ISIS: Not As Easy As Bill Maher Thinks


I’m not sure what’s worse about Bill Maher, his ankle-deep knowledge base or his pathetic critical thinking skills. Unfortunately, those are traits he shares with a huge swath of the population, including many politicians and so-called pundits.

I’ve said little about the current crisis because I just don’t have much to add to what’s already been said. But I’m ready to venture out on one front.

Maher has company on both the left and right when he opines, with total certainty, that it’s the Muslims in the region who need to take the fight to ISIS. He even ticks off the names of countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, whose citizens need to step up their game.

And everyone nods in agreement.

I don’t read everything, but I’ve read perhaps one hundred articles and blog posts on the subject, and have yet to see someone take this argument on.

So I will. I think it’s preposterous.

First, some history.

In Vietnam, we armed and trained Vietnamese to fight to prop up the corrupt regime controlling South Vietnam. Shockingly, it didn’t work out well. You see, their hearts just weren’t into the idea of risking their lives to confront the foes of that corrupt regime and its American sponsors. Imagine that? They just didn’t believe in the cause for which they were being forced to fight.

What did those Vietnamese “fighters” do? They traded with the North Vietnamese: American-made arms for safety. Then the North Vietnamese used the arms they acquired to kill American soldiers, who, for the most part, also were forced to fight for a cause in which they did not believe.

The logic behind Maher’s argument, if there is any, is that ISIS is a threat first and foremost to the Muslim countries in that region, so it’s “their” responsibility to confront the threat.

But who in that region is threatened by ISIS, the 21 year-old Egyptian who would be told to risk his life, or the corrupt Egyptian regime to which he is subjugated and which took out the freely elected leadership in an American sponsored coup?

The enemy of my enemy is my friend, the saying goes. So, if that Egyptian kid living under the thumb of an American-backed autocrat is made to fight an enemy of that autocrat, how hard is he going to fight? If we’re lucky, not very. If we’re not lucky, he changes sides, or simply exchanges whatever arms he’s carrying for free passage to Turkey.

What about the army Egypt already has? Could they go fight? Not really. You see, they’re needed at home to prop up the autocrat who’d be taken out in an uprising but for the armed thugs who protect him. Whether it’s Thieu in Vietnam, Hussein in Iraq, or any other, a corrupt leader always will insist that his best, most loyal soldiers stay near him for protection.

Obviously, the prospect of Saudi Arabians taking on ISIS is fraught with the same contradictions.

What’s going on here? It’s not just Bill Maher. Many have expressed agreement with his view, and none that I know of have seriously challenged it.  Why? The premise, I suspect, is just too seductive. So, it doesn’t get the questioning it should. Back in the day, I doubt many questioned the strategy of arming the South Vietnamese to fight for “our guy” and against “their” enemy.

The bottom line, I fear, is that there are no easy answers. Over 60+ years of meddling, beginning with the CIA led coup of a freely elected Iranian leader in 1953 and his replacement with a brutal tyrant, we’ve made a complete mess of it, Democrats and Republicans both.

Oh, what a tangled, tangled web we wove.


  1. I agree with Bob that there will be little help in the fight against Isis from any of the Sunni Arab countries. Here’s a great article from the NY Times about how Isis and Saudi Arabia are very similar regimes.

    Our best hope now is to ally with Iran, Iraq and Russia if we want to take out Isis. But that means compromising on Assad, which is very hard for our neo-cons to swallow.

  2. Oh, Bob! I am sorry to say you completely missed the target on this one. Both your comparison to Vietnam and your analysis of why the Arabs won’t fight are seriously flawed.

