Previous posts in this discussion:
PostHow Can IS be Stopped? (Enrique Torner, USA, 02/19/15 3:41 am)
I would like to reply to Tor Guimaraes's criticism of my position on ISIS (17 February). First, one more and worse crime has been committed since then: 45 Iraqi hostages have been burned alive, and they have found out that ISIS has been desecrating bodies by harvesting their organs! These atrocities are escalating. ISIS is trying to get everybody's attention. They are not only killing Christians, but also people from other religions, even Muslims. Arab countries are now retaliating, including Egypt just recently to avenge their 21 murdered Christian citizens.
I would like to know how Tor Guimaraes plans to stop them and prevent further escalations. I don't mean for the US to get involved all alone; there are already several countries, including Muslim countries, who are fighting them. We should lead or help a multinational, diverse coalition of countries to eliminate ISIS, because they are everywhere. Only a world united can win this war. But something needs to be done. We can't do nothing while abuses and genocide of men, women, and children keep happening.
The Pastor Niemöller poem, "First They Came," comes to mind here.
JE comments: The question is whether IS can be stopped by conventional military means. Are there any alternatives? If anyone knew, I guess we'd be stopping them now.
Meanwhile, President Obama is seeking to ratchet up the fight:
How Can IS be Stopped?
(Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA
02/20/15 1:22 AM)
I beg to disagree with John E about Obama ratcheting up the fight against ISIS. Open your eyes! (See John's comments to Enrique Torner, 19 February.)
The Obama Administration talking point now is that we must make more community outreach, because terrorists and aspiring terrorists just need more jobs. This is at best an offensive ignorant argument and at worst a dismissal of a critical national security threat. Tell that to the family of the beheaded Christians, the Iraqis and Jordanians burned alive, and all the victims. Bin Laden came from a billionaire family; his right-hand man was an Egyptian doctor; the leader of the 9-11 attack team was an engineer and so on. Islamic terrorists are from all walks of life and social classes. Their leaders are educated and smart people. Nobody follows stupid people for too long.
The real common thread of Islamist terrorists is their fanatic religious commitment. As a recent Atlantic magazine article ("What ISIS really wants") points out and as Peter Berger ("Why does ISIS keep making enemies?") has emphasized in a CNN piece, they are what Eric Hoffer would call true believers behaving like cultists in pursuit of their millennial/utopian goal of a caliphate at Armageddon.
Obama and his minions continue, at best by default or at worst by design, to allow the Islamic terrorist cult of fear and death to win more space and proselytize by example. Even the Democratic adviser and TV commentator Bob Beckel has recently asked for his impeachment.
WAISdom needs to be more relevant to some like me by connecting their discussion of historical events, like Guernica or the rise of Nazism, to today's events. What is happening now is history is in the making and we need clarity.
JE comments: Eric Hoffer's The True Believer was first recommended to me many years ago by our colleague Noël Valis. Here's a relevant Hoffer quote: "To know a person's religion we need not listen to his profession of faith but must find his brand of intolerance."
But...how can IS be stopped? Pres. Obama is calling for much more than community outreach. For starters, he seeks Congressional authorization for a three-year military campaign. Will any of this work? Tim Brown (next) offers his thoughts.
- How Can IS be Stopped? Words vs Bullets (Timothy Brown, USA 02/20/15 1:45 AM)
IS/ISIS is waging a hybrid form of warfare, neither as a nation-state fighting other nation-states nor as an insurgency. But the coalition opposing ISIS seems to be engaged only in the first half of the war.
My research into both sides of several conflicts has convinced me that, far more than in a conventional conflict, the most important part of an insurgency is fought with words, not bullets.
But the coalition confronting ISIS does not seem to have a plan, or at least a coherent plan, for how to combat ISIS's propaganda, even though that is the bigger part of the conflict.
