The Islamic State – Other People’s Business?

ISIL captured the ancient caravan city of Palmyra, and as when cities fell in the ancient world, the killings began. The vision of ISIL standing amid Palymra’s magnificent ruins is enough to chill any antiquarian’s blood.

That it should be the city from which one of history’s most remarkable women, Zenobia, stood against the might of Rome and one of that empire’s greatest generals, only adds to the poignancy of the moment, for in ISIL’s Palmyra, no more woman will ever be more than a slave.

There is no doubt that as Robert D. Kaplan wrote at Foreign Policy yesterday, “Middle Eastern chaos demonstrates that the region has still not found a solution to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.” He may or may not be right about the need to “bring imperialism back to the Middle East,” but one thing is for certain: the current system is not working.

What is America to do about it? What can American do about it? We have gotten so used to an America that always “does something about it” even when people don’t want America to do something about it, that we all expect America to do something about it. But should America, simply because it can (perhaps) do something about it, do something about it?

These are not questions easily answered. For one thing, President Obama does not operate in a vacuum. He operates in the post-Bush Middle East, where America’s cachet is just south of bankrupt.

Arguably, White Star Lines’ reputation was on more solid ground after the sinking of the Titanic.

This is not all Bush’s fault. America has a long history of malignant interference in the Middle East, from overthrowing the Iranian government in 1953 – the 28 Mordad coup – onward. An unabashed devotion to Israel since 1948, at the expense of every Islamic state you care to mention, did not help America’s reputation. But Bush’s prolonged plundering expedition in Iraq is what is hurting America, and the Middle East, the most right now.

David Rothkopf wrote last week at Foreign Policy in criticism of Obama’s alternative to Bush’s foreign policy. Rothkopf, cynically, I think, calls this alternative “Other People’s Armies” (OPA), “encouraging other countries to fight or help fight those conflicts we might have waded into alone or largely alone in the past.”

A better term might be “Other People’s Business.” It is easy for Westerners to talk about the merits of imperialism. Westerners have never been the beneficiaries of other people’s imperialism. We have dished it out for centuries. Middle Easterners might feel differently about it. They were certainly eager to shake off the yoke of the Ottoman Empire.

If the West intends to interfere in the Middle East at this point, it must ensure first and foremost that it is on sure footing. In other words, “Why?” To protect Israel, as Republicans claim? Well, Israel is not under attack. When Israel is attacked – if Israel is attacked, we can talk about that. To protect ruins? Much as it pains me to say it, nobody wants to die for ruins, and in any event, we can’t liberate them without destroying them.

To shore up an Iraqi regime which really doesn’t seem to want to defend itself, and worse, has a population that really doesn’t want to defend its regime, seems a dubious inducement to intervention. We saw how that sort of deal goes down in South Vietnam.

South Vietnam’s incredibly corrupt and collective shrug to the communist threat was heard loud and clear by Americans. Do we really want to ally ourselves again with people who seem to feel they have no vested interest in the battle, who fight only because we want them to fight? It is the duty of young men and women in America to die for a cause that even Iraqis refuse to die for?

The Iraqi army has reportedly shown little desire to do more than run away wherever the ISIL shows itself, as witnessed by their handing over to ISIL Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province. With the fall of Ramadi, argued Hassan Hassan last week in Foreign Policy, “In Washington, it should be clear that the current U.S. strategy to fight the Islamic State has failed.”

But are those reports true? Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Sunday’s edition of State of the Union announced that “We have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.” American equipment was left behind, a big no-no, meaning the United States is arming ISIL via the Iraqi army as a middleman. But Iraq said they had no air support from U.S. forces, even though they are stationed in the same province.

In fact, Iraq announced Tuesday that they are launching a counterattack in Anbar province. No doubt ISIL has Internet too, so maybe this is not the best way to go about fighting a war. On the other hand, ISIL probably expects a counterattack.

So the question is, who is letting whom down, here?

What is important to realize is that this is not America’s war. This is other people’s business and we are helping them out. This is not an American war, directed by the United States and fought with U.S. troops.

Our allies are a disparate group including the Iraqi army, Iranian volunteers, militias, a few U.S. units and air support, and a whole lot of American equipment – on both sides.

