Monday, November 16, 2015

Collective Amnesia

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, it seems that the world is about to embark on even greater military intervention in the Middle East, intervention that will undoubtedly be aided and abetted by a fog of amnesia about recent history.

While I do not consider myself particularly well-versed in international politics, especially as it pertains to the Middle East, it hardly takes a Ph.D to know that every time an outside force enters the region, disaster ensues. Consider, for example, the Soviet Union's failed incursion into Afghanistan in the 1980's, which essentially gave birth to Al Queda thanks to the U.S. arming of the mujahideen. That the Soviets found the country uncontainable in no way deterred U.S. adventurism there, which only made the world's situation much more precarious.

But U.S. aggression in Afghanistan was merely prologue to even greater disaster in Iraq. Indeed, writer Oliver Willis suggests that George Bush's inept decisions led directly to the creation of ISIS:
1. The decision to invade Iraq, which had been contained by the no-fly zone created by the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations and unable to threaten its neighbors or the West, created a power vacuum in the Middle East which had been filled by Saddam Hussein until the invasion in March o 2003.

2. The Bush administration believed it could install Ahmed Chalabi – part of the public relations campaign to sell the Iraq War to America – as leader of the new government, but he had been outside of the country so long they never accepted him. He was viewed as a “western stooge.”

3. Almost all of the leaders of ISIS have connections to the former Iraqi government, mostly coming from the military of the Saddam Hussein regime.

4. Paul Bremer, who was the appointed head of Iraq by the Bush administration, passed the de-Baathification law which sent Iraqi army members into the populace, eventually becoming insurgents and terrorists:

The de-Baathification law promulgated by L.­ Paul Bremer, Iraq’s American ruler in 2003, has long been identified as one of the contributors to the original insurgency. At a stroke, 400,000 members of the defeated Iraqi army were barred from government employment, denied pensions — and also allowed to keep their guns.

5. ISIS leaders’ training as part of Hussein’s regime gave them the knowledge they’ve needed to be deadly:

Even with the influx of thousands of foreign fighters, almost all of the leaders of the Islamic State are former Iraqi officers, including the members of its shadowy military and security committees, and the majority of its emirs and princes, according to Iraqis, Syrians and analysts who study the group.
Some might admit that "mistakes were made," but no one seems to want to take any lessons from those mistakes.

There are now calls for long-term and intensive military build-ups in the fight against ISIS:

Some also speak of a much more aggressive military option. Experts say it would require 150,000 U.S. troops, could last decades and cost trillions.
An enthusiastic Thomas Donelly of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute is calling for such an implementation in Syria and Iraq:
It would take “more years of heavy combat than we’ve seen before” and “decades,” to properly re-integrate alienated Sunni populations that have sometimes backed Islamic State. The initial stage would cost more than $1 trillion over several years, he estimates, and 150,000 troops.

“Anything less than military engagement is likely to be useless,” Donnelly said. “It’s a war.”

Justin Trudeau has mounted the world stage as an emblem of soft power. We can only hope that he manages to keep his head as so many others in the 'civilized' world are losing theirs as they frantically beat the war drums, the reverberations of which are likely to grow louder and louder over the next weeks and months.


  1. A few comments:

    (1) Not mentioned above was that the Americans had installed a Shia government after ousting Saddam (who was a Sunni muslim). This Shia government then began to brutalize their Sunni enemies in Iraq. ISIL was the Sunni resistance that arose to fight the U.S. installed Shia government,

    (2) while the Paris attacks could be legitimately viewed as Acts of War, the French seem to have forgotten their own Acts of War committed against the Algerian nationalists, many of them Algerian muslims fighting for independence from French colonialism. Some reports had claimed the French government of that time had killed over a million Algerians (independent reports said that both sides committed atrocities),

    (3) then there was the Indo French wars where the French government of that time had killed many Vietnamese people who were fighting for independence for their country,

    (4) and then there are all those bombs and Hellfire missiles from the jets and drones that our side had been dropping in the middle east for the past few decades ... did we really believe that every single bomb and missile was an Act of Love from NATO?

    No, the Paris attacks were horrible and must be condemned but it seems that many in the west suffer from collective amnesia. Or hypocrisy.

    1. Thank you for this very relevant information, Anon. The hubris of the West would seem to be such that it discourages reflection and critical self-assessment.

    2. Acts of terrorism fall well short of acts of war as that term has been defined for centuries. Acts of war are undertaken by one state against another leading to war to achieve a political outcome concluded by a restoration of peace. Acts of terrorism are closer to criminal acts intended not to incapacitate the state but to spread fear among its people and inspire the criminals' supporters. That said what was once understood as distinct is now becoming blurred on both sides which goes some way to explaining why we're making such a mess of it.

    3. What is one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter:

      What is there to say that ISIS, which has claimed to be a caliphate, is not waging war against the west, not terrorism? Some of the acts of the French settlers (who had wanted Algeria to remain French) against Algerian nationalists had been seen by some as acts of terrorism to put the fear in the Algerians from separating from France.

  2. Lorne, you summed up the current situation quite well. It's horrible. The current actions of US and Europe countries are resulting in disaster and this disaster will just magnify. You are quite right about Trudeau. I hope he keeps his words.

    1. Something tells me, LD (and of course I could be quite wrong), that it will take a lot more than the braying of right-wing war mongers to deter Trudeau from his planned withdrawal from bombing missions in the Middle East.

    2. Lorne, I hope and pray that you are right.

  3. As an aside, isn't it telling that the same bunch that froth and clamour for war without end then turn around and demand ever lower taxes?

    1. In their world, all bad things are possible, Mound. Interesting, isn't it, that the costs of social programs are always too high and intrusive, but the cost of war never are?

  4. The March of Folly continues, Lorne.

    1. We should all be appalled and ashamed by its timelessness, Owen.