Quotulatiousness

July 19, 2016

Attempting to make sense of the state of the Middle East

Filed under: History, Middle East, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait links to an essay that summarizes some of the confusing and contradictory motives and actions that have roiled the Middle East for the last few years:

I haven’t much to say about all this, but one thought does occur to me, which is that it seems rather wrong for Americans to blame other Americans for this bloody shambles. (Haivry himself does not blame America.) The next silliest thing to believing that your country is an unchallengeably magnificent superpower that never ever errs is to believe that your country’s mistakes and crimes are overwhelmingly more important and blameworthy than those of any other country, these two attitudes being far more similar than those who indulge in the latter one typically realise. The Middle East would surely now be a bloody shambles whatever the Americans had recently tried to do about it.

If there are imperialist villains to be blaming, how about Britain and France? But one suspects that, again, even if those notorious “lines in the sand” had never been drawn around a century ago, what would be happening on top of this sand would still now be a bloody shambles.

The only rays of light that Haivry discerns are in the form of the various little non-Islamic and anti-Islamist statelets that are starting to form, such as the newly emerging Kurdistan. The Kurds aren’t the only ones doing this, apparently. Good to hear.

Here’s the link to the Ofir Haivry essay.

In 2007, in a seminar room in Jerusalem, a day-long session was devoted to Israeli regional strategic perspectives. I was among the participants together with several other scholars, a former Israeli interior minister, a future Israeli defense minister, and two future Israeli ambassadors to the U.S. At a certain point, the talk turned to various scenarios for the regional future and the opportunities or dangers each of these entailed for Israel. When the possible breakup and partition of Arab states like Iraq or Syria was raised, the near-unanimous response was that this was simply too fantastic a scenario to contemplate.

Now we live that scenario. The great Sunni Arab implosion that began with the 2011 “Arab Spring” was unforeseen in its suddenness, violence, and extent. But some, both inside and outside the Arab world, had long suspected that, sooner or later, a day of reckoning would indeed arrive. (Among Westerners, the names of Bernard Lewis and David Pryce-Jones come most readily to mind.) Today, those in the West who acknowledge this great collapse for what it is will be better able to face the emerging realities. But the first and most important step is to recognize that there is no going back.

[…]

And what would all this entail for Western interests and for the regional policy of the U.S. (should it wish to have an active one)? There is no point in dreaming any longer of a grand deal with Iran, or of rebooting the good old days with Turkey, let alone resuscitating an Arab hegemony led by Egypt and the Saudis. As with the huge, decades-long effort by Great Britain to prop up the Ottoman empire, finally blasted in World War I, so with the increasingly forlorn effort by the U.S. to save the Sunni Arab regional order from collapsing, now finally revealed as a road to nowhere. One might as well attempt to restore the Balkans to the Habsburg empire or the Ottoman fold, or to resuscitate Yugoslavia.

With artificial regimes and borders gone, people in the region seek protection and solidarity in the old identities that have survived the Arab reverie: their nation, their religion, their tribe. These are the only building blocks upon which a new and stable system can be founded. The process will be long, complex, and fraught with difficulty, but it offers a prospect of strategic as well as moral coherence. A region redrawn along lines of actual self-definition would give voice to the communities on the ground that will become invested in its success and work for its stability.

For Western observers and policy makers, the principle should be to look with appropriately cautious favor on significant groupings that possess their own voice and some degree of self-government, while ensuring that in the event of their political defeat, they will not be exterminated—which is far more than any of the Arab world’s political systems ever offered anyone. Some of these groupings will evolve into robust independent nations, others into weak federal states or new tribal confederations. Some, cherishing the opportunity, will build thriving and prosperous democracies, and perhaps even become natural allies of the West and Israel. Others will undoubtedly, yet again, waste their opportunities, devolving into another round of petty and corrupt tribal entities—though with the advantage to themselves of ethnic and religious cohesiveness and to outsiders of being too small to entertain dreams of internal or external genocide. In the Middle East, again, not such a bad outcome.

