Sunday, August 10, 2014

Gee, can I be a Guardian pundit ...

A US former special ops officer argues that ISIS is just using tactics (via) that al-Qaeda had previously used, which work against Arab forces, but not Western ones:
AQI/ISIL quickly learned to never use these tactics on the Americans. They regretted it in 2005 when they carried out a complex multi-prong attack on Abu Ghuraib prison - it was a virtual slaughter of all the attackers. On the other hand local Arab forces respond poorly these tactics.
Which provides an opportunity:
A massive defeat on ISIL could decimate their professional spearhead of veterans and break the image of invincibility. Just one drone and a Special Forces forward control team with a B-1 bomber package with could do that with ease.
Provided, of course, one can specifically target such.
Foreign trucks and weapons, local homicidal hatred.

Jonathan Freedland, writing in Comment is Free on the Guardian website, identifies the success of ISIS as being primarily the result of the collapse of state power--in Syria and Iraq. In Syria because of the civil war, in Iraq because of the US overthrow of Saddam and the sectarian incompetence of the Maliki Government.

Which is also, of course, the US's fault. Yes, getting rid of authoritarian dictators can let loose unexpected difficulties. But Iraqi PM Maliki has consistently refused to follow US advice. Which, as the elected head of an independent and sovereign state, he was free to do. Maliki's incompetence is his fault. This making only Western/US agency count is a tiresome game. (Also, do we remember that Saddam's wars killed far, far more people than the current unpleasantness?)

Now, whether the US should have committed itself to maintaining the backwash of European imperialism: probably not. But redrawing the Middle Eastern map in that way would have caused all sorts of diplomatic difficulties. Which would no doubt have been denounced by Guardian pundits as an outrageous use of American power. 

Meanwhile, Freedland goes on to lament the lack of power on the world stage. So, the world system needs a manager--who promises not to do anything that a Guardian pundit might complain about. No responsibility and moral superiority too. Can I be a Guardian pundit?

Arab messes
The trouble is, whether the US directly overthrows a tyrant (Iraq), helps a populace overthrow its tyrant (Libya) or refuses to get [seriously] involved in an attempt to overthrow a tyrant (Syria), it all ends up in a similar mess. Which rather suggests that the problem is not US policy, but Arab states not grounded in Arab realities. 

So, what should the US do? Provide military support for the Kurds and Maliki (the UK's plan to attack ISIS's fundraising has the right sort of target) and prepare everyone for breaking up Iraq. And probably Syria as well. But that would take more sense of history than is likely either in Washington or the offices of The Guardian.

There is, after all, not much evidence that the Obama Administration has either the perception or the stomach for such an approach. So, flailing around trying to shore up the backwash of European imperialism it seems to be.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]


  1. hey lorenzo, what do you make of the line about ISIS in this article:

    1. Not impressed. The French and British were in Syria/Iraq from 1918-1946: 32 years, and they left almost 70 years ago. They were there in the first place not from "a desire to control the Middle East" but because the Ottoman Empire declared war on them, when Britain had been the Empire's main guarantor for over a century. I agree that Syria and Iraq are artificial creations and it was a mistake for the US to keep the backwash of European imperialism going (in the sense of those borders) but ISIS is a modern manifestation of a long recurring pattern in Islam. The attempt to deny Arab/Islamic agency is sad.

      Also, Palestinians are less anti-American than some other Arab countries, so that does not seem likely to be the focus of anti-Americanism.

    2. thanks for the feedback. I also noticed that he mentions "islamophobia". I think that might be a weasel word meant to lump anti-Muslim sentiment with criticism of islam

    3. A good description of the term "islamophobia".

  2. cheers. i just finished reading your article on ISIS and patterns in history. Quite shocking to me, for I had never thought that Ibn Khaldūn actually delineated such islamic patterns. which parts of his work do you think do that?

    1. You can tease it out of his magnum opus. "The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History".

  3. hey lorenzo,

    i just came across this yesterday:

    what do you make of it? i think it mirrors quite nicely your quote about the logic of belief not necessarily being the logic of believers, particularly this finding:

    "the most socially tolerant category of people are non-practising Muslims living in Western countries."

    and i think is in line with one of your posts about sharia against success

    1. Thanks, a striking piece of social science research. It does seem to fit in with some of things I have posted, as you suggested.