Andrew Bacevich’s article at the Los Angeles Times is brief but smart. In contrast to the dominant voices calling for more bombing and even the use of torture, he proposes something different. His critique is historically informed and echoes what many scholars, including myself, have been advocating for a long time.
“What Americans refer to as terrorism is more accurately this: a violent outgrowth of chronic political dysfunction and economic underdevelopment affecting large parts of the Islamic world, exacerbated by deep-seated sectarian divisions and the pernicious legacy of European colonialism and further complicated by the presence of Israel, all together finding expression in antipathy toward the West and especially the United States. For the “war on terror” to succeed, it will have to remedy the conditions giving rise to that antipathy in the first place.” Exactly!
Read the entire article here: The ‘war on terror’ isn’t working – LA Times
Like the historian Wayne Te Brake I think the wars of religion that occurred in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries can teach us something about the current conflicts in the Middle East. However, I have to disagree with his optimism concerning the current cease-fire in Syria.
Brake points to the well-known settlements to the European conflicts: “the Religious Peace of Augsburg (1555), the Edict of Nantes (1598), and the Peace of Westphalia (1648).” While admitting that these were the result of a “grudging consent” rather than “the acceptance of explicit blueprints for a pluralistic future,” he sees in them hope for peace in the Middle East. This may be true in the long run, but the analogy between the current situation in Syria and the above peace settlements fails to take into account some important differences.
First, I think its’ important to note that the first two of the above peace settlements did not last. The breakdown of the Peace of Augsburg resulted in the Thirty Years War and the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685 by Louis XIV, unleashing a new rounds of violence. It was only after the idea of toleration was accepted as something desirable that we began to see permanent peaceful relations between the various religions in Europe. This is why Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration was so important. Locke was not the first, or the only person, to advocate in favor of toleration, but his influence in changing people’s attitudes about religious diversity that made him such an important figure in the West.
In the conflict zones of the Middle East today there are few, especially those in power, who are willing to accept even a grudging toleration. Without this there can be no lasting peace. The peace in Europe was enforced by powerful states, who despite not accepting toleration as a good were willing to enforce policies of toleration because it was in their interest to do so. The wars had taken such a toll in lives and treasure that a politique policy became necessary. This willingness, or even the ability, to follow a similar policy in Syria, the Islamic State, or Iraq is missing. And even if they get to the point of accepting a grudging toleration in the name of stability, it will not be permanent until there is a change in world view.
Read the entire article here: History News Network | Studying the 30 Years War Gives Me Hope about Our Religious Wars
The Thirty Years War
hat the rise and fall of a 12th-century Islamic empire does (and doesn’t) tell us about the rise (and fall?) of ISIS.” Before comparing the vastly different Islamic movements, Fromherz reviews the history of the Almohads, a radical Berber sect which briefly ruled in Muslim Spain (A great history lesson in its own right).
He is careful to note the many differences between the groups, but notes one important “possible comparison.” He observes that it is likely that “the process of routinization—that is, the process of ideological compromise and moderation needed to practically govern as state—will probably begin soon. There is no reason to believe ISIS will not follow the path of so many religious and millenarian movements before it. In this case, the best long-term strategy for ISIS’s would-be targets and victims may be to wait for ISIS to destroy itself.” I like this option!
Fromherz is not the only to note this trend toward routinization as a factor in bringing down radical movements. Rationally, based on a cost-benefit analysis, this is probably our best strategy. But, realistically, this is not emotionally or psychologically appealing, and therefore it is unlikely to be adopted. But we should heed Fromherz’s warning: “If parties and politics in the West become increasingly intolerant and nativist in their reaction to ISIS, the West may indeed inflict more harm on itself than anything the charismatically apocalyptic minds behind ISIS could imagine.”
Source: ISIS vs. History – The American Interest
“The interesting question is this: What would a smart power campaign directed against the challenges represented by the Islamic State (which are of course broader than just that group) look like? What are the techniques; levels of resources; and strategies of cooperation, collaboration, and communication?” James Stavridis offers some suggestions: Killing the Islamic State Softly | Foreign Policy
In the aftermath of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks more and more Americans are in favor of sending troops to destroy ISIS and a “do whatever it takes” strategy to completely destroy ISIS and other terrorist threats. But do they know exactly what they are advocating? It’s unlikely!
It is not completely their fault. Many on the Right (pundits, politicians, and intellectuals) are advocating this strategy in the face of what they claim is an existential threat. Many of those who are pushing for this all in approach either don’t understand the level of commitment they are promoting, or have not fully thought through what it would take to achieve such a goal.
In light of this disconnect, Andrew J. Bacevich challenges the proposal by laying out in no uncertain terms what it would take to execute this strategy. He concludes that the costs (in terms of lives, treasure, and values) would be great! “By sowing fear and fostering impossible expectations of perfect security, it would also compromise American freedom in the name of protecting it. The nation that decades from now might celebrate VT Day — victory over terrorism — will have become a different place, materially, politically, culturally, and morally.”
