Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Maxim CV, and the Impossible Problem of the Islamic State

105.) Conditions of the ground should not alone decide the organization for combat, which should be determined from consideration of all circumstances.

In the preceding post I made the case for being calm and carrying on in the face of violent attacks. Specifically, in the face of violent attacks from politico-religious zealots of the Islamic stripe.

(For, despite what Marco Rubio says Islam is not the only religion to throw out violent politico-religious nuts - any religion worthy of the title does that - but those are the variety most likely to be on the other end of the AK-47 from your or me these days...)

In this post I wish to make the argument that the reason for this is that the West will suffer more of these violent attacks as surely as the sun rises and sets. And that there is, effectively, nothing - or nothing much - that the West can do about that.

And the reason for that is that the geopolitical conditions that have and will mold violent men and dispatch them out of the Sunni regions of Syria and Iraq to attack and kill Westerners are difficult to escape and may be, in fact, nearly impossible to "solve" in the short or medium term.

What's rather pathetic is the complete unwillingness of so many people to accept that. Some, obviously, because they are simply stupid and have no real idea of how the region has and is working. But others because they seem to be good people who don't want to believe that this problem is insoluble.

Here's a good example: an article from The Nation discussing how to "destroy" the Islamic State:
"The only option here is a difficult one: restoring the territorial integrity of Syria and Iraq by ending the Syrian civil war and the broader, regional Saudi-Iranian contest that feeds it."
Certainly a wonderful goal, with only one teensy-weensy little problem; who the fuck is going to rule those restored Iraqi and Syrian "states"?

Both are not really "states" in the European sense or, at best, are "states" in the sense that Yugoslavia was a "state". Both were created by European imperialist cartographers based loosely on the divisions imposed on the region by Ottoman cartographers that largely ignored the tribal and sectarian divisions either inherent in the regions or which developed over time.

Provided that 1) the respective strongmen in Baghdad or Damascus were propped up (and, just as importantly, not kicked around) by external Powers, and 2) the principle of secular Westphalian statehood remained supreme in the minds of the residents, these pseudostates could survive.

But over the past forty years both of these pillars were badly damaged.

Between them the European powers, the United States, and Israel, made the weakness and venality of the secular Arab Muslim regimes painfully clear to Abu and Maryam Lunchpail. Those they weren't incompetent and beaten in war were corrupt and purchased in peace. The only Muslims who seemed both unbribeable and unrelentingly hostile to the Western powers and their Israeli pal were the religious or those who claimed to be religious. The inconvenience of living in the 12th Century might seem a little less onerous if your medievalist rulers are at least willing to kill the occasional Brit, Yankee, or Frog, in revenge for all those French and American fighter-bombers blowing craters in your olive grove.

And the fall of the Middle Eastern strongmen unbound the tribal, clan, and confessional, divisions the tyrants had forced closed, much as the death of Tito released the internal tensions within Yugoslavia.

The idiot Bushite replacement of Sunni rule in Baghdad combined with the rebellion against Alawite rule in Damascus all but guaranteed the formation of some sort of "Sunnistan" in the desert between the Euphrates Valley and the Jordan.

Now, even assuming that you could reassemble the pieces of Iraq and Syria, again...who and how the hell would rule them?

The politics of the Middle East is a zero-sum game; a win for me is a loss for you. There is no way of assuring trust in a transfer of power, no way to feel confident that it will ever be transferred back.

I know I've said this before, but it's no less true today; regardless of who represents the Sunni Arabs of Iraq and Syria, be it the theocrats of Daesh or anyone else there is no way, now, but to win or be crushed. To live either as their own masters or as slaves of whoever else rules.

How the hell do you take a place like that and, once you do, how do you keep it? I can tell you the only way: you crush the Sunni, you drive them before you, and you hear the lamentations of their women.

That's right. I just quoted Conan the Barbarian as a "solution" to the Islamic State.

The point being, that there IS no solution to the Islamic State outside of a movie or a comic book...or...genocide on a Sri Lankan level.

Because you can "solve" the Islamic State in the same way that the government of Sri Lanka "solved" the Tamil insurgency; you kill and kill until the rebels are sickened with blood, until the bulk of their young men are dead and their women and children terrified. And then you rule them with a rod of iron.

