Doesn't Someone Have to Do Something to Stop Islamic State?
October 5, 2014
Steve Weissman / Reader Supported News
Commentary: "Which bothers you more? General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly warning that Obama might have to send in ground troops to defeat Islamic State? Or former president Jimmy Carter supporting Obama's new war?.... Giving Islamic State the war it wants will help them far more than it hurts them and could encourage a cataclysmic sectarian war between Sunni and Shia Muslims."
(September 20, 2014) -- Which bothers you more? General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly warning that Obama might have to send in ground troops to defeat Islamic State? Or former president Jimmy Carter supporting Obama's new war?
Dempsey's quick-fire mission creep came as no surprise. Many generals insist -- correctly, in my view -- that air power alone cannot possibly destroy the jihadis on the ground. But neither can ground troops -- not even hundreds of thousands of them. Didn't we learn that from the Bush-Cheney-Blair fiasco in Iraq? Giving Islamic State the war it wants will help them far more than it hurts them and could encourage a cataclysmic sectarian war between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
Carter's support for Obama's war also came as no surprise, at least not for those who remember the past president's provocative and far-from-peace-loving support of the mujahideen in Afghanistan six months before Soviet troops marched in.
But his latest pro-war position seems to reflect a concern that many progressives share. I see it in emails from old friends and fellow activists. Their question is poignant: Doesn't someone have to do something to stop the brutal medievalists of Islamic State?
The least satisfactory response is to deflect the question. Just check out the comments below from truthers, followers of Lyndon Larounche, and others of an overly conspiratorial bent. They see Islamic State as nothing more than an American creation, which Obama or his "deep-state" string-pullers put in place to justify an endless war on terror, an attack on Bashir al-Assad in Syria, a renewed intervention in Iraq, and an even larger US military presence in the Middle East.
If Obama continues to take the bait, Islamic State will certainly promote all of the above. But those who see "false flags" everywhere miss the plot. Why refuse to give Islamic radicals the credit or blame for making their own history?
As I pointed out back in 2004 in "Jesus, Jihadis, and the Red-State Blues":
Believers in a radically politicized jihad, or holy war, fervently seek a righteous, rejuvenated Islam, one that recaptures all lands that Moslems once ruled, especially those now dominated by Jews and Christian "crusaders." Organizing themselves for over a hundred years in clandestine groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, the jihadis directly shaped both Hamas and al-Qaeda.
But now, thanks to Mr. Bush, his overly militarized War on Terror, his use of torture and sexual humiliation, and his sending troops to occupy Iraq, the once small minority has gained greater support among the world's Moslems than anyone could have reasonably expected.
Islamic State follows in this long and troubled tradition, just as Obama tries to follow Bush without those nasty incidentals like torture-based intelligence, ground troops, and all-out occupation. The problem, foreshadowed by General Dempsey and his fellow generals, is that half-measures too often grease the skids into the full disaster.
In Syria, Obama had the CIA covertly help Saudi Arabia and Qatar arm the ISIS militants who are now Islamic State, and many saw the group as a pawn of Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud. Readers may remember him as Bandar Bush, the Saudi prince who served as Riyadh's ambassador to Washington for many years and went on to head Saudi intelligence, spearheading the Sunni war against Assad in Syria.
Bandar left that role back in April, as others in the royal family expressed fears that Islamic State would soon unleash its militants on its former Saudi supporters the same way Osama bin Laden did between 2003 and 2006. Until February, Islamic State was affiliated with al Qaeda, but the two groups are now competing for leadership of radical Islam.
This makes Islamic State all too real, and the search for a solution all too urgent. "It's a question of simple humanism," wrote a friend. What should we do to stop these vile idiots from killing "potentially tens or hundreds of thousands" of innocent people they see as infidels?
No one has a workable solution for the short term. But a middle-term solution that could work is staring us in the face. Chelsea Manning, the former army intelligence analyst now serving 35 years in military custody for WikiLeaking government secrets, offered the beginning of wisdom last week. Get out of the way and let Islamic State degrade and destroy itself.
Working as an all-source analyst in Iraq in 2009-2010, Manning carefully tracked intelligence reports on the Sunni insurgency. He saw in these reports the first signs of Islamic State, or ISIS, which was growing out of Musab al-Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
The militants were attacking civilians with suicide- and car-bombings in downtown Baghdad, trying to provoke American intervention and sectarian unrest. But Manning noted that their recruiting often failed "when American and Iraqi forces refused (or were unable) to respond because the barbarity and brutality of their attacks worked against them."
Manning also noted that the contrary was too often true. When the Americans and Iraqis did respond, the jihadis could convince their fellow Sunnis that the attacks, no matter how brutal, were the only way to fight back against the American occupiers and the Shia government of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Manning's insight here is key. "Let ISIS succeed in setting up a failed 'state' -- in a contained area and over a long enough period of time to prove itself unpopular and unable to govern. This might begin to discredit the leadership and ideology of ISIS for good."
In other words, let Islamic State defeat itself. Stand aside and let its fellow Sunnis turn against it.
The other part of a workable solution is for a fed-up public in the US and Europe to force Big Oil and its political lackeys to stop backing corrupt Sunni dictators across the Persian Gulf and through Northern Africa. And there's no better place to start than with the Saudi theocracy, which -- as the Guardian's Seamus Milne reminds us -- has "beheaded dozens in public in recent months, including for 'sorcery.'"
Milne pushes us even further. "The alternative to Obama's new Middle East war," he writes, "is concerted pressure for UN-backed agreement between the main regional powers, including Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, to wind down the Syria conflict and back a genuine unity government in Iraq. An end to western support for the Egyptian dictatorship would also help."
At this point, not even Elizabeth Warren would support such a solution. I doubt that Bernie Sanders would go for it either. But another Howard Dean would, if only we could find one. In the meantime, progressives need to spell out something like the Manning-Milne solution and build support for it.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold."
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