Quotulatiousness

September 30, 2014

“…the outcomes of U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Libya disprove libertarianism”

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:30

Nick Gillespie responds to a really dumb argument against libertarianism:

As one of the folks (along with Matt Welch, natch), who started the whole “Libertarian Moment” meme way back in 2008, it’s been interesting to see all the ways in which folks on the right and left get into such a lather at the very notion of expanding freedom and choice in many (though sadly not all) aspects of human activity.

Indeed, the brain freeze can get so intense that it turns occasionally smart people into mental defectives.

To wit, Damon Linker’s recent essay in The Week (a great magazine, by the way), which argues that the outcomes of U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Libya disprove libertarianism, in particular, the Hayekian principle of “spontaneous order.”

No shit. Linker is being super-cereal here, kids:

    Now it just so happens that within the past decade or so the United States has, in effect, run two experiments — one in Iraq, the other in Libya — to test whether the theory of spontaneous order works out as the libertarian tradition would predict.

    In both cases, spontaneity brought the opposite of order. It produced anarchy and civil war, mass death and human suffering.

You got that? An archetypal effort in what Hayek would call “constructivism,” neocon hawks would call “nation building,” and what virtually all libertarians (well, me anyways) called a “non sequitur” in the war on terror that was doomed to failure from the moment of conception is proof positive that libertarianism is, in Linker’s eyes, “a particularly bad idea” whose “pernicious consequences” are plain to see.

In the sort of junior-high-school rhetorical move to which desperate debaters cling, Linker even plays a variation on the reductio ad Hitlerum in building case:

    Some bad ideas inspire world-historical acts of evil. “The Jews are subhuman parasites that deserve to be exterminated” may be the worst idea ever conceived. Compared with such a grotesquely awful idea, other bad ideas may appear trivial. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore them and their pernicious consequences.

    Into this category I would place the extraordinarily influential libertarian idea of “spontaneous order.”

What nuance: Exterminating Jews may be the worst idea…! When a person travels down such a rhetorical path, it’s best to back away quickly, with a wave of the hand and best wishes for the rest of his journey. Who can seriously engage somebody who starts a discussion by saying, “You’re not as bad as the Nazis, I’ll grant you that”…? I’d love to read his review of the recent Teenage Mutant Ninjas movie: “Not as bad as Triumph of the Will, but still a bad film…”

September 23, 2014

“Arab civilization … is all but gone”

Filed under: History, Middle East, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:14

In Politico, Hisham Melhem explains why the Middle East is in the current state of chaos:

With his decision to use force against the violent extremists of the Islamic State, President Obama is doing more than to knowingly enter a quagmire. He is doing more than play with the fates of two half-broken countries — Iraq and Syria — whose societies were gutted long before the Americans appeared on the horizon. Obama is stepping once again — and with understandably great reluctance — into the chaos of an entire civilization that has broken down.

Arab civilization, such as we knew it, is all but gone. The Arab world today is more violent, unstable, fragmented and driven by extremism — the extremism of the rulers and those in opposition — than at any time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. Every hope of modern Arab history has been betrayed. The promise of political empowerment, the return of politics, the restoration of human dignity heralded by the season of Arab uprisings in their early heydays — all has given way to civil wars, ethnic, sectarian and regional divisions and the reassertion of absolutism, both in its military and atavistic forms. With the dubious exception of the antiquated monarchies and emirates of the Gulf — which for the moment are holding out against the tide of chaos — and possibly Tunisia, there is no recognizable legitimacy left in the Arab world.

Is it any surprise that, like the vermin that take over a ruined city, the heirs to this self-destroyed civilization should be the nihilistic thugs of the Islamic State? And that there is no one else who can clean up the vast mess we Arabs have made of our world but the Americans and Western countries?