May 13, 2016

The British Death March in Mesopotamia I THE GREAT WAR Week 94

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 12 May 2016

After the Ottoman victory at Kut, the suffering for the British and Indian prisoners is not over. They embark on a death march towards their prison camps. Sick, hungry and with no protection from the blazing sun, the soldiers have to suffer again and again. Meanwhile, the Eastern Front is still drowning in spring thaws and in Verdun, the French rotation system proofs its strategical advantage.

May 6, 2016

The British Surrender At Kut – Germany Restricts The U-Boats I THE GREAT WAR – Week 93

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 5 May 2016

After 140 days, the Siege of Kut ends with the biggest surrender of British forces in history. The remaining soldiers are starting their long march into captivity. Meanwhile the Italian front lights up again as Luigi Cadorna plans a new offensive and the Germans give in to diplomatic pressure and stop their unrestricted submarine warfare.

April 29, 2016

Dividing Up The Middle East – The Sykes-Picot Agreement I THE GREAT WAR Week 92

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:22

Published on 28 Apr 2016

The secret agreement between France, Britain and Russia that was signed this week 100 years ago was a turning point in the relations to the Arab world. It negated all future promises made by the British and still has consequences 100 years later. The Middle East was becoming more and more important to the British in 1916 and people like T.E. Lawrence are starting to become major players in the background.

April 22, 2016

The Muddy Graves of Russia and Kut I THE GREAT WAR Week 91

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 21 Apr 2016

With the spring in Russia and the Caucasus came the thaws on the Eastern Front and all the way down to Mesopotamia. The soldiers had to adapt to survive let alone fight. The Battle of Verdun still rages on though the French are not moving more airplanes to the area to break the German air superiority.

February 10, 2016

Andrew Coyne re-phrases Justin Trudeau on our Iraq commitments

Filed under: Cancon, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

It’s all a bit confusing, so Mr. Coyne has thoughtfully straightened out and recast the Prime Minister’s statement:

Still, in any mission, you need to make choices, even false ones. We can’t do everything. Rather, in the fight against ISIL we have chosen to do everything except the one thing our allies have asked us to do: fight ISIL. While Canadians have always been prepared to fight, we believe that in this campaign there are better ways we can contribute that build upon our uniquely Canadian expertise. Thus, rather than actually fly the planes ourselves, we will rely on our uniquely Canadian expertise in refuelling planes for others to fly.

Let me be clear. There is a role for bombing — just not by Canadian pilots. After all, combat is not what Canada is all about. Rather, what Canada is all about is standing by while others engage in combat on our behalf. Think of the consequences, if in the course of an airstrike aimed at ISIL one of our brave and talented Canadian pilots were to inadvertently kill a great number of innocent civilians. Whereas merely providing the fuel for the plane that does — along with aerial surveillance, and of course the essential work of identifying targets by our special forces, er, training advisers working on the ground — leaves us wholly uninvolved.

A word about those trainers. It is true that we are tripling their number, while increasing the total number of our military personnel in the region by a fifth. Here again I would caution people not to think this meant we were somehow engaged in combat. Yes, it is true that they will be installed near the front line, and yes, training will often involve taking Iraqi and Kurdish troops out on patrol, and yes, this will sometimes mean that our troops are fired upon, and yes, they will sometimes be obliged to fire back. But merely because our troops will be firing upon the enemy in a war zone or calling in airstrikes from above does not mean they will be in combat. I mean, it says right there in the platform: “We will end Canada’s combat mission in Iraq.”

January 26, 2016

Inventing ISIS

Filed under: Middle East, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Strategy Page looks at some of the prevailing beliefs about the origins of ISIS among refugees:

Interviews with refugees from the fighting in Iraq and Syria as well as people still in those countries shows that over 80 percent believe the Islamic terrorists in general and ISIL and al Qaeda in particular are creations of the West (particularly the United States) and Israel as a means to destroy their countries and Islam. This is nothing new and while all this is unbelievable to most Westerners and largely ignored by Western media and politicians it is very real and has been for a long time. Media in these countries is full of even more fanciful (to Westerners) inventions. This has caused problems for Western troops operating in those countries, although some have figured out how to take advantage of it.