If you are a local you can do that. Or if you are a foreign occupier willing to levy this sickening degree of violence.

The Western powers will not, can not, do that. If you are a fool, or a Republican (but I repeat myself) you might think they can, but you are wrong. We have lost the callous racism we had back in the days when we could butcher Filipinos or Zulus or Algerians cheerfully. And that's good, frankly; I wouldn't want to be that people again. They were savages little better than the Islamic State.

No. At best (or worst) the West can try and raise up some local brute, arm him, and send him out to exterminate the other brutes. But, remember, we tried that in Afghanistan only to find that the religious zealots were the deadliest and most effective brutes and they ended up coming back to kill us. We tried that in Iraq only to find that our brutes were less brutal than theirs. We've tried that in Syria, and...well, I have no idea what the hell we're doing in Syria but, then, Syria is a rolling clusterfuck inside a goatscrew wrapped around twelve monkeys fucking a football.

So unless and until there a local strongman is built or arises - obviously, stronger than the Assads or the Shia congeries in Baghdad currently unable to do the butchery needed - willing and able to employ that level of genocidal violence against the Islamic State it, and those organizations like it such as Boko Haram and the jihadis in Libya, or Yemen, or Afghanistan, will continue to survive and fight and - every so often - send out some of their ruthless fighters to hurt us in the West as best they can.

And they will.

And some of us will die.

And there really isn't much we can do other than accept that as the price of our civilization, and go on.


Ael said...

Great article Chief.

Except, I am not so sure that there is nothing we can do. There is something we can do: Nothing! Deliberately, actively, do nothing. Don't try to pick winners. Don't bomb the bad guys of the month. Furthermore, you can actively discourage other folks from meddling. There are already sanctions on arms trading to these areas Enforce them actively to all who breach them.

Be resolute in the face of attacks and do not interfere. People who perform terrorist attacks are criminal and if they come within grasp of our law enforcement agencies, treat them exactly how they deserve to be treated. Swift arrest, fair trial and if found guilty, appropriate punishment.

This policy destroys the myth of the hegemonic "sole superpower" who controls the flow of history and the destiny of the world. Which means that the powers-that-be will never go for it.

FDChief said...

Good point, Ael. My thoughts on what the West CAN do is pretty much summed up in the motto of the medical profession: Primum, non nocere - "First, do no harm".

So, yeah. Pretty much back slowly away from the Middle East. Work slowly and cautiously and with multiple cutouts between the Western intelligence services and their clients. Accept that this place will throw out violence from time to time, use your intel to stop as much of this crime as possible beforehand, catch the criminals when it does occur, and punish those you catch.

Right now we're busy making more chaos and more disruption in the region, and that, as much or more than anything, feeds these religious whackaloons.

A peaceful, prosperous region filled with happy peasants and prosperous merchants wouldn't generate more than a handful of murderous nutjobs. Make sure you kick down the walls and wreck the place and watch how many of these sonsofbitches you generate...

Ael said...

The thing that really grinds my gourd is how much of a distraction all of this is to the important work of establishing a functioning global order that can effectively tackle climate change.

Considered scientific opinion considers that we have to address CO2 emissions in a big way or climate will shift. A look at history shows that a shifting climate has *big* impacts on all sorts of things (most especially food production).

We have lost 20 years of action already and I despair of what will happen if we lose another 20. Change will *not* be a nice continuous function. The world needs to get its act together quickly and it isn't something we have ever done before. But we gotta try.

FDChief said...

I have already despaired of the probably-irretrievable loss of much of our global commons, whether it's to average temperature rise or any of the other man-made ecological messes we refuse to address because it would 1) be difficult and 2) require some sacrifice of our technic civilization.

I'm not really sure that if we didn't have this silly fixation on gaudy violence that we'd be willing to address the problems. They are truly complex and require a level of sustained information, interest, and discipline that human beings have seldom shown throughout human history.

What IS kind of irking is that about a third of us - that is, the 27-35% of the U.S. public that identifies Republican - aren't even willing to accept that this IS a problem. I'm willing to accept lazy and indisciplined - that's just human nature. But willfully stupid? THAT's pretty frustrating.