September 15, 2014

The “semi-war” against ISIS – watch their actions, don’t listen to their words

Filed under: Middle East, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:46

Brendan O’Neill notes the huge gap between what western politicians say about ISIS and what actually happens:

Has anyone else noticed the colossal disconnect between Western leaders’ rhetoric on the Islamic State and their proposed action against it?

With their words they tell us IS poses the greatest threat to Western civilisation. This bloody cowboy statelet is an ‘imminent threat to every interest we have’, says US defence secretary Chuck Hagel. This ‘death cult’ is a threat not only to the people of Iraq and Syria but to ‘the whole world’, says Australian PM Tony Abbott. Fighting IS is the ‘greatest struggle of our generation’, says Canada’s foreign affairs minister, adding: ‘[The IS] worldview is a direct challenge to the values of Western civilisation.’ IS is ‘the most serious threat’ the Western world faces right now, says British PM David Cameron.

And how do these leaders of the West, these fretters over the future of Western civilisation, plan to tackle this barbaric pseudo-state that is apparently a challenge to every interest we have? With some airstrikes. And by arming the Kurds. That’s it. There will not, as President Obama emphasised with gusto during his address to the American people last week, be boots on the ground. This great struggle to defend the vales of the West ‘will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil’, he said.

In short, this is a generational struggle that will involve very little struggle, a fight to defend civilisation that will involve next to no fighting. Our leaders ramp up the rhetoric – talking about the need to galvanise the West and its allies against what the Canadian minister calls ‘one of the most barbaric terrorist groups the world has ever known’ — while making clear that no Westerner, not even our soldiers, will be expected to put themselves in harm’s way to guard the gates of civilisation from these ‘barbarians’. We won’t fight them on the beaches (or rather, deserts); we’ll just bomb them from the air and leave the messy business of hand-to-hand combat to the ill-trained, already stretched Kurds. Let the Kurds defend the ‘values of Western civilisation’.

September 7, 2014

ISIS and its local and regional enemies

Filed under: Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:27

Strategy Page looks at the various forces and factions opposed to the rise of the Caliphate of ISIS:

In the Middle East Islamic radicalism, and its murderous offshoot Islamic terrorism, comes in many different flavors. Most groups are mutually antagonistic and will often kill each other as eagerly as they go after kaffirs (non-Moslems.) Nearly all these radical movements now condemn ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) and condemn ISIL for being too extreme. To the West these seems absurd, and many Moslems agree. But radical Islam is what Islam began as and to this day there are always Moslems who embrace the concept of extreme Islamic radicalism and Islamic terrorism as being the ultimate form of Islam. Thus while Saudi Arabia bans all other religions in its territories and regularly beheads people accused of sorcery and other religious offenses, the Saudis condemn ISIL. One reason for this is that ISIL considers the Saudi government weak and not Islamic enough and worthy of being replaced (after a righteous bloodbath of the current Saudi royal family) by someone more suitable (like ISIL). Al Qaeda also condemns ISIL, initially for not ignoring al Qaeda orders to tone down the barbaric treatment (mass murder and torture) of the enemy because al Qaeda realized that this eventually triggers a backlash from other Moslems. Iran condemns ISIL because all Shia (meaning all Iranians) are heretics and deserving of summary execution. Iran-backed Hezbollah is now using that ISIL threat to justify Hezbollah grabbing more power in Lebanon, where Shia are a third of the population but far more powerful politically because Iranian cash, weapons and training have made Hezbollah too strong for the elected Lebanese government to suppress or even oppose. In Syria, the minority (more Shia) Assad government, fighting a Sunni rebellion since 2011, now calls on their current Sunni enemies (Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs, plus the Sunni majority in Syria) to join with them in destroying ISIL.

Whatever else ISIL has done it has united many other Sunni faction and the Shia in the region into an uneasy anti-ISIL coalition. But even after ISIL is gone, Islamic radicalism will still be there. For most Moslems this radicalism is like the weather; every Moslem talks about but Moslems cannot seem to do anything to eliminate or even control it.