Americans are not eager to go back into Iraq, and who can blame them? It was a hot mess. Thanks to Bush’s early blunders, an unwinnable hot mess. Republicans like to blame Obama now but the damage was done by the time Obama became president. Bush had already created ISIL. It was beyond Obama’s capability to un-create them, because Obama could not un-invade Iraq.

So if we can’t un-invade, we re-invade?

Is that really the argument being advanced here? Because if it is, it is a non-starter for anyone but Republican chickenhawks, who because they are privileged white men, won’t have to fight themselves. Should another generation of young men and women have to die for the mistakes of old white men who will never take a bullet for their alleged beliefs?

How about the base? They don’t plan to wield AR-15s in anything but restaurants, malls, and down American streets. The only people who are going to be shooting members of the gun lobby are other members of the gun lobby – and their wives – and their children, of course. You don’t see these super patriots forming up to go overseas like another generation did to fight fascist aggression in Spain.

How badly are we wanted? And who will be shooting at us if we go back? ISIL certainly, but will they be the only ones? For nearly a decade we brutalized the Iraqi people we were supposed to be freeing from oppression. Does anyone really expect them to welcome us back as liberators?

Kaplan concluded that, “The challenge now is less to establish democracy than to reestablish order. For without order, there is no freedom for anyone,” but of course, empires are not big on freedom either. America insists on freedom, as though it is not oxymoronic – or even effective – to push freedom at the point of a bayonet.

Rothkopft speaks of “the president’s impulse to avoid the mistakes of the Bush years,” but he does not speak of Obama’s inability to do certain things because of the mistakes of the Bush years. There is no support in America for another war. For putting American ground forces in ISIL’s path.

It would be great if we could, but we can’t go back in time and undo Bush’s mistakes, un-create ISIL, or a more American-friendly Middle East. It is not a question only of what you want to do, but what you can do.

Because we are losing, or so we are told, John McCain asserts that “There is no strategy.” But is there no strategy or is the strategy we are using simply not working, and if it is not working, is there an option besides committing U.S. ground forces to a war nobody but Republicans want to fight?

I mean, the last invasion worked so well it created ISIL.

The past casts a long shadow, and the biggest mistake any of us can make now is to try to answer the question of ISIL outside of its proper context. And that is a mistake most pundits are making today.

In any case, fortunately, this is not a case where pundits will make the hard choices. That will be left to our elected officials, for better or – because they got us into this mess in the first place – for worse. We just have to hope that this time around, hard facts are heard louder than hunches or ideology – or as in 1953 and 2003, simple greed.

31 Replies to “The Islamic State – Other People’s Business?”

  1. The moment we heard rumors dubya might run for president we instantly knew this meant war will come. We knew he would win his primary and we knew if he became POTUS, blood would spill, and yes, it would not be men in suits who spilled the blood.

    We marched in the streets to stop Dubya…

    We will continue to un-invade and wince when treasures are destroyed and as people perish.

    An ideological crusade to sanity would do well to start with peace, life, honor of antiquity but they are going to need to use some muscle first and if they lack the will, they will cease to exist.

  2. The US DoD is the primary funder of ISIS, and Qatar, Israel, and Saudi Arabia are the three next-largest, and the whole reason is over oil and natural gas pipelines that Qatar and Israel want to run through Syria to Turkey and onto Europe that the Syrian President doesn’t want to allow.

    ISIS (and Al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria) are funded by US defense contractors and oil & gas companies out to make a bunch more money.

    Today’s news: “U.S. admits to backing ‘questionable actors’ (i.e. Al Qaeda/ISIS) in Syria

    Secret Pentagon Report Reveals US “Created” ISIS As A “Tool” To Overthrow Syria’s President Assad

  3. The Miami Herald, meanwhile, argues against sending in US troops to fight ISIS:

    Instead of using the defeat as an excuse to recommit U.S. ground troops to the fight, as war hawks such as Sen. John McCain are urging, this should be a moment to find out how much Iraqis are willing to do for themselves. Ultimately, it’s their country and their fight.
    Consider: If the United States is willing to step into the fray every time the Iraqi government is threatened, why should Iraq’s people make the sacrifices and political compromises necessary to defeat a persistent and bloodthirsty enemy? Critics of the Obama administration’s policy on Iraq who claim the United States “abandoned” Iraq are way off base. U.S. forces spent more than a decade fighting in that country — at a cost of some 36,000 dead and wounded, not to mention trillions of dollars — and worked hard to lay the groundwork for a prosperous future built on traditional Iraqi values and an amicable relationship between Sunnis and Shiites.

