Smoke raises behind an Islamic State flag after Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters took control of Saadiya in Diyala province from Islamist State militants, Nov. 24, 2014.
Stringer/Reuters

Counter-terrorism is harder than it looks

A couple of months ago, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump began boasting that he has a secret plan, which he will not share, to “defeat ISIS very quickly.” He added soon after that the Trump plan – again, the one he refuses to describe – would be “decisive and quick.”
 
The rhetoric came to mind this week reading this BuzzFeed report on Mike Huckabee’s related boast.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says the United States should have the most “formidable, fierce, military in the history of mankind” with the ability to defeat ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran within 10 days.
Huckabee was initially asked whether the disastrous war in Iraq was a mistake, and the former Arkansas governor dodged the question. Instead, the GOP candidate said, “[W]hen we have a threat, whether it is – ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranians, whatever it is – we make it very clear that we plan to push back and destroy that threat to us. And we won’t take 10 years doing it, we hopefully won’t even take 10 months, it will be like a 10-day exercise.”
 
It’s obviously difficult to take any of this seriously. But Huckabee’s dream of a 10-day exercise in which the United States can destroy any threat does offer a timely reminder: a variety of Republicans seem to believe counter-terrorism is easy.
 
Trump won’t share the details of his secret plan, but he’s apparently under the impression that he can throw overwhelming force at a problem and make it go away. Huckabee clearly is thinking along the same lines:  build a formidable force, aim at a target, destroy the target, come home. It doesn’t matter if the target is a terrorist network or an entire country.
 
Why didn’t the Bush and Obama administrations think of this? If only the post-9/11 presidents had turned to Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump for guidance sooner, imagine the suffering that could have been avoided.
 
Or not. Tackling national security, counter-terrorism, and geopolitics in one’s imagination is simple, but when grown-ups work on these issues in the real world, the challenges are far more complex. The idea that foes such as ISIS and Iran – which happen to be on opposite sides themselves – can simply be wiped out entirely in 10 days is absurd.
 
It’s also a reminder that Huckabee hasn’t brushed up on these issues since his last presidential campaign eight years ago. Remember, shortly before the 2008 Iowa caucuses, Huckabee conceded he didn’t know what the National Intelligence Estimate was; he cited Thomas Friedman and Frank Gaffney as his biggest influences on foreign policy, despite the fact that they have nothing in common; and in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, Huckabee’s first reaction was to argue that the slaying should lead to a reevaluation of immigration policy, which didn’t make any sense.
 
Rich Lowry wrote at the time, in reference to the Republican’s knowledge of foreign policy, that Huckabee is “manifestly unprepared to be president of the United States.”
 
Eight years later, the former governor is showing few signs of progress.
 

Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee

Counter-terrorism is harder than it looks