If you live in a sand castle high on a hill, running wildly in every direction might cause your castle to collapse and slide down into the valley. An internally contradictory foreign policy is the political version of running in every direction; adding an aggressive military component to that policy is the political version of behaving “wildly.”
The extremist challenge accuses the world of leaving whole cultures behind. This accusation is justified. Recognition of our guilt is the first step to meeting the extremist challenge.
Subjected to various forms of violence—invasion, sectarian conflict, dictatorship—that destroyed social and political, not to mention physical, infrastructure, Iraq, Syria, and Libya are now fertile soil for extremism because extremism offers hope when no rational solution is working. The extremists are not the problem; the problem is the hopelessness of life in a country violence has destroyed. This is why a “war against extremism” will at best only have a temporary effect. Remove every extremist by a magic wand this minute and a million more will arise the next, be they religious, sectarian, political, the soldiers of an invader, or just plain criminals…unless the need to improve conditions is addressed in a manner that the population finds acceptable.
Iraq, Syria, and Libya have now followed in the footsteps of Somalia and Afghanistan. Note the pattern. Whether by foreign military aggression, foreign military “assistance,” domestic aggression by a dictator, civil war, or the onslaught of a jihadi gang; whether a short war in recent years or a generation-long conflict, violence generated extremism, not a solution.
Everyone in today’s world has access to some weapon of war; wars in small countries can be continued endlessly, even after the original protagonists are long dead and the original issues forgotten. The trouble in Somalia began as a superpower (are you old enough to remember that word?) conflict in the 1970s. A modern, centralized client dictator replaced the traditional network of distributed power, and “things fell apart:” the traditional political system collapsed. Ditto Afghanistan. Even if you date the Iraqi collapse from only 2003,
Destroying the functionality of a society, debasing a culture, erasing effective governance are shockingly easy goals to achieve, and the array of organizations thirsting to profit from the process is endless. A war against extremism? War is precisely what extremists want! If the extremists are criminals, war is their road to profit. If the extremists are uncompromising ideologues, war is their road to victory.
If attacked, we must fight, but that fight is no solution; it is but the means of finding time to invent a solution. The measure of our sincerity in wanting a solution will be the degree to which we devise a Marshall Plan for the Mideast, with such a plan funded at a level that exceeds the expenditures of war.
Waging war is profitable. Can peacemaking be made profitable?
Extremists exploit sectarian animosities, which tend to be rooted in discriminatory distribution of resources. Can a method be devised for distributing state revenues in a way that promotes cross-sectarian cooperation?
Sunni jihadis, to cite the current most-feared class of extremist, have demonstrated the ability very rapidly to evolve strategically and tactically, innovating faster than traditional states have been able to respond. It is time the world sharpened its thinking.
Here we go again, with another war against an “ism.” Not that exterminating extremism isn’t a great goal for those who aspire to civilize humanity, but “ism” isn’t exactly a “thing” that can be shot. More, this particular “ism”– extremism–pops up in the most embarrassing places.
Those who advocate the extermination of ethnic or religious groups are extremists against whom war may or may not, in a given case, happen to be necessary for our survival or the most effective approach. Indeed, war is likely to be exactly the response that such extremists want, for wars are messy, and it is in that mess that extremists flourish. Nonetheless, war against these people who call for, and certainly against people who engage in, efforts to exterminate ethnic or religious groups is justified. Perhaps the following statement is not too curt: those who prefer war, deserve it, though even when morally defensible, war may well not be the answer for those who prefer peace.
To avoid the impression that one is using fancy language to conceal an effort to exterminate a whole society or culture, the distinction between “extremist” and some ethnic or religious label is critical. Thus, Obama is correct that we should not make war “against Islam,” but it is important to continue by spelling out that we also oppose Jewish extremism (e.g., stealing Palestinian homes for illegal settlers, terror attacks on Palestinian olive groves) but have no intention of making war “against Judaism.” The war is against one who beheads a journalist or one who burns an olive grove or one who leads a cavalry charge into a Sioux village massacring women and children or one who drops white phosphorus on urban civilians or one who drops a nuclear bomb on a city. Yes, this discussion is embarrassing.
