The West has been at ‘war’ with the Mafia and other organized crime gangs for over a century now. And nobody really thinks there will be some final ‘victory’. On the other hand the Mafia is at one of its lowest ebbs in both the United States and Italy. And who among us really remembers the days when Baader-Meinhoff terrorized Germany or the Red Brigades Italy. Or the Manson Family southern California – ooops, that is everybody because they made books and movies about it and the primary victim was a pregnant movie star. But all of which makes the point – horrible people have been doing horrible things to more or less innocent peoples since forever. And there is nothing that ISIS did in Paris that exceeds what the Manson Family did in 1969 or Al Capone’s guys in the Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. It was all brutal and evil and fully justified the full application of the force of the State to suppress it, up to and including deadly force as necessary. But only as necessary. Al Capone died in prison and Chuck Manson will too, there was no need to carpet bomb Chicago or the California desert.
ISIS are not world history’s worst monsters. On the other hand they are pretty damn monstrous. On balance are they worse than the worst branches of the Mafia over its several century history? I don’t know, on the other hand I am not going to pre-judge the State’s attempt to ruthlessly crush them. Now lots of mockery has been expended on the notion that ‘terrorism’ can be addressed as a criminal justice matter rather than some matter of existential war of civilizations. But calling these matters ‘crimes’ rather than ‘war’ is important. In WWII we declared war on Japan and Germany declared war on the U.S. and this war was considered on both sides a war of country vs. country and people vs. people with the result of really terrible acts perpetrated by both sides against an amorphous enemy. In the context of total war firebombing Tokyo and Dresden were considered simple acts of war. And if anyone objected the answers were easy: “Coventry”, “Pearl Harbour”, “The Bataan Death March”.
But we don’t need to adopt the model of ‘Total War’. ISIS is not Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany. On the other hand it is a little harder target than the Detroit Purple Gang of the 20s and 30s or the Gambino Family of the 70s and 80s. All of which means that we need to calibrate our violence to the actual threat. We can take the War to ISIS without taking it to the entire Islamic World. Just as taking the War to the Mafia didn’t require carpet bombing every Sons of Columbus Hall and blowing up the Vatican. In both cases you need to keep focus on the Bad Guys. And regard collateral damage as a tragedy and not as we too often did in World War Two as a payback.
Maybe the Italians will never extirpate every trace of the Mafia from Sicily. In fact I will bet big money that not. And I predict that 100 years from now, and despite all the efforts of Batman, er I mean the NYPD Gang Squad, there will still be organized crime in Gotham/The Big Apple. Even though there will be episodes of Good Guys shooting down Bad Guys. And Bad Guys killing Innocent Civilians. And so too for ISIS. We can never defeat the underlying forces that lead to criminality. Which doesn’t mean we can’t cheer the day that Seal Team Six put bullets in Osama bin Ladin’s head or the day, hopefully soon, when a Hellfire Missile takes out the top leadership of ISIS/ISIL/Da’esh. But Christ Almighty can we keep the fire bombings and nuclear attacks in our back pocket? Taking out criminal leaders of criminal regimes while understanding that not every person under the power of that regime is a legitimate target is not some wimpy response, some lightweight attempt to ignore the fact that “we are at war” and not busting people for jay-walking. But there is a middle way that has us targeting the actual bad guys as criminal thugs who may require lethal justice. Without carpet bombing Palermo or the Bronx.