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We must eradicate ISIS

Destroying — versus degrading and defeating — a rogue, criminal, rapidly expanding Middle Eastern movement that calls itself a religious "state" will require a sustained combination of political, economic and military power. Whether the international community and our Middle Eastern partners in particular have the resolve to see this through over the long term — years, in all likelihood — is an open question. Our collective resolve to do so has likely been strengthened given recent developments, including the beheading of hostages and the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot.

A logical first step in the strategy is largely philosophical: denying the movement the legitimacy that it seeks among would-be converts by systematically rebranding it as irreligious — that is, a barbaric, primitive terrorist movement. Claiming a stake in Islam gave the group early legitimacy, and it continues to do so enabling funding and recruiting. The civilized world, in close collaboration, should begin to refer to the movement for what it really is instead, and also for what it is not: It is no "state" (which itself implies legitimacy), it has no real basis for what it does in Islam, and it is anti-west, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian. Judging from the dialogue in the news these past few days, this shift in terminology has finally begun to take place, and it must continue. Whatever the movement was initially conceived to be — successor to al-Qaida in Iraq; Syrian opposition group; so-called "caliphate" — it has morphed into a twisted, depraved ideology bent on inflicting fear, destruction and death.

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It's also no secret the group has received staggering sums from sympathetic Sunni Arab neighbors, both wealthy private donors and, reportedly, elements of some legitimate governments as well. The sheer enormity of the group (with more than 40,000 fighters covering 30,000 square miles of Iraqi and Syrian territory) and its span of control, which includes millions of civilians, require billions of dollars a year to maintain. The next step, then, is to put a rapid stop to the movement's economic viability. Middle Eastern governments that have a stake in the stability of the region, and which are themselves dependent upon western governments for economic and political survival, should be put on notice that any complicity in the movement's funding, either through illicit means or under the guise of "humanitarian aid," will be considered hostile acts. Actions to stem the flow of these kinds of funds must be prioritized, and carefully coordinated with, allies in the region.

Oil revenues the movement takes in via seized oil reserves and fields and pipelines in Iraq, Kurdistan and Syria also can be more aggressively stemmed. Cross-border smuggling of oil into neighboring countries has to be stopped in particular. While the Turkish border is notoriously difficult to police, that nation must be incentivized to further strengthen its efforts.

Last, but not least, is the need for concerted, sustained and stepped-up application of coalition military power. Air strikes, to include sustained and heavy bombing of the movement's military cantonments and oil production facilities, should be intensified. This should happen with particular intensity prior to the Iraqi Army's anticipated moves to retake lost territory. And U.S. and collation military advisors — all but certain to participate in the offensive — are probably going to have to be augmented with some real military power on the ground. We should address this now, before the movement becomes even more unmanageable, leading to losses of life on a potentially far greater scale.

Consider the Battle of Iwo Jima, 70 years ago this month. The island's capture was essential to the strategic bombing of mainland Japan, at a time when invasion of the mainland was deemed essential to secure victory over Japan. By the time the U.S. had the capacity to move against Iwo Jima, it was deemed so impregnable that gassing its Japanese defenders first was considered. Ultimately, some 70,000 U.S. Marines took the island instead, but at a cost of over 6,800 American lives (as many as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined over 10 years), and 20,000 wounded in five weeks on a land mass of barely 10 square miles. Strategic firebombing of Japanese cities followed, with tens of thousands of Japanese civilians burned alive.

With that background, an open question is: How much longer does the civilized world let this movement go, without stepping up the means to systematically destroy it?

Ralph Masi is a retired U.S. Army infantry officer and strategic planner. He can be reached at ralph.masi@umuc.edu.

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