A few days after the ISIS attacks in Paris, William R Polk wrote an interesting article for Consortium News headlined “Falling into the ISIS Trap“. He takes a look at the response to terrorism and insurgency, and how it often makes the problem worse.
The American-European and Russian strategies against guerrillas and terrorists have both relied primarily on military action. This was obvious in our campaigns in Afghanistan. The Russians are now at least in part repeating in Syria the strategy they employed in Afghanistan just as we repeated much of our Vietnam war strategy in our engagement in Afghanistan. The U.S., our allies and Russia are now apparently embarked on the same general strategy in Syria and Iraq.
The supposedly more sophisticated strategies (such as encouraging training, anti-corruption campaigns, “security” programs, jobs creation, various forms of bribery and other economic activities) are given relatively minor attention. Least attended is the political dimension of insurgency.
Yet, at least by my calculation, the reality of insurgency is the reverse of how we are spending our money and devoting our efforts. I have calculated that in insurgency politics accounts for perhaps 80 percent of the challenge; administration is about 15 percent; and the military-paramilitary component is only about 5 percent. A look at the program numbers shows that our allocations of money, political savvy, administrative know-how and military power are in reverse order.
Three reasons explain why these allocations which, although proven ineffective, are still employed: the first is failure to understand the political dimension of insurgency as I believe most of the counterinsurgency “experts” fail to do; the second is that “standing tall,” beating the drum and calling for military action win plaudits for political leaders; and the third is that arms manufacturers and the workers who make the weapons want to make money.
On that last point, President Dwight Eisenhower was right: the military-industrial complex (to which we have added the lobby-corrupted Congress) is “the tail that wags the dog” of American politics.
We don’t have to guess what the strategy of ISIS is. Their leaders have told us what it is. The Management of Savagery (using the Arabic word tawhish, which evokes a sense of dread and is applied to a desolate area, the haunt of wild beasts, where there is no humanity or softness but only savagery, terror or cruelty) specified the long-term campaign to destroy the power of those societies and states that ISIS calls “the Crusaders,” i.e., the Western powers, which ISIS identifies as imperialists, and to cleanse Islamic society of the turncoats who support them.
Some prevention of ISIS violence can be accomplished, perhaps, with increased security measures, but I suggest that a multinational, welfare-oriented and psychologically satisfying program could be designed that would make the hatred that ISIS relies upon less virulent.
Inadvertently, ISIS has identified the elements for us: meeting communal needs, compensation for previous transgressions, and calls for a new beginning. Such a program need not be massive and could be limited, for example, just to children by establishing public health measures, vitamins and food supplements.
Organizations (such as Médecins Sans Frontières, the Rostropovich Foundation, the Red Cross and Red Crescent) already exist to carry it out and indeed much is already being done. The adjustment is mainly in psychology – the unwillingness for nations to admit wrongdoing – as we have seen in the German “apology” for the Holocaust and the failure of the Japanese to apologize for the Rape of Nanking. It would cost little and do much, but, in these times, it is almost certainly a non-starter.
So, sadly, I fear that we are beginning to move toward a decade or more of fear, anger, misery and loss of basic freedoms.
Earlier, Polk had written two very interesting essays relating to the history of the Middle East: “Why Many Muslims Hate the West” and “Muslim Memories of West’s Imperialism“.
The three articles are not easy reading, and add up to more than 22,000 words. The Middle East is so complex and its history dates back so long, that no series of essays can completely capture it all. Polk does a good job of highlighting what he can, but he’s been studying the history and observing the unfolding events for decades. It’s much more difficult for those of us trying to make sense of it all without the experience of decades of study.
What’s frightening is the sense that many of our political leaders don’t have a great grasp of it themselves, and are more worried about looking tough for political reasons than they are understanding the events and the motivations behind them.
I’m certainly no expert, but the terrorism we’ve seen in recent years doesn’t seem to be a problem you can bomb and kill your way out of, any more than a fire is a problem you can solve with a can of gasoline.