Monday, November 16, 2015

The Moral War

I'm deeply confused by the outpouring of sentiment over the Paris terrorist attacks, especially the resounding clamour for prime minister Trudeau to reverse his decision on withdrawing Canada's six-pack of CF-18s from the air campaign in Iraq and Syria.  This is a sentiment that seems widely shared among Liberals and Conservatives alike although the Tories, true to form, are decidedly uglier and more racist in their criticisms.

Most of this stuff I just dismiss as the sort of emotionalism that always follows atrocity, excepting instances where our side is at fault (ask Medicins sans Frontieres if you need clarification). That goes for most of our populist journos also. The Star's Rosie Dimanno is a perfect example along with the editorial staff of the Globe and PostMedia.

I tend to make an exception for people like the CBC's Neil Macdonald who, in my opinion, seems to bring a bit more reason and balance to his punditry. When it comes to our hapless air campaign, Macdonald boils down the West's options as just keep going (i.e. bombing) indefinitely or leave.

"Everyone knows airstrikes will not decide this fight. And the U.S.-led campaign to arm and train "moderate" rebels in Syria and troops in Iraq has been an embarrassment, to put it mildly.

"Generally, whenever ISIS or its affiliated extremists have shown up, America's proxies have cut and run, often leaving their U.S.-provided guns and hardware for the enemy to scoop up.

"But disengaging and letting the Middle East sort itself out would involve a hideous price for the populations on the ground.

"ISIS operates by its own grotesque set of the Hama rules, and the massacres that would without question follow an ISIS expansion would validate Pope Francis's observation that what we are seeing today is a piecemeal version of World War III.

"For Washington and Paris and London and Ottawa and all the other coalition members, this is a horrible set of options.

"There is no Solomonic solution available, and, to make it worse, the brutal truth is that America's so-called coalition of the willing, which invaded Iraq on a false pretext, effectively created ISIS (which, unsurprisingly, has several of Saddam Hussein's former generals among its commanders).

"The West sowed dragons' teeth, which grew into armed fanatics now bent on taking the battle back to the West. And ahead of them, massive rivers of miserable refugees are trudging toward Western soil.

"We can pray for Paris to our hearts' content, and light up monuments in the colours of the French flag, and trade peace sign memes of the Eiffel Tower. But what Western militarism created cannot be sung or wished away.

"Hafez al-Assad and his Baathist colleague Saddam Hussein were both monsters. But compared to what the West unleashed on itself, they seem, in retrospect, like incarnations of stability."

Macdonald cites the "Hama Rules." The name comes from a campaign waged by Bashar's dad, Hafez.

"After surviving an assassination attempt by the militant Muslim Brotherhood, Assad sent out death squads with orders to slaughter every Brotherhood member held in Syria's prisons, of which there were hundreds.

"And he was just getting started. His security forces initiated a lethal crackdown that culminated in February 1982 when Syrian tanks and artillery units arrived in Hama, a Brotherhood stronghold.

"Over the next few weeks, the army destroyed entire sections of the city, killed tens of thousands of people, and bulldozed the rubble flat.

"Hafez al-Assad never had another problem with the Brotherhood."

Such may be the tactical lingua franca of the battle against Islamist radicals. If you want to win you must be prepared to resort to barbarism an order of magnitude greater than your adversary. You must not hesitate to kill innocents as well as your enemies. Of course it's one thing when it's Muslim on Muslim butchery.  

Which brings us to the strategy currently in vogue with Israel's political and military leadership, Dahiyeh. It's a policy of deliberately targeting civilian populations instead of military units or installations that was widely practiced on all sides during WWII (i.e. carpet bombing, firestorms and, of course, nuclear attack) but which was thereafter outlawed as inhumane. The thinking is that those civilians provide support to the enemy and whether that's voluntary or under compulsion is irrelevant.

This is all well and good except we have forsworn that sort of barbarism and readily condemn it in others (except our ally, Israel, of course). Besides, it's one thing in the Muslim on Muslim context, quite another when it becomes Infidel on Muslim. That might reverberate for a while with unwelcome results.

