Tuesday, June 17, 2014

ISIS in Iraq is Not the Rave on Cobra Island: What Advice Would You Give Barack Obama About Resolving the Crisis?

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Moving forward...

I have no use for the Fck Yeah America! crowd. They help to young men and women to die in imperial misadventures while taking no personal responsibility for said events--save for the hope that they can crow and gloat if the latter go reasonably "well", and then sell books and go on the lecture circuit to fatten their pockets.

If the war mongering goes badly, the advocates of the blood parade can deny any connection to it, or alternatively lie and make themselves into voices of caution and reason.

Frederick Kagan and William Kristol are cheerleaders for militaristic and imperial hubris. I am no dove. I am a hawk (within reason) who follows Clausewitz's dictum that war is the continuance of politics by other means. War should not be an end in and of itself.

Their piece in The Weekly Standard is historically myopic; it also demonstrates a lack of appreciation for both the context and history that created the Iraq-ISIS boondoggle. Iraq is a failed state, one created by the poor decision-making of George Bush the Younger's administration.

The Right-wing media have decoupled Bush from this current mess. The Iraq crisis is his child, even while the Republican Party and its media would like to deliver it as a castoff baby left on Obama's doorstep in a basket, affixed with a note that says, "will you adopt me? I need a good home."

I disagree with most of what Frederick Kagan and William Kristol wrote for The Weekly Standard.

However, I am not able to easily dismiss their observation and concern that:

It’s widely agreed that the collapse of Iraq would be a disaster for American interests and security in the Middle East and around the world. It also seems to be widely assumed either that there's nothing we can now do to avert that disaster, or that our best bet is supporting Iran against al Qaeda. Both assumptions are wrong. It would be irresponsible to embrace a premature fatalism with respect to Iraq. And it would be damaging and counterproductive to accept a transformation of our alliances and relationships in the Middle East to the benefit of the regime in Tehran. There is a third alternative...

This path won't be easy, but the alternatives are much worse. Doing nothing means we will face a full-scale sectarian war—Syria on steroids—with millions of refugees and tens or hundreds of thousands more dead, along with a massive expansion of Iranian control into southern Iraq and an al Qaeda safe haven stretching from the Tigris to the middle of Syria.
ISIS in Iraq is neither the "Rave on Cobra Island" or Manhattan in the movie Escape From New York.

ISIS is a group of supposed "non-state actors" and "insurgents" who have manipulated social media for their own purposes, and are now trying to create their own version of a nation state:
No sooner had it seized the Iraqi city of Mosul and surrounding villages, than the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began outlining how it would govern its dawla (state). On Thursday, the Sunni militant group released a wathiqat al-madina (charter of the city) to Moslawis. Many residents of the largely Sunni city may have initially welcomed the “liberation” from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated regime, which they had major grievances with, but they might have sobered up after reading the jihadists’ interpretation of sharia law. Those who steal will have their hands chopped off. Islam’s five daily prayers must be performed on time. Drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes are forbidden. Carrying weapons and non-ISIS flags is illegal. All shrines and graves will be destroyed, since they are considered polytheistic. Women must dress modestly (a euphemism for the full-body niqab)...

The best way to get a sense of ISIS’s blueprint for state-building is to look at how it has ruled al-Raqqa governorate and other territory in neighboring Syria. The group’s first move is often to set up billboards around town that emphasize the importance of jihad, sharia, women’s purity, and other pietistic themes. It reaches out to local notables and tribal leaders as well to blunt the kind of backlash that greeted AQI and its harsh interpretation of sharia during the sahwa movement last decade.