“For a rich and powerful nation to conclude that it has no choice but to engage in quasi-permanent armed conflict in the far reaches of the planet represents the height of folly. Power confers choice. As citizens, we must resist with all our might arguments that deny the existence of choice. Whether advanced forthrightly by Cohen or fecklessly by the militarily ignorant, such claims will only perpetuate the folly that has already lasted far too long.”
Read the entire piece here: History News Network | Beyond ISIS
Another perceptive analysis of our current situation: “Americans are scared and whenever the next terrorist act occurs, temperatures will soar, and as our past bears out, bad things will surely happen as ambitious politicians, goaded by the mass media, rush to avenge the criminals, guilty or not. Meanwhile, the morally and politically myopic men and women who entrapped us in a no-win Greater Middle Eastern hornet’s nest will continue advising our leaders how to beat ISIS and finally win our never-ending wars.”
Source: History News Network | Quicksand: Or How and Why the U.S. Created its Very Own Middle Eastern Quagmire
“Russia and Iran are deeply embedded in Syria; they cannot be dislodged and will always remain a player in shaping Syria’s future. The US has little choice but to accept this simple reality.” As much as I hate the idea, I think that Alon Ben-Meir is right. Given the situation, our only option if we want to stop the conflict in Syria and defeat ISIS is to work with Russia and Iran (both of which have substantial interests in the region). What’s the alternative?
Read an overview of Ben-Meir’s solution here: History News Network | These Are the Hard Steps that Must Be Taken to Resolve the Syrian Mess
This is absolutely shocking! William C. Bradford, a West Point law professor, accused other law professors who disagreed with him of treason. He believes they are helping ISIS because their ideas would, in his mind, weaken the U.S. “Why, you might ask, would these law professors betray their country? Bradford offers a variety of unconvincing explanations. Among the nefarious acts CLOACA scholars (that never gets less ridiculous to type) are guilty of are “skepticism of executive power,” “professional socialization,” “pernicious pacifism,” and “cosmopolitanism.” None of these are criminal acts or behaviors, of course. But that seems to be a technicality when Western civilization is at stake. “This radical development,” Bradford declares, “is celebrated in the Islamic world as a portent of U.S. weakness and the coming triumph of Islamism.” (He cites no source for this claim.)”
Matt Ford at The Atlantic, gives a good summary of Bradford’s ignorant article. He also does a great job pointing out the many flaws and lapses of logic. Unfortunately, the views expressed in the article are probably shared by many. Bradford resigned after The Guardian exposed his exaggerated credentials used to get his job.
Read the entire article at The Atlantic, you’ll be stunned at the fact that someone in his position could be so ignorant (and stupid!).
Our political discourse is dominated by hyperbolic discourse that simplifies the world in an emotionally appealing way. Therein lies its power. It is emotionally gratifying and makes us feel like we’re in the know when we’re not. We would like the world to be black and white, but it isn’t. Unfortunately, theses false and/or deceptive narratives harden into “facts” as they are perpetuated via the media, the blogosphere, and social media. This rhetoric has poisoned our political discourse and has hampered our efforts to deal with our problems.
Some of the most despicable rhetoric has been reserved for President Obama. Once the rhetoric has established the general feeling that Obama is “incompetent” and “weak” (or “tyrannical” depending on the context) all further charges against him then “ring true” (no fact checking needed!). One of the recent charges against Obama accuses him of “cutting and running” from Iraq, leading directly to the creation of ISIS. With extensive knowledge of the situation, Brian Glyn Williams takes on this claim and concludes that “Maliki’s anti-Sunni policies directly led to the rise of ISIS. He, along with Paul Bremer, is the man most responsible for creating ISIS.” But he doesn’t let Obama off the hook completely.
Brian Glyn Williams weighs in on the “who created ISIS” debate. He concludes that it was the policy of disenfranchising the Baathists (civilian and military) that “fulfilled the Law of Unintended Consequences,” and “opened the Pandora’s Box that would ultimately lead to creation of ISIS.”
Here’s an excerpt from the essay: “The Iraqi military, which consisted of 385,000 men in the army and 285,000 in the Ministry of Defense, was a much respected institution in Iraq and its disbandment shocked Iraqi society. The tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers who had taken their weapons home instead of fighting the American invasion felt betrayed when they were fired. This created a recruitment pool of armed, organized and disaffected soldiers. In one fell swoop these Iraqi soldiers lost their careers, their paychecks, their pensions and their source of pride. General Daniel Bolger would claim that de-Baathification ‘guaranteed Sunni outrage.’”
Read Williams’ entire argument here:
History News Network | Did the Bush Invasion of Iraq “Create” ISIS?