Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Time for a New Approach to ISIS?

When the Islamic State overran most of Sunni Iraq, the West invoked the default option - air strikes.  We decided that a good course of therapy with precision-guided, thousand pound bombs was just what the doctor ordered.  Like loyal gang members we lined up for the chance to turn rubble into ever smaller rubble. The US, naturally, was big dog backed up by France, Britain, Australia, Canada and just about everyone else who happened to have a few warplanes sitting around doing nothing particularly useful.

We've been dropping lots of bombs on a rapidly dwindling inventory of targets but ISIS is still there.  This leads terrorism expert Loretta Napoleoni to ask if maybe talking would be more effective than bombing.

The Islamic State, rather ingeniously, lured the U.S. into a fight when it released the video of James Foley's beheading, writer and terrorism expert Loretta Napoleoni explains in a telephone interview. The author's new book, The Islamist Phoenix: The Islamic State and the Redrawing of the Middle East, is a concise reality check about  a group that is unlike any the world has seen before. In fact, according to Napoleoni, it is not even an "armed organization any more. It is a state, a modern, pragmatic state, a wholly different phenomenon from Al Qaeda or the PLO."

Once IS is better understood, says Napoleoni, it behooves the world to "talk to them," and "to find out what they want." This would be to exercise a kind of behind the scenes diplomacy that the world has not seen since before the Cold War.
"Obama is between a rock and a hard place," Napoleoni concedes, but she also thinks that Americans are ready for a new approach, not the same failed ones. "People are tired of being afraid," she says. She is fascinated by the comments Pope Francis recently in Turkey, where he said he would like to talk to them. "That can be good for us," she says. "If the Pope is saying that, we have to listen."
...Two Shia leaders, Assad backed by Russia and al Maliki backed by the West, abused their power and violently repressed the call of the people for true democracy. Both leaders reneged on their promises. Assuming power after the death of his father, Assad had inflamed mass hope with the promise democratic reforms. Similarly, al Maliki had pledged to rule according to the constitution and to preside over Iraq’s first truly democratic government.
Iraq is the mirror image of Syria, backsliding into pre-modernity. Damascus leads by a few years in this depressing process; the disintegration of the Iraqi state has only just begun. And the Islamic State has shown an extraordinary understanding of the similarities between the countries, exploiting them with remarkable timing.
Will the West and the world deal with Iraq differently than they have with Syria, especially now that the Islamic State has proclaimed its Caliphate? This is a question that nobody can answer. In the past, neither the US nor Europe could find a formula to overcome Russia and China’s veto on any military intervention in Syria. While everybody knows that Assad guarantees the Russian fleet access in the Mediterranean, China’s reluctance springs from how badly the Europeans and the Americans have handled regime change in Libya, leaving a profoundly unstable country. And after the lies Bush and Blair used to justify their invasion of Iraq, and the high price paid by Coalition forces, the West is in no rush to topple another Arab dictator.
Neopolitani warns that the gruesome brutality we're witnessing is the hallmark of what's called the "new warfare."
In the summer of 2014, Pope Francis declared that World War III had already started, a miasma of conflicts spreading across the globe, bearing little resemblance to the two world wars of the twentieth century. Instead, these conflicts are reminiscent of pre-modern warfare, managed not by sovereign states but by warlords, terrorists, militias, and mercenaries, whose ultimate goal is territorial conquest with the aim of exploiting people and natural resources. None of these wars are waged to create nation states.
Missing are the trenches, battlefields, and even international rules that to some extent used to set codes and boundaries for the behavior of combatants. The Geneva Convention has been consigned to the trash bin. The parties to these various conflicts are all guilty of severe excesses, including religious violence, wanton destruction, and even genocide. Even some regular armies behave as militias. In Nigeria, Amnesty International has filmed Nigerian soldiers and members of the Civilian Join Task Force, a civilian militia, cutting the throats of prisoners suspected of membership in the notorious Islamist militia Boko Haram, and throwing the decapitated bodies into mass graves.[6]
From Nigeria to Syria, from the Sahel to Afghanistan, the victims of this new war are largely civilians. In Nigeria, according to estimates by Amnesty International, 4,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in attacks carried out by Boko Haram and the Nigerian army in the past year. In Syria more than one million people have been displaced, and 200,000 have been murdered, since the beginning of the civil war.
...What we face are pre-modern conflicts that harness modern technology, a deadly combination that hugely increases civilian casualties. One striking example is the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014 over Ukrainian airspace.
Professor Mary Kaldor of the London School of Economics, author of New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era[7] has written that globalization plunges some regions into conditions of anarchy similar to philosopher Thomas Hobbes’s famous description the state of nature: “The state of men without civil society (which state we may properly call the state of nature) is nothing else but a mere war of all against all . . . with a continual fear and danger of violent death.” Life before civil society was “nasty, brutish and short.” These are the conditions into which parts of Syria and Iraq have regressed today.
Globalization has undermined the stability of a number of authoritarian regimes, from Libya to Syria to Iraq and beyond, by making people aware of their political conditions. The fall of Gaddafi in 2011 resulted in a political vacuum that rival tribal militias—from liberals to hard-line Islamists—have filled with violence. The violent responses to the Syrian Arab Spring and the Sunni Iraqi uprising have created a similar vacuum. The common objective of the many armed groups that have filled it is the conquest of political and economic power for the purposes of exploitation. These groups harbor no intention of creating a democratic state, nor a new nation in any modern sense of that term. On the contrary, anarchy is the best environment for the pillaging of resources and exploitation of people.
...Globalization has brought prosperity in some regions, such as China and Brazil, and poverty in many others, such as the Middle East and parts of Africa. The crisis of the state in Africa is linked to both climate change and the race of rich countries to grab the continent’s resources. In the Middle East, other phenomena have contributed to this impoverishment. In Iraq, for example, a decade of economic sanctions has transformed the nation with the highest level of education in the Arab world to one in which women do not have the right to work. The process of regression to a pre-modern society has gone hand in hand with the nation’s impoverishment.
The deadly combination of globalization and rising poverty has stirred up widespread insecurity and fostered tribal armed conflicts under the banners of religion and faction. Conflicts have inevitably become multipolar. In Mali, Tuareg separatists and Islamic factions are fighting amongst themselves and at the same time against the government; in the Central African Republic, Muslim and Christian militias are involved in a bloody war, which threatens to become genocide, while members of the national army take positions according to their creeds; in Western Africa, al Qaeda in the Maghreb is active almost everywhere.
One thing is certain.  You cannot bomb chaos and anarchy out of existence. What we're seeing is the world we have unwittingly created.  Those who pitched globalization, let's call them the 1%, exploited our naivete in making us believe its benefits were universal.  They weren't nor were they ever really intended to be.
I bought Mary Kaldor's book, "New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in the Global Era" and, judging by events of the past decade, she's plainly right.  Yet, like a one trick pony, we in the West respond to the 'new war' of the 21st century with 20th century 'old war' weaponry and tactics.   It's all our military and political leadership know.  It's failed us in Afghanistan.  It failed us in Iraq.  It failed us in Libya and it's going to keep failing us until we realize that All the King's Horses and All the King's Men cannot deliver victory in the era of new war.
At some point we have to realize that 'victory' is a question of what remains after the guns fall silent.  