    The departure of American troops was as orderly as such things can be, and the result of a painful process of negotiation with Iraq’s government. If Iraqis haven’t been able to get their act together, it’s hardly America’s fault. And it’s doubtful that the infusion of another U.S. infantry division would make a significant or permanent difference. Any administration that disregarded the pitfalls and added a small contingent of troops would soon find itself mired in mission creep and facing urgent calls to do even more.

  4. If I may point out- Israel IS under attack. Almost daily rocket attacks…

    But such is beside the point.

    I learned a valuable bit of information when I traveled abroad: “If you are an American, don’t worry. Anything you do- will be wrong.”

    Shall we re-re-re-invade again? For what this time? Overdue books from a library? Excessive jaywalking? Getting a dehumanizing stare?

    Why should they even desire democracy? Every time they ‘elect’ someone- he either gets overthrown and sentenced to death, or becomes a despot who sentences others to death.

  5. On the eve of war in Washington, journalists and others gathered at a cocktail party at the home of Philip Taubman, the Washington bureau chief of the New York Times. . . . Judy Miller was one of several Times reporters there, and she seemed excited. Another journalist present asked if she was planning to head over to Iraq to cover the invasion. Miller, according to the other guest, could barely contain herself. “Are you kidding?” she asked. “I’ve been waiting for this war for ten years. I wouldn’t miss it for the world!”

    – Hubris, by Michael Isikoff and David Corn (via Jon Schwarz).

  6. You are adding this wrong to come to your conclusions. While added up there has been that many rockets fired but you don’t fire one rocket or 3 at a time. Most barrages average about 30 rockets or mortars at a target

  7. So 15,200 odd rocket attacks…are ‘just a few’?

    Would you be as cavalier about it if it was coming down on your neighborhood?

  8. When you only cause 60 deaths with all these raining down of rockets while Israel kills over 9700 I can give a rats ass about that apartheid state

  9. Oh I see, a mere 60 people killed. It’s not like we’re talking REAL numbers then.

    Yeah it’s an apartheid state. But the Palestinians aren’t making it easy on themselves. Endlessly violating cease fires and then acting outraged when Israel retaliates.
    60? The Israelis have had lots of practice dodging the incessant rocket attacks.

  10. No G W Bush- no illegal Iraq invasion, no torture, no war crimes, no Arabian spring, no ISIS and ISIL, and most importantly- no great recession. any questions?

  11. How would you like it if someone came to your land and took it away? BTW you do know that is against international law? But I know what you will say, the Palestinians have no country so no laws were broken. SMDH

  12. And now we get into the Round Robin discussion of Israel and Palestine.

    The Problem DJ, is that there were already Jews in Palestine for years prior to 1947. Not the best solution the British Mandate, but nonetheless- something.

    Besides, the Palestinians already have their own state:

    Secondly- many Palestinians chose to depart Israel in the expectation that they were going to reoccupy the lands after the Jews were ‘forced into the sea’.

    And then there is the Gaza strip.
    The so-called ‘concentration camp’ that had several petting zoos, a water park, and other amenities.

    But I know- arguing with DJ about the ‘oppressed’ Palestinians, is like arguing with Robert, Erica, and Jimmyk. No need to argue using the facts- their minds are made up.

  13. Of course there were Jews in Palestine prior to 1947 but since when it was Europe’s and the United States right to establish a state on land that was already occupied by people who have just as much claim to the land if not more
    The Palestinian refugee problem is one of the oldest and largest refugee crises in the world. Prior to Israel’s declaration of independence in May 1948, more than 350,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their native land as Zionist paramilitaries carried out massacres and forced expulsions, including the infamous massacre of Palestinian men, women, and children in the village of Deir Yassin in April 1948. After several Arab countries entered the war in May 1948—in part because of the ongoing expulsion of the Palestinians–the Israeli military continued to carry out a campaign of uprooting and expelling the indigenous Palestinian people, forcing another 400,000 Palestinians to flee their homes and land. Altogether Israel expelled more than 75 percent of the Palestinian population. This campaign continued long after hostilities ceased and included the razing of nearly 400 Palestinian villages. Even within Israel about 100,000 Palestinians became internally displaced refugees. They were allowed to remain within the new state of Israel but were denied the right to return to their homes.