It would help if we could come to a working understanding of what warfare has become in the 21st century. We go to these affairs prepared to engage in "old war" - the state-on-state stuff with standing armies vying for victory ending in peace on one side's terms. Instead we're embroiled in "new war" in which there's a confusing mix of state and non-state actors, pursuing what are often distinct agendas leading to drawn out conflicts in which there is neither victory nor peace to be had at the conclusion.  The age of unwinnable war without end may be upon us. All the King's horses and all the King's men can't be relied upon to produce favourable outcomes.

What is the moral dimension of waging war without end? Where is the morality in going to war until the voters at home finally grow bored with it and the political caste finds it necessary to call the whole thing off? What is our moral obligation to the defenceless hordes we leave in our wake as we depart? How do we deny them sanctuary as refugees?

Is this a function of original sin? You lied your way into this war and now the Pottery Barn rule applies (you broke it, you own it).

I'm hopelessly confused and yet I have studied this "new war" theory and have some grasp on what it portends. It's one of those things that the more you explore it the murkier it becomes. All I've garnered out of those studies has led me to formulate a precautionary rule. Don't get into wars that you're not willing to win and, even then, not without knowing how you will win, how long that will take, at what cost, how you will know if you've won and if you've lost, and how you will get out. Those preconditions all sound so reasonable and yet, if applied to our military adventures in the Muslim world since the turn of this century, we would have stayed home.

Forget this bullshit about moral wars for it's the most heinous, most barbaric side that sets that morality bar in these new wars. There's no moral consolation prize that doesn't leave mountains of suffering and dead in its wake.


LeDaro said...

Mound, it is heart breaking. West thinks that keep on killing muslims and the problem will be solved. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed and no end is in sight.

I beleave Israel has a major role in this. Engage neibouring Muslim countries in civil wars so that it can continue to expand its boundaries and build new settlements. I believe it is back firing. No end is in sight and it is getting bad to worse.

I am using tablet and making many mistakes. Sorry!

Toby said...

Yes, it's confusing.

Leadership in the West has been afraid of a new Saladin (Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb) sweeping across the Middle East. We may be seeing ISIS assuming that role.

There don't seem to be any good guys in the Middle East. It's even hard to have sympathy for the victims (except for drowned children washing up on beaches) with their [what looks to us to be] medieval religious cultural practises. (So many times I have witnessed women covered from head to toe while their men romp freely with bare arms and legs. The double standard infuriates me but I digress.)

What should we do? What should Canada do? Well, we should help some refugees. Other than that the West should get out of the Middle East. We have a long history there and have simply messed up. Any and all meddling backfires and we should stop it. Yes, Mound, I think you are right that we may be seeing the beginnings of a major Sunni/Shia war and it will serve no good at all for us to be in the middle of it.

Maybe we should put the shoe on the other foot. How would we react if a force from another part of the world decided to meddle in our affairs?

The Mound of Sound said...

@ LD. Yes, Israel and the subjugation of the Palestinians plays a role in this. And, yes, what we're doing is obviously backfiring revealing that we have no Plan "B" other than to leave eventually which our adversaries know we will do if they outwait us. I'm not at all sure that we prevent carnage and suffering as much as we merely drag it out. In this I think how we spent a decade babysitting an unresolved civil war in Afghanistan.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Toby - would that we had another Saladin to deal with. What we have is far worse. You're right. There are no "good guys" in the ME only some that are far worse than others. Actually that's not true. Here I think of the Tunisians bravely standing up to Islamist terrorism and the young people of Iran - modern, secular and aiming to build a better country over the coming generations.

Kirby Evans said...

What always leaves me baffled in these situations is the way in which countries that are neck deep in imperialistic blood are shocked when their violent past catches up with them. I understand that any such death is a tragedy for those left behind, but at the very least they shouldn't be surprised. Is it just a matter of ethno-centrism or white privilege that Western nations can spend generations in violent imperialism and then be shocked when others commit violence against them?

Anonymous said...

I'm beginning to think that humans are an evolutionary dead-end. We strike out with destructive violence against each other and everything that surrounds us. This is a problem with the wiring in our brains. Can we alter the wiring and neutralize the violence, or at least make it more productive? Maybe.

rumleyfips said...

I spent some time thinking about this and am still unsure of my conclusions.

Syria has the Assad regime which has been in power for years. Internally there is a rebel opposition, mostly militarily defeated and loosing relevance. Various Kurdish militias have taken the opportunity of the civil war to try and sever land in Northern Syria to establish a greater Kurdistan. The Syrian government did not attack itself to start a civil war.