Kim said...


CuJoYYC said...

Organized states have always had a problem with guerrilla warfare. To name just three of the more famous examples, think Rome and the northern and eastern frontiers, Charlemagne's continuing fights with the northern tribes, and China's need to build a huge bloody wall because they couldn't keep the hordes at bay. Nothing new under the sun yet far too many of our so-called leaders fail to learn from history.

The Mound of Sound said...

This is a bit different than guerrilla warfare, Cujo. It's more structured and organized. Much of new war engages a state actor versus a melange of guerrillas, insurgents, militias, criminal gangs and other state actors. It creates a degree of fluidity in which the conventional force may face an array of adversaries that readily change and morph. These "others" may unite against a common foe or on short notice turn on each other.

Anonymous said...

Combined with man made global pollution, and the shiq economy which only benefits the wealthy, we are in for a terrible time. I am talking about the young babies and my grand children I see every day, already facing difficulties. Here in Mexico it is already bad. The rich want to control the massses for their benefit so has been suggested to me coming from Mexicans. Anyong

The Mound of Sound said...

Well, Anyong, the conditions are definitely worsening that will eventually destabilize even our western countries if not reversed. We're on a self-destructive path. Whether it leads to reformation or anarchy, something is coming.

Purple library guy said...

Frankly I'm not convinced that what's happening has to do with a change in the nature of non-state actors, making them more dangerous or whatever. I think it's more that the effect of neoliberal globalization, particularly in the exploited periphery, is a weakening of state actors as they pull back from so many of the functions that used to make up the fabric of society. This weakened society, this moral and in some cases also physical power vacuum, makes it easier for violent groups of various sorts to grab some of that vacated room.
In the wealthy centre they can (so far) compensate with police state tactics from subtle to overt, but elsewhere the capacity for that doesn't exist, whether because they don't have the money or because the profit-as-only-God approach of neoliberalism has created corruption too deep for institutions to function, as is the case in Iraq and increasingly Mexico, among others. Hence the situation where the Iraqi army barely exists because officers are entrepreneurs, their capital being bribes to gain command posts and their return on investment being the difference between their budget and the amount they actually spend on men and equipment. When our institutions corrode that far, our countries will fall apart too. The Harpercons are doing their best to move things in that direction.

The Mound of Sound said...

Globalization is weakening some states and in certain cases it's enough to tip them into failed state status. There are various forces in play that are destabilizing already wobbly governments. The Syrian civil war, for example, is widely thought to have been sparked by severe drought and food shortages. Bread riots likewise played a significant role in the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt.

Purple library guy said...

Good point.