Today we are all French. Tomorrow? We shall see. I wrote these words two days after the Paris attacks. Three weeks have passed. And San Bernadino.
Paris elicited an outpouring of sympathy, sorrow, outrage, resolve, and calls to action, much sincere, but not all, for there was also an outpouring of bluster and pandering to fear, ignorance, and bigotry. Republican presidential candidates relished the opportunity to take potshots at Barack Obama, aiming to score points with a base that has never accepted the presidency of a black man, a base that will presumably dictate strategy and tactics until one of their number seizes or stumbles into the party’s nomination. Demagoguery is nothing new in political affairs, as Plato noted a few years back. It remains unsavory.
A Politico headline proclaimed that on terror we are all right-wingers now, adopting the line of the hard right that only they can be counted on for national security, while liberals and progressives, lumped together in an indistinguishable blob, will be weak, appeasers, unwilling to take the necessary steps to safeguard the country. This kind of thing I would expect from National Review. It is regrettable that Politico does not hold itself to a higher standard.
The “clash of civilizations” theme is popular, accompanied by declarations that this is war, us against them, a fight to the death. In what sense Daesh is to be considered a civilization is generally unexamined. For too many the underlying assumption is that the civilizations in conflict are those of Islam and the Christian West, notwithstanding that the Christian West has been notoriously secular for some time.
Juan Cole argues that Daesh is more akin to drug cartels and narco-terrorists of the Global South than an entity we would dignify by designating it a state, even of the rogue variety. He puts Daesh’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi down as “a minor Iraqi academic, Ibrahim al-Samarrai, who would not have gotten tenure in a good Islamic-studies program. The rest of the Muslim world falls down laughing at his declaration, made while flaunting a Rolex, that he is a caliph, a successor of Harun al-Rashid.” Daesh is not a state, much less a civilization, but a “band of human traffickers, rapists, drug smugglers, and looters.”
As for the individuals who perpetuated the murders in Paris:
The young men recruited by the late petty thief Abdelhamid Abaaoud were, it should go without saying, not soldiers; they were delinquents outfitted with bombs and machine guns instead of stilettos. They were marginalized people, the people discarded by the sluggish capitalism of Belgium or France, given no purpose in life by their squalid environs, humiliated by quotidian racism, denied the dignity of productive labor, and, in the case of Belgium, poorly educated by a mediocre state-run school system. (Cole, ISIS Want a Clash of the Civilizations)
In other words, they were primed for “radicalization,” to use one of the day’s buzzwords.
None of this is to minimize or deny the threat posed by Daesh and those influenced by it to commit heinous acts. At issue are the strategy and tactics that might have a shot at being effective in countering such people.
An old college pal tells me he doesn’t have time to worry about foreign terrorists when he’s surrounded by domestic assholes. The point is well taken. Demonizing Muslims, a fashionable pastime in certain quarters, will not harm Daesh or make us safer. Ted Cruz’s blather about bombing the desert until the sand glows is just infantile, and his call for more tolerance for civilian casualties in the war against Daesh is despicable. In effect the argument goes that we should be more like terrorists, who “have such utter disregard for innocent life.” There is a salient point to be made here, albeit not the one that Cruz has in mind. Too many of us accept the illusion perpetuated by certain political and military figures, self-styled authorities from the think-tank realm, and members of the punditocracy that military operations can be sanitized, conducted without harm to innocent civilians and, maybe more importantly, without placing American troops in harm’s way.
The gun cult endorses an armed citizenry as the front line of defense, as if one should not leave home without body armor and kalashnikov. Restrictions on intelligence gathering and surveillance, especially of Muslims, should be rolled back or lifted altogether, under the illusory assumption that we have the means to sift through the data and ferret out what is useful if only we amass enough of it. As William Burroughs noted, sometimes paranoia’s just having all the facts.
That people are fearful is understandable, though I think apprehension is probably more appropriate response than outright fear. There are many ways harm is more likely to come our way. That said, all it takes for a mass killing is a disaffected individual, of which there are many. Guns are plentiful and easy to obtain, as is information about making explosives from ordinary materials. No strategic mastermind or infiltration by faux refugees is required. Attacks such as those in Paris aim to provoke a backlash against Muslims living in the West, which will in turn make them a target for recruitment. Blockheads who traffic in anti-Muslim xenophobia play into Daesh’s narrative. Meantime, we might ask how, or if, we should distinguish attacks with a connection to Daesh, however tenuous, from the mass shootings that happen here almost routinely.