Hence, a few thoughts. One. There's a military saying: Amateurs talk tactics; Professionals talk logistics. ISIS's supplies must, therefor, either be produced within its lines or imported, better said, smuggled, across them. I have no direct knowledge, but sincerely hope one of the primary goals of the air campaign is to cut its supply lines. Done effectively, the coalition can cut ISIS's supply lines and weaken it over time.
Two: ISIS asserts its immediate goal is to create a nation-state. But its tactics, especially its violations of human rights, seem designed to make this an impossible dream. Terror is a tactic, not a strategy.
It is also an admission of weakness and fear not confidence and strength, a contradiction that can be exploited.
Three: One of the major attractions of ISIS appears to be its appeal for foreign volunteers to join its ranks. We need to invoke our existing US immigration and nationality law that makes voluntarily joining a foreign armed force an expatriative act. Several European countries have entertained the idea of discouraging volunteerism by threatening to take away the passports of their citizens that join ISIS.
Having, in decades past as a Consul, made dozens of decisions to expatriate US citizens that voluntarily joined the Israeli army (being drafted didn't count) or voted in Israeli elections. We could--and should --take citizenship and passports away from any and all US citizens that join ISIS and encourage other nations to do the same.
We should also cancel the permanent or temporary residence permits of any and all that leave the US to join ISIS. This would, in a way, involve de facto acceptance of ISIS's claim to nationhood. But to recuperate their status would require them to return to the US and accept incarceration until they could be cleared of committing crimes against humanity. While I don't recommend doing so, were we to use the same system we invoked towards the beginning of WWII, we could even intern or threaten to intern, anyone that abets or otherwise actively supports volunteering to join ISIS
But, above all we need to counter ISIS's propaganda.
JE comments: Tim Brown has often shown his talent for innovative thinking. To Tim's useful suggestions, I would add a beefed-up cyberwar against IS, employing tech-savvy Arabic speakers. Probably a lot of this is happening already, under the radar screen.
Expatriation is a tricky subject from a legal standpoint, for, as Tim points out, it would be a tacit recognition of IS as a nation-state. Pres. Lincoln did a similar legal dance during the US Civil War, when some Northern Confederate sympathizers (Copperheads) were exiled to the South. Since the Union did not recognize the South as a nation, this was a murky legal move.
Stopping IS: Nation-State vs Caliphate
(John Heelan, UK
02/20/15 5:22 AM)
As usual Timothy Brown pours the good cold water of common-sense on the discussion (20 February). I would quibble that the aim of ISIS is a caliphate rather than a nation-state.
The West understands nation-states and how to ally with them or combat them if necessary, but I am not so sure that it understands the different nature of a caliphate that transcends nation-states. The revenge side of me would like to repay ISIS barbarities in like manner (napalm attacks on enemy combatants, summary executions and so on), but that makes me no better ethically than them. The more civilised side of me realises that perhaps the only way to defeat religious fundamentalism is to convince religious communities (mainly moderates) to expel those relatively few correligionists inclined to terrorism. Further, those who fund and supply fundamentalist terrorism (as Tim rightly points out, the logistics) should face global retribution, even those nation-states (and Kingdoms!) that turn a blind eye to the provision of such funds.
JE comments: Ah, the elephant in the room: Saudi Arabia. Could the Kingdom do much more to stop the funding of the extremists? I don't think there's any question that it could--if it wanted to.
- How Can IS be Stopped? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 02/20/15 2:57 AM)
Enrique Torner asked on 19 February: "I would like to know how Tor Guimaraes plans to stop [IS] and prevent further escalations."