    I won’t spend much time on Vietnam because that is not the central thrust of your blog, but the reason we lost the war was not because the South Vietnamese wouldn’t fight, it was because we gave up and walked away. After the Tet Offensive of 1967 we had broken the back of the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong fighting in South Vietnam. Their Commander, General Vo Nguyen Giap, said in his autobiography (as have several other senior military and political leaders) that he and Ho Chi Minh decided they could not defeat the South Vietnamese and Americans and they decided to negotiate an end to the war. That was when they first came to the table to discuss terms. However, when they saw the riots and protests in America, they decided they just needed to hold out longer and they might be able to win, so they walked away from the table and started the combat up again. In Easter of 1972, they again had a massive attack on South Vietnam and they were once badly defeated, this time primarily by the South Vietnamese with our air support. General Giap again retreated across the border into Laos and Cambodia to lick his wounds and regroup. We withdrew almost all of our troops and in 1975, the North Vietnamese again staged a massive attack. This time Nixon decided not to provide any air support and the North Vietnamese overran the South. The South Vietnamese fought hard and fought well, but the North Vietnamese fought harder. It is true that your average South Vietnamese felt more allegiance to his local village and/or Province rather than the central government, but my experience was that when properly trained and led, he would fight hard for his country. If he was fighting for his family and his village, he would fight to the death. You do the South Vietnam Army a disservice in saying they wouldn’t fight. Perhaps they were rather indifferent about the central government, but they would fight. And I never recall seeing a single American weapon being used against us. They were too well supplied by the Soviets, the Chinese and their own Arsenals.

    Now, to discuss the Arabs. You are correct in that you cannot expect the Arabs in the region to take on ISIS, but it has nothing to do with being forced to fight under American installed despots. With the exception of the Shah of Iran, we had very little to do with installing any of the Kings, Emirs, Sheiks and other despots who control the countries of the Middle East. What western influence there is lies at the feet of the British, not us. The Arabs were not particularly bothered by the people who took control, regardless of how much of a despot they might be, because such has always been the way of the Arab world. The Ottoman Empire was not a benevolent and philanthropic way of government. The simple truth is that the Arabs do not fight wars very well as we know wars to be. Moshe Dayan, a famous Israeli General, was once asked how Israel was able to defeat armies that were so much larger than the Israeli Army. He replied, “Well, first of all, we fight Arabs”. He understood from first hand experience that Arabs do not fight wars of maneuver. It is the reason we defeated them so easily…we moved too quickly for them to react and inflicted heavy casualties in doing so, while suffering few casualties ourselves. If you watch what they are doing now, they will fight back and forth for days over a single village. We would move on through that village, destroy the enemy in place, and then move on to the next objective.

    Anyway, the idea that other Arab nations should fight ISIS is dumb. If you want to defeat ISIS, Russian, American and Western European Armies will have to do it. Otherwise, you will continue to have this back and forth exchange that goes nowhere. The only real advantage ISIS has is they are motivated by religion, but that motivation is not the best motivation for a soldier. A desire to be a martyr for Allah does not lead to a long lifetime to develop an experienced and seasoned soldier.

      • (Groan!) It is not often that someone displays such a woeful ignorance of history in a single short sentence. We did not lose because we should never have been there in the first place. It may be hard to remember, but our National Defense goal of the early 1960’s was to stop the spread of Communism. Communism was spreading in Southeast Asia. In line with our stated National Defense goals, President Kennedy sent Advisors to South Vietnam to assist them with an internal insurgency of Communists (the Viet Cong). This was done to keep Communism from spreading throughout Southeast Asia, aka the “Domino Theory”. As the North Vietnamese became more involved, we sent more troops. The American people supported it. After the Tet Offensive of 1967, Walter Cronkite declared we had lost (which we hadn’t) and the American people began turning against the war. To our eternal shame, we eventually just turned our back on South Vietnam and walked away from the war. As predicted and validated the Domino Theory, South Vietnam fell to the Communists, as did Cambodia and Laos. The Communists then set about murdering millions in the killing fields, which the anti-war adherents remained strangely silent about.

        So it wasn’t that we shouldn’t have been there, it was that we shouldn’t have walked away with our tail between our legs.

        • Suggested reading for you, Steve: Kill Anything That Moves, by Nick Turse; The Bright Shining Lie, by Neil Sheehan.

