It has been a long time since the world has seen the specter of a major religious war.
ISIS has succeeded in bringing the prospect of war to many countries. We as a community of nations must have a strategy that will defeat the idea that ISIS represents and bring peace to a region of the world that has seen nothing but conflict in recent years. An important aspect of our strategy for a long term peace must be to have a plan for what we need to do after ISIS is defeated.
First we must ask the right questions. What are the goals of ISIS and what are the achievable goals that the United States and the world has in facing the challenges that ISIS presents?
“We must be clear-sighted in beginnings, for, as in their budding we discern not the danger, so in their full growth we perceive not the remedy.” Montaigne, Essays
In responding to ISIS, we must be careful to not presume that there are any easy answers and entertain the possibility that there is no answer but war. You need two parties willing to agree on having an end to a conflict and in this case, we need to recognize and accept the reality that those who rule ISIS, are completely unwilling to consider a peaceful resolution of what amounts to an undeclared war.
We have to take seriously what ISIS says about their own goals. They actually believe that ISIS is the agent for the coming apocalypse. The organization rejects peace as a matter of principle. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham sees its purpose as being the fulfillment of prophesy. Their belief is that they are the instrument to bring on the end of times and their path to the Day of Judgment. Bringing on the end of times is their vehicle for salvation.
It is understandable that when you live in misery with little prospects for a better life that you would turn to God to fill the emptiness of your life.
The history of the 7th Century Caliphate, when a Great Era existed for those in the region, offers some the hope of reclaiming such past glory. The rejection of those things modern is part of ISIS recipe for a current State, where the faithful to old prophesies can live is an understandable goal. It is even more understandable when you look at the history of the region. But we must move forward with solutions for the present and a plan for peace in the future.
It is difficult for the Western powers to understand such apocalyptic fanaticism but their own words and deeds are nothing but a pure expression of their extremism. How should the world deal with the very real danger that ISIS represents?
The history of the 20th Century gives us a guide post as to what might work in dealing with ISIS. The use of containment and the building of coalitions has worked in the past.
Some on the right wing of the political spectrum are beating the drums of war and encouraging the use of American troops on the ground to defeat and eliminate ISIS. But one must be patient and careful on what we do. Americans tend to want immediate action. Historically we have not shown the patience to wait out a winning strategy.
How we reacted to the Soviet Unions expansion after World War II is instructive on what it takes to contain a country’s designs on further conquest.
A religious State or nation, created through conquest, to be governed by religious law is not something you can defeat overnight on the field of battle. Their country is based upon a theocratic idea. It will take planning, a strategic plan to defeat ISIS. It will require the cooperation and assistance of other countries to insure success, the success being the elimination of the Islamic State. The size of the declared Islamic State is akin to the size of Indiana or a little larger than Great Britain.
Some hardliners in America who demand immediate military action to allegedly stem the tide of ISIS, accuse the Obama administration with appeasement of being weak. Winston Churchill who knew a thing or two about appeasement said the following in a speech to the House of Commons on December 14, 1950: ” The declaration of the Prime Minister that there will be no appeasement also commands almost universal support. It is a good slogan for the country. It seems to me, however, that in this House it requires to be more precisely defined. What we really mean, I think, is no appeasement through weakness or fear. Appeasement in itself may be good, or bad, according to the circumstances. Appeasement from weakness and fear, is alike futile and fatal. Appeasement from strength is magnanimous and noble and might be the surest and perhaps the only path to world peace.”
Neville Chamberlain is famously associate with the word appeasement. He believed that an agreement with Hitler would provide peace. With President Obama it is hard to use the word appeasement through weakness when the Air Force of the United States it consistently bombing military targets in Syria.
An objective observer not tainted by partisanship should be able to see the results of hard work behind the scenes as the coalition to fight and eliminate the barbaric scourge of this radical fanaticism continues to grow in strength.
Recently, the biggest news story regarding ISIS is the announcement by Saudi Arabia of a military alliance of 34 countries from around the world to fight ISIS. If fellow Muslims lead the way to defeat ISIS it will have a longer positive impact on the future than if American troops became the face of the opposition. For many people of the Middle East the Unites States represents the Infidels, the anti-Christ, the ones who won’t allow the people of the region to determine their own destiny.
