Obama, ISIS, war, and reality

Snowden-4 If he [Obama] does not go on the offensive against ISIS, ISIL, whatever you want to call these guys, they’re coming here. This is not just about Baghdad, not just about Syria. It is about our homeland, Lindsey Graham

In war, truth is the first casualty. Aeschylus

In a major speech a couple of days ago, President Barack Obama became the fourth President to announce that we are going to bomb Iraq. I’m not saying that we are in a state of 1984-esque permanent war, but the last president who didn’t send troops to fight overseas was Jimmy Carter (but only if we don’t count the failed rescue mission in Iran). Obama’s speech disturbs me, it seems eerily similar to Bush The Younger’s justification for preemptive war and I don’t know why Obama did it.

Yes, ISIS -or ISIL, if you prefer – is taking over parts of Syria and Iraq but that is not the end of the world. Yes they have brutally killed hundreds, if not thousands, of people, but they are not the existential threat to Western Civilization that we are being told they are. When Lindsey Graham hysterically says the sky is falling, he is just being overwrought, or is trying to make other people frantic (I have no idea which).

I don’t know much about ISIS but I do know enough to know that they are not going to load up onto some Islamic version of Liberty Boats and come over here to take over, any more than Saddam Hussein did. Yes, ISIS took  alot of ground in a very short amount of time, or, maybe more accurately, it has been a short amount of time that we have been hearing about them. Even more alarming seems to be that they have been taking over territory across national borders (borders Europe so cavalierly drew about a hundred years ago). Sure, they seem to be an especially nasty organization, or – at least – they have some very nasty members who take pride in publicly killing helpless people. And, yes, they seem to be almost miraculously successful, but they are not going to be sailing – or flying, or even marching – over here. There are lots of reason for getting in a war with ISIS – some of them may even be pretty good – but the fantasy that they are going to attack us is not one of them.

According to the New York Times, while ISIS may be built on bloodshed, it seems intent on demonstrating the bureaucratic acumen of the state that it claims to be building. Its two annual reports so far are replete with a sort of jihadist-style bookkeeping, tracking statistics on everything from “cities taken over” and “knife murders” committed by ISIS forces to “checkpoints set up” and even “apostates repented. They are trying to setup a new country, ruled by Sunnis, out of parts of two failed countries now ruled by Shiites. Yes, it is possible, maybe even likely, that some of the Americans and Europeans who went to – let’s just say – The Levant to join the battle and learn the trade of killing people, will try to go back to their home country to terrorize us. But, by and large, we know who they are. This time we are paying attention (maybe too much attention, maybe that is part of the reason they became radicalized in the first place).

I feel confidant that, if and when, a ISIS radical comes back into the United States, we can keep track of them. What I don’t have confidence in is our ability to pick a side in a Civil War and have that side become a functioning democracy. We picked Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to run Iraq and he, systematically jailed Sunni leaders, shut Sunnis out of power, and refused to pay tribal militias. In many ways, this is what paved the way for ISIS. We didn’t know Maliki was going to do that, we didn’t expect him to do that, he said that he wouldn’t do that, but he did. I cannot think of even one Civil War in which our side won (except, obviously the US Civil War).

We think that our agenda is so right that it will make a difference, but every side thinks their agenda is right. We are outsiders – with all that implies – and are regarded as such. Edward Luttwak  points out how outsiders become the other and are hated even by those they came to help. The very word ‘guerrilla…describes the ferocious insurgency of the illiterate Spanish poor against their would-be liberators, under the leadership of their traditional oppressors…King Joseph of Spain presented a draft constitution that for the first time in Spain’s history offered an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, and the abolition of the remaining feudal privileges of the aristocracy and of the Church. … Despite the fact that the new constitution would have liberated them and let them keep their harvests for themselves, the Spanish peasantry failed to rise up in its support. Instead, they obeyed the priests, who summoned them to fight against the ungodly innovations of the foreign invader. For Joseph was the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, placed on the Spanish throne by French troops. That was all that mattered to most Spaniards—not what was proposed but by whom it was proposed. 

The rights and proper behavior that we find self evident is not necessarily self evident to Vietnamese, Iraqis, or Egyptians (or French, for that matter). There are people in all of those countries who do want us there but there are more that don’t. The people who want us there are mostly the people in power and, in the Middle east, they are the dictators.

It seems to me that when we do help, provide air support for example, we actually made the side we are supporting weaker. I think that Obama knows this, his speeches, in the past, have indicated that, but the pull of war, as the universal answer, is strong. That is sad, we are not what I want my country to be but, even under Obama, war has become the solution to almost every problem.

2 thoughts on “Obama, ISIS, war, and reality

  1. War is awful; it murders, maims and destroys …but it is big business, big bucks and self-perpetuating. We armed the Mujahideen with billions of dollars, weapons and Stinger missiles against the USSR in Afghanistan thru the 1980s only to return after 9/11 to fight Mujahideen Taliban and Al Qeada to a senseless, expensive stalemate. We “shocked and awed” Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in that seemingly endless war, installed our puppet PM Nouri al-Maliki and he managed to piss off the Sunnis, giving rise to ISIS/ISIL.
    So now we’re on the warpath again…..perhaps making unpleasant alliances with people we despise (Assad). When will we realize war is not the solution to every problem, it simply propagates more war?

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