ISIS: The rat with no tail

To students of history, the United States' failure to enlist enough faithful partners within the Middle East to eradicate ISIS should come as no surprise.  After all, this isn't the first time a Western power has faced such challenges abroad.

In 1894, Alexandre Yersin discovered the role rats played in spreading the bubonic plague, a disease that posed a threat to all of humanity.  As such, France's ensuing dératisation campaign in Hanoi must have seemed like a logical and even necessary measure at the time.  Nevertheless, its effects were catastrophic.

Soon after the turn of the 20th century, France's anti-peste program in Hanoi had evolved to the point to where France was paying Vietnamese residents one cent for each rat tail handed over to the authorities.  Thousands of rat tails began to pour in.

However, the French authorities' delight in seeing so many rat tails was to be short-lived.  That delight quickly turned first into shock and then into disgust as the same authorities began to encounter tailless rats roaming the streets of Hanoi as well as rat-breeding enterprises in the suburbs.  Instead of deceasing the rat population, France's dératisation efforts had actually increased it!  

We learned from this experience that a rat with no tail can still procreate and also that a procreating rat, under certain circumstances, can be a good thing for quite a few people.

Today, ISIS is the rat with no tail, and like the Hanoi rat population at the turn of the 20th century, ISIS's recent growth is largely due to a dangerous mix of good intentions and perverse incentives.

The large masses of refugees flowing into the West are a prime example.  Clearly, people of goodwill want to help others in need, and would-be refugees clearly want what is best for them and their families.

In order to reach the West, these would-be refugees merely have to fight the rat of ISIS enough to escape its clutches and profess to the West that they disapprove of ISIS's ways.  They don't have to kill it; in fact, the eradication of ISIS would be counter to their efforts.

As a result of this dynamic, the number of Syrians who received U.S. training and are currently fighting ISIS is paltry.  While General Austin reported that number to be "four or five" in September of 2015 (Why General Austin couldn't get a hard number, I will never know; he is a general, after all…well, is it four or is it five, dammit?), it may be slightly higher today, but it certainly remains pitifully low and dreadfully insufficient.

And while the Middle East is being stripped of the human capital required to eradicate the threat of Islamic extremism, intellectuals in the West are pontificating as to whether or not the helping of these refugees is worth the uptick in terrorist attacks or its effects on parents' decisions as to whether or not to send their daughters out to enjoy New Year's celebrations.

I, however, would like to pose a far simpler question: isn't a rat with no tail harder to trap and kill?

To students of history, the United States' failure to enlist enough faithful partners within the Middle East to eradicate ISIS should come as no surprise.  After all, this isn't the first time a Western power has faced such challenges abroad.

In 1894, Alexandre Yersin discovered the role rats played in spreading the bubonic plague, a disease that posed a threat to all of humanity.  As such, France's ensuing dératisation campaign in Hanoi must have seemed like a logical and even necessary measure at the time.  Nevertheless, its effects were catastrophic.

Soon after the turn of the 20th century, France's anti-peste program in Hanoi had evolved to the point to where France was paying Vietnamese residents one cent for each rat tail handed over to the authorities.  Thousands of rat tails began to pour in.

However, the French authorities' delight in seeing so many rat tails was to be short-lived.  That delight quickly turned first into shock and then into disgust as the same authorities began to encounter tailless rats roaming the streets of Hanoi as well as rat-breeding enterprises in the suburbs.  Instead of deceasing the rat population, France's dératisation efforts had actually increased it!  

We learned from this experience that a rat with no tail can still procreate and also that a procreating rat, under certain circumstances, can be a good thing for quite a few people.

Today, ISIS is the rat with no tail, and like the Hanoi rat population at the turn of the 20th century, ISIS's recent growth is largely due to a dangerous mix of good intentions and perverse incentives.

The large masses of refugees flowing into the West are a prime example.  Clearly, people of goodwill want to help others in need, and would-be refugees clearly want what is best for them and their families.

In order to reach the West, these would-be refugees merely have to fight the rat of ISIS enough to escape its clutches and profess to the West that they disapprove of ISIS's ways.  They don't have to kill it; in fact, the eradication of ISIS would be counter to their efforts.

As a result of this dynamic, the number of Syrians who received U.S. training and are currently fighting ISIS is paltry.  While General Austin reported that number to be "four or five" in September of 2015 (Why General Austin couldn't get a hard number, I will never know; he is a general, after all…well, is it four or is it five, dammit?), it may be slightly higher today, but it certainly remains pitifully low and dreadfully insufficient.

And while the Middle East is being stripped of the human capital required to eradicate the threat of Islamic extremism, intellectuals in the West are pontificating as to whether or not the helping of these refugees is worth the uptick in terrorist attacks or its effects on parents' decisions as to whether or not to send their daughters out to enjoy New Year's celebrations.

I, however, would like to pose a far simpler question: isn't a rat with no tail harder to trap and kill?