All cultures have a certain belief in magic and what Westerners call “conspiracy theories” to explain otherwise unexplainable events. In the Islamic world, there is a lot of attention paid to sorcery and magic, and people accused of practicing such things are regularly attacked and sometimes executed because “sorcery” is a capital crime under Islamic law. Conspiracy theories are also a popular way to explain away inconvenient facts and this is often found useful in countries that are hostile to other forms of sorcery.

For example back in 2008 many Pakistanis believed that the then recent Islamic terrorist attack in Mumbai, India was actually the work of the Israeli Mossad or the American CIA and not the Pakistani terrorists who were killed or captured and identified. Such fantasies are a common explanation, in Moslem nations, for Islamic terrorist atrocities. Especially when Moslems, particularly women and children are among the victims. In response many Moslems tend to accept fantastic explanations shifting the blame to infidels (non-Moslems).

After the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, many Moslems again blamed Israel for staging those attacks. A favorite variation of this is that, before the attacks on the World Trade Center, a secret message went out to all Jews in the area to stay away. Another variation has it that the 19 attackers (all of them Arab, 15 from Saudi Arabia) were really not Arabs but falsely identified as part of the Israeli deception. In the United States some Americans insist that the attack was the work of the U.S. government, complete with the World Trade Center towers being brought down by prepositioned explosive charges. While few Americans accept this, the CIA and Mossad fantasies are widely accepted in the Moslem world. Even Western educated Arabs, speaking good English, will casually express, and accept, these tales of the Israeli Mossad staging the attacks, in an effort to trick the U.S. into attacking Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans are shocked at this, but the Moslems expressing these beliefs just shrug when confronted with contradictory evidence.

January 22, 2016

The Fight for Montenegro & The Disaster Of Kut I THE GREAT WAR Week 78

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 21 Jan 2016

The Russians try to take Czernowitz, the Capital of Austrian Bukovina but thousands upon thousands of Russians were killed in action. While in Montenegro, Austro-Hungarian troops under commander in chief Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf take control of the Balkan state of Montenegro. A relief force led by Lieutenant-General Fenton Aylmer had to return to base after a big loss against the Turks, while in South Cameroon, so the Germans retire into Spanish territory.

January 15, 2016

The Invasion Of Montenegro – The End of Gallipoli I THE GREAT WAR – Week 77

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 14 Jan 2016

It already started around Christmas but this week the evacuation of Gallipoli is complete. While the evacuation was a success, the overall defeat is inarguable for the British. On top of that the Ottomans can now send 40.000 soldiers to the siege of Kut in Mesopotamia where the British are still awaiting relieve. At the same time the Austro-Hungarian Army starts its invasion of Montenegro and the Western Front is still quietly awaiting the offensive at Verdun.

December 11, 2015

Britain On The Run – The Siege of Kut Al Amara I THE GREAT WAR – Week 72

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 10 Dec 2015

Serbia is breaking under the pressure of the Central Power invasion and the last troops and civilians flee through the Alps. The final decision to evacuate Gallipoli is made and the British Indian Army gets under siege in the town of Kut Al Amara in Mesopotamia. The end of 1915 certainly looked grim for the Entente. The morale in Italy was also at a low point after the Fourth Battle of the Isonzo river ended like the three before.

December 7, 2015

Rescuing Yazidi captives from ISIS

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Hannah James reports on Montreal’s “Jewish Schindler”:

From his office at The Prancing Horse — a high-end car and motorcycle dealership in Montreal — Steve Maman is scrolling through picture after picture of Yazidi women and girls he’s helped liberate. They were held as slaves in northern Iraq by fighters with the Islamic State group.

“You relive the emotions,” Maman explains as he looks through his files of dozens of women and children. “It’s anger. Right now I’m getting angry. That’s all it is. It builds anger. You get angry.”