Circumstances (i.e. extremely bad ISIS behavior, and we are already up to our neck in this quagmire) force me to share much of Enrique's opinions on the tactics the US government has to use to fight ISIS from now on. Specifically, it makes a lot of sense for the US to join with, and lead, the increasing number of countries, especially Muslim countries, who are now fighting. The fact that Enrique is not sponsoring a more unilateral hawkish approach to this war is a major improvement from what some Republicans were preaching a few months ago. President Obama is already implementing this coalitional approach to the war. This tactic seems sound, so we must be patient before getting too nervous about what else to do. Also, the link provided by John Eipper shows that strategically President Obama (just as his predecessor) is also wisely seeking to drive a wedge between Islamic fundamentalists and Islam proper:
This wise separation is strategically critical but must be done with deeds as well as words, and so far the jury is still out and this is a dynamic issue. On the one hand, the more extreme the crazy behavior by ISIS, the further away most Muslim people want to be from them. On the other hand, the more the US government commits abuses against Muslim people and also condones Israel's abuse of innocent Palestinians, the more Muslim people feel the need to participate in the Islamic Spring. Similarly, Christian extremists preaching violence against Muslims in general also force them towards their own extremists. And don't forget there is a long history on this side while ISIS and their crazy behavior did not exist a short time ago.
Last, and most important strategically, the long history of some European and US government abuses against Muslim countries has produced this increasingly bad situation we are in. Without dramatically changing this reality we are doomed to fail in the long run for the reasons I have already discussed numerous times on this Forum. Unfortunately, as Robert Whealey and I said earlier, "US governments have always had faith in imperial adventures all over the world. They escalated unwinnable and lingering civil wars... with no coherent strategy except to follow standard US foreign policy and advance the interests of friends and special corporate interests." Now these chickens have too often come home to roost. Nevertheless, I hear presidential candidate Jeb Bush is being advised by none other than the well-known neocon Paul Wolfowitz; clearly a step in the wrong direction. And I doubt Hillary will have someone much better.
Strategically speaking, the only thing more important than the long negative history of US imperialism is that concurrently our nation has been made increasingly weak economically and financially and things are likely to get worse financially. In turn, it is only a matter of time for such weakness to be reflected on our military capability. With all the enemies we have developed over the years, we will need a very strong military just to defend ourselves. As a prerequisite we need a strong economy, which requires a strong middle class. There is no way around the reality of these contingencies, thus we must pay more attention to our own country which is quickly falling apart from within. We need immediate action now while we might still be able to manage our own destiny.
JE comments: At least Walmart is going to raise wages and standardize the schedules of its employees...
- How Can IS be Stopped? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 02/20/15 1:48 PM)
The WAIS question of the day is, how can IS be stopped?
Before starting the discussion on how many bullets will be necessary to eliminate IS, the US should immediately eliminate the things that for too many years have been considered a great insult to the entire Arabic/Muslim world:
1) Abolish the prison facilities of Guantánamo, which are in violation of the provisions of the Fourth Convention of Geneva of 1949.
2) Stop condoning Israel each time that it forgets to abide by all the Geneva Conventions.
3) Recognize the State of Palestine as a free and viable state without foreign troops or colonial oversight.
Without such steps, the fight against IS is doomed to failure, as it will probably be doomed to failure if the above three "conditio sine qua non" are not complied with, but also if the support of Russia is not sought, without the silly smearing of Putin.
JE comments: But as I've pointed out before, Putin by any measure is behaving very badly. Should he get a free pass?
Nor do I think fulfilling these three conditions would take much wind out of the IS sails. But the steps might inspire more moderate Muslim states to join the anti-IS coalition. The problem: Obama politically cannot afford to sound too conciliatory or soft in the fight against IS. So don't look for any unilateral concessions from Washington.
Early today, I spoke of the necessity of ratcheting up the cyberwar. According to NPR's Morning Edition, this concern is shared by the White House:
How Can IS/Daesh be Stopped?
(Luciano Dondero, Italy
02/22/15 3:59 AM)
President Obama is doing all he can to deny that the "Islamic State" is an Islamic organization, and is taken to task by two Muslim feminists
Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa write:
"At the White House summit on 'countering violent extremism,' President Obama declared that violent jihad in the name of Islam isn't the work of 'religious leaders' but rather 'terrorists.' American-Muslim leaders, attending the summit, cheered and applauded, later taking selfies in front of the president's seal.
