ISIS has proclaimed itself to be is a new state, and beyond that, a caliphate. Let's for now agree the caliphate part, with its references to ascendant Islam, is at best aspirational.
But upshot ISIS does have has the money, arms and territory to qualify as a state, esp. in a Middle East where old definitions of statehood are in tectonic (I'd like to say quantum) flux.
ISIS is a state that has been carved out of the destruction of the Iraqi state — brought about by American arms — and the civil war in Syria.
There's a lot about ISIS I don't pretend to understand. Its military expertise has been attributed to the well-trained officer corp of Saddam Hussein's military. But those guys, like Saddam, were secular, not Islamist, not al Qaeda. How to explain the fusion of their training and discipline with the most vile and punitive sort of Sunni fundamentalism? Is this a fusion of convenience, as I suspect? It seems to be working, so far.
Nor do I understand what American goals are in this confrontation. Obama says not only degrade but, "destroy ISIS".
If ISIS is a state, however upshot, you can't destroy it from the air.
To destroy a state takes invasion. (Readers of military history and especially, in this context, of Victor Davis Hanson, will know what I mean.)
But American "boots on the ground" are forbidden. After Vietnam. After the invasion of Baghdad.
So where are those boots going to come from?
A combination of Saudi boots and Iranian boots, though Saudi Wahabism and Iranian Shiism are like Islamic matter and anti-matter.
Look, the United States has an astonishing military. Our fighter planes are technological marvels. I do sometimes wonder what it would be like to have my seatbelt — or whatever — fastened while these jets do their thing above all known military hoops.
Still, what are we sending these military marvels to do?
It's not enough for our cameras to point at Islamist atrocity. The more we absorb and react to these images the more there will be of them.
(NEW MEDIA PROVOKES AND DISABLES EVERY BIT AS MUCH AS IT INFORMS AND ENABLES.)
What are we trying to accomplish?
Seems to me we are trying to accomplish the reconstitution of an Iraq that is truly gone for ever.
The Sykes-Picot agreement after World War I soldered Kurds, Shiah, and Sunnis into a state that until lately has been called Iraq.
The Kurds are pushing toward their own national entity. (see http://www.salon.com/2014/09/24/viggo_mortensen_on_lord_of_the_rings_and_playing_an_american_at_last/)
The Sunnis have broken loose from a broken Iraq to their own entity, for now called ISIS. (Do you imagine that if we "degrade" ISIS the impulse driving it will disappear and not take other forms?)
And then we have Bagdad, which is to say, no matter how much we pretty it up, the Shiite rump of an erstwhile Iraq.
What are we fighting for?
War draws me, unsettles me, as it does us all.
But since this war is going to go on for a long time — as all the generals have said —I'm going to try to sign off on it, and give it as little mind as I can.
It being a boring undefined and endless war.