Those who blame Obama for the rise of Daesh ignore or conveniently forget the group’s provenance as al Qaeda in Iraq in the chaotic aftermath of the US invasion and botched occupation. The group’s roots that go back to allegiance, and sometimes rivalry, with al Qaeda, and before that the “Afghan Arabs” among the mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, supported and funded by the Saudi and Pakistani governments and the CIA.
Obama, his advisers, and others, Hillary Clinton among them, get it wrong time and again when they encourage, and in Syria insist on, the overthrow of autocrats and dictators with not even a hazy notion as to what will follow, secure in the baffling and naive belief that democracy in the Western style will miraculously bubble up as if from an underground well of yearning for Enlightenment values and Western-style institutions once the old autocratic regime is taken off the board. Iraq and the Arab spring show how treacherous that path is.
There is broad consensus that Daesh must be driven from territory it occupies in Syria and Iraq, thereby delegitimizing its claim to the caliphate and making it less a magnet for those susceptible to radicalization. There is also consensus that while this will take more than bombing, a massive US ground presence on the order of Iraq in 2003 would be counterproductive. The usual neocon chorus featuring the indefatigable tenors McCain and Graham has hit on the magic number of 10,000 US troops as a sine qua non to provide leadership and support for an indigenous ground force of 70,000 or 100,000, whatever the number, that will somehow coalesce out of the multitudinous groups and factions presently at odds with each other as much as with any defined opponent.
I believe it was on Thanksgiving that I heard an NPR report about David Cameron’s appeal to Parliament for Britain to join the fray. An “expert” with a British accent opined that a coalition of opposition groups and the Syrian army could, with Western aid, defeat Daesh and out of that victory would be born a new, united Syria. Alas, I did not catch the expert’s name and was unable to locate a transcript or audio of the news piece. It is possible that I missed some subtle point that would have rendered the scenario less implausible. As it is, this sounds like something from a man who could do with an adjustment on his medical marijuana prescription, maybe lower the dose. Have we learned nothing from Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Arab spring? Have we forgotten the US/Saudi Arabian project to inspire Muslims for jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan and how that came back to bite us? Where do they get these “experts”?
Pat Lang throws cold water on the “notion of a regional ground combat force that would in their field of dreams go to Syria and Iraq and destroy the Islamic State,” a fantasy of both the Obama administration and Democratic and Republican presidential aspirants. (The army that will never be…).
We are burdened with the conviction, indeed, the imperative, that something must be done. No one offers a roadmap apt to get us anywhere near a desirable outcome. The greater the confidence with which any political leader, military strategist, think-tank expert, or pundit pushes a specific strategy or tactic, not a doubt in his military mind, the more dubious we should be. Whatever the way forward, it figures to be long, difficult, and ugly.
Jason Burke, The story of a radicalisation: ‘I was not thinking my thoughts. I was not myself’, The Guardian, 26 November 2015
Juan Cole, ISIS Wants a Clash of t he Civilizations: Let’s Not Give In, The Nation, 25 November 2015
Emma Graham-Harrison, Passport trade raises doubts over Paris attackers’ identities, The Guardian, 15 November 2015
Michael Hirsh, On Terror, We’re All Right-wingers Now, Politico Magazine, 14 November 2015
Laila Lalami, To Defeat ISIS, We Must Call Both Western and Muslim Leaders to Account, The Nation, 14 November 2015
Pat Lang, The army that will never be…, Sic Semper Tyrannis, 6 December 2015
Jacqueline Lopour, The scariest thing about Islamic State? Its kinder, gentler side, Reuters, 27 November 2015
Charles P. Pierce, There Is Only One Way to Defeat ISIS, Esquire, 14 November 2015
Lydia Wilson, What I Discovered From Interviewing Imprisoned ISIS Fighters, The Nation, 21 October 2015
Graeme Wood, What ISIS Really Wants, The Atlantic, March 2015
Russia and Turkey’s foreign policy objectives in Syria (by CP), Sic Semper Tyrannis, 26 November 2015
David :: Dec.06.2015 ::
House Red: Politics & Current Affairs ::
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