Islamic terrorism has long been trapped in a self-destructive cycle of its own making. It works like this. Islamic radicals obtain their popularity and power by proclaiming that they are defending Islam from non-believers and sinners (within Islam, often local Moslem dictators). In order to maintain this moral superiority, the Islamic radicals must be better Moslems, and insist that others do as they do. Since Islam is a religion that dictates how one lives, in considerable detail, as well as how one plays, this business of being a “good Moslem” can get tricky. And it is. There’s a race underway by Islamic radicals, and the clergy that provide theological support, to issue, and enforce, more and more rules on how a good Moslem should live.

August 31, 2014

NATO’s assistance for the Kurds – the spirit may be willing, but the military is weak

Filed under: Europe, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:29

Strategy Page explains why NATO aid for the Kurds in northern Iraq may not be sufficient or even timely:

The recent ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria) misbehavior (mass murder and so on) in Syria and Iraq has caused a public uproar in Europe and generated demands that NATO send forces to try and stop all the killing. The German government responded on August 20th with a pledge to send weapons to the Kurds who are fighting ISIL in northern Iraq. But Germany was reluctant to send warplanes or troops. A few days later a German Defense Ministry readiness report was leaked and it made it clear why even getting weapons to the Kurds would be difficult. The report showed that only 8 percent of 109 Eurofighter (similar to the U.S. F-15), 11 percent of 67 CH-53 transport helicopters, and 10 percent of 33 NH90 helicopters were fully operational (not sidelined for upgrades, repairs or other problems.) However 38 percent of 56 C-160 twin turboprop transports were available. This made it possible to fly some weapons into northern Iraq, but not much else. Normally a combat ready military has at least half, and more normally over 70 percent of its warplanes ready to go. While this situation shocked many, those who have followed European military trends since the 1980s were not surprised.

The problem is that the European NATO members never spent as heavily on their armed forces as did the United States and Russia, especially after 1991. Britain and France are still heavy spenders, but not enough to make up for what the rest of European NATO members are not doing. European NATO members are aware of this problem, but it has never been a high enough national priority to actually fix.

There was some hope in the decade after September 11, 2001 as the need to deal with international Islamic terrorism changed the armed forces of Europe in unexpected ways. More money was spent on the military and many of the troops got some combat experience. Now the Europeans have more capable and professional forces than they have had for many decades. None of this was expected. But in the last few years these changes have begun to fade. Thus the shocking readiness numbers for German aircraft.

[...]

For example, in 2008 the German parliament was in an uproar over a report depicting German soldiers as physically unfit for military service. It was found that 40 percent of the troops were overweight, compared to 35 percent of their civilian counterparts (of the same gender and age). The investigation also found that the troops exercised less (including participation in sports), and smoked more (70 percent of them) than their civilian counterparts. The military now encourages sports and physical fitness, and discourages smoking, but those efforts did not appear to be working.

When other Europeans looked around they found that it was not just a German problem. It was worse than that. Most European military organizations were basically make-work programs. It’s long been known that many European soldiers are not really fit for action. They are mainly uniformed civil servants. One reason many are not ready for combat, or even peacekeeping, operations, is that they don’t have the equipment or the training. And that’s because up-to-date gear, and training, are expensive. A disproportionate amount of money is spent on payroll. That keeps the unemployment rate down more effectively than buying needed equipment, or paying for the fuel and spare parts needed to support training.

Update: Some supplies and weapons are getting to the Kurdish forces. Here’s the Operation IMPACT page at the Canadian government website:

Operation IMPACT is the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) provision of strategic airlift to assist in the delivery of critical military supplies to security forces in Iraq fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been threatened and displaced by the militants of ISIL that began seizing territory in northern Iraq earlier this year. This support will enable security forces in Iraq to provide effective protection to Iraqis faced with ISIL aggression.