Supporting Syria are:
Russia, who wants to maintain a presence in the middle east and a naval port on the Mediteranian. Russia is providing military, economic and material support.
Iran, another Shia country. Iran is providing little but is not attacking.

Opposing Syria:
Saudi Arabia who want the Sunnis swept from the peninsula. They send money to ISIL among others.
Israel, who wants the Golan heights.
The United States, who is an ally of Israel and Saudi Arabia and has desired regime change in Syria for 20 years.
France, for reasons that escape me.
Canada, because " me too ".
Turkey, who hopes the PKK Kurds get crushed in the confusion and wants to steal Syrian territory for a buffer zone to protect against the Kurds. Although Turkey and the Kurds are allies in the fight against Assad they are deadly enemies.

Non government players include:
Kurds and rebels already noted supported and repressed by the same national players.
Al Queda, probably financed by Saudi Arabia and armed by international dealers.
ISIL, probably financed by Saudi Arabia and armed by dealers and captured American weapons.

The more I look at who is fighting who and why and where the guns and money come from the murkier the whole business becomes. None of them can be trusted for a second. Only unforeseen outcomes seem likely. A victory for the western alliance will be as bad as a victory for Assad.

Run away Justin; run away fast. No good can come.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Kirby - your grasp of Western moral exceptionalism is slipping. I want you to go into a dark closet and repeat to yourself 50 times: "White man's burden, white man's burden."

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Anon 11:03. This is just a preview of what's to come as climate change impacts spur mass migrations and violent resentments. Hold onto your hat. We're in for a wild ride.

The Mound of Sound said...

Rumley, old chap. You, like Toby, are dangerously close to falling into the "Kill them all, God will know his own" frame of mind.

As for the Kurds, we fucked them up when we abandoned the Treaty of Sevres in favour of the Treaty of Lausanne to appease Ataturk. Oddly enough they haven't taken their revenge on their ultimate betrayers - us.

rumleyfips said...

@Kirby: The one militant identified by fingerprints had an Algerian background. %o years ago and more, the French were torturing and murdering Algerians for the glory of France. This guy ( born and raised in France )may be a grandson .

Can you say blowback ? I knew you could.

Anonymous said...

as this is being talked and written of as the 'French 911', it would seem reasonable to look at how the usa reacted after 911 proper and see how that turned out. a good rule of thumb would be 'whatever George did, i'll do the opposite...'

Sixth Estate said...

It seems to me that a key problem here is that we're confusing symptoms with diseases. ISIS is not the problem. The problem is that Syria and Iraq are virtually failed states. If they weren't virtually failed states, then there would be no ISIS, except perhaps as an underground guerrilla group.

No amount of bombs dropped can, on their own, magically restabilize a state. Especially since our stated policy is the destabilization of the Syrian regime. We could kill all of ISIS's leaders. For that matter, we could kill every person currently affiliated with ISIS. Then tomorrow, there would be a new group arising to fill the power vacuum. And it would almost certainly be Islamist and radically anti-American.

rumleyfips said...

Kill em all etc. I didn't intend to imply that: after all that's what is going on now and what we should avoid.

When I said none of them can be trusted, I include Canada, the US, Great Britain , France et al.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ 6E - yes, you're onto something. This is the fallout of statehood failed. We had better get used to it because the coming two decades will see a wave of newly failed states. In the face of forces such as climate change, it can become a contagion as one state falters into anarchy and chaos, dragging down its neighbour in the process.

We're dealing with power vacuums of a sort unique to the 21st century and over time our responses will evolve and probably harden.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Rumley - yes, trust does seem to be losing a lot of its currency, doesn't it?

Edstock said...

Then there's unintended consequences and surprises. The next 18 months are going to be critical for that sorry part of the world. Right now, ISIS believe they are bullet-proof. They aren't. Just how their wheels will fall off is a mystery, but we will find out, eventually.

But it could be a few years, and in the meantime millions of people's lives are ruined and hundreds of thousands are killed because the US, Saudis Russians and anybody else with a buck at stake keeps stirring the misery.

Happy Holidays!

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, Ed. Why do you think we won't go after the Saudis and the other sheikhs and princes of the Gulf States for their support of ISIS? They've always got a hand in this shit and we know it. Sec. State Clinton's intercepted cables revealed that we know this all too well and yet we remain almost mute just as we let them leave our aerial coalition without the slightest protest.