It is also critical to understand that extremist wars against cultures, societies, minorities need not be accompanied by shock and awe. In fact, as Australians regarding bushmen; Americans regarding…well, the Sioux and the Cherokee and others; Israelis regarding Palestinians; Chinese regarding Vietnamese and Tibetans all clearly recognized in certain eras present or past, a very slow war—taking at least a generation—against the culture/language/self-identity of the enemy can be considerably less expensive and more effective than actually killing them all. The moral distinction is…indistinct. The moral right of the minority facing extinction to fight back seems rather solidly grounded.
If “war against extremism” is one buzz phrase for the negative, then perhaps it is worth taking just a moment to identify what we are fighting for: a “war for….” I suggest that the real goal should be to maximize the range of human cultures sharing the planet. Speaking just for my own society, the cultures that U.S. society has exterminated over the past three centuries form a sobering list and their loss has made us far poorer than we might have been. Iroquois ideas about government were arguably among the most advanced in the world in the 1700s, while contemporary American society still today falls far short of appreciating the sophistication of First Nation concepts of man’s place in nature or the moral superiority of sharing (be it sharing the commons or sharing possessions) as opposed to capitalist greed or the definition and rights of leadership as a privilege rather than a right and a privilege to be removed as soon as the leader fails to work for the common good. The process of civilizing ourselves should not be a process of winner-take-all but of becoming sophisticated enough to appreciate the particular contributions of each culture. So that’s my take on the positive view.
But back to the negative side of laying out a strategy for destroying that which we oppose. Wars to “take the hill” are at least conceptually straightforward. Wars against “isms” are a conceptual nightmare. Clear thinking and honest self-criticism are the two legs on which a war against extremism might stand tall enough to have a prayer of success.
The Western strategic calculus regarding the Islamic State, certain tactical successes notwithstanding, rests on denial and wishful thinking. Wars “against terror” are band aids concealing metastasizing socio-economic cancer.
ISIS is making moves in Afghanistan, expanding steadily (if slowly, now) in Syria, holding its own in much of Iraq (albeit on the defensive around Mosul), fighting in force in Libya, and making officially acknowledged inroads into Turkish society. Bin Laden fought his whole adult life to create a global terrorist organization that has spent much of its effort on the run trying to survive. ISIS, in six months, has effectively established a state that appears, over the short term, impressively stable and, more impressive, able to push forward in several directions simultaneously. It has also very effectively split NATO by A) cowing Turkey or B) convincing Turkey that it is too useful to be alienated.
This pattern contains a serious message: U.S. policy is failing because a military challenge with little if any socio-economic follow-through tends to play the radical game. The Mideast needs a new deal, which will not be pleasant for the U.S. ruling elite: it will mean lower profits and embarrassing compromises, higher oil prices to fund Mideast social services, less U.S. influence over partners in pacifying the region (e.g., Tehran), and a vastly more complicated policy challenge. There is, sadly, very little evidence that Western policy-makers are up to the challenge and not so very much evidence that Mideast policy-makers (specifically in Tehran and Ankara and Riyadh and Baghdad) are either.
The more one examines the details of the success of ISIS, the more complicated it becomes. Outside support for Sunni radicalism, both for long-term religious and short-term political reasons, is one source of complications [e.g., external support for ISIS, as in Latuff’s cartoon of Saudi funding of ISIS]. Another is non-Sunni but equally extreme behavior by a host of short-sighted, self-centered actors [e.g., state terrorism, as in yAce’s cartoon of Israeli bombing of Palestinians].
More fundamental, however, is the absence of any attractive alternative for regional inhabitants. Western policies focusing on the elimination of terrorism are but band aids over metastasizing cancers. Addressing external sources of support for terrorism is still just a tactical response. Reforming external state terrorism and other forms of external exploitation (e.g., supporting Mideast client dictatorships or looking the other way at corrupt Mideastern leaders who sell oil to the West only to steal the profits from their own people) are, in contrast, the type of fundamental reforms that would open the door to a new deal for regional populations that would have the potential for undercutting the current appeal of extremists. For Palestinians in Israel or Lebanon, Kurds in Syria or Turkey, Sunnis in Iraq, Shi’a in Yemen, what evidence exists that peaceful behavior and working “within the system” will gain them their fair share of resources, social services, political access, and police protection? Therein lies the key to a practical policy for stability. Anti-Western terror is the canary in the mine, but the West is still not getting the message.
