Thursday, May 28, 2015

ISIS And American Complicity

     Senator Rand Paul unnecessarily angered quite a few GOP true-blues with the following:

     (Feel free to pull the ripcord after about 2:00, as the rest of the video is rather discursive, and contains much that pro-freedom conservatives would reject on the merits.)

     Reactions on the Right have been exceedingly negative. Consider this from Sara Noble:

     Hello! Radical Islam and the radical Islamists caused ISIS! Are we incapable of blaming the truly guilty parties who would have warred against the people no matter what? We’re scapegoats.

     [Senator Paul] also criticized Republicans for going along with Obama’s war in Libya but I have to agree with him there and always had agreed with him on that, not because the idea of deposing Gaddafi was all that bad, but because Obama never agreed to fight it adequately.

     However, just as Senator Paul has overstated his case, Sara has cited an indisputable nugget of truth but is inclined to throw out the bathwater without first removing the baby, so there’s much to discuss.

     No, the United States didn’t “create” ISIS or Islamic fanaticism — that was a very poorly chosen word on Senator Paul’s part — but we surely produced conditions favorable to its metastasis, in a place where and at a time when the Islamist tumor was already present and growing.

     Like nature, power abhors a vacuum. The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime, followed by the precipitous withdrawal of American power from Iraq at a time when regional tensions were near their peak, created a power vacuum that no one but the Islamists was ready to exploit. The ludicrous government in Iraq and the Assad regime in Syria were both unwilling and incapable of regularizing the situation: the first because it was too busy establishing a Shia-dominant, Iran-friendly corruptocracy intent upon disenfranchising Iraqi Sunnis; the second because of the ongoing Syrian civil war. So the largely ungoverned north of Iraq and the huge piles of armaments U.S. forces left behind were easy pickings for the fanatics. There can be no question that those armaments, which included many heavy weapons and armored units, have been of great value to ISIS.

     Where the senator erred was assigning the responsibility entirely to GOP “hawks.” Our entire political class was complicit — and the responsibility stretches well back into the Bush 41 administration.

     No one on the Right, certainly not I, would claim that America deliberately and willfully created conditions favorable to the rise of ISIS. But a well-intentioned mistake in foreign policy can do a great deal of damage, and the U.S. has made quite a few in recent years.

     The core of the subject is the ever-maddening question: When, where, why, and how should the United States use its military powers? This is not a question that can be answered definitively, for the ages. Military force, like all applications of force, intimidation, or politico-economic influence, always has more than one effect – and at least one of its effects is guaranteed to be undesirable. Ultimately, practical considerations must rule: the decision to intervene militarily must be predicated on a high probability that should we stay our hand, the outcome will be substantially worse.

     The invasion of Iraq in 1990 was justified by Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait – “Province 19,” as he styled it. Whether that was adequate reason for our action is debatable, as Kuwait was not then (nor is it now) partner to a treaty of mutual defense with the U.S. Moreover, there is reason to believe that behind the representations about defending Kuwait from enslavement was a more urgent motivation: the protection of the ruling regime of Saudi Arabia, also not a treaty partner of the U.S. Given subsequent events, the wisdom of that motivation can also be debated.

     The insertion of American power into the Gulf region created a pair of attitudes there. First, the Gulf states and the Saudis were given reason to believe that they could count on America as the maintainer of the regional status quo. Second and equally important, the insertion provided fuel to the ideological fires of Middle Eastern Islamists, who had already become a significant influence on developments and had acquired Afghanistan, Pakistan, and above all Iran as sponsors and safe havens. It didn’t matter that we withdrew our forces as soon as Saddam’s were expelled from Kuwait; the image of the U.S. as a quasi-colonial master to the Middle East, determined to maintain conditions favorable to a continuing supply of oil, stuck in many minds.

     When George W. Bush resolved to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2002, he had a great deal of intelligence concerning the Ba’athists’ drive for weapons of mass destruction. Some of that intelligence was provably correct: there were indeed foundries for the manufacture of nerve gas and the delivery systems for it. The intel about Saddam’s quest for nuclear weapons has since come into question, but at the time it appeared as solid as anything we thought we knew about the Middle East.

     Would President Bush (43) have refrained from the invasion had the abovementioned intelligence been shown to be dubious? Possibly, but not certainly. He believed that Iraq was “low-hanging fruit” whose liberation and democratization would create favorable ripples throughout the Middle East. If that supposition was incorrect, it can no longer be proved so, for our ineptitude in the period that followed large-scale combat operations cannot be separated from what has followed.

     Middle Eastern societies, one and all, are legacy societies. Their fundamental legacy is the totalitarian creed that calls itself Islam, which is imposed willy-nilly on every infant practically from the day he speaks his first word. Thus, their people haven’t got the cultural foundation for freedom or democracy. The only way to impose those things on them is by the long-term application of irresistible force: an occupation period decades long, enforced by a large contingent of American troops and administrators similar to what we imposed on Japan after World War II.

     All that having been said, there is simply no question that the policies and actions of the Obama Administration have multiply compounded the damage. Indeed, had it not been for Obama’s insane decisions to abandon Iraq, to support the Islamist uprising in Egypt, to involve itself in the upheavals in Syria, and to facilitate the destruction of the Qaddafi regime in Libya, the current condition of the region would be markedly better than it is today — not in the sense of a freer or “more democratic” Middle East, but in the more fundamental sense of less violence and privation for the millions who live there.

     The United States has indeed been complicit in creating the conditions for the rise of ISIS. That we now dither over whether to “go back in” has no bearing on the soundness of the causal chains that led to the chaos of today.

     Decisions are – and should be – based on knowledge and understanding. The former usually reduces to “the best information available at the time.” The latter requires a grasp of the fundamentals of a situation: the causal relations that predominate over it.

     Some seventy percent of the nation favored the invasion of Iraq in 2003. A similar percentage favored it in 1990. At that time, we possessed both inadequate knowledge and inadequate understanding; in Donald Rumsfeld’s words, we were crippled by “things we did not know that we did not know.” The consequences are before us. It hardly matters that our intentions were the best in the world; the universe is utterly indifferent to intentions, good, bad, or neutral.

     Reaction against some of those consequences fastened Barack Hussein Obama upon us in 2008 and 2012. That surely made matters worse than they would otherwise have been. Nevertheless, both sides of the aisle bear responsibility for the debacles that have followed. Indeed, the American people deserve a share of the odium as well, for their excessively dramatic reaction against the Bush Administration and its policies, which were potentially correctable with a sufficient degree of humility and resolve.

     If Senator Paul has overstated his case, there is nevertheless a case to be made that the U.S. acted, if not in haste, at least with excessive confidence in inserting its military might into the Middle East. He is also correct that we followed up in ways that were about as likely to conduce to improvement as half-hearted half-measures usually are. No, no one intended the chaos we face today...but as a way of rectifying maladies brought about by one’s previous errors, protesting that “we didn’t know” has a very poor track record.

     "You cannot free a slave; he has to do it himself. And you cannot enslave a free man; the most you can do is kill him." - Robert A. Heinlein.

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