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The Second Front Against ISIS Opens

Walter Russell Mead

With the battle for Mosul heating up, the attack against Raqqa begins. The Wall Street Journal:

U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab forces in Syria began a long-anticipated offensive against the Islamic State-controlled city of Raqqa, an operation timed to leverage a similar push in Iraq to crush the extremist group.

The forces launched attacks in the northern suburbs of Raqqa and within hours captured a number of small villages but remained at least 25 miles from the city, said Talal Silo, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed coalition of factions.

The battle has been in the preparatory stages for months and was launched after a delivery of weapons and ammunition from the U.S.-led international coalition fighting the extremist group in the Middle East, Mr. Silo said. The fight to isolate Raqqa and prepare for a coordinated assault on the Islamic State capital could take weeks or months, U.S. officials said.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Sunday he welcomed the SDF’s initial operations to cut off Raqqa and begin to loosen Islamic State’s “barbaric grip.”

The great vulnerability of ISIS has always been what it claimed as its greatest strength: instead of being a shadowy organization, it claimed to be a state with a capital and an army. On the one hand, this triggered a wave of enthusiasm among the deluded fanatics of radical Sunnism that at long last the millennium was dawning. On the other hand, this so-called “state” is vulnerable to the kind of grinding, crushing counterattacks that are making a mockery of its pretensions to strength and to divine assistance.

There is simply no doubt that the best way to “handle” ISIS is to crush it, totally, humiliatingly, finally. The boastful jihadis, the arrogant slave traders, the fanatical zealots, and the self righteous execution squads need to feel the hammer of true power. They have been living in a fantasy land; they need a healthy dose of reality therapy.

Victory against ISIS will not be easy; the so-called caliphate will pull out all the stops in a last ditch defense. But the battle needs to be won: apart from liberating prisoners and bringing justice to criminals, victory will send a clear lesson to others who might be tempted to follow in ISIS footsteps.

The fall of Mosul and, hopefully, Raqqa won’t bring an end to the Syrian war. The end of ISIS won’t solve the problems of Iraq, in which Iran—which is what ISIS wanted to be (a state organized around fanaticism and terror)—is aiming to advance its own jihadi ambitions by crushing opponents. It won’t force Putin to retreat from his ugly and opportunistic intervention on behalf of the blood-stained Syrian regime.

No, the collapse of order in the Middle East and the Obama administration’s lame response to it won’t be washed away by the fall of ISIS. But ISIS needs to die, and the United States needs to help kill it. Let us hope and pray that the double assault on Mosul and Raqqa bring a tragic conflict to a speedy close.

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