"But, as liberal Muslim feminist journalists who reject the vision of the Islamic State, we can say that the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and the alphabet soup of Islamic militant groups, like HUM (Harkut-ul Mujahideen) and LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba), rely very much on the scholarship of 'religious leaders,' from Ibn Tamiyyah in the 14th century to Sayyid Qutb in the 20th century, who very much have credibility and authority among too many Muslims as 'religious leaders.'"
This is comforting for those of us who are trying to face reality. Maybe people will pay attention to the voices of Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa, although I don't have many hopes in this regard--after all, they are just women...
As usual, denial is not very helpful when you are supposed to confront a harsh enemy. Regarding IS/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, the starting point should be to state clearly that once again this is the result of "espionage blowback" (see: Stuart E. Eizenstat, The Future of the Jews, 2012), similarly to the infamous case of Osama bin Laden. Once again! It seems that the US and its allies are unable to learn from their own mistakes, and that is a very serious problem.
In order to combat Syria's ruler Assad, anybody was enlisted, no matter how murderous and barbaric they themselves where. Now, in order to combat IS/Daesh, the US is prepared to join forces with Iran--a country which is no less murderous and barbaric than Daesh itself! And also with Iran's ally/client Syria (or whatever is left of that country).
And it is of course a bit disingenuous to state, as Massoud Malek wrote on 21 February, that Iran is as much Islamic as Daesh while trying to prettify Islam as such. That's exactly the problem, as pointed out by Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa: it doesn't really matter, pace all those who claim that Islam is a religion of peace, whether the Koran says "kill all your enemies" or not (it does). The trouble arises from the fact that the traditions and the teachings of Islam can be easily interpreted as murderous.
And, yes, of course, so can the traditions and teachings of Christianity and Judaism--just read the Old Testament, or Wikipedia about the history of the US up to the 1960s (the KKK is indeed a Protestant Christian organization: anti-Blacks, anti-Jews, anti-Catholics). But, and this is no small but, in Christian countries as well as in Israel the law and its implementation trump religion almost all the time. In any Islamic country things are not so: sharia law is religion interfering with civil society. One needs only look at the status of women and homosexuals in Islamic countries (the "bad," the "good," and the "ugly" ones) to see this. Which is why one cannot discuss the military confrontation with IS/Daesh in a vacuum.
And, yes, to reply to a question raised by our editor, there are social absolutes: "That all people are created equal, and that they are all entitled to freedom and to the pursuit of happiness," to condense and paraphrase the historic documents that the Founding Fathers (bless them!) wrote when they set up the USA.
How does one go to combat Daesh then?
1. Stop lying about IS/Daesh and about its nature, and also about the problem with Islam--if the Egyptian president can raise the need to "revolutionize Islam," maybe this is not so absurd after all.
2. Stop lying down when confronted with people whining about "Islamophobia" and such: civil society, its democratic fabric underpinned by the existence of a set of balancing forces, comes before any "holy writ" arising out of backward, pastoral societies in the Middle East centuries and centuries ago.
3. It is not true that "every idea has to be respected": we do not respect geocentrism, nor idiotic theories about illnesses ("malaria," as the name says, was supposed to arise out of "bad air": we know better now!). Why should we respect the notion that the world is flat, or that it was created 6,000 years ago, or that a man named Jesus is the Lord and that he was born out of a Virgin mother?
4. What has to be respected, and defended to the end, is the right of each one of the inhabitants of this planet to say what he thinks, and to think what she wants, and also to do what they want, provided it does not interfere with other people's freedom--and that "interfering" is precisely what unrestrained and totalitarian religions do. Islam is a case in point, whenever it is not restrained and compelled to deal with its own flock, and that also within the framework of civilian law. Therefore, no concession to sharia law or any other barbaric practice in Western societies: No infringing on the right of every girl not to have her genitals mutilated! No "Divorce Italian style!" No "separate but equal" drinking fountains in the Southern states of the US! And so on. (You will notice that the latter examples refer to past practices...)
