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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Pros And Cons Of The New War

We are now at war with ISIS and some will not flinch at this. After all, ISIS is well known for its brutality and is seen by some as a threat against the West. Of course, the estimated strength of ISIS is  20,000 to 30,000 fighters and they are a few thousand miles away, so it is a little difficult to see how they pose an immediate threat. But their brutality in conjunction with their aims for their region should draw everybody's attention. Therefore, waging war against ISIS is not only justified, it can be considered noble.

So if that is the upside, what is the catch? The catch is that ISIS is at least a partial result of interventions past. Thus, ISIS is the progression of an offshoot of Al-Aqaeda. The story of ISIS starts with the Iraqi ventures of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who had just fled Afghanistan after joint forces defeated the Taliban in 2001. His group, Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) initially targeted Shiite Muslims for two reasons: First, the Shiites did not possess any credible deterrent; and Second, he wanted to restore the Sunnies to power in Iraq. But Zarqawi's level of violence practiced against civilians eventually brought a rebuke from Al-Qaeda. In addition, the presence of too many foreign AQI leaders caused Iraqi Sunnis to turn on AQI during one of Patraeus's campaigns and AQI faded away.

ISIS's current leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi, became AQI's leader after Zarqawi was assassinated by the US. His renewed attacks on Shiites, along with the Iraq's Shiite government's persecution of Sunnis, created support for Baghdadi and his group. In addition, he also directed attacks against the military and the police. He started to direct attacks against the Shiite regime of Assad in Syria. However, his group's harsh enforcement of strict Sharia law there enabled Assad to regain support and territories. Baghdadi also renamed the group to ISIS to include Syria. One other thing we should note is that beginning in 2005, Baghdadi spent 4 years as an American prisoner in Southern Iraq. 

So starting with the invasion of Iraq or even before that, we should be able to see how Western intervention at least partially set the reactionary wildfires of today. Previous interventions include America's previous support for Saddam in Iraq during the 1980s, America's support for terrorists like Bin Laden in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviets, the first Gulf War and the subsequent sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, the American 2003 invasion, surges, and our installation of a Shiite government has created a process that often includes creating or using terrorists only to wind up having to use force to shut them down. Each renewed need for force creates new enemies who, because of the violence they have experienced, become more coldhearted and violent than the preceding group. Thus, if the current precedent holds and we defeat ISIS, we can be assured that an even more hardened, and thus coldhearted, group will follow them until we are no longer either able or willing to respond.

In addition, debating the war against ISIS involves another issue. That issue is the question: Is there something worse than war? In this corner is Daniel Goldhagen who answers with a resounding 'YES'! Goldhagen unequivocally declares that genocide is worse than war and thus its prevention is worth waging war for (click here). In the other corner is Howard Zinn who, following others like Erasmus, believed that war was so horrendous that it should never be fought (click here). Both have valid points to make especially if we consider genocide to be an internal war against a group within one's country, then war is a fixed cost. But such doesn't answer the question of whether conducting a war in order to stop another war is the right course of action. Perhaps the answer is sometimes so long as that those who intervene are not being primarily driven by their own self-interest.

But another problem arises. With the continual advancement in technology comes the inevitable proliferation of WMDs. Certainly the most advanced countries will always have the latest WMDs, but that does not stop those with less money and sophistication from obtaining out of style and antiquated WMDs. Therefore, we should consider the warning provided by the Russell-Einstein Manifesto (click here). Though written in the context of the beginning of the Cold War between the former Soviet Union and the United States, the warning they provide is a slam-dunk:
Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?

In the end, it is all too simple. As we continue to resolve our conflicts with force, all of mankind moves closer to an unseen precipice. We don't know where the edge of this cliff is, but we do know that once we go over it, there is no return. And because we don't know where the edge of the cliff is, unless we stop waging war, we will never know when to stop until it is too late.

We are in a dilemma because it might be true that the only way to stop ISIS is to use force. But using force can only move us closer to everyone's demise as well as createg the need to use even more force in the future. It is at this point we need to step back and examine the dynamics going on. 

We are dealing with elements of radical Islam and our use of terminology here assumes our own innocence. Thus, like our enemies, we believe that our side is good while the other side is the epitome of evil. And both sides have valid points to make in calling the other side evil. But this is where our paths separate. For what is happening is that Western intervention is giving some radical Muslims enough reason to believe that they are refighting Mohammed's battles. We should note that part of what spurred Mohammed to pursue the path he did was to combat the inequality and injustice of his time. 

With Western business interests driving our decisions to either intervene or use proxy or semi-proxy national leaders to control countries that have the resources we lust for, we've given all Muslims reasons to join jihad. And so perhaps the real difference between us an our enemies is that they have far more reasons to be enraged with us than we have with them. This means that not only must we rely less and less on using force to solve problems with groups like ISIS, we need a contextual solution as well. The contextual solution consists of both find ways to remove ourselves from trying to control the countries there while at the same time supporting those who are working for justice. Without this two prong approach, we will only increase the probability that when our use of violence causes us to walk over the precipice, that precipice will be located in the Middle East.

References

  • http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/08/isis-a-short-history/376030/?single_page=true
  • http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/06/11/how-isis-leader-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-became-the-worlds-most-powerful-jihadi-leader/
  • Al-Qaeda: The True Story Of Radical Islam, Jason Burke, published by I.B. Taurus


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