We face two options, neither of them pleasant: action or inaction. If action, then what kind and against whom? If inaction, how inert shall we remain and for how long? We might say that a bunch of Muslims killing other Muslims in some sandy country far from us is no concern of ours, but where does our concern begin? If a country like Britain came under attack from an ISIS type movement, no doubt we would lend them assistance, but what about a country like Turkey? Important, yes, but how far out would we stick our necks for a country we do not regard as being fundamental to our security?
We have two choices, we can do nothing for now or we can do something tomorrow. If we do nothing, we risk a much harder fight in the future. Of course, in the best case scenario, we do nothing, we continue to do nothing, and the situation resolves itself (or, more likely, reshapes itself into a new, unforeseen problem). So for example, in 1956 in Budapest and in 1968 in Czechoslovakia we had the opportunity to chip away at the Communist Bloc in Europe, but we did nothing, and wisely so as it turns out: today, without any military intervention, the Czechs, Slovaks, and Hungarians are free peoples.
The counter example though is that ubiquitous historical event: WWII. If we (Britain, America, or Europe) had mobilized against Hitler’s Germany in 1935 or 1936, untold millions of lives may have been spared. Certainly a war in 1936 would not have been easy and bloodless, but it almost certainly would have been easier than the actual event. In 1938, Free Europe was desperate to take any course which would avoid war. Then in 1939 war came anyway and the advantage had in the meantime been given to the Fascists.
If we act, we will send Americans to die when it’s possible that we could leave ISIS alone and they will never kill a single American (not because they don’t want to but because they lack the ability) and then after a while ISIS will go the way of countless other squalid and brutish gangs. If we do not act though, ISIS may fester and grow until they reach the point where they CAN reach us and wreak significant destruction, both directly and indirectly.
So what sort of crossroads are we at today? ISIS is probably the most malevolent, bloodthirsty group of murderous thugs to rear their ugly heads in nearly 50 years. Their credentials as tyrannical and potentially genocidal maniacs are beyond question. They are today the living embodiment of evil, as the Soviet Union was in a generation past, and as the Nazis were in the generation before that. But what, if anything, should we do about it?