The President and ISIL

With recent pushes into Kurdish territory and the beheading of 21 Christians in Libya, there is a growing fear that ISIL is growing more and more powerful. The President has asked for an authorization for the use of military force (finally). I’ll get to that in a moment. But my first concern is that he’s been making the argument, yet again, that ISIL doesn’t represent “real” Islam, even dragging out the old arguments about the Crusades as a moral equivalence.

The thing is that ISIL doesn’t agree with him. They are not like Al-Qaeda, which was an amorphous terrorist movement dedicated to bringing about the caliphate but operating within the modern world. ISIL wants to create the caliphate right now and the caliphate they want to create is violent, barbaric, medieval and based heavily on old-school Islam and literal interpretations of the Koran:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

(You really should read that entire article. Think Regress has posted a lame response that basically ignores Wood’s point: that while many Muslims don’t take the Koran’s more violent texts at face value, organizations like ISIL do.)

When the President says that violent extremists like ISIL are not the real face of Islam, he is both right and wrong. The face of Islam can be one of tolerance and peace. But it can also be one of intolerance and violence. Islam has gone through periods of enlightenment and gone through periods of horrific fundamentalism. At this point in history, it hangs in the balance caught between hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims and violent sects that, while a minority, wields enormous power and influence. We’ve seen in pre-war Afghanistan and in the ISIL-controlled territory what these people want: beheadings, slavery, crucifixion, stoning. Their ideology recognizes no authority other than “pure” radical Islam. Whether they represent a minority or not is beside the point. The Nazis were never a majority in Germany. The Communists were never a majority in the countries they ruled with an iron fist. But they were able to control massive parts of the world and enormous armies through violence, intimidation and bloodshed.

The “most Muslims are good” argument, while based in truth, has no practical meaning. Most Germans are good people. We still had to defeat them in two wars. Most Russians are good people. We still had to fight a dangerous and tense Cold War against the Soviet Union. Most Japanese are good people. We still had to drop two atom bombs on them. It doesn’t really matter what the vast majority want when the monsters have the floor. The problem is that while most people are good, they are also easily persuaded or coerced to do bad things or stand aside while bad things are done. This is true of everyone in the world. There is not a religion or country that isn’t capable of doing horrible things. The question is: who is in charge? We’ve seen what happens when people like ISIL are in charge: entire regions of the world become unspeakably violent.

The President has finally asked Congress to recognize the semi-war we’ve been fighting for a while. I think they should do so, but with some limitations. A land war is not necessarily going to solve ISIL (although letting them overrun Baghdad or Kurdistan — as they’ve threatened to — would be a disaster). In fact, it could play right into their apocalyptic prophecies. But I do know that we can not disengage. It’s important that we keep ISIL and AQ from reconciling (which the President’s rescue attempt threatened to do). The longer ISIL survives and the more territory they conquer, the more legitimacy and power they will accumulate in the eyes of radical Muslims. Stopping them might mean air support, training, weapons and/or money to the forces opposing ISIL. If that means what we end up propping up one side in a bloody decades-long struggle for the soul of Islam … well, that’s what it means. We have a national interest in preventing the rise of ISIL to a real caliphate. The only way it will end is when this supposed peaceful majority rises up and ends it.

Comments are closed.

  1. Seattle Outcast

    Suppose we gave the majority some impetus to get off their ass and start fighting – perhaps a 2-megaton airburst over someplace annoying as an example of we’ve decided to fight this war….

    Thumb up 0

  2. Section8

    But my first concern is that he’s been making the argument, yet again, that ISIL doesn’t represent “real” Islam, even dragging out the old arguments about the Crusades as a moral equivalence.

    Yeah I really don’t understand this. It just seems we have this knee jerk reaction to not “offend” anyone these days regardless of the consequences of ignoring the issue. There is always the push for some moral equivalence regardless of just about any topic these days. To me it boils down to given two options at this current date and time, which one would you choose? That’s where the equivalence ends. Who cares about that happened hundreds of years ago in addressing a modern day issue. I don’t see too many people running around wishing those days would return. If there is some resurgence in inquisitions and crusades, I’m all for ripping on those people as well. But there has to be a resurgence first, not some fantasy one.