In August 2014, IS militants raided villages in the Sinjar District of northern Iraq. It’s an area occupied by many Yazidis – a religious minority practicing an ancient religion, pre-dating Islam.

IS considers the Yazidis heretics, and set out to purge the villages of men, and to kidnap thousands of women and children to sell as sexual and domestic slaves.

Not long after the invasion of Sinjar, an IS video surfaced, showing a group of men laughing and joking about buying and selling Yazidi girls.

“Can you prove to her you’re a man?” one of the men asks another.

Maman, a car dealer specializing in luxury vintage automobiles, saw the news coverage of the massacres across Sinjar, and says he felt he had to take action. He calls his mission not a “choice” but “divine providence.” He says he’s inspired by his religious beliefs, and also by Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who rescued 1,200 Jews during the holocaust.

November 27, 2015

Pride Comes Before The Fall – British Trouble in Mesopotamia I THE GREAT WAR – Week 70

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 26 Nov 2015

Far away from the Western Front, the British Indian Army gets intro trouble in Mesopotamia against the Ottoman Empire. In the Alps, the Fourth Battle of the Isonzo is proving just as disastrous to the Italians the other three before. And in Serbia the situation is getting darker and darker as Nis is falling to the Central Powers. All while the flying aces of World War 1 are fighting it out in the skies over the Western Front.

March 12, 2015

ISIS recruiting is going great. Retention? That’s a bit more dodgy

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Military, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Strategy Page, a look at an under-reported phenomenon as ISIS struggles with retaining some of its foreign volunteers:

ISIL is having problems with its foreign recruits. Many of them arrive with the intention of simply living in an “Islamic state” not fighting to expand that state. ISIL tried to accommodate the foreigners, lest they return home and report unfavorably about life in ISIL controlled territory. This led to foreign recruits getting better treatment (housing, food, access to “wives” and all manner of creature comforts. This, naturally, led to resentment by local (Syria and Iraq) recruits. That led to more locals deserting, joining the growing number of foreigners who simply walked away. Or tried to walk away as in late 2014 ISIL began accusing those who left of desertion and jailing or executing them. This inspired more (but better planned) desertions and growing dissent within both the ranks and among commanders. ISIL does want skilled foreigners in their caliphate but most of the foreign volunteers have no useful skills and ISIL seeks to use them as fighters or suicide bombers. Few people with useful skills are eager to join ISIL.

Internal criticism is not the only problem ISIL is facing in 2015. ISIL has recently suffered prominent defeats in Iraq and Syria as well as continued rebellions in both countries. Even the Syrian Army is retaking ground from ISIL. The Kurds are defeating ISIL forces outside Kobane in Syria and near the Iraq border. In Iraq Kurds, Iraqi soldiers and Sunni and Shia militias are both stopping ISIL attacks and pushing back ISIL forces outside of Mosul, Kirkuk and Tikrit. An offensive to retake Mosul is expected before June. Meanwhile air attacks not only continue but are more frequent and more damaging. This makes it more difficult to stockpile supplies or move large numbers of gunmen quickly. More leaders are being found and killed by these air attacks. Important economic targets like oil refineries are being destroyed. Inside the ISIL run “caliphate” (eastern Syria and western Iraq) there are growing shortages of everything and ISIL is finding that conquest is easier than running an economy. The economic problems fuel the rebellions and desertions and it’s a vicious circle that is destroying ISIL from within. The problem with ISIL is that so far it has solved its supply (logistical) problems via looting. But there has been no new conquests to loot for over six months and the stockpiles of plunder taken in 2014 is nearly exhausted. It’s another example of the old military maxim, “amateurs study tactics while professionals study logistics.” The accountants always win in the end.

The forces arrayed against ISIL have a better grasp of the logistical problems and have done something with that awareness. Thus Kurdish and Iraqi forces operating along the border with Syria have cut the best supply routes between Syria and Iraq. ISIL can still move between these two areas but with greater difficulty (using more fuel and time to do so). Taking longer to travel puts ISIL more at greater risk of attack by coalition warplanes. Worse, it becomes impractical to move essential supplies (especially food and fuel) between Iraq and Syria.