Anonymous said...

Who benefits from mayhem in Syria (and Iraq)?
It is that simple. There are 3 principal actors who are also neighbors.
rumlefips & LeDaro are correct.

P.S. France was always obsessed with "keeping the link" to former colonies

Anonymous said...

'Hi, Ed. Why do you think we won't go after the Saudis and the other sheikhs and princes of the Gulf States for their support of ISIS? They've always got a hand in this shit and we know it.

Because ; if we, the West, were to take on Saudi Arabia the worlds best source of oil would disappear and the world economy would crash.
There are people and organisations out there that have no problem whatsoever in milking the present situation for all it's worth.
Dollars ,Pounds, Euros or Rubles it matters not.
The religion of profit, growth and personal greed dwarfs the extremist Muslim or Evangelical Christian faiths.

Dana said...

Taking the death of Muhammed as a founding date for islam makes the religion about 650 years younger than xtianity.

650 years ago xtianity was behaving almost exactly the same way as islam is now albeit without the explosives and gunpowder projectile weapons.

It's a feature of religion.

Anonymous said...

Anyong said: Anonymous said @ .... You are so correct it is deafening.

UU4077 said...

And, all the crap happening in Syria can be traced back to ... wait for it ... climate change (which, of course, you know Mound).

Just wait until Climate Change has even greater direct impact - than it already has - on North America. As you have stated before, the military gets it. The right-wingers? Not so much.

UU4077 said...

As for Moral War - I assume this is another way of saying Just War. I have a real problem with the concept. I had such a discussion with my Philosophical Theology professor a few years ago (as a very "mature" student!). I still have issues with the idea. Can a war really be just? It would seem so in the case of WWII. But, WWII would not have happened without The Great War (which should never have happened).

Sixth Estate said...

Mound -- Getting used to it implies doing something about it. The current approach is at best going to achieve nothing, and at worst to make the problem worse. So I guess your prophecy is going to be self-fulfilling.

There appears to be no appetite for new nation-building occupations in either country, and no idea how to conduct such an occupation successfully either. Yet it follows from fairly basic logic that that is the only thing that makes any sense.

the salamander said...

.. I'll start watching for signs the jihad is under attack from within. Better said, when women begin taking over the situation. If there's always one thing that trumps ignorance - paternalism & ludicrous fundamental dogma.. its the prime directive of natural selection aka survival of the species. How interested muslim women of the many sects & tribes are regarding a heavenly reward among 40 vestal virgins interests me.. tho its very possible those women won't buy into the far fetched payoff. So .. how will all those women turn the equation back toward survival instead of drug and dogma enhanced extinction? .. Probably via coordinated poisoning of fertile males with bad reproduction strategies.. So far, everything I'm seeing from the current leaders and followers if ISIL indicates a nihalistic arrogance.. the rush to the great hereafter.. and those vestal virgins..

Natural Consequence always answers the bell... is always surprising, often fatal.. Its Murphy's Law in whatever culture, language or past its prime religion you can find. Islamic or Muslim women won't pretend its righteous or holy.. just common sense & natural .. survival instinct !

The Mound of Sound said...

UU4077, Trudeau's critics in the media and elsewhere have injected this issue of morality into the debate. It seems a bit removed from the tenets of "just war" prescribed by Aquinas especially in that we're not waging the sort of war that can achieve peace. That's not our goal. Containment through violence is no substitute for peace.

The moral element being tossed around seems rooted in notions of cowardice, the "cut and run" fantasy. We're leaving. That's immoral which, by implication, suggests that staying and bombing anything we can find is the moral option.

I think most of us find warfare inherently immoral even if we can sometimes construe it as just. Surely the firestorms we brought to Hamburg and Dresden could never be considered moral nor the nuclear bombs delivered on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and yet we considered that a just war. It was just because we were ridding the world of a great evil and restoring peace.

In the Middle East we're not even remotely configured to eradicate ISIS nor restore peace. The proof is that our commitment will wane as the public appetite for continuing it ebbs.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ 6E - yes I fear we will "get used to it." We'll tire of these inconclusive wars and our compassion for the victims will wane, perhaps even transform into some degree of hostility.

We're not going to emerge as better people for this, anything but. We see the signs already.