The group also has a surprisingly sophisticated bureaucracy, which typically includes an Islamic court system and a roving police force. In the Syrian town of Manbij, for example, ISIS officials cut off the hands of four robbers. In Raqqa, they forced shops to close for selling poor products in the suq (market) as well as regular supermarkets and kebab stands—a move that was likely the work of its Consumer Protection Authority office. ISIS has also whipped individuals forinsulting their neighbors, confiscated and destroyed counterfeit medicine, and on multiple occasions summarily executed and crucified individuals for apostasy. Members have burned cartons of cigarettes and destroyed shrines and graves, including the famous Uways al-Qarani shrine in Raqqa.

Beyond these judicial measures, ISIS also invests in public works...
In either high school or college, I read the seminal political science text Essence of Decision.

The authors of Essence of Decision have supplemented and revised their original text based on new information. As I understand it, the survey of the various theoretical approaches to government decision-making as outlined by Essence of Decision, still hold.

When I would fantasize about my older life while still young and in middle school or high school, I imagined myself a young protege ghetto nerd adviser to a President of the United States of America who understood the dangers of "rational choice" models of decision-making. The world is too messy for such neat theories. I would be the voice of reason. I would also be brave, direct, and a reasonable risk-taker. In my dreamworld, there would be no problem that my team of smart, centrist, advisers would not be able to solve in order to preserve America's preeminence in the world.

A working class black kid with dreams of maintaining American empire and power? I riddle you that one. I doubt that I am alone in working through the puzzles of youth driven by naivete, hopes, dreams, ignorant patriotism, too many cartoons, and an overdose of war movies.

Reality intrudes. America remains the preeminent power in the world. However, all of its military, and yes, financial power, appears to be impotent in stopping a group like ISIS. This suggests an important question, one suggested by Andrew Bacevich, that maybe there are problems of statecraft that the United States (or any other great power) cannot overcome while spending a reasonable amount of blood and treasure for some strategically achievable goal?

International relations is a transaction. Rescuing Iraq and forcing it into the type of civil society and nation state which serves the interests of American elites may not be a practical option.

If you had Obama's ear, what would you tell him to do about Iraq and ISIS? How did we go from the end of history to an international system in apparent flux that may (or may not) serve the existing international order of nation states. I shudder at the thought of what awaits us in the future.

Once more and again, history is a moving train.


Ish said...

Thinking the US should do something about Iraq is part of the problem. It created this mess. It cannot fix it. US policy in the region is inherently destructive, false, cold to the real life/death concerns of the people in the region. Despite the horrors of what's happening (and I lay responsibility at the feet of the US in many ways), there is no humanitarian solution involving the US.

Americans need to stop acting entitled to lord over other countries, other peoples..

I follow with two links, one an overview of the situation I wrote for another site. Second, a really interesting statement from Iraqi trade unionists that makes the viewpoint of the anti-sectarian Iraqi on the street clear.



balitwilight said...

I would repeat what some of your readers have said: the "U.S and West" should leave Iraq alone. They have less legitimate right to "contain" ISIS than a long list of potentially aggrieved nations have to contain "Obama, Bush, Blair" etc and our own neo-imperialists by lobbing bombs at us.

If the "US and West" want to assist, they should focus on refugee aid and support for mediation in impartial forums (if any) that are acceptable to all warring factions.

What is happening in Iraq is a ferocious uprising of Sunni populations that have been viciously oppressed by a puppet Shia dictator (Malaki) that the "US and West" propped up over the corpses of 500,000 Iraqi civilians. ISIS is just one small part off a broad and loose association of Sunni groups who have joined against what they see as a common enemy (a repressive illegitimate sectarian Iraqi government propped up by invasion and occupation). ISIS itself originated in Al-Zarqawi's "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" group: a vicious insurgency whose target was the American soldiers occupying their Sunni lands and their perceived collaborators in Iraq - not Wall Street or Kansas or San Francisco. In fact, Bin-Laden's Al-Qaeda organisation split with AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) because of the latter group's nationalist focus.

In other words, all this bombing and occupying and invading and corrupting and propping up of dictators that the "US and West" does IS the problem. The "US and West" should stay in the West and leave the determination of the destiny of the lands of the East to those who live in those lands.

kokanee said...