    As for our response. I do say we stay out of it on a military side for the following reasons:

    1) We’re not the only one with a military. Countries in the ME who feel threatened need to use their resources to the fullest extent possible first

    2) Europe has a military force. They are more susceptible for further attacks than we are. If they feel threatened they too need to use their resources to the fullest extent possible first

    3) I think our intervention has helped in many cases keep small problems from becoming big problems, but over time it has also made us appear that we ARE the problem. So no I don’t think we should jump to the rescue on this or even lead the way. I think more involvement from other countries will remind people the world isn’t all rainbows if it just weren’t for that pesky US

    4) This will not be a clean battle. They will hide in Mosques, hospitals, schools and all the other tactics that make flushing them out more difficult. We don’t need the backlash for that. Some other countries need to take the risk

    5) Here’s a chance for the diplomacy mavens to step up. We hear about it as opposed our knuckle dragging cowboy ways, but have yet to see it. Mostly it’s just been years of bitching about the US. Not too impressed by it so far

    Thumb up 4

  3. Thrill

    In Obama World, Islamic terrorists are not really Islamic, yet he made sure that Usama bin Laden got a funeral “in strict adherence” to Islamic law.

    Whoa!

    Thumb up 7

  4. Poosh

    “Whether they represent a minority or not is beside the point. The Nazis were never a majority in Germany.”

    Great way of putting it, I’ve never thought of it like that.

    ISIL are being true and “good” Muslims but they are blunt and lack the elegance of, say, Al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood. They could be crushed in days if we had the will. They are too noisy, too clumsy, too blunt.

    The sad truth is ISIL are true Muslims, they are obeying the Koran and the teachings of their Prophet. But we can’t say this, because, it might make the peaceful or “peaceful” Muslims realise they’re not truly practicing their religion and join in the Jihad. But surely, likewise, it will make decent Muslims reject their religion.

    There is space to argue that terrorism in a western country should not be carried out by a Muslim (the western country would be a ‘host’ country within the House of War) – but there is no space to argue ISIL are in the wrong in the Middle East – or even Spain or previously conquered countries. They are following the Prophet as an example (as *if* they are doing these things at random, come on now).

    There will never be peace until this sick religion is shown for what it is. The good Muslims need to reject their religion and understand it’s evil nature (the fragments of good in the Koran et al can all be found in all other religions) – of course in Islam that means those apostates are to be put to death (convenient how this Islam works eh?). Islam is founded on making non-Muslims feel subdued and pressured into converting: turn their doctrines against them.

    The cure is, as many suspect, atheism.

    One thing is clear, we cannot win with so many fifth columnists and apologists in our mists. How many people said “Je Suis Charlie” but didn’t dare show the cartoons? Exactly. Even if we destroy ISIL it won’t be long until another comes along … ISIL aren’t even the only kids on the block today anyway. It’s global.

    Thumb up 0

  5. Ed Kline

    I tend to agree with section8, let someone else clean this shit up. We’ve got a large ocean between us and these savages. Let someone closer to the problem with more to lose deal with it.

    Thumb up 0

  6. Ed Kline

    “After the events in Europe recently you should know that’s not exactly accurate, sadly.”

    Don’t get me wrong, I am far from thinking we are inviolate because of lack of proximity, but Europe is much closer than we are and will probably get hit more often. Also, the events in Europe were perpetrated by locals not sleeper cells of of ISIS members. But even if the Charlie Hebdo massacre had been pulled off by ISIS members who snuck into France, I don’t think France would be wise to put boots on the ground in Syria.
    The thing is, I am motivated a bit more by likelyhoods and stats than most. If the US had to suffer a Charlie Hebdo like massacre from Islamist every 5 years because of our lack of physical involvement in the middle east , that is much more palatable than getting a couple thousand soldiers killed ( spending billions) fighting a war that never really ends, and creates more terrorists. Especially in light of the huge hidden costs of dealing with the soldiers medically afterward. Something we aren’t doing a good job of.
    8-10 times as many Americans are killed on our roads every year as died in 9-11 but we don’t make the speed limit 25 and build cars like tanks. The risk we take in our cars is the cost we pay for the benefits of having cars and roads available to so many of us for so little. The cost we pay for being a beacon off freedom, is occasionally some group of assholes takes a shot at us, and yes we should hit back, but the response should be measured against the long term costs. So while it is understandable that terrorism galls the hell out of us, our responses still have to be intelligent. After 9-11, going into Afghanistan was a reasonable response, but continuing the effort by going into Iraq seems in retrospect to have not been a good idea. One could argue that the two are not connected, but I don’t know anyone who seriously thinks the US would’ve invaded IRAQ in a world where 9-11 never happened.
    I understand I am oversimplifying it a bit, but I want to err on the side of less involvement and less blood and treasure spent.

