Well, my recent return to Twitterdom is already sparking new screeds. Liz Sly of the Washington Post recently tweeted from the Middle East in essence that there is no one there that isn’t scared to death, totally confused, and utterly depressed.
I don’t want to appear glib or flip here, by this title. This is a deadly serious matter. ISIS is a threat to the civilized world.
The entire Fertile Crescent is under attack. I think we should allow the Sunni and Shia to sort out their thousand year old (or more) feud themselves but keep ISIS/ISIL from metastasizing. The world has to coalesce to extinguish this incubus in its crib. These are brutal barbarians, a well armed gang little different from those that maraud through Sub-Saharan Africa. Just their treatment of women alone should be a wake-up call to every decent human being on this planet, and certainly this country. Tell me what kind of men advocate re-instituting female genital mutilation?
Let’s also stop elevating them to their self-aggrandizing “State” status. They are just a prowling troop of ruthless murderers, a far cry from any kind of organized governing body of a people. Why does the media continually adopt the language of offenders?
My purpose here is always to voice a personal point of view that is based on a number of factors, but primarily a behavioral or social scientist’s perspective as well as my own opinion. This topic is so big and I have been mulling over Iraq and the region for so long (over a decade) that I could probably write a tome or a post that would exceed the patience of any of you, here. And I know that in some ways, there is no need for me to say anything, as the situation will be whatever it is, without my help. But I do want to express these thoughts because I am a Progressive and this is just one more issue that cannot be boiled down to red or blue. It defies being simplified along those lines. So I will just share a few of my conclusions, for what they may be worth and if for nothing else to dispel the notion that people like me are just outright pacifists.
While I understood the reason for the first Gulf war, I could still argue that there were probably other avenues open to us to address Iraqi aggression at that time. The second incursion, our invasion of a sovereign country, was a completely different matter. That was the largely the mercenary and miscreant brainchild of the Neocons and it has turned out to be a complete fiasco, to put it charitably.
When I vote, by the way, I don’t just go by party. I study the individuals involved, their backgrounds, training, IQ, philosophy, ideology and business ties as well as to whom they are beholden. In the 2000 election I did not want Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics or Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, Jean Kirkpatrick, David Frum and Bill Crystal running this country. In my opinion, that analysis was totally justified by the squandered trillions on a feckless and catastrophic war, and a broken economy that can also be laid at the door of runaway Wall Street hoodlums. The entire thing collapsed on them in 2008. It was a pyrrhic victory for the rest of us, though, because we ordinary citizens bore the brunt of these failed practices while the Dow has almost tripled, so the perpetrators walked away unscathed and are at it again. I have read that they have added bundled rental securities, based on the thousands of foreclosed properties they scooped up (these guys win either way), to their credit default swaps strategy. As a Keynsian, the ignorance of anyone who swallowed trickle-down theory (it has never succeeded in practice anywhere) is appalling. Here we are in stagnation for the the ordinary American, and now the same voting public is about to put control back in the hands of the people that tanked the economy. What can be the matter with America?
That same avaricious group of amateurs pulled the pins out of the Middle East and look at what we have today as a result. They have the temerity to blame it on the current administration. I really don’t want to hear another word out of them. They have zero credibility.
It would be so easy to fall back on merely storming and bombing our way out of this crisis right now. But it would be another disastrous error and the problem, which has been seething for the past 100 years years since the British foolishly tried to re-design the map in that area, would just worsen exponentially.
In his book The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman offered valuable insights on this subject. Friedman said the confluence of young, frustrated, disaffected Muslim men in the Middle East, subscribing to a selective sharia version of the Koran, absent gainful employment and with instant access to social media, where they can now see the prosperity the Western world enjoys (they think, at their expense) has sparked a groundswell of irrational enthusiasm for violence and anarchy. Just as teenagers in this country love to play graphic bloody video games, listen to gangland music, and are supporting an entire industry of death-cult books and films, these men in the Middle East are drawn by blood-thirst to jihad. Having our boots re-enter or entire villages blown to smithereens by daisy cutters will only feed that beast and support the lies they are being fed by their radical leaders.
Before I forget to mention it. I have read dozens of books and articles on the 2003 Iraq war and about the way in which we bulldozed over that region in a simplistic, almost eighth grade superficial underestimation of the complex dynamics of the factions coexisting there. There were probably only a handful of Americans who really understood the Shia/Sunni feud, the cultures of the Middle East and how Beduoin Arabs differ from Persians, and Ottoman Turks. Yet we sent in contractors to occupy the Green Zone like Paul Bremer and his team of high schoolers to make decisions as to how the country would be (mis)managed, once shock and awe subsided. There isn’t much point in going into it now, the horse is out of the barn and the barn destroyed, but I continually asked at that time in one place or another, why didn’t they hire some social scientists who were experts in the region as advisers? There are anthropologists and social psychologists who specialize in the area and who could have helped avert some needless errors. I still shake my head in disgust when I think about how incompetently the post-military logistics were carried out.