Canadian Air Task Force Iraq

One Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CC-130J Hercules transport aircraft and one CC-177 Globemaster III strategic airlifter have been committed to transport military supplies donated by allies. Approximately 100 Canadian Armed Forces personnel are deployed, including air crew, ground crew and logistical support personnel.

The aircraft, along with those of contributing allies, will work from staging locations in the Mediterranean and in Eastern Europe.

The CC-130 aircraft is used for a wide range of missions, including troop transport, tactical airlift and aircrew training. The CC-177 Globemaster III specializes in rapid delivery of troops and cargo for operations taking place in Canada or abroad.

Both aircraft and their personnel will remain deployed as long as the Government of Canada deems necessary.

July 25, 2014

US Marine Corps Commandant goes off-message

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:56

James Joyner discusses the problem with depending on partial reporting:

Many of us have experienced occasions where we’ve read about an event in which we were a participant — either as a direct actor or merely an observer — and found ourselves perplexed by the written account. Whether because of an ideological agenda, an inadequate understanding of the topic, or — more commonly — a desire for a juicy headline and a scandal, reporters frequently misrepresent what transpired or was said. Paradoxically, however, we instinctively treat reports about events where we were not present as gospel.

Recently, a collaborator and I fell into this trap. A series of venues reported some remarks by General Jim Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, which seemingly questioned the president’s leadership on issues of international security, blamed the current crisis in Iraq on his fecklessness, and strongly implied that the president had betrayed the sacrifices of American warriors who had died there. As strong advocates for civilian control of the military, we submitted a blistering piece to War on the Rocks outlining the proper limitations for general officers publicly speaking on matters of policy, explaining the rationale for those limitations, and ending with Amos standing at attention in the Oval Office being reminded of his place in the chain of command. It was right on all counts — except for the not so minor detail that Amos hadn’t done what we were criticizing him for doing.

June 27, 2014

Possible next moves for ISIS

Filed under: Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:56

Charles Lister provides some ideas on what ISIS will do next after its stunning run of insurgent successes against the Iraqi military:

It is the wealthiest militant organisation in the world; it controls large swathes of territory — stretching from al-Bab in eastern Aleppo province in Syria to as far as Suleiman Bek 415 miles (670km) away in Iraq’s Salahuddin province — and it explicitly wants to establish an Islamic state.

In the immediate term, Isis will seek to sustain momentum in Iraq through further acquisitions of territory and finance-earning assets.

But crucially, Isis is not the only actor involved in fighting against the Iraqi government. Despite a few isolated clashes, a “coalition of convenience” — broadly encompassing Islamists, Sufis, Baathists, and tribes — has come to existentially undermine the legitimacy of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

How long this loose coalition holds will determine the nature of Isis’ role in what has effectively become a Sunni uprising in Iraq.

[...]

An immediate objective for Isis will be to cement its control over border towns on both sides.

Recent Isis incursions around Albu Kamal in Syria, and the defection to Isis of several key Nusra Front members in that town symbolises exactly the strategy Isis will likely seek to conduct — that of exploiting its sky-high reputation to undermine competing groups in strategically-valuable areas

ISIS controlled areas in Iraq 20140627

June 24, 2014

ISIS rejected Al Qaeda’s “rules”

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:51

In Slate, Will Saletan explains how ISIS deliberately cast aside Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s “seven rules for effective terrorism”. Is this evidence that ISIS is too extreme and will destroy itself or is it wishful thinking?

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is scaring the hell out of everyone. It has infested Syria, overrun Iraq, alarmed Iran, and convinced U.S. politicians it’s the most dangerous terrorist organization ever. But frightening everyone isn’t a long-term growth strategy. ISIS is destroying itself.

Al-Qaida, the organization from which ISIS recently split, understands this truth. For years, Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants tried to explain to their affiliates the folly of unchecked brutality. In letters and directives captured in the 2011 raid on his compound, Bin Laden stressed the importance of patience, discretion, and public opinion. His advice, boiled down to seven rules, forms a clear outline of ISIS’s mistakes.

