Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The warnings about escalation in the Middle East keep on coming ...,

... and for the moment it appears President Obama is acting on some of that kind of advice.

Paul Pillar writes in The Military Impulse and Hysteria Over ISIS The National Interest 12/06/2015, also at LobeLog Foreign Policy:

ISIS and its enclave certainly constitute a significant security problem in the Middle East and specifically for Syria and Iraq. But that is a problem distinct from, and should not be conflated with, the countering of terrorist threats in the United States. It would be a big mistake to let a surge of fear about such threats, let alone opportunistic political exploitation of such fear, drive the making of policy on Syria and Iraq.

Any use of military force in that theater ought to be guided instead by lessons from recent experience that are almost too obvious to need restating. One of those lessons is that the toppling or ouster of an undesirable regime or quasi-regime does not necessarily end a security problem but merely marks the start of a new phase of a war. Another is that as long as there is not the will and the consensus among local populations to form a new and stable alternative political order, the resulting disorder only works to the advantage of extremist groups. ISIS was born under a different name in the disorder in Iraq that followed the U.S. toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime. One of the few places where ISIS appears to have established a satellite presence where it has more of an organizational and not just inspirational connection is in the chaos of Libya since Muammar Gadhafi's regime was toppled with the aid of Western military force.
Stephen Walt writes about the short-sightedness of the US and other NATO nations in Don’t Give ISIS What It Wants Foreign Policy 11/16/2015, after the Paris attacks by ISIS sympathizers:

... jihadi terrorism is a political movement based on a minority’s narrow and fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. To some extent, the emergence of groups such as the Islamic State or the original al Qaeda is symptomatic of the broader legitimacy and governance crisis in the Arab and Islamic world. It is also, however, an unfortunate but understandable response to decades (or even centuries) of Western interference in the Middle East, and especially to the policies that have taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the region.

To acknowledge this fact in no way justifies what happened in Paris, and I am most certainly not defending, excusing, or rationalizing what the attackers did last Friday or what other terrorists have done before. At the same time, to pretend that American and European actions have nothing whatsoever to do with this problem is to bury one’s head in the sand and ignore the obvious. To note just one example of the West’s own role in creating this problem: Had the United States refrained from invading Iraq back in 2003, there almost certainly would be no Islamic State today.

We have to face facts squarely: Decades of misguided U.S. and European policies have left many people in the Arab and Islamic world deeply angry at and resentful toward the West. Those policies include the West’s cozy coddling of various Arab dictators, its blind support for Israel’s brutal policies toward the Palestinians, and its own willingness to wage air campaigns, employ sanctions, or invade Middle Eastern countries whenever it thinks doing so suits its short-term interest. Consider how we would react if some foreign power had been doing similar things to us — and not just once but over many years. Unsurprisingly, among those many angry people are a few — fortunately, only a few — who decide to try to pay back the West for what they regard as illegitimate and murderous interference. Their response is morally despicable and will solve nothing, but it should not be all that difficult to fathom.

There is also something new about what is going on. Great powers have long taken advantage of weaker societies, but today, the weak are sometimes able to hit back at the great power’s homeland. Britain, France, Belgium, and other countries used to treat their colonial subjects in brutal and sometimes murderous ways, but the colonized peoples had no way to attack their colonial masters back in the imperial heartland. Today, groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State can do just that, no matter how many precautions we take. That is the new reality we are now struggling to absorb.
And he notes:

If the Islamic State can get France and other countries to crack down on their Muslim citizens and also get the West to reoccupy large swaths of the Middle East, then its false narrative about the West’s deep and intrinsic antipathy to Islam will gain more credence, as will its carefully cultivated image as the staunchest defender of Islam today.

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