American and allied airstrikes on Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State would not have been necessary had the U.S. moved earlier to do the following:
• Acknowledge that the Islamic State is a byproduct of the mess made by the American invasion and eight-year occupation of Iraq. The U.S. should have moved much earlier than July to push for a national unity government in Baghdad, rather than helplessly watching Nuri Al-Maliki pursue his narrow Shiite sectarian interests, which in turn prompted the disenfranchised minority Sunnis to make an unholy alliance with the Islamic State.
• Helped stop the civil war in neighbouring Syria, where Bashar Assad, besides massacring his own people, initially backed the Islamic State as a counterforce to those trying to topple him. Unwittingly, the U.S. also helped the Islamic State by not adequately helping more moderate groups opposing Assad.
The drift in Syria and Iraq created the vacuum that the jihadists filled, just as the vacuum in Afghanistan in the 1990s was filled by the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
It follows that there’s no eliminating the Islamic State without fixing Iraq and without eliminating Assad. Whether that entails a return of American ground troops, something Obama is loathe to approve, is a matter of detail.
How can more war be good in a region already steeped in war?
But Obama is already waging war — in panic, in response to the sudden shift in western public opinion after the beheading of two American journalists and a British aid worker.
Fact is that the Islamic State has been massacring people for more than a year, and imposing totalitarian rule in the areas it controls. That, however, didn’t stir the West, just as Assad’s massacring of 200,000 Syrians hasn’t.
We are told that the Islamic State poses a threat to the West. There’s the imbecilic warning by English-speaking jihadists that Canada and all are in their crosshairs. And there are the westerners who’ve joined the jihadists and may come back to harm us.
Obama: “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland . . . ” (Emphasis mine).
David Cameron: The Islamic State is “planning to attack us here at home in the United Kingdom.”
Stephen Harper: “Frankly, this terrorist caliphate . . . has the capacity of not just leading regional jihad, but becoming a massive terrorist training base for the globe.”
Some of this looks like post-Sept. 11 posturing to pave the way for war.
How many troops does the Islamic State have? We are told, 20,000 or 30,000 or even 50,000.
How many foreigners have joined it? According to officials, about 500 Britons, between “400 to 500” Germans, “between 12 and 100” Americans, and 30 Canadians “suspected of involvement in terrorist-related activities.”
That’s 30 too many.
Harper speaks of the need to “monitor and take action against both organizations and individuals who may undertake activities that are potentially threatening to Canadians.” But how does Ottawa discern intent?
While the balance between civil rights and security tilts in favour of the latter, authorities must be mindful of prevailing prejudices against Muslims, and of the agenda of Islamophobes who see the rise of the Islamic State as a godsend to fan more of their bigotry. Both Ottawa and the courts must safeguard due process.
There’s talk of revoking citizenship, a move rightly opposed by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
But Ottawa ought not to hesitate to block websites that jihadists use to lure recruits, notwithstanding media complaints. The media must stop airing beheading videos.
Whenever the West launches war on a Muslim nation, it finds Muslim allies — in this case, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt and Qatar, all undemocratic vassal states. And western leaders get careful with their language:
Obama says that the Islamic State is not “Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents.”
Cameron says: “They’re not Muslims. They’re monsters.”
Even the ever-flailing John Baird is careful: “This terrorist group has perverted the peaceful message of Islam.”
All this doesn’t fool the Muslim peoples, who, despite their revulsion against the evil Islamic State, will see the latest bombing as a continuum of endless wars on Muslims.
The only way around it is to link this war to a mission — of restoring order in Iraq and ending the massacre in Syria. For three years, the U.S. and its allies have dithered about helping the anti-Assad forces. And many nations, especially Canada, have shamefully refused to provide shelter to Syrian refugees.
Absent such a purpose, this war will prove as disastrous as previous ones — and may even end up fanning more militancy.