But, let’s put that aside for the moment, because we have the current situation to deal with and now it will require a much more comprehensive and cerebral plan, and execution that will likely entail global hands-on involvement added to micro-tuning as we go along.
Here are my suggestions based on what I see happening, what I know of the area from my own studies, and what some people far closer to the issue have advised. There is a chorus of voices clamoring to have their ideas put into action, so I will just tell you what I would recommend, hubris aside, if the President’s team cornered me at the local Ben & Jerry’s and asked my advice.
1. Continue and increase funding the peshmerga in Kurdistan substantially and help stand that territory up as an independent country. Put a sizable embassy and base there and shrink that albatross in Baghdad or sell it to Xe Corp. Keep funneling humanitarian aid to the peoples of Iraq who are being terrorized by ISIS.
2. Pressure Turkey into using whatever part of their 650K-man trained armed forces to take this fight on the ground to the ISIS recruiting centers. Right now, in Mosul, the second most important city in Iraq, the Turkish embassy and its personnel are being held hostage by ISIS. It seems to me Turkey has a huge dog in this fight. Get them moving on this, now.
3. Continue the drone strikes on ISIS columns and find a way, through intermediaries like Iran to penetrate Syria and obliterate their training centers. Taking out Mr. Baghdadi may not solve this problem, but it sure wouldn’t hurt! And it would in part avenge the deaths of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, at least in the minds of most Americans. Maybe this is the place to consider involvement of a small elite group of our Special Forces.
4. Force Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAR and Jordan to get involved. As people have been saying all along, we beefed up the Saudis’ defense systems, let’s call in that chit right now. If not now, then when? What was it for?
5. Bring in those who typically hang back, as in: China, with relatively full coffers. Russia (some suspect Chechen fighters trained ISIS, what role does Putin have then — is he backing Syria or them?)? Japan. Are they involved at least in economic terms any more? No question, like G. H. W. Bush did in the first Iraq war, Obama is putting together a strong coalition. Well and good, but if it doesn’t include these people, then I think we are leaving assets on the table. How about South Africa? Bring them all in to own this problem. What about Israel? They should by now be the world’s experts in dealing with and crushing Islamist gangsters — are we picking the brains of their advisers? How about Mexico? I assume they are or should be part of the team going forward.
We also need help from the region in cutting off the flow of supplies to ISIS, shutting down their support network.
6. ISIS uses the Internet to put out their evil propaganda, let’s turn it around on them. Create a series of videos aimed at those new Islamist recruits as well as the ISIS leadership. Have US military personnel, special forces, Marines, Seals, someone knows who the best choices would be, telling these people, head on, what they would individually do if they were to encounter them on any turf. I am sure the guys who have already been in that region fighting, would know exactly how to strike terror in the minds of anyone contemplating joining up with those thugs, but especially Americans and Europeans who are secretly planning to add to their murderous ranks. ISIS uses videos to terrorize, let the people who know what it is like to fight them, give it right back to them. Get right in their face, on their screens, and communicate with them in a language they can understand.
The administration plans to “degrade and destroy” ISIS in a multi-year campaign. We cannot do it with our usual troops on the ground because the US is now perceived as being toxic in that region. We need a longer term policy that will help us help those people put the Levant back together.
Tonight, the President is going to lay out his plan. How can anyone believe he didn’t have a strategy? They apparently haven’t studied this man or his accomplishments to date (as well as failures, he hasn’t been perfect). But I don’t want him to disclose too much of the plan or its details, to forearm the enemy. Barak Obama, using our elite Special Forces, got Bin Laden, along with another dozen or so high profile Al Qaeda leaders in half a dozen places and just last week, the head of Al Shabaab in Somalia.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of 9/11. I didn’t worry about Sadam Hussein attacking New York, but I am concerned that these Boka-Haram-wannabes will.
Congress needs to act. Their Constitutional duty is to advise and consent. This long term military campaign and regional coalition must be brought to a vote and they need to get behind the policy that they as representatives of the American people ultimately devise. They need to back the President. Remember “if you’re not with us, then you’re against us”? If any member of Congress just plans to punt and be a flame-thrower to attack Obama, then isn’t that, in the words of a former great leader, “giving aid and comfort to the enemy”? Let’s help the President get these butchers in the same, methodical, relentless and surgical way he went after the other terrorists eliminated on his watch.
Let’s put politics to work in that region and leave it aside at home.
Images: BBC.com, TheTimes.Co.UK