Art Carden  

Bets On Whether We Will Successfully "Degrade and Destroy" ISIS?

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That terrible people do terrible things does not mean that good people can stop them without ultimately making matters worse. I think Bryan's "Common-Sense Case for Pacifism" is relevant to the President's claim that we will "degrade and ultimately destroy" ISIS leaders (here's coverage from the local paper).

War is an occasion for bluster, bravado, and cheap talk. Bravado can be fun when we're explaining how you will suffer humiliation when the sports team from my area defeats the sports team from your area. It is something else entirely when lives are in the balance; borrowing from Alex Tabarrok, we should tax it by expecting people to bet.

Hence, I wonder: what bets would EconLog readers propose? From the article:

"This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground," Obama said.

The change could mean the addition of Syrian territory into the targets for U.S. airstrikes.

The president maintains no U.S. ground forces will be utilized.

"I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," Obama said. "It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil."

1. What are the odds that our "partner forces" produce terrorist elements and become targets of our air strikes within ten years?

2. What are the odds that we have American troops on the ground by the end of 2015 (thanks to Daniel Klein for pointing out a typo, which I've fixed)?

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COMMENTS (11 to date)
Shane L writes:

It would probably be easy enough to wipe out the state established by ISIS. The US can clearly destroy states easily, taking just a few weeks in Iraq initially, for example. But defeating a non-state terrorist group, or an ideology, is much harder, and war is not often the cause of a terrorist group's demise:

Likewise solving complex political and sectarian problems in Iraq to such an extent that a safe liberal democracy can emerge doesn't just need will so I feel pessimistic about the future there in the near term.

August writes:

The trouble with this bet is that I don't believe it is necessarily the intention to degrade and destroy. If they want ISIS gone, leave them alone, and they will come to nothing. The surrounding governments will be forced to cooperate with each other- and they will do so because ISIS is looking for victories that bolster their claim to the caliphate. Mecca and Medina probably top the list.

MikeDC writes:

Question 1 is isn't a concrete assumption. Who is defined as a "partner"? What agency do we give to the individual fighters in the irregular units doing the fighting? Literally speaking, the odds we fight some particular group that was at one time allied with us are near 100%.

But that doesn't mean that an intervention against ISIS would ultimately make matters worse.

Neither does Question 2. I tend to think the odds are high there will be at least some troops (special forces, spotters, etc?) used to fight ISIS. Does the introduction of one pair of "boots on the ground" change the dynamic? Not really. Does it expose the President as a liar? Well, sure, but that's already pretty well known.

At the end of the day, these questions seem superficial and rhetorical, and the reality is quite a bit more complex. I tend to look at foreign interventions as involving yourself in domestic violence (also in the news).

It's dangerous, thankless, and generally pointless. But if you look out your door and see your neighbor beating the snot out of his wife on the front lawn, you probably need to do something about it.

Even if she gets back together with him later. Even if she's a miserable person herself.

As a libertarian, I generally think of issues like this as a point of failure for libertarian theory as our reactions seldom make much sense.

Theodore Sternberg writes:

The part of this that might not be futile is finding, and destroying from the air, the expensive American-made weapons that the Iraqi army abandoned, and ISIS grabbed.

90% to your question #1, 25% to your question #2.

zc writes:

2. What are the odds that we have American troops on the ground by the end of 2015?

Not sure what you're getting at here. Do you mean to imply that we'll bring home the troops we already have there by then as the bet?

We already have troops on the ground fighting ISIS now. Sure, we call them 'advisors' to obfuscate our direct involvement. But that doesn't change the fact that they are soldiers with weapons employed by our military.

So, the odds we'll have American troops on the ground in Iraq between now and 'by the end of 2015' is 1:0 in favor.

Hazel Meade writes:

On the one hand, ISIS is clearly a much greater threat than Al Qaeda ever was. Al Qaeda never held territory, nor commanded a significant military ground force. It was always bands of isolated cells working in secrecy. ISIS operates openly and has vastly more resources at their command.

On the other hand, the idea of the "Islamic State" producing a functioning government is arguably so absurd that it might be beneficial to let them try - and fail miserably. The "Islamic State" is destined to be as much a failed state as Somalia or the government of Iraq. Or the Taliban government of Afghanistan pre-2001.

I suspect they will be too busy killing heretics to keep the water running or the power plants operating.

There was once an Islamic State, it was called the Caliphate. ISIS wants to re-create it. They aren't shy about it.

AMW writes:

I think American boots on the ground probably won't happen until after Obama leaves office, because it would be an embarrassment for him to go back on this, and he will probably have the ability to keep ISIS in stalemate with air power and proxy ground troops. If the U.S. does put boots on the ground, it will probably be with the next president.

David writes:

How long have we been "air striking" this region of the world? Does anyone really believe that more airstrikes will lead to some kind of resolution?

ColoComment writes:

I confess I did not listen to the President's speech -- I can no longer tolerate the tone and cadence of his speaking pattern. However:

Bing West has quite a nice post today at NRO regarding his view of the expected effectiveness of the declared strategy.

and, fmr. HHS Secretary Ridge opines on the "not in harm's way" assertion in last night's speech.

Hazel Meade writes:


I know, but that was a completely different era. Nevermind that ISIS's image of the Caliphate is fairly idealized - from the perspective of an Islamist Ideal.

Imagine what the Arab world would look like if it was completely severed from all non-Islamic countries. Like it or not Muslims have to do business with infidels in order to acquire the technology they need to provide the services that modern Arabs have come to expect.
And you can't do business with infidels if you're commited to killing them.
The Islamic State would not have any access to outside expertise when it came to building water treatment plants ot power plants, or telephone networks or even roads. Maybe they could cut deals with China, but I doubt that Atheists and Buddists are less anathema to them than American Christians.

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