  14. Since the USA prides into exporting:
    Self determination,
    Independent estates, blah, blah…

    Let those folks find their way out.

    Yes, there are Roman ruins there. As powerful as they were, they could not hold it together.

    That is the lesson…

  15. With this ISIS TERROR, Bernie Sander’s will never win! His focus is on America.

    I’m almost thinking we SHOULD go in there with pin-point-accuracy and wipe them out!
    (I Love Peace, but they are growing-out of control)

    Check out this piece from The UK-Guardian:

    “Skyping with the enemy: I went undercover as a jihadi girlfriend”
    “When a French journalist posed online as a young woman interested in Isis, she was soon contacted by a fighter in Syria. He proposed marriage – but could she maintain a double life?”

  16. The Turbulent Middle East. Sectarian War (Sunni tribes vs. Shiite tribes) ISIS’ rampage and pillage in Iraq / Syria. Iraq’s Army Meltdown. ——–“What is America to do about it? What can American do about it? We have gotten so used to an America that always “does something about it” even when people don’t want America to do something about it, that we all expect America to do something about it. But should America, simply because it can (perhaps) do something about it, do something about it?”—–

    That is the question Ladies and Gentlemen….What should we do? What CAN we do to stop ISIS and stop the Middle East’s Meltdown? Why should we care? Why should we get involved? With more “boots on the ground”. I say: Nah. Let’s do the bare minimum. Let them sort out their own (self created ) MESS! What did the United States get out of the Sacrifice of men in that Iraq fiasco? Nothing! Zip! Yet we got the dumbass Neo Cons talking about: THE SURGE, THE SURGE. Made n…

  17. Since chemical weapons was used I argued to I was blue black in the face stay out. People argued with me with the tired line what about the children, we have to do something etc. I said this is nothing but a Islamic civil war and then we found out what the players in the region were doing.

    Saudi Arabia and the gulf states were arming ISIS
    Israel was bombing Syria and Assad so in essence they were helping ISIS
    Turkey gave safe haven to ISIS because they didn’t want to empower the Kurds
    Iraq in their cowardice who instead of fighting after we spent billions training threw their weapons down and ran so on a perverse way we the US was arming ISIS
    And those are just our allies.

    Oh, I almost forgot. The icing on the cake we found out because of bush incompetence we created ISIS.

  18. We need to invent a weapon with a medicinal quality that incapacitates them…
    Until we can hold them responsible for GENOCIDE!

  19. What’s Wrong With Robert Kaplan’s Nostalgia for Empire

    Journalist Robert D. Kaplan thinks that what is wrong with the Middle East is a lack of imperialism, and he urges that it be brought back. It is how, he says, most of the world has been ruled by “default.” This argument is so ahistorical and wrong-headed that it takes the breath away.

    First of all, “imperialism” is an imprecise term. Kaplan is trying to sweep up different kinds of empire under one rubric. Until the early twentieth century, most people in the Middle East admittedly accepted the Ottoman Empire, which was Muslim-ruled and made minimal economic demands on them while offering minimal governance.
    Read More

  20. Shiite Militias announce “Here I am, O Husayn” Campaign for Sunni Ramadi

    Shiite militias in Iraq, joined by some Sunni tribal levies, on Tuesday reached a university campus just to the southwest of Ramadi in what is called a “shaping operation” intended to set the stage for an all-out assault. There were some scattered firefights with Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) commandos, and the US-led coalition bombed Daesh targets around Ramadi.
    Read More

  21. U.S.-trained commander of elite Tajik force joins the Islamic State

    When has U.S. military involvement in the Middle East or Western Asia ever produced positive results? it’s bad enough that the arms sent to the supposed good guys to fight the supposed bad guys keep ending up in the hands of those same supposed bad guys, but there’s also this:

    The U.S.-trained commander of Tajikistan’s elite police force has defected to Islamic State, he said in a YouTube video, and his former unit will issue a statement condemning him, media said on Thursday.

  22. The 2002 NIE On Iraq Has Just Been Declassified
    The NIE is the National Intelligence Estimate.

    And it shows the serious dissents by the State and Energy Departments on the claims of WMDs. From the accompanying article:

    The CIA’s 25-page unclassified summary of the NIE released in 2002 did not contain the State or Energy Departments’ dissent.
    See pp 8-9 and 14 of the NIE contained in the following link:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.