        • My reading of Vietnam differs. The Domino Theory and SEATO were formed in 1954 after Dulles and Eisenhower failed to get the U.S. into the French war to re-colonize Vietnam. By an international agreement, the Geneva Accords, Vietnam was temporarily cut into northern and southern zones and was to be reunited in elections to be held in 1956. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote in 1954, “I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, possibly eighty percent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader rather than Chief of State Bảo Đại.” With 80% of the population supporting Ho, the U.S “lost” Vietnam (just as we “lost” China) because governments we supported did not have the support of their own people. It was wrong to engage there in the first place. We were fighting against nationalism and self determination, not some monolithic world wide communist state. I agree that Vietnamese, both north and south, fought valiantly as did the U.S. coalition. It’s interesting that those Domino Theory countries that became communist are now some of our most powerful trade partners. I wonder if Cambodia and Laos would have made peaceful transitions without U.S. destabilization of the area. A destabilized Iraq is at least partially responsible for ISIS.
          About ISIS, if Saudi Arabia or Egypt were able to actively engage them, they would have already moved strongly to do so. But it’s a sweet idea to have others do the fighting after we wrecked havoc in the area, A tangled web indeed.

          • Doug, you are correct in everything you wrote and I have to admit from these facts we shouldn’t have been there. We should have honored the election process and allowed Vietnam to reunify as Communist. But that would have gone against everything our Nation stood for at that time. So we interfered. Perhaps we shouldn’t have, but given our priorities in the 1950s I don’t see how we could have, or would have, done anything different. We can say today today, almost 70 years later, that it was a mistake but hindsight is always crystal clear and we can always say what we coulda’, shoulda’, woulda’ done.

            Although I have to eat some crow because of it, I am glad you so precisely and concisely laid out the pre-Vietnam War history that led to our involvement. It is both interesting and enlightening. Thank you for doing so!

    • steve if a guerrilla army does not lose it wins. you could ask lord corwallis about that. as the boss sang in born in the isa he’s all gone their still here.

      • Guerilla Armies DO NOT win wars.

        Lord Cornwallis did not lose the Revolutionary War to a bunch of guerilla fighters. He lost the war to Washington’s Regular Army (trained by French and German Officers) and the French Regular Army sent here by the King. The French Royal Navy also fought and defeated the British Royal Navy off of our coast line. The American guerilla fighters and militia units were considered very poor quality fighters that could not be depended upon to stand and fight when facing British Regulars.

        The South Vietnamese guerillas were the Viet Cong and they were virtually wiped out by the Tet Offensive of 1967. It was the North Vietnamese Regular Army that fought the war until we decided to walk away.

        Guerilla armies do not win wars. They need the assistance of better equipped and trained outside regular forces to be successful. They can be annoying, and even deadly, but they are not effective enough to win.

      • Once again, Bob, you have done me a disservice. Arabs are not inferior…they simply don’t fight wars very well. That is hardly a sign of an inferior race or culture. I have a great regard for the Arab cultures (I say cultures in the plural because there are several variations on the theme of what constitutes an “Arab Culture”) and the Arab people. Enough so that I spent a great deal of time and effort learning how read, speak and write their langauge and to pursue my Masters and my Doctorate in Middle Eastern Studies. I also spent a great deal of my adult life in that part of the world immersed in their cultures and living among them. Even now, I maintain correspondence with friends I developed over there and have visited there several times in the recent past.

        No, Bob, I hold the Arabs in high regard. You’ll have have to look somewhere else to find your racist.

          • Bob, if you are referring to the onslaught of people disagreeing with me about my stand(s), then I am surprised. I would think by now that you would know I find such exchanges invigorating, entertaining and, sometimes, instructive.

            If, on the other hand, you were talking about my response to being called a racist regarding Arabs, well, that kind of hurt a bit. It hurt because I know it’s not true. I like some groups os Arabs and I don’t care for other groups, but it has nothing to do with them being Arabs and everything to do with what they do and how they act toward others.

            Anyway, I can’t help but dig deep holes…it is in my nature. ;o)

  3. I disagree bob. The egyptian army could send in an armored division that we pay for leaving plant of forces back home along with saudi arabia along with a coalition of iraqi infantry with u.s. advisers and kurdish fighters mixed in to prod the reluctant with their bayonets. also iranian infantry special forces. A deal could be made with putin and you could gat help from him. Nato could send some forces to. France britian some others. I would like to see isis stop an armored division with infantry and air support. that is what artillery is for to pound raqqa into a dust heap. As for aggressiveness armored division commanders are the most aggressive part of arab armies and leaders of arab counties know that is where the coups come from. see iraq 1958.

Comments are closed.