Friday, June 20, 2014

Quagmire Redux

A couple days ago, I came home from work and my wife was a couple hours into watching Apocalypse Now Redux.  I walked in during the scene in which Willard (Martin Sheen) stops at the French rubber plantation to bury Clean (Laurence Fishburne).  He stays for dinner with the head of the plantation, Hubert De Marais (Christian Marquand) and his family.  What follows is an extended argument over the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War.  Hubert implores Willard to "learn from our mistakes" so the Americans do not repeat them.

Learn from the mistakes of the French?  Hell, we can't even learn from our own mistakes!  To be honest, there are times when I revel in being right, when I can symbolically or literally dance around in delight at my own prescience and say, "I told you so."  But this is not one of those times.  Watching that scene in the context of current events brought me back to moments in my life 11-12 years ago in late 2002-early 2003 as the Bush/Cheney Fearmongering PR machine kicked into high gear over the non-existent threat posed to US by Iraq.  I remember vividly the arguments I would get into with co-workers and relatives over what a horrific Pandora's Box we were on the verge of opening.  Inevitably, to provide an analogous context, I would bring up Vietnam, which would usually result in an emotional explosion.  "Come on!  This isn't like Vietnam at all!  We're not gonna lose 50,000 troops!"  My response to that was that I had no idea how many people would die in a war in Iraq, but the point of the Vietnam analogy is to illustrate how long a quagmire can last and draw down our resources to the point that we will leave Iraq the same way we left Vietnam: fleeing in helicopters, staring back in horror at the hell that we've unleashed.

Suddenly, Iraq is in the news again.  After drawing down our resources near the neighborhood of a ten figure (that's trillion with a T) budget deficit which contributed in no small part to the 2008 Economic Meltdown that brought us the Great Recession (as Guy McPherson says, "Prozac Nation can't handle the word Depression, so we say Recession"), we pulled all our troops out of Iraq.  All, that is, except those guarding the US Embassy, the largest embassy we have, encompassing an area larger than Vatican City.  But there's a funny Frankenstein effect that occurs when a foreign power initiates a civil war - sometimes the Creature gets out of control.  I first became aware of this Creature named ISIS last year.  ISIS (an acronym probably coined by the same marketing dumbbells who initially came up with the name Operation Iraqi Liberation - because we need a mythological sounding nemesis for One Nation Under God to fight) is a spawn so evil, even his father al-Qaeda rejected him after ISIS told Daddy to go fuck himself.  Well, OK, that's a bit crass and simplistic, so I've got a better analogy.  It's still a bit imperfect, but hopefully more historically illustrative: what the Khmer Rouge was to Mao, so is ISIS to al-Qaeda.  This article that I read in October of last year gives more details.

Syria's Civil War: Will The Jihadists Overreach?

  • Oct. 14, 2013, 11:11 AM


An extremist group is ruffling feathers, including those of its Islamist peers.

THE civil war in Syria, a nightmare for most Syrians, is a dream come true for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the latter name being variously translated as "Greater Syria" or "the Levant". The extremist group, formed in Iraq in 2006 as a broad jihadist front that includes al-Qaeda in Iraq, has had its best year to date for expansion. In Syria it runs a clutch of towns, taking it a step closer to its goal of creating a limitless Islamic caliphate. In Iraq its campaign of bombing against Shia Muslims, whom it considers heretics, and of assassinations of its opponents, has reached a new pitch of fury.

Syria's power vacuum has given it an ideal base. Since expanding into the country in April, ISIS has spread across the northern and eastern provinces abutting Iraq and Turkey to include thousands of fighters on both sides of the border. Its foreign leadership is experienced, its footmen, foreign and Syrian, well-trained and disciplined. Its control of Syria's oilfields has added wealth to the funds it gets from donors in the Gulf. It has sought to increase its popularity by providing services, such as supplying bread, and activities including Koranic classes for children.

But the group has ruffled feathers by becoming increasingly aggressive. It is fighting to control the border between Syria and Turkey. Last month it kicked out Northern Storm, a local rebel force, from Azaz, a staging post north of the Syrian city of Aleppo. Another border town under its control has been renamed the "emirate of Jarablus", complete with a religious school and posters extolling the virtue of the full veil for women.

Other rebels have always been wary of ISIS, but are awestruck by its fighting prowess. Some Islamist groups have joined forces with it to fight against Kurdish militias who have taken over Syria's north-east. Yet ISIS's strength and ideology have led to clashes with a range of rebels, not just Kurds, from Azaz to the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor. Some smaller rebel bands, nervous of being clobbered by ISIS, have merged with it. In Raqqa, the only provincial capital in rebel hands, all groups have now signed up to it or to Jabhat al-Nusra, the other al-Qaeda-linked outfit that is nearest to it in clout.

ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi, have grand ambitions, as heralded by the use of "state" in the group's name. ISIS's foray into Syria has led it openly to defy al-Qaeda's overall leadership, to which it supposedly defers. After creating Jabhat al-Nusra in 2012, Mr Baghdadi claimed this year to have merged it with ISIS. But Muhammad al-Golani, Jabhat al-Nusra's leader, disagreed--and was backed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's overall chief. ISIS and Mr Baghdadi rejected his ruling.

Al-Qaeda's central leadership has long found the brutality of ISIS counter-productive, in Iraq as in Syria. Its bombs in Iraq often cause mass casualties among civilians, including Sunnis. While Jabhat al-Nusra is treading more carefully with Syrians, ISIS bans smoking, harasses unveiled women and metes out the harshest of punishments, including beheadings, in the areas it controls. In May it summarily executed three members of the Alawite sect, a Shia offshoot to which the Assad family belongs, in Deir ez-Zor. It has even opened fire on Syrian civilians protesting against its behaviour.

Still, ISIS is now the most feted group on jihadist online forums, where prominent scholars have called on people to pledge the baya, or oath of allegiance, to Mr Baghdadi. But ISIS comes up against big obstacles in Syria, as it has done in Iraq. It faces growing criticism from locals who say they do not wish to fight against one regime, only to be oppressed and humiliated by another bunch of criminals. In Iraq, when al-Qaeda-linked groups overreached themselves, they provoked a successful sahwa, or uprising, by Sunni tribes backed by foreign money and arms. The same could happen to ISIS in Syria.

Some may look at this and call it blowback. I call it an insurance policy for further justification of The War That Will Not End in Our Lifetime.  There has been so much blather across the ideological spectrum trying to point the finger of blame over ultimate responsibility.  I think this video from StormCloudsGathering cuts through the bullshit with remarkable precision and clarity.

So what's the best solution in a no-win situation?  First, let's acknowledge that like Vietnam, as Albert Brooks compared his obsessive relationship in Modern Romance, Iraq is a no-win situation.  Second, let's acknowledge that the reason this no-win situation was created was to control and ultimately profit from a non-renewable, greenhouse gas-producing resource whose consumption ultimately will destroy civilization barring its immediate curtailment: OIL!  Finally, taking those first two points as our guiding force, we should abandon our imperial death-grip on pimping the Infinite Growth Paradigm via dollar supremacy to every fucking corner of the planet and de-imperialize, de-industrialize, and generally speaking, just decompress.

Not gonna happen?  Well then pass the popcorn, there's explosions to watch on TV!


Charles Edward Frith said...

ISIS are a CIA outfit to lure Iran into a war.

Robert Paulsen said...

Good point, Charles. My apologies for misspelling al-CIAda in the original post.

Spaceboy said...

Too true and too funny.
Thank you for your site, sit...