Dishing Out Revenge

Written by Colonel Richard Klass

“Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold”

 I am agnostic on the origin of the above quote. I am also indifferent to the moral turpitude associated with revenge or retaliation. My interest is in the temperature of the dish, specifically.

What the saying cautions against is a quick, not fully thought out response to an insult, aggravation or attack, that too often leads to actions later to be regretted. Think of Japanese citizens being interned by President Franklin Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor — or United States resorting to torture after the attacks on 9/11. Think the invasion of Iraq that led directly to the current Middle East maelstrom based on false assertions of Iraqi involvement in 9/11 and a threat of weapons of mass destruction. Such lack of cold calculation can lead to an instinctive overreaction.

Cold calculation is needed now in the wake of the violation of Paris, my favorite city, and other atrocities committed by the so-called Islamic State (IS). The doctor’s dictum: “first do no harm” should be the rule when strategizing a military response. Hysterical utterances by supposedly sane people seeking high office validate the Jihadists contention of Western hostility to Islam, and are worse than unhelpful. And punishing refugees, who are fleeing the atrocities of IS themselves, is neither Christian nor American.

President Obama has a strategy to defeat the geographic Islamic State and it is working — albeit too slowly. Their territorial control is shrinking and they are increasingly contained. But he did not think through how they might adapt to trade the legitimacy of territory for the legitimacy of terror, as it has occurred in Somalia, Nigeria and most recently, Mali.

What is needed now is an expanded strategy to accelerate the shrinking of IS to reduce its capacity for terror while mounting an international effort to deplete the human and financial resources IS can devote to such terror. This involves cutting off their oil revenue and the dark flows of funds from their supporters, from our “allies” in Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf as well as more aggressive and disruptive cyber warfare.

We need not a new presidential strategy but a new national strategy for a sustained effort. And that requires a painful but necessary hammering out by Congress of a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). Any member of Congress who will not support and participate in this painful process should have his criticisms or comments heavily discounted, as should any presidential candidate who will not take a specific stand.

Finally, the U.S. and its allies and potential allies must address some difficult questions before a strategy can be implemented:

  • To what extent is America willing to dispatch more ground forces and for how long?
  • How many ground forces will Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states commit and what will be the command and control structure?
  • Is Turkey willing to take an active role and also not attack the Kurds?
  • Can Russia and/or Iran be brought into a Syrian peace process and/or an anti-IS coalition constructively?
  • How can an effective effort be mounted to slow the refugee crisis and deal with the humanitarian disaster in the region?

Addressing these questions will require hard choices and brutal compromises. And constructing a cold dish in this hot political climate at home, as well as abroad, will not be clean or easy. But the alternative is stark: IS will continue to win.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation or Council for a Livable World.