Greg Sheridan, courtesy of The Australian, 19 November 2015, where the title is “Cold War Model best for Middle East” ……. with emphases being the intervention of the Editor, Thuppahi, while the twist in the title is with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel
In response to the terrorist murders in Paris, the French government promised a “pitiless” response, said the terrorist attacks were a declaration of war and then bombed Islamic State targets in Raqqa, Syria. The French government told us it destroyed an Islamic State training camp as well as a munitions dump. Is there the slightest chance that this is true? Here is the logical contradiction. If such fat, juicy Islamic State targets existed the day before the Paris attacks, why hadn’t they been taken out by the US-led air campaign already? The chief difficulty with that campaign has been finding targets. The French military action almost certainly resides in the symbolic category — being seen to do something. France rains hellfire —newsfoxes.com
Dozens of civilians died after Russian jets heavily bombed Idlib.… http://www.dailysabah.com/mideast/2015/11/19/fears-rise-over-civilian-deaths-refugee-flow-as-russia-france-bomb-raqqa
The real purpose of French military action therefore was to show a willing spirit, to demonstrate defiance, to bolster morale and to symbolise determination. These are not ignoble ambitions. The French were right to do what they did, however ineffective it might be.
But we need to ask the broader question: how should the West act in and towards the Middle East? The past 15 years offers us an almost textbook case of the efficacy of three types of Western policy: Iraq, Libya and Syria.
In 2003, the US invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein and set up a more democratic, representative government there. Shortly before the invasion I had the pleasure of talking to Henry Kissinger and remember him saying that he did not think long-term occupation of Iraq by US forces was viable as it would create too much resentment. He was, as it turns out, absolutely right.
The US certainly acted in good faith. It thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. It also, however, thought it could change the political culture of the Middle East and improve it. There was nothing anti-Islamic about this invasion. The US had undertaken many military actions to defend Muslims, such as stopping Serbs from slaughtering Kosovars, or liberating Kuwait from Iraqi invasion, or supporting Afghanistan against Soviet invasion.
The occupation was a sign in fact of American idealism, the willingness to expend vast amounts of treasure, and many American lives, to try to improve the long-term situation of Iraqis. However, the invasion of Iraq brought about not a ready democracy and peace but a long and bloody insurgency. It also did not bring about democracy. Nonetheless, of the three cases under consideration, Iraq is the least terrible.
The Iraqi government controls most of the Shia areas, the Kurds control the Kurdish areas and the Arab Sunni areas are contested by Islamic State and the Iraqi government.
However, it was so expensive in every way, in terms of human life and also in terms of the US budget, that it cannot possibly be repeated. The 2011 Libyan intervention, pushed very hard by Kevin Rudd among others, unlike the Iraq intervention, had the full backing and authority of the UN.
It seemed to learn the lessons of the Iraq quagmire. There would be no Western boots on the ground. Instead, airstrikes were used to give effect to the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which would save, in particular, the people of Benghazi from the slaughter threatened by Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Gaddafi was not as remotely as blood-soaked a dictator as Saddam but he was bad enough. When he was toppled, the US and others offered the Libyans aid. Elections were held. The Libyan liberals won. They were grateful to the Americans. For a moment Western prestige stood high in Libya as it had, also for a moment, in Iraq. But then the Libyan war lords and tribal leaders decided they would not respect the results of the election. Libya descended into a variety of the chaos that had befallen Afghanistan before the Taliban took over. Some war lords were tribal, some were ethnic, some were ideological/religious, affiliated with al-Qa’ida or, later, Islamic State, or committed just generally to the poisonous, ultra-fundamentalist version of jihadist Islamism.
It’s important to understand that hatred of the West is an essential part of this ideology, dating back to the earliest days of the Muslim Brotherhood and beyond, and especially to the writings of its most influential thinker, Sayyid Qutb.
When modern Islamist terrorists blame this or that policy of the West for their actions, at most they are talking about what their teachers most recently attached their emotions to. The hostility to the West, manifested in al-Qa’ida’s 9/11 terror attacks, long predates Western intervention in Iraq, Libya or Syria. In any event, the Libyan intervention was a failure. Huge quantities of Libyan army weaponry found their way into jihadist hands all over North Africa and the Middle East. Libya is worse than it was under Gaddafi and worse than Iraq is.
Then there is Syria. In Syria, the West did not intervene. Having learned the lessons of big intervention in Iraq, and modest intervention in Libya, the West threatened to intervene in Syria but did not do so. The Arab Spring broke out and Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, cracked down on it with barbaric ferocity.
Before the Arab Spring, Assad was not, by Arab standards, a particularly brutal dictator. Christians and other minorities lived without persecution in Syria, the economy was developing slowly and the country’s borders were stable.
So those strategic wiseacres who say all Western intervention in the Middle East is doomed and it’s better to do nothing have to deal with the case of Syria. It descended into absolutely savage civil war and it spawned Islamic State as the most bloodthirsty and violent of the Sunni jihadist groups. So the policy of non-intervention produced the worst outcome of all. The limited Western air intervention in Syria comes about because of the West’s need to protect and support the state of Iraq, which for a brief period looked as though it might be over- run by Islamic State.
So, Western intervention fails and so does Western non-intervention. The terrorist and extremist groups of the Middle East have hatred of the West as a central part of their ideology and leaving the Middle East entirely to its own devices guarantees continuing attacks on the West.
Not only did Western intervention fail in the Middle East, so did Western liberalism. There is a close continuity between George W. Bush’s second inaugural address and Barack Obama’s Cairo speech. Both outlined an American vision of liberalism triumphing in the Middle East. Because Obama was more popular, his speech perhaps had more effect.
You can make the case, and some Obama partisans do, that Obama’s Cairo speech led to the Arab Spring. But the Arab Spring has been an unmitigated disaster in the Middle East.
Is this a counsel of despair? Where do we go from here?
The emergence of Egypt under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi perhaps points the way forward and it does so by re-creating a very old relationship between Washington and the Middle East. Sisi is no democrat. Neither is he a murderous, bloodthirsty dictator. Nor is he an enemy of the West. He does provide stability and he certainly assists Western interests in the Middle East.
He now enjoys backing from Washington in the way many Middle East regimes did throughout the Cold War. This was often one of the endless Arab complaints about the US — that it backed dictators in the Middle East. In fact it always urged moderation and reform on its allies but it understood the overwhelming importance of stability and basic governing coherence.
So that is the least bad future — Cold War-style involvement in the Midd e East, cold-eyed and strategically hard-headed, with an emphasis on state stability, regimes that do not commit genocide and do not attack us, and leave political reform for another day. It’s not that inspiring but it has a chance of working.
Alan Dupont, “ISIS as Fascist and Totalitarian,” 29 September 2014, http://thuppahis.com/2014/09/29/isis-as-fascist-and-totalitarian/
Michael Roberts, “Death and Eternal Life: Contrasting Sensibilities in the Face of Corpses,” 29 June 2011, https://thuppahis.com/2011/06/29/death-and-eternal-life-contrasting-sensibilities-in-the-face-of-corpses/
Michael Roberts, “Where Infighting generates Fervour & Power: ISIS Today, LTTE Yesterday,” 21 July 2014, http://thuppahis.com/2014/07/21/where-in-fighting-generates-fervour-power-isis-today-ltte-yesterda/
“If We Want To Stop Terrorism, We Should Stop SUPPORTING Terrorists,” AT http://2015-war.beforeitsnews.com/economy/2015/11/if-we-want-to-stop-terrorism-we-should-stop-supporting-terrorists-2775960.html