1. Don’t fight civil wars. Bin Laden recognized that battling for territory against local governments was a lousy way to get to theocracy. [...]

2. Don’t kill civilians. That was Bin Laden’s principal regret. He called for guidelines that would instruct jihadists to avoid “unnecessary civilian casualties.” [...]

3. Don’t flaunt your bloodlust. One of the captured al-Qaida letters, believed to have been written by Bin Laden or his aide, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, urges al-Qaida’s Yemeni affiliate to “stay away from words that will affect the people’s support to the mujahidin.” [...]

4. Don’t rule harshly. Bin Laden was a theocratic fundamentalist, but he cautioned his allies to avoid the “alienation from harshness” that was “taking over the public opinion.” [...]

5. Don’t claim territory unless you can feed the people. [...]

6. Don’t fight with your allies. Bin Laden tried to rein in the fratricidal belligerence of ISIS’s precursor organization, al-Qaida in Iraq. [...]

7. Don’t alarm your enemies prematurely. In 2010, Bin Laden advised his followers in Yemen not to escalate the war there, in part because “the emergence of a force in control of the Mujahidin in Yemen is a matter that provokes our enemies internationally and locally and puts them on a great state of alert.”

June 22, 2014

ISIS gets ultra-medieval on Iraqis

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:55

In the Daily Express, Adrian Lee reports on what happens to a town when ISIS takes over:

When the gunmen arrived in town one of their first tasks was to raid shops and confiscate every carton of cigarettes. The tobacco was loaded on to a truck and was soon burning on a giant pyre under the watchful eyes of the fanatics.

For residents in Raqqa near the border with Iraq in northern Syria this display of power was just a taste of life to come under Isis. Within days the radical Muslim group that is bulldozing through the region had decreed that women could not raise their voices in public or walk at a late hour without a male chaperone.

From elsewhere have come horrific stories of brutality including the alleged filming of mass executions. Now this group controls half of Iraq and is knocking on the door of the capital Baghdad.

Led by a man who has been described as the new Osama Bin Laden, the aim of Isis is a new Muslim state straddling Syria and Iraq, which is to be run under ultrastrict sharia law.

For anyone stepping out of line the punishments are harsh. Isis believes in crucifixion and the amputation of limbs for criminal acts. It’s claimed that to set an example the heads of their dead enemies are boiled in oil.

It is a return to the Dark Ages last witnessed when the Taliban joylessly governed Afghanistan.

ISIS is enforcing a particularly grim and joyless form of religious and social behaviour:

Singing and dancing are banned along with alcohol, cigarettes and the popular hookah pipe.

“Songs and music are forbidden in Islam as they prevent one from the remembrance of god and the koran and are a temptation and corruption of the heart,” according to a statement issued by Isis.

“Every smoker should be aware that with every cigarette he smokes in a state of trance and vanity he is disobeying god.”

Shop owners are forbidden from displaying images of people in their windows and ordered to close 10 minutes before prayer time. It’s also considered a sin to build elaborate tombstones. Under Islamic law death is final and resting places should be unadorned.

June 19, 2014

The Islamic version of the Thirty Years’ War

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:25

One of the most destructive wars in Europe ran from 1618 to 1648 and involved the repeated devastation of much of central Europe. The term “Thirty Years’ War” is a convenient term for the series of overlapping and interlinked conflicts between and among the combatants originally religious in nature (Protestant versus Catholic) and later becoming more of a struggle for political control (Wikipedia‘s entry covers most of the issues).

In the Spectator, Douglas Murray says this is a good model to help us understand what is happening right now in the middle east:

Syria has fallen apart. Major cities in Iraq have fallen to al-Qa’eda. Egypt may have stabilised slightly after a counter-coup. But Lebanon is starting once again to fragment. Beneath all these facts — beneath all the explosions, exhortations and blood — certain themes are emerging.