5. Religious freedom for Muslims in Western societies does not mean freedom to incite to join a terrorist organization--like Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, IS/Daesh, to name just a few--or advise on how to kill and subdue "the enemies of Islam." No freedom for hate speech disguised as religion! All imams' sermons should be monitored--I suppose that among all the peace-loving Muslims, one should find a few prepared to tell the appropriate authorities about those who "throw dirt on Islam" by advocating terrorism. And those who violate the law should be dealt with appropriately.
6. The fight is not simply against one particular group, of course, but against the very essence of terrorism--the notion that your ideas (whatever they may be) grant you the right to maim and kill at leisure those that you decide are guilty of a crime against your ideas!
7. This fight is not just a military/violent confrontation, in fact it is not mainly that. It involves a lot of work to educate people--both those who claim to be on the right side and those that are on the right side (and that's of course symmetrical)--without ideological absolutes, and trying to stick to the basic facts, like: the earth is not flat and it revolves around the sun; no virgin births; no pie in the sky; no right to kill those who "offend our religion," and so on.
Regarding the other question: "Is it possible to defeat IS/Daesh?" really it should be phrased differently, i.e., "Is it possible to defeat every terrorist organization, as well as those who fund and support them?"--but then, while I hope so, I am not so sure that it is. I lean toward the skeptical pessimism with which Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa end their article:
"Muslim leaders have to realize that grievances expressed on the streets--like the tragic murder of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, NC, last week--become the material of terrorism videos, and we have to lead our communities out of a culture of 'wound collecting,' and toward a pathway for positive, progressive healing.
"The alternative is more horrifying scenes like the video on the beach. But spilled blood should inspire--not paralyze--us. Moderates must unite, to see that 'revenge' isn't our answer and that end-time eschatology doesn't become something very dangerous: a self-fulfilling prophecy."
JE comments: A great essay, Luciano. The central paradox is that public figures like Obama are seeking to portray this conflict as anything but a religious war, in the hope of not alienating those Muslim moderates who are essential for the fight against Daesh and their ilk. But our enemies have already framed their struggle in religious terms. So Nomani and Arafa are right in their analysis, but they may be wrong in terms of policy. I believe that Daesh is a political movement cloaked in religion. The fight against them must be carried out in political, economic, and (yes) military terms.
- How Can IS/Daesh be Stopped? (Edward Jajko, USA 02/22/15 6:55 AM)
This is a preliminary response to Eugenio Battaglia's "WAIS question of the day ... how can IS be stopped?" (20 February).
Eugenio posits three "conditiones sine qua non" that must first be met before action or discussion can be undertaken. Those conditions fall upon the United States, because the "problems" that would be addressed or eliminated "for too many years have been considered a great insult to the entire Arabic/Muslim world."
In general, I support Eugenio's conditions, with some added conditions of my own.
EB: "1) Abolish the prison facilities of Guantánamo, which are in violation of the provisions of the Fourth Convention of Geneva of 1949." EAJ: fine, but what do you do with the prisoners? Allow them to return to the battlefield or to secret ops against us?
EB: "2) Stop condoning Israel each time that it forgets to abide by all the Geneva Conventions." EAJ: I'm all for breaking the stranglehold that the state of Israel has on American politics and politicians. Too many American politicians have to face a singular test of office, having to show sufficient loyalty to a foreign power.
EB: "3) Recognize the State of Palestine as a free and viable state without foreign troops or colonial oversight." EAJ: Fine, as long as the State of Palestine can stop living off of foreign welfare checks. And stops breeding murderers.
Eugenio says that "Without such steps, the fight against IS is doomed to failure." I say that this is emphatically not so. The Islamic State, Daesh, whatever one wants to call it, will not be positively affected by changes in American policy such as are given in Eugenio's three points. They are not interested in prisoners in Guantánamo, save as a recruiting tool. They are not interested in Israel, save perhaps as the possible source of nuclear weapons should they be able to mount a successful assault on Dimona or the bases where Israel has them stored. They are definitely not interested in the plight of the Palestinians. That they are not interested in the welfare of others is shown in the constant cycle of murders, executions, and mass death administered by IS.
