Saturday, November 14, 2015


As one might expect, today's news is full of the attacks on Paris claimed by the Islamic State.

As one might also expect, the commentary on this news is largely colored by the same sort of hyperbole that always surrounds these sorts of atrocities. This, in one sense, is unsurprising. The notion of one person setting out to slaughter another that has done him, or her, no personal injury or insult, to murder in cold blood whoever they encounter regardless of age, sex, or competence for some imagined slight or grievance is a truly horrific one, the sort of notion that compels most of us to peer perhaps more deeply into the abyss than we would prefer.

So while I am unsurprised by the outrage, horror, and anger of both the reporting and the punditry - because these murders are, indeed, outrageous, horrible, and infuriating - I am less than impressed at the associated pervasiveness of a sort of aggrieved victimization on the part of reporters and pundits, the loudly articulated sense that these atrocities are some sort of unprecedented, unsurpassingly awful injustice visited on utter innocents like lightning from a clear sky.

This is often accompanied by the specific accusation that the ideology that drove the killers is an uncontextual and uniquely evil force.

The combination of this outraged innocence and angry accusation irks me for several reasons.

First, because it is at best, louche', and at worst, criminally ignorant, to be living in a society whose rulers are wont to proclaim often, loudly, and fiercely, that they are engaged in a "war against terror" and to act surprised and outraged when terror makes war on you.

Wars are like that; you kill them, they kill you. Not nice, perhaps, but also something that should come as neither surprise nor outrage. "Unconventional" wars, guerrilla wars, the "war of the flea" is even less nice, and as such this should have been expected even as it was horrible.

Second, because the context for these attacks is obvious. The West is engaged in warring with this Islamic State. This "state" has neither aircraft nor warships. It cannot, then, as do civilized people, bomb helpless men, innocent women and little children from aloft or crater their towns and cities with missiles from afar. It has little in the way of artillery or armor; it cannot materially harm the armed forces of its enemies. It must, in its conduct of this "war on terror", use, well, terror. This, too, may be horrible but should be neither surprising nor outrageous.

Vile? Perhaps. Vicious, certainly. But to act as though this was some sort of uniquely awful, unforeseen horror is neither intelligent nor useful. To misinterpret your enemy's motives and misprise his tactics is to go a long way to miscalculate your most effective response.

Third, because in a popular form of government the result of sending the public the message that they have been the object of an unprovoked, particularly savage, attack is to produce a public response dominated by insensate rage and mindless hatred, the sort of hatred that fails to draw a line between the enemy and those who look like the enemy, between an aggressive defense and furious, hyperkinetic, self-defeating aggression.

Let me say honestly; I am not a kindly man. I am not, in general, a sentimental man. I have no more than a mild sympathy for the dead of Paris (I did not know them, I have no special care for them) and no more than a dispassionate enmity for their killers.

To me the killers of Daesh are, and in my opinion should be, nothing more than a problem to solve, a danger to negate, like a live electrical cable or a rabid dog. They should be disposed of if possible, isolated and avoided if not.

But my lack of emotion does not vitiate the lesson of 9/11 - if there is one other than "The stupid fucker Richard Cheney and his coterie should really be wearing orange jumpsuits" - is that taking geopolitical actions based on whipping up insensate rage and mindless hatred in the public is a very stupid, very self-destructive thing.

What is needed, instead, is the cold realization that these horrors are the calculated cost of what we, the West, have chosen; to fight a "war on terror" that largely consists of paying others to bomb, shoot, and kill people in places far away while living in a society whose openness allows those people to bring their bombs and bullets in among us to kill us.

There is no "solution" to the Daesh problem in France, or in the United States without changing both without measure. For the West to keep Daesh out would mean changing its societies, closing its openness, in ways that will never be undone.

There is also no "solution" to the Daesh problem by importing our bayonets into their lands. For the West to try and impose that solution to Daesh on the Middle East would mean choosing only between fighting an endless colonial war and genocide. Our sons and grandsons would rule theirs with bayonet and boot, or we would have to slaughter them without mercy, make a desert in a desert and call it peace.

It is that simple. This, or that. One, or the other. There are no other ways.

Treating the Paris attacks as some unutterable, unforeseeable, unequaled atrocity does nothing but obscure that and make a rational way forward more difficult.