Some years ago, before the Arab ‘Spring’ ever sprung, I remember asking one top security official about the region. What, I wondered, was their single biggest fear? The answer was striking and precise: ‘That the region will clarify.’ That is a fear which now appears to be coming true.

The Middle East is not simply falling apart. It is taking a different shape, along very clear lines — far older ones than those the western powers rudely imposed on the region nearly a century ago. Across the whole continent those borders are in the process of cracking and breaking. But while that happens the region’s two most ambitious centres of power — the house of Saud and the Ayatollahs in Iran — find themselves fighting each other not just for influence but even, perhaps, for survival.

[...]

There are those who think that the region as a whole may be starting to go through something similar to what Europe went through in the early 17th century during the Thirty Years’ War, when Protestant and Catholic states battled it out. This is a conflict which is not only bigger than al-Qa’eda and similar groups, but far bigger than any of us. It is one which will re-align not only the Middle East, but the religion of Islam.

Over the last decade, many people have “explained” the unsettled and unstable situation among the various middle eastern Islamic states by pointing out that Islam never went through the sort of wrenching religious/political upheaval like the Protestant Reformation in Europe. We may actually be seeing this process live right now.

June 17, 2014

Game of Thrones lessons learned by ISIS

Filed under: History, Media, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:56

I haven’t been watching Game of Thrones, but I’ve seen enough of it that James Delingpole‘s observations seem rather accurate:

Consider some of the Isis footage now doing the rounds on the internet. One video is filmed from the point of view of some young men in car, driving along a highway outside a town somewhere in northern Iraq, looking for cars to shoot up with their AK-47s. The innocent drivers clearly aren’t expecting this. By the time they’re aware what’s going on, it’s too late: soon, their bullet-riddled cars are veering off the roads, their dead or wounded drivers slumped at the wheel. Next, eager as puppies, out pop the jihadis to inspect the damage, gleefully filming their dying victims and then finishing them off. It’s like an episode of Grand Theft Auto Mosul, only acted out for real.

What kind of mindset do you need to carry out this kind of barbaric violence? Well I hesitate to say a “Medieval” one because then the Medievalists get all upset. But let’s agree shall we that it is a mindset almost completely alien to Western Judeo-Christian culture. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule: the obvious one being Germany in World War II. At the risk of crudely generalising though, I’d say that however much society breaks down in the West I can’t ever see any of us reaching the point where we start machine gunning road users just for the sheer hell of it, any more than I can ever imagine us beheading or crucifying prisoners. We got all that stuff out of our system, over the centuries, in a succession of savage conflicts like the Thirty Years War and the Wars of The Roses.

It’s from the Wars of the Roses, of course, that George RR Martin gets a lot of his gory detail, including the kill-or-be-killed mindset of his protagonists. They don’t think like us because they don’t enjoy the luxury of living in a society as advanced as ours. What to us might seem like basic human decency would strike the Game of Thrones protagonists as fatal weakness. Hence, for example, the House Bolton’s practice of flaying its prisoners: a) a dead enemy is never going to kill you and b) it so terrifies your foes that — as Isis have found in Iraq — they would rather flee for their lives than face you in battle.

This kind of insight is, I’m sure, one of the main reasons why Game of Thrones has grown to achieve its status as unmissable, landmark television. Yes, of course, the fine acting, great locations, pert breasts and CGI dragons are a big draw too. But what really makes it stick out is that, unlike almost any other fiction set in the past, it chooses not to imbue its characters with the liberal values of the present. This brutal honesty is at once exhilaratingly novel but also deeply unsettling, for it opens a window onto a world where people may look like us and apparently share the same hopes, dreams and fears as us, but where the progressive pieties to which we’ve become accustomed in the post-war years simply don’t apply. Not only do they not apply but they actually look foolish, counterproductive, suicidal.