March 10, 2015

Method to their vandalistic madness

Filed under: History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

David Warren on the ongoing organized vandalism of antiquities in areas under the control of ISIS:

Their opponents complain that, “Daesh terrorist gangs continue to defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity.” I am quoting Iraq’s minister of tourism, who uses the Arabic acronym for the group that has apparently bulldozed the archaeological remains of Nimrud, on top of its other accomplishments. I’m sure the presidents of the United States and France, the prime ministers of England, Italy, and Japan, the chancellor of Germany and many other world leaders would agree with this sentiment. And let me add that these gangs have hurt my feelings, too.

[…]

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III — thank God, removed to the British Museum more than a century ago — was found at Nimrud. It depicts, among foreign tributaries, Jehu, the ancient King of Israel, and is thus a direct transcription onto dated Assyrian limestone of what is also reported in our Bible. That was 841 BC: one of innumerable physical proofs of the historical veracity of what our children are taught to sneer at as “fairy tales,” in today’s jackboot-secular schools.

For more than a generation, now, the barbaric savages who teach in our post-Christian universities have been filling their heads with e.g. the malicious lies of the late Edward Said. They are drilled by these Pavlovs to drool, promptly, upon hearing the word “Orientalism,” and then woof, yap, and bay at “Western Imperialism,” like little attack poodles. This also hurts my feelings.

The bas-reliefs, the ivories, the sculptures — the colossal, winged, man-headed lions that once guarded palace entrances and were found in such a wonderful state of preservation — are, so far as they remained on site, or were retained in the Mosul Museum, now being smashed to bits on camera; or ground to gravel by heavy machinery beyond the local competence to manufacture or design. The “irony” here is that much of this sophisticated equipment, and probably even the mallets, were paid for by the profits from other archaeological objects which these Muslim fanatics, and their “moderate” enablers, have been selling in the international black market for art and antiquities.

Indeed: these videos of gratuitous destruction, which our media so generously promote, are probably designed to drive the prices up on the gems they have for sale; as, too, the beheading videos are intended to increase prices, and guarantee payment, on the heads of such other hostages as they may capture, from time to time. (I have noticed that many of the objects we see being smashed are actually plaster copies, of originals exported in the good old days. One must be familiar with practices in the bazaars of the Middle East to follow the many angles, in a culture that exalts low cunning.)

February 18, 2015

A thumbnail sketch of ISIS

Filed under: Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In The Atlantic, Graeme Wood discusses what the Islamic State is and where it came from so recently:

The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations — upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.

Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of — and headline player in — the imminent end of the world.

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.

We have misunderstood the nature of the Islamic State in at least two ways. First, we tend to see jihadism as monolithic, and to apply the logic of al‑Qaeda to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it. The Islamic State supporters I spoke with still refer to Osama bin Laden as “Sheikh Osama,” a title of honor. But jihadism has evolved since al-Qaeda’s heyday, from about 1998 to 2003, and many jihadists disdain the group’s priorities and current leadership.

Bin Laden viewed his terrorism as a prologue to a caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells. The Islamic State, by contrast, requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it. (Its bureaucracy is divided into civil and military arms, and its territory into provinces.)

Control of territory is an essential precondition for the Islamic State’s authority in the eyes of its supporters. This map, adapted from the work of the Institute for the Study of War, shows the territory under the caliphate’s control as of January 15, along with areas it has attacked. Where it holds power, the state collects taxes, regulates prices, operates courts, and administers services ranging from health care and education to telecommunications.

Control of territory is an essential precondition for the Islamic State’s authority in the eyes of its supporters. This map, adapted from the work of the Institute for the Study of War, shows the territory under the caliphate’s control as of January 15, along with areas it has attacked. Where it holds power, the state collects taxes, regulates prices, operates courts, and administers services ranging from health care and education to telecommunications.

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