We need to step back and see this for what it is; a lost "battle" in a war we - our "leaders", at least - have chosen to fight. Then we, or they, can choose whether to go forward with this "war", whether to look deeply at our "tactics" or our "strategies" to see if either or both are productive, or whether we need to think outside the paradigm of "war" we have allowed ourselves.

But we cannot do that if we let ourselves be blinded by grief, sorrow, rage, or grievance.

Before the Great Terror of 1914-1918 the French were the Daesh of Europe; the invaders, the killers, the butchers, the New Huns. But when one of the bloodiest murderers of that bloodthirsty band sat down to write his maxims of efficient bloodletting he said this of the sort of way one should go about the science and art of slaughter:
"The first qualification in a general-in-chief is a cool head -- that is, a head which receives just impressions, and estimates things and objects at their real value. He must not allow himself to be elated by good news, or depressed by bad.
The impressions he receives either successively or simultaneously in the course of the day should be so classed as to take up only the exact place in his mind which they deserve to occupy; since it is upon a just comparison and consideration of the weight due to different impressions that the power of reasoning and of right judgment depends.
Some men are so physically and morally constituted as to see everything through a highly colored medium. They raise up a picture in the mind on every slight occasion, and give to every trivial occurrence a dramatic interest. But whatever knowledge, or talent, or courage, or other good qualities such men may possess, Nature has not formed them for the command of armies, or the direction of great military operations."
I see no reason to think that this maxim has been washed away by yesterday's blood on the pave' of Paris.


Ael said...

Chief, you are indeed correct.

If you don't keep a cool head, you can be lead around by the nose, exclaiming to every whiff of a "squirrel!" on the breeze.

The leaders of ISIS are not fools. They have, no doubt, considered the likely reactions to their actions and are at least comfortable with, or more likely look forward to any of the obvious responses we might pursue.

It is imperative to not respond reflexively.

FDChief said...

That was the obvious point of this post, Ael. Since 2001 the West in general and the US in particular has been exceptionally stupid about the actual threat presented by these jihadi groups versus the threat presented by the overreaction to them. Bin Laden knew perfectly well what would happen when he hit the US and he was right; we've been flailing about in the Middle East since then without a clue, in the words of Donnie Rumsfeld, whether all this wrecking and killing we've done has been doing good, or harm, or both in what proportion.

What's frustrating to me is watching us replicate the actions that brought on this flowering of the jihadis.

In the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties we (and our Israeli "allies"/clients) made it painfully obvious to Abu and Maryam Lunchpail and their would-be leaders that the secular regimes that took over from the colonial rulers were either incompetent or impotent or both. Where that were actively hostile and/or in combat with the West and Israel they were defeated handily. Where they were not they were often suborned or intimidated. So the Israelis defeated Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and the PLO, and the US bought off the Shah and Saddam and the Saudis.

The only groups that "fought back", that hurt the Israelis and the Yankees were the Islamists. The mullahs in Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon, then AQ and now IS. The fact that it sucks to live under these religious nutbars is mitigated that they are the only Muslim that the hated Westerners and the Zionists hate and fear.

I honestly have no idea how the hell to get out of this mess. But I can tell you how we got INTO it, and that was by making these jihadi bastards the Best of Enemies.

FDChief said...

And let me add this: Charlie Pierce's thoughtful post about something that the US and the West should have done a loooong time ago; put the blocks to the goddamn Sunni oil oligarchies:

I tend to give Israel a lot of stick around here and, yes, I still maintain that Israel is a worthless "ally" of the US - a troublesome irritant that makes more difficulties than it helps solve. But as worthless as Israel is, the fucking Saudis are a million times MORE worthless. If I could be king of the world for a day the entire fucking House of Saud would be chained to the south end of a northbound camel that would be driven into the Empty Quarter to die a miserable, lingering death.

Not that I'm prejudiced or anything.

Ael said...

The rest of the world has a lot of leverage over the Saudis, should we choose to use it. For the first time in several decades, KSA planted no wheat whatsoever this year. None. They are completely dependent on food imports. Furthermore, they don't have a real army. The Houthi hillbillies have been occupying towns along the border of Saudi Arabia and the Saudis have been unable to establish a secure border. The eastern province (the one with all the oil) is mostly Shia.

I could go on.

There are many ways we could apply pressure. I think the new leadership of KSA is a disaster. If they don't smarten up real quick and stop sowing the wind, they will reap the whirlwind.