Don’t expect to see Canadian involvement in Iraq

Filed under: Cancon, Middle East — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:17

Paul Wells outlines why nobody is expecting a new Canadian commitment to addressing the situation in Iraq:

The United States is sending hundreds of troops, maybe more, to Baghdad as chaos in Iraq mounts. Canada, John Baird told the Commons today in a 35-second response to a planted question, isn’t. The foreign minister and the prime minister needn’t worry about having to explain themselves further on Iraq, as the Conservative government’s policy of concerned distance from the mess puts it in pretty good harmony with the opposition New Democrats, the Liberals, and Stephen Harper’s predecessor Jean Chrétien.

I don’t follow Canadian-Iraqi relations overly closely, so I was surprised on Monday when DFAT-D announced it was pulling Canada’s chargé out of Baghdad, leaving no Canadian diplomatic presence there. Turns out we don’t have an embassy in Iraq after eight years of Conservative government. Our ambassador to Iraq lives and works in Jordan. The chargé who’s been asked to leave for her safety was first posted there a year ago. And though there were several reports in Iraqi media last autumn to the effect that a full embassy would open in Baghdad this year, there’s been no follow-up and I’m not sure how much credence to give the original reports. For one thing they all misspell the Canadian amabassador’s name. [...]

The absence of a full ambassador in Iraq is a tell, and what it indicates is what you suspected: the prime minister is less excited than he used to be about the potential benefits of military intervention in Iraq. We have to look for hints like this because nobody has seen fit to walk us through Stephen Harper’s reasoning.

[...]

The evolution of Harper’s thinking on Iraq, and on military matters generally, would be fascinating to investigate. It’ll all have to await his memoirs, if any. You could put a good face on things by concluding quite simply that he learns from events: having delivered far more phone calls to the families of soldiers who died in Afghanistan than he’d planned to, and having learned for himself what an amazing schmozzle any war and (to a lesser but still substantial degree) any equipment procurement becomes, he’s decided to do less by military than he once wanted to. The scale of military cutbacks is getting noticed, although again that leaves Harper vulnerable on his right flank, where there are no opposition parties.

June 16, 2014

When “victory” isn’t an end-game option

Filed under: Government, Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:45

Clive Crook talks about the strengths and weaknesses of US foreign policy for Bloomberg View:

As Iraq unravels, a painful truth about U.S. politics and foreign policy is becoming more evident: The U.S. is very good in all-or-nothing situations, but all-or-nothing situations don’t often arise.

This is a country that can and will meet existential threats with unity of purpose and vast resources. In this regard, even now, it stands alone. Few threats rise to that level. Lesser dangers can still be serious, without commanding or justifying that kind of response. Precisely for that reason, they put greater stress on democratic politics, and U.S. politics seems ever less able to cope.

[...]

Cordesman’s advice on conducting “non-wars against non-terrorists” boils down to this: Lower your expectations and be patient. In many countries, that way of thinking is of necessity the default. In the U.S., it isn’t. Americans want victory, and they want it now. And if they can’t win, they ask, why get involved at all?

In the foreseeable future, there’ll be no victory against jihadism. That’s partly because it doesn’t pose enough of a threat to justify total war against it. Yet the idea that jihadism poses no threat to the U.S. and can simply be ignored is risible. The danger can’t be crushed; it can only be managed. This means confronting it intelligently and patiently — with allies wherever possible, and always measuring the (uncertain) benefits of action against the (uncertain) costs.

“Mission accomplished” illustrates what Cordesman calls the end-state fallacy — the idea that deep-seated conflicts can be brought neatly to an end. So does President Barack Obama’s remark on the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011: “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.”

Another fallacy is to organize policy around the idea that every conflict has a good side and a bad side. Foreign policy isn’t a morality play. Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq and Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan exemplify this second error. Perhaps, at the time, both men were better than the alternatives. Even if they were, they were bound to remain part of the problem.

H/T to Jonathan Rauch for the link.