We see the State of Isis diminishing in size. We see the joint efforts of many countries such as Russia and France, in their resolve to end the threat of ISIS.
A key part of the equation to bring peace to the region is to have a political solution in the human disaster that is the Civil War in Syria. A political resolution of the parties to the war is essential to the overall goal of having peace in the region.
What will be needed is a plan for PEACE, after the military action has ended. The young men in the region need a reason for hope, they need to know that they can live a life worth living.
After World War II, we saw an area, Europe, with amazing devastation. The United State as well as the other victors were determined to prevent future wars. The Marshall Plan was used to help rebuild Europe. Through their wise foresight, the future generations of Europe had renewed hope for a better life in their futures.
The Middle East is witnessing great devastation as well. We now have the greatest amount of refugees since the end of World War II. A plan is needed to prevent what has happened in the Middle East from happening , again. The Middle East needs to have their own Marshall Plan. The wealthier countries of the region such as the Gulf States have a vested interest in providing the finances for this effort, to rebuild and enhance the region. They may not realize it now, but their very own survival may rest on their acceptance of the need to end financial assistance to those who insist on teaching a radicalized version of the Muslim faith. Prosperity for the future of the young people of the region will help ensure a better future for all. When your stomach is in pain due to hunger, you might feel the necessity to replace that hunger for a better life with a belief in a vengeful God and a belief that only a martyred death can replace the futility of their own lives.
It does no good to assess blame on how we got to this point in history. What counts is to have a plan to build on the end of a conflict to ensure that the barbaric radicalism of a religious minority does not again threaten the innocent, from acts of war intent on injuring and killing civilians. What we need to do is to prevent further wars.
What is needed is a strategy to provide jobs instead of guns. Education in the region would be a great start as an educated populace is less likely to seek revolution if they have a future. It is hard to imagine a revolution occurring if people by having a roof over their heads, and enough food on the table. It is far to easy to believe in the end of times when your own life has little hope for a better life.
The autocratic governments and the Kingdoms in the Middle East will hopefully agree on certain rule sets, where human rights are recognized and accepted as part of their rule of law. These are issues that only the people can resolve through their own self determination of how they want to be governed. But of this we can be certain, the world will not accept genocide nor the barbarism that we have witnessed coming from the rulers of ISIS. The world has certain rule sets that must be accepted in our world community.
Is there anything that the world can do to combat ISIS, that it is not doing? A political settlement must be reached in Iraq between the Shiites and the Sunnis. The government must deal with their neighbors in a way that the Sunnis are treated fairly and as equal partners in the process of governing the various tribes in Iraq. If this is not done, the coalition can only limit and contain the expansion of ISIS.
Arming the Kurds can only help make the Kurd region more autonomous, but it will not affect the Shiite dominated government in Damascus.
Perhaps the idea once floated by Vice President Joe Biden is the only workable solution for Iraq. The Shiite dominated Iraqi government seems incapable of treating the Sunni population fairly, as an equal partner in governing Iraq. If the Iraqi government is unwilling to govern in a just way for all Iraqis it only leaves two choices: One would be the continuation of turmoil with the ever escalating prospects for a Civil War, and secondly, the only peaceable solution would be to create a Confederacy with 3 autonomous regions, a Kurdish region, a Shiite region and an autonomous Sunni region. The three autonomous regions would have its central government in Baghdad. There would still be a country of Iraq, whereby each region would agree to defend Iraq from outside threats, have common currency and encourage commerce between the regions.
As we move away from the Bush Doctrine of Preemption, preemptive war, the world is once again marching towards a greater role for Diplomacy. Self interest and what is in the national interest of a nation will increasingly dominate the international role that a country chooses to take in our times. We see the increasing role of collective security in the actions that took place in 2015. The Iranian nuclear agreement and the recent Climate accord where almost 200 nations took part in the historic agreement, prove that nations can come to an agreement on common goals.