I am no dove. I am a hawk (within reason) who follows Clausewitz's
dictum that war is the continuance of politics by other means. War
should not be an end in and of itself.

It's not about doves and hawks. The test is which country is the aggressor and which country gets invaded. Chomsky on just that:
“The public is frightened into believing we have to defend ourselves,”
Chomsky said. “This is not entirely false. The military system generates
forces that will be harmful to us. Take Obama’s terrorist drone
campaign, the biggest terrorist campaign in history. This program
generates potential terrorists faster than it destroys suspects. You can
see it now in Iraq. Go back to the Nuremburg judgments. Aggression was defined as the supreme international crime. It differed
from other war crimes in that it encompasses all the evil that follows.
The U.S. and British invasion of Iraq is a textbook case of aggression.
By the standards of Nuremberg they [the British and U.S. leaders] would
all be hanged. And one of the crimes they committed was to ignite the
Sunni and Shiite conflict.” —http://www.truthdig.com/report/page2/american_socrates_20140615

Iraq is a failed state, one created by the poor decision-making of George Bush the Younger's administration.
Three days after 9/11 congress granted war powers to the executive branch abdicating their responsibility that only congress can declare war. Just like Chancellor Palpatine:

Barbara Lee was the sole congressperson who voted against it:

The AUMF was followed by the Patriot Act in the next month and in the following year congress passed the Iraq War Resolution.

At the time, the Senate was controlled by the Democratic Party. So not just the Republicans.

Left wing media is just as culpable as the right wing media in beating the drums of war. Chelsea Manning's oped in the NY Times makes that very clear: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/15/opinion/sunday/chelsea-manning-the-us-militarys-campaign-against-media-freedom.html?_r=0

As does Peter Van Buren:

If I had President Obama's ear, I would tell him what I would have told Bush Jr. in 2003: We should not use military force in Iraq unless it is done as part of a UN intervention. I would also say to him that it's probably time to allow the people of the Middle East to create their own borders along faction lines instead of the west's "arbitrary" assigned borders enforced upon them.

Are you sure you want me back?

Craig said...

We made the mistake of supporting the rebels against the Syrian government, now those rebels, with US arms and training are the "S" in ISIS. Now that the Syrian government is too strong to overthrow, thanks to the US for having spared it from attack, ISIS is going after the weaker Iraq. If I had the ear of Obama I would advocate assisting both the legitimate Syrian government to take care of the "S" in ISIS and assist Iran in taking care of the "I". With no other motive other than to avoid chaos in the region, and if that means letting Iran become the regional hegemon, then so be it. A multi polar world is the future- the US should work cooperatively with other strong nations in making this transition.

chauncey devega said...

good advice. how do we then counter the fkc yeah! American Exceptionalism crowd? Countries have no friends only interests. At this point, and I have no doubt it is likely happening, I would be chatting with Al-Qaeda proper about how to deal with ISIS.

chauncey devega said...

Chomsky is on point. Do you ever ask yourself how has been allowed to tell the truth for so long and not discredited by the powers that be? Who does he have photos of?

iamfantastikate said...

No photos required when only a small percentage of people know who he is and an even smaller percentage of people have read or listened to him. Ugh.

kokanee said...

I think, and this is just pure speculation, that the PTB have chosen to ignore and ridicule Chomsky rather than fight him. i.e. He's boring, verbose, monotone, hippie, old and out of touch, intellectual snob, etc. He also has a duplicity about him that is not a threat to the PTB (It's the price one pays for some mainstream recognition.) For example, "Obama is a war criminal." and "If I lived in a swing state, I would vote for Obama."

kokanee said...

Who want to listen to that old windbag who thinks he's so smart!

DanF said...