June 14, 2014

Defense One‘s guide to ISIS

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:59

The Islamic militant group ISIS didn’t come from nowhere, but most of us only started hearing about them quite recently. Defense One has a guide to the group that has been tearing up Iraq:

Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), a predominantly Sunni jihadist group, seeks to sow civil unrest in Iraq and the Levant with the aim of establishing a caliphate — a single, transnational Islamic state based on sharia. The group emerged in the ashes of the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and the insurgency that followed provided it with fertile ground to wage a guerrilla war against coalition forces and their domestic allies.

After a U.S. counterterrorism campaign and Sunni efforts to maintain local security in what was known as the Tribal Awakening, AQI violence diminished from its peak in 2006–2007. But since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in late 2011, the group has increased attacks on mainly Shiite targets in what is seen as an attempt to reignite conflict between Iraq’s Sunni minority and the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Burgeoning violence in 2013 left nearly eight thousand civilians dead, making it Iraq’s bloodiest year since 2008, according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, in 2012 the group adopted its new moniker, ISIS (sometimes translated as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL) as an expression of its broadened ambitions as its fighters have crossed into neighboring Syria to challenge both the Assad regime and secular and Islamist opposition groups there. By June 2014, the group’s fighters had routed the Iraqi military in the major cities of Fallujah and Mosul and established territorial control and administrative structures on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border.

[...]

At odds with al-Qaeda’s aims, ISIS has since expanded its territorial control, establishing a “de facto state in the borderlands of Syria and Iraq” that exhibits some of the traditional markers of sovereignty, note Douglas A. Ollivant and Fishman. Beyond fielding a militia, it provides limited services and administers its ultraconservative brand of justice. Much of Anbar province has remained outside the central government’s authority since January 2014, and in June, ISIS wrested control of Mosul and its environs after the army, hobbled by desertions, retreated overnight. The takeovers highlighted Baghdad’s weakness: In Fallujah, Maliki called on Sunni tribesmen to resist ISIS, and in Mosul, which had been considered a model for the surge and Awakening, he called on the Kurdish security forces, the Peshmerga, to do the same.

Insurgents’ consolidation of territorial control is a concern for the United States, which believes such areas outside of state authority may become safe havens for those jihadis with ambitions oriented toward the “far enemy” — the West. The Obama administration has responded to the regional resurgence by increasing the CIA’s support for the Maliki government, including assistance to elite counterterrorism units that report directly to the prime minister, and providing Hellfire missiles and surveillance drones. After Iraqi forces retreated from Mosul, the insurgents who routed them released more than one thousand prisoners and picked up troves of U.S.-supplied matériel.

June 5, 2014

Conspiracy theorist’s festival day

Filed under: History, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:58

Matt Welch on the last few decades that paved the way for a re-expansionist Russia:

On September 10, 1990, U.S. President George Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev issued a simple and remarkable joint statement. “We are united in the belief that Iraq’s aggression must not be tolerated,” the former Cold War opponents declared after a seven-hour meeting in Helsinki to discuss Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait. “No peaceful international order is possible if larger states can devour their smaller neighbors.”

Observers understood immediately the historical significance of two previously antagonistic superpowers agreeing on the principle that countries cannot swallow one another. What was less obvious at the time is that the moment would look like science fiction from the perspective of the future as well.

President Bush — we did not need to differentiate him as “H.W.” back then — was so giddy about the prospects of rules-based global cooperation that on the not-yet-portentous date of September 11, 1990, he gave an unfortunate name to the concept during an address to a joint session of Congress: new world order.

“Most countries share our concern for principle,” he asserted. “A new partnership of nations has begun, and we stand today at a unique and extraordinary moment. The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation. Out of these troubled times, our fifth objective — a new world order — can emerge: a new era-freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world, east and west, north and south, can prosper and live in harmony. [...] A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.”

Because “new world order” sounded creepy and was already a phrase used by conspiracists worried about one-world government, Bush’s larger point got washed away in the ensuing brouhaha. But terminology aside, the creation of an international taboo against subsuming weaker countries was a worthwhile endeavor.

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