alarming amount of territory and power. If left unchecked, the Islamic State could conquer both Syria and Iraq and use them as bases from which to fuel a campaign to conquer the entire Middle East and possibly more. While I often caution against scare stories, I believe that this one is warranted. Inaction was our policy in Crimea and that has only led to a stronger and bolder Russia.
What we absolutely cannot do, however, is send in ground troops. We tried that in Iraq and Afghanistan and it was both ineffective and horrible, for two primary reasons. First, putting good American soldiers in harm’s way inherently leads to some of their deaths. Second, deploying troops into foreign territory causes an occupation. Such occupations usually continue long after most of the fighting is over since, having ousted the enemy, the US army becomes the ruling force in the area and is thereby required to take on the responsibility of stabilizing the region. This creates a mire whereby we must try to impose order on an often hostile population, leading to continued massive expenditure and death in wars that are supposed to be over. It also often creates resentment against us by the local population, which further exacerbates the problem.
Therefore, we must find a middle ground between pacifism and ground troops. The solution here is a combination of drone strikes and alliances with local forces. Drones allow us to project significant power and provide the air support that our local allies often desperately need, without putting American lives at risk. Furthermore, because it isn’t our boots on the ground, we don’t get bogged down in regional stabilization or nation-building efforts. Unfortunately, someone’s got to have boots on the ground. That’s where local allies come in. Supporting local allies, such as the Kurds and the Iraqi government through cash, weapons, intelligence, logistics, air support and training allows us to create the stability of infantry without costing us American lives or getting into another mire. Furthermore, local troops better understand the cultural situation and are usually much better received by local populations.
One common counterpoint to what I am proposing is that drones alone, or even combined with unreliable and often fairly incapable local allies, can create chaotic post-war countries that act as safe havens for terrorism. To this I would first say that even long and costly occupations often cannot do much better. We occupied Iraq for well over a decade to try to create a stable, cohesive country that could battle terrorism yet it was completely powerless to stop the meteoric rise of the Islamic State. Furthermore, this is why it is critical to put an emphasis on supporting local allies not just through money and weapons, but also through training and advising in the political as well as military spheres. We should also make our support conditional on the acceptance of certain liberal democratic policies.
Another counterpoint often heard is that drones can create large civilian casualties. An example of this would be the recent Gaza war, a drone heavy war, in which around 69 percent of Gazans killed were civilians. We can take some comfort in remembering that the Islamic State is a large, fairly well-organized group that fights wars in a more conventional manner than many of the guerrilla terrorists we often face, and this makes their targets clearer and somewhat less morally ambiguous. Additionally, we must weigh the civilian resentment we get from collateral damage against that which we get from an occupation. Nonetheless I will admit that drones carry this inherent risk and must be used responsibly.
What I am proposing is by no means perfect. However, it is the best solution we are capable of implementing. We must confront our enemies overtly and powerfully, though not repeat the mistakes of the last decade. Drones and local allies are the way to do this in the modern world.
Colter Smith is a computer science major from Bronxville, N.Y. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.