The only thing we have to offer Iraq at this point is more bombs. Pretty sure that's not going to help. I don't think our credibility is strong enough to bring warring factions together to negotiate - so I'd probably be working with the Kurds and Turkey on working out their differences and attempt to establish a stable, democratic Kurdish state. You reduce your Iraqi problem by a third, and perhaps create a buffer state for Turkey (I say "perhaps" as the Turks and the Kurds have at least a century of bitterness to work through - but this is a moment when their own self-interests can be set to align with being peaceable neighbors).

The Sunni will not want their own state as their historical region is void of oil. Shia and Sunni will be in an Iraqi cage match to the death I fear.

balitwilight said...

We are talking around a framework of unquestioned assumptions: about the non-reciprocral right of the US or "The West"'s to interfere in other nations' affairs; about the "US or "The West"'s non-reciprocal right to use violence in the world; about the right of some nations to have "security-at-all-costs", even when those costs include violence or interference against other nations (see domino theory, Vietnam, War-on-Terror). This lopsided conceptual framework is an analogy to "White Supremacy" on the International scale. It also used to be called "The White Man's Burden".

There is a reason that Martin Luther King named America's three great evils as Racism, Materialism and Militarism and stated that the US is "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world". I think that more progressives today need to remember the familial relationship between neo-colonialist delusions about foreign affairs, and the insanity of racialism/racism here at home.

craig said...

America's exceptionalism is its creativity - we have a lot to fkc yeah about - but causing chronic chaos is not creative, it's creative impotence - it's trying to live up to an unobtainable, sophmoric ideal. In art school many students start by trying to imitate William DeKooning's abstract expressionism - they make a mess, waste a lot of paint, a lot of hours and energy but they never get the inspiration to create order from that mess - that inspiration belonged exclusively to DeKooning. Trying to live up to him as an ideal drove a lot of students crazy. Being creative means listening to, deriving inspiration from, the inherent voice of the medium and bringing shape to the unknown; on the world stage, a modern, muti polar world is the creative unknown - listen to and be inspired by the medium of current events.
America, as a creative dynamo will be an inspiration to follow - fck yeah!

Llaloba Solitaria said...

It seems as if ISIS came out of nowhere, but they didn't. This seems like a group formed long before, from disparate regions of the area, in close communication, well trained, well financed. They wear face coverings. This is a violent group that has members willing and ready to kill, kill, kill. Where are their families? Do they have wives and children? How many secret members are part of this group? How do they recruit? How do they coordinate and communicate? Do they have a centralized base of operations??.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

One thing that I learned through economists at the World Bank is that at the root of all so-called ethnic conflicts is really about controlling the source of a country's wealth. In order to fight, an insurgency needs to pay for its manpower, weapons, equipment, food, and other materiel support.

In Iraq, the central government, meaning the Shia, control the oil wealth. The oil wealth in the country comes from two different regions--the Shia south and the Kurdish north. The Sunnis in the center were able to control the wealth because Saddam was Sunni and came from Tikrit in the center of the country.

I would tell the President, if you want political stability and you want all Iraqis to have a stake in the future of their country, then democratize the oil wealth. Give every adult, man and woman, irrespective of ethnic background and religion, a royalty check from the oil wealth. Of course, the central and regional governments need a significant portion of the oil wealth, maybe 80 percent like the Norwegian government, but spread it out to the people

With an economic stake in the country, people will favor political stability. With their own capital, they will build their own businesses and start their own schools and mutual aid societies.

The Sunnis do not feel they have an economic stake or a political stake in the country. Without fundamental democracy of wealth and power, it is a sectarian conflict we should now stay out of.

Shady Grady said...

Stay out.
There is no US interest at stake. The US has already made things worse.

disqus_ldTeP6rX6V said...

Stay out, for a couple of reasons;

1) Iraq is an artificial creation not a natural society. The sooner it falls apart, the sooner people can build societies they actually want to live in.

2) By intervening, you'll be picking a side and giving people motivation to hate you.

3) Also, ditch Afghanistan. See point 1.