    Thumb up 1

  7. hist_ed

    “The “most Muslims are good” argument, while based in truth, has no practical meaning. Most Germans are good people. We still had to defeat them in two wars. Most Russians are good people. We still had to fight a dangerous and tense Cold War against the Soviet Union. Most Japanese are good people. We still had to drop two atom bombs on them.”

    However, most of those good Germans and Japanese supported their imperialist leaders. No German politician has ever been as popular as Hitler was around 1937. Hitler and his cronies were pretty clear that they intended to conquer territory and get rid of Jews. Even in 1942 when Germany was fighting most of the world he was still wildly popular. Japanese public opinion is a little more tough to nail down, but almost certainly most Japanese supported their country’s expansionist policy, supported the invasion of China and were untroubled by the atrocities committed by the army in their name.

    What made Japan and Germany into the nations they are today is the Allies absolutely crushing them. There was no chance of the inter-war revisionism that helped Hitler to power. Their cities and armies were utterly destroyed.

    This needs to happen to ISIS. If we decide to really do it, it will be like the initial invasion of Iraq-over in a matter of weeks, except for mopping up (and probably one or two really bloody urban battles).

    We have a very interesting realpolitik opportunity here. Smash ISIS and Assad owes us. Shower him with guns (and heavily arm the 2 million or so Christians in Syria) and turn him into our client state. While we would have to swallow hard a Syria controlled by Assad is better than a Syria controlled by ISIS. And if he ruled on our sufferance that would be a major step to checking Iran in the region. Make him sign a peace treaty with Israel as part of the bargain (with a permanently demilitarized Golan). Let him know that behind curtain number two is that same shitload of weapons and air support to his enemies.

    Of course the clown in White House would be laughed at if he tried to play a tough game like this. We’ll have to wait until 2017 to try to fix this mess.

    Thumb up 0

  8. Ed Kline

    ” If we decide to really do it, it will be like the initial invasion of Iraq-over in a matter of weeks, except for mopping up (and probably one or two really bloody urban battles).”

    Kind of begging the assumption that our intervention in Iraq, and our general meddling in the middle east, wasn’t the part of the actual cause of ISIS coming to power in the first place. So….let’s just do the same thing again?

    Thumb up 0

  9. Iconoclast

    <blockquote>Kind of begging the assumption that our intervention in Iraq, and our general meddling in the middle east, wasn’t the part of the actual cause of ISIS coming to power in the first place.</blockquote>
    We must acknowledge that as a possibility, but I am more inclined to believe it was our premature withdrawal of our troops from a still unstable Iraq that provided the power vacuum into which ISIS grew and flourished.  I doubt ISIS would have become so powerful had we still had a massive military presence in the area.  After all, ISIS didn’t happen until after we left.
    <br>
    We basically did another Vietnam by abandoning an ally to our enemies, complete with the resulting bloodbath.  Apparently, we refuse to learn.

    Thumb up 0

  10. Iconoclast

    Kind of begging the assumption that our intervention in Iraq, and our general meddling in the middle east, wasn’t the part of the actual cause of ISIS coming to power in the first place.

    We must acknowledge that as a possibility, but I am more inclined to believe it was our premature withdrawal of our troops from a still unstable Iraq that provided the power vacuum into which ISIS grew and flourished.  I doubt ISIS would have become so powerful had we still had a massive military presence in the area.  After all, ISIS didn’t happen until after we left.

    We basically did another Vietnam by abandoning an ally to our enemies, complete with the resulting bloodbath.  Apparently, we refuse to learn.

    Thumb up 0

  11. Xetrov

    We basically did another Vietnam by abandoning an ally to our enemies, complete with the resulting bloodbath.  Apparently, we refuse to learn.

    Yup.  Either we have to get out of the nation fixing business (cause we suck at it), or we have to learn to see it through to the end, politics of the situation be damned.

    Thumb up 0

  12. CM

    After all, ISIS didn’t happen until after we left.

    They’ve been operating since 1999, just under a different name (in 2006 they were ‘Islamic State of Iraq‘, in April 2013 they took their current name ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’).

    (BTW I’m not disputing your contention that they probably wouldn’t have gotten so powerful if the US still had a massive military presence in the area)

     

    Thumb up 0

  13. Iconoclast

    They’ve been operating since 1999, just under a different name…

    Thanks for the correction.  Perhaps I should reword it as, “After all, ISIS didn’t come to real power until after we left”, or something similar.

     

    Thumb up 0