We, the American people, by our free will, have designed a system of governance that profoundly endangers our long-term national security. Stormclouds remain mostly hidden beyond the horizon, with those early warnings that we have seen (a needless trillion-dollar war here, a contrived recession for the personal profit of a few there) smoothly explained away by the glib guilty parties and, yes, by those of you who remain deep in denial. Yet we have an historic opportunity, at the moment, to think about this. Despite all the troubles in the world, we are actually NOT under the gun. Don’t panic; we have time, if we choose, to stop and think.
Arrogantly or fearfully, for it takes courage to compromise, pursuing total victory, decision-makers condemn themselves to needless defeat.
Playing blindly into the hands of extremists by defining Turkish and Iranian foreign policy goals in sectarian terms, Ankara and Tehran are both undermining their own long-term interests. The only winner is ISIS, which continues to expand.
Two thick, black layers of wool are being pulled over the eyes of Americans: the political hype that Washington politicians are working for the good of the American people and the financial hype that Federal regulation of the financial system is designed to enhance the national welfare. When are people going to see through this double fraud?
Republicans now have the Congress, so the question is: can they serve the nation? Let’s keep our eyes wide open for the next two years.
Evidence: On the first day after the election, Nov. 5, in a country where 99% of the population is still suffering from the 2008 Recession caused by corrupt financial behavior in a political environment that coddled fraud, McConnell called for less regulation. McConnell apparently [full text not available] made no reference to avoiding financial fraud, protecting worker rights, preserving clean air, checking on food safety, or any other concern of the “little people.” In sum, on Day 1, McConnell spoke out without caveat in support of the 1%–which of course now includes several new millionaire members of Congress.
It is hard to say whether the American voter is more conservative or confused, but that voter seems unable to tolerate or appreciate open-minded, analytical, sympathetic politics. Any why, indeed, should they, with so few examples by their self-important leaders, of such thinking? As for conservatism, the only thing the right cares to conserve is its own wealth; why so many of the poor continue to elect leaders who merely pillage those who elect them is, on the surface, incomprehensible. But, given the choices (with the exception of Elizabeth Warren), what is a decent patriot to do?
The one lesson that appears to emerge from the whole sorry political mess in America is that a liberal-talking servant of the rich will only give reform a bad name. So now six years have been lost, and we have again in ascendancy across the country the gang we thought had finally been kicked out: those who want imperial war, unrestrained class war, a supine working class taking orders respectfully, and complete freedom to pillage the earth for their personal benefit.
Americans, congratulations: you just voted for bad health care, minimal job benefits, a booming economy for the 1% until the next disaster following by another bailout of the rich–by you, the oh so very generous and trusting American voter. Overseas, you should expect–because you just voted for it–wars endlessly that will further enrich that same 1%.
The great monopolistic elitist party has held another mock election in which anyone with a true reformist program is effectively marginalized (by reserving TV advertizing to those funded by the rich). Even Udall, who tried to stand up to NSA domestic spying, got rejected by the voters. Why not? If we choose to give the rich all our money, if we choose to let the rich run the country, then I guess it only makes sense that we open our hearts (and mail) to them as well. Trust is trust.
But realize what you just did, Mr. or Mrs. Voter. Don’t be whining any more about what you might want your government to do for you. Don’t go asking for good schools, clean air, safe food. You just gave your government to the rich, and trust me — the rich will use it very, very carefully for their own benefit. We will, under McConnell and gang, have big government for sure, very big government, but it will not be for you 99%ers:
- Wall St. will have massive socialist support programs run through the Treasury to keep the taxpayer’s money flowing into its hands;
- trouble-making workers who are not grateful for jobs will be slapped down hard;
- the sick will be given the freedom to take care of themselves.