They were certainly not interested in whatever might have been the plight of the Yazidis, instead subjecting them to exile and slaughter, with Yazidi women and girls taken as prizes for IS fighters. They have not been interested in the plight of Palestinian Christians, who are a declining minority, nor in that of the Copts.
Mass beheadings, burning people alive--these are not acts of people who are going to change their minds and settle down once Guantánamo is cleared, Israel is put in its place, and the Palestinians are recognized as a state. Nor, might I add, are they acts of people who will settle down once jobs programs are set up for them and a more or less secure financial future lies ahead.
Nor should the support of Russia be sought. Is it silly to "smear" Putin when he has annexed Ukrainian territory? I seem to recall the German for annexation, "Anschluss," a word that used to be heard often. Is it silly to smear Putin when he has ignited a war in Ukraine and cost the lives of thousands? It would only be a weak West that would invite him in as a participant in actions against IS.
Eugenio's conditions, and in particular those referring to the plight of the Palestinians, have long been used by Arab states to cover up their own deficiencies and problems. Arab State X has such and such a difficulty? It must be due to the fact that the Palestinians were robbed of their homeland and since then have lived in squalid refugee camps. Have an honest discussion with an Arab and you'll get an admission that this is indeed an excuse, and simply tired old rhetoric.
One might with profit read the article by Graeme Wood on what ISIS really wants, in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly. It is accessible and printable for free at theatlantic.com. I have met and spoken with one or two of the people mentioned in the article and the former boss of one, since tossed out of the UK back to Lebanon. I thought them clownish and silly at first, then found them to be frightening.
IS inhabits a different world. We are dealing with people from another planet, who have ideals and goals that are entirely the opposite of ours--including the desire to kill us no matter what policies we enact. There's only one way to deal with such a threat.
JE comments: Here's the link to the Atlantic piece. I'm going to read it as soon as time allows.
How Can IS/Daesh be Stopped?
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
02/22/15 3:24 PM)
I wish to thank Edward Jajko (22 February) for his kindness and his frank response to my ideas about stopping IS/Daesh.
My bottom line is that the West should be in a position free of any criticism for violations of human rights.
Guantánamo is a terrible negative symbol for the IS/Daesh and the Arab/Muslim world. Proof of this is easily seen by the way in which the orange jumpsuits and the cages are exploited.
The present inmates of Guantánamo by the Fourth Geneva Convention 1949 should be considered prisoners of war and as such protected, unless they are proven to be guilty of war crimes.
It is imperative to settle the problem of the State of Palestine. We are already 48 years too late. I had the luck on several occasions to meet Monsignor Ilarion Capucci, the Melkite Bishop of Jerusalem, the first time about 45 years ago. At that time he was preaching: "The longer that the West waits to give satisfaction to the Palestinians, the worse the situation in the greater Middle East will become."
Of course it is difficult to deal with the Palestinians of Hamas, but putting off dealing with them will make things always worse.
The borders of Ukraine were drawn, many years ago, by the Soviets with no respect for the various populations and their desires. For sure we should not now, for the sake of our imperialism, maintain the work carried out by the imperialism of the Soviets.
JE comments: There is a certain irony that the US and NATO are seeking to defend the borders drawn by the Soviets, while Putin, the successor to the Soviets, seeks a do over--a geopolitical "mulligan."
Eugenio Battaglia mentions the infamous orange jump suits. IS/Daesh must purchase them by the truckload. Can't the suppliers be investigated as a source of intelligence? Has Daesh said that they chose the color as a response to the treatment of the Guantánamo prisoners? And a final, gruesome thought: why do they bother to supply jump suits with pockets? Think about it...
- How Can IS/Daesh be Stopped? (Edward Jajko, USA 02/22/15 6:55 AM)
- How Can IS be Stopped? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 02/20/15 2:57 AM)
- How Can IS be Stopped? Words vs Bullets (Timothy Brown, USA 02/20/15 1:45 AM)