Can America “Destroy” ISIS?

Tomasky wishes Obama would treat Americans like grownups and admit that we can’t eradicate the evil embedded in ISIS:

We’ve been trying to destroy Al Qaeda for 13 years now. We have not. We will not. And we will not destroy ISIS. We can’t destroy these outfits. They’re too nimble and slippery and amorphous, and everybody knows it. So why say it? Why not say what we hopefully can do and what we should do: contain it. We have contained Al Qaeda. Some of the methods have been morally problematic (drone strikes that sometimes kill innocents, etc.), but the methods have worked. Al Qaeda, say the experts, is now probably not in a position to pull off a 9/11. Containment is fine. It does the job. But no, I guess a president can’t say that. A president has to sound like John Wayne. It’s depressing and appalling.

Steve Chapman explains why, in his view, the war against ISIS is unlikely to succeed:

The United States is not incapable of fighting reasonably successful wars. It did so in the 1991 Iraq war, the 1999 Kosovo war and the 1989 invasion of Panama. In each case, we had a well-defined adversary in the form of a government, a limited goal and a clear path to the exit. We generally fail, though, when we undertake open-ended efforts to stamp out radical insurgents in societies alien to ours. We lack the knowledge, the resources, the compelling interest and the staying power to vanquish those groups.

The Islamic State is vulnerable to its local enemies—which include nearly every country in the region. But that doesn’t mean it can be destroyed by us. In fact, it stands to benefit from one thing at which both Obama and Bush have proved adept: creating enemies faster than we can kill them. We don’t know how to conduct a successful war against the Islamic State. So chances are we’ll have to settle for the other kind.

In fact, Ishaan Tharoor notes, the one time we managed to “destroy” a major terrorist outfit, it came back … as ISIS:

The closest the United States has come to destroying a terrorist organization like the Islamic State was when it subdued the al-Qaeda insurgency that led to its rise. A U.S. counteroffensive in 2008, aided by a coalition of Sunni tribal militias, beat back al-Qaeda in Iraq; Baghdad, for a brief moment, seemed to be showing the political will to better accommodate Iraq’s Sunni majority regions. But those gains didn’t hold and, in the chaos of Syria’s civil war, units that once belonged to al-Qaeda in Iraq reemerged as the Islamic State.

The irony is unwelcome for a raft of reasons: The Islamic State is far more powerful than its predecessor, boasting as many as 31,500 fighters, according to new estimates from the CIA. That includes an influx of radicalized European nationals, as well as opportunistic defectors from other Syrian rebel groups. The United States does not have the boots on the ground as it did during its occupation in Iraq; nor is it certain that the Obama administration or the Iraqi government can call on the same Sunni militias that helped first push back al-Qaeda in Iraq.