A nation like the United States, that has been a world leader, must ask the right questions before committing its military and national treasure. The lessons of Vietnam and the Iraq war have proved the necessity of being able to answer key questions in the affirmative before getting involved in another country’s problems. The questions that must be asked are the following:
- In the past we have misjudged the intent, the geopolitical intent of our adversaries. Greater care needs to take place in our attempt to understand the other side, our potential adversary. Does the country at issue have any historic sphere of influence in the contested area? We, in the West, have a view that everyone wants to have a Democracy. Although a free society is a laudable goal, there are parts of the world that are tribal in nature. Having a Republic might just require a certain level of sophistication that some countries might not have. It is presumptuous of the United States to try to force what we have as a political system on others. We should let other countries determine their own destiny, and we need to lead by example. Yes, the world has certain rule sets that must be enforced. One of which is that no nation should be allowed to conquer another nation.
- We must err on the side of caution. The United States has made some glaring errors of judgment. We misunderstood Ho Chi Minh. The revolutionary movement in Vietnam was more nationalistic in intent than a political ideology as the people of that country sought to throw off the yoke of colonial rule and have their own nation to be governed by the Vietnamese people rather than the colonial power of France. Another example was when we moved to replace the freely elected government in Iran in the early 1950’s. We need to learn that it is important to choose your fights when the cause is just and the choices are clear and not murky.
- In a country where a Civil War is taking place, the United States should stay out of the conflict and not try to decide the outcome. We have a responsibility to make sure the fighting does not spread to other countries in the region. The Spanish Civil War and our own Civil War are examples of wars that must be decided by their own people without the interference of other country’s.
- Our errors have proved how we do not understand the history nor the culture of a country or a region. If we are to get involved or if the world is to get involved in trying to resolve disputes it is imperative that we rely on the expertise of others who understand a part of the world that we might not have any historic understanding of. We were lucky to have Americans who knew Lenin and other Russian leader. Wise men who knew the history and the culture. Our problems with ISIS and al Qaeda are or have been compounded by a lack of expertise in the region. Certain cultures have a different mind set and moral view of life than we do and it behooves us to rely on experts we can trust. President John F. Kennedy had experts he could rely on during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is doubtful that we have a basic understanding of the historic problems that Sunnis and Shiites have with each other. That lack of knowledge and understanding is a big problem that we need to rectify in order to make thoughtful decisions as opposed to emotional knee jerk reactions that can only worsen what is a dangerous situation in the Middle East.
- We are in awe of our own military might and technology and we fail to recognize the need to win the hearts and minds of the people. It is the period after the military victory that counts more than the moment of victory. If we are to sustain and nurture the military success we must win the peace. If the lives of our men and women are on the line, and lives are lost on both sides we owe it to those who serve to win the peace. If we don’t spend the effort required to sustain the victory on the battle field we should not get involved and expend our national treasure in human lives. The cause must be just if we are to send men and women to their deaths. The deaths of our brave youth must be in our national interest or else we must reject the idea of war if it is not in our interests.
- We must convince the American people of the justness of the cause before we undertake any foreign involvement that may lead to war. Telling the truth about what may happen is critical. If the premise for a war is flawed due our leaders lied about why we are there or about whether or not we have been attacked can only lead to a rejection of what we are doing and may very well taint the credibility of government so badly that when a legitimate threat appears, the American people may decide against our involvement based upon the past history of our government betraying our trust. We must fully explain to the citizens of the United States what is happening in order to maintain popular support. Our country has a history of not staying the course, but the reason for that is that we the people feel ill informed and lied to.
- We must accept that our leaders make mistakes and are not perfect.
- If a real threat of our security occurs our nation must seek to establish a coalition of nations, a united front if we are to be successful. We must reject unilateral action unless it is absolutely necessary.
- We have failed to organize sufficiently in order to address the complexities of situations.
In better times, people lived together in peace and harmony. There was no talk of war nor the end of times. We can undo what has been done, but at some point each side of the war that is ongoing will be exhausted by the conflict. Through this exhaustion and through the destruction that has taken place, we can only hope that a more reasoned approach will triumph and peace will be restored. Like the Spanish Civil War nothing will have been accomplished from these horrible days of war but death and destruction. All that will be left is ashes from the conflict in Syria. What will be left is the charred remains of war and the homeless. But isn’t this what all wars leave us with?