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Obama wants jihadi cancer to be halted, but how?

obama-2It is extraordinary that after an 18 month ISIS rampage of beheadings, torture and executions across northern Iraq and Syria, and after the killing including crucifixion of 500 Yahidi men because of their Christian faith, the brutal murder of one man has now aroused such passion in the West. But that of course is because he was an American. It even brings Cameron scurrying back from his holiday to take charge – but to do what? This is a real turning point in the West’s confrontation with the international jihadism that was unleashed by the illegitimate and disastrous Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq a decade ago.

The jihadist movement is now far stronger in the territory it holds, in its related clusters in Nigeria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, in its resources from kidnapping, control of oilfields and smuggling, and in its tactical capacity to disrupt the West. They face Western nations in the mirror reverse of uncertain response, bruised by a decade of war weariness in Iraq and Afghanistan, hobbled by the veto on boots on the ground, and rather lamely having to appeal to allies in the Middle East to take a leading role.

Even Obama’s main instrument of retaliation, American airpower, may be constrained by the ISIS threat of further beheadings of foreign nationals, especially US citizens, if air attacks continue. Already another captured US journalist has been threatened with the same fate if US bombing continues, and ISIS has taken another 4 foreign hostages near Aleppo, bringing to 20 the number they hold. Another constraint is that whilst US air strikes continue in Iraq, ISIS acts with impunity in Syria because of the earlier Western decision to withhold bombing or missile attacks on that country.

That still leaves other potential means of exerting pressure against ISIS, notably the use of drones to destroy personnel or munitions targets, the use of SAS specialist troops to pinpoint targets and pass back key intelligence, the squeezing of ISIS funding lines especially from wealthy donors (including Saudi Arabia), and attempts to concert Arab resistance against extreme Sunni militancy. But this is hardly a full-blooded pushback against a rampaging enemy resorting to psychopathic violence.

The ultimate ISIS objective is the disruption of the Western-dominated international order that is perceived to suppress the billion or more Muslims across the world, beginning with the territorial establishment of of an Islamic caliphate, according to al-Baghdadi’s mediaeval revival, across the Middle East. The ending of the imperial boundaries arbitrarily drawn in 1916 and the right to self-determination for both Sunni and Shia populations in the Middle East (so long as it includes protection for ethnic or tribal minorities) must certainly be on the agenda. And it will ultimately require a conference of all the key regional powers – Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Russia, the US and the EU as well as ISIS itself – under the auspices of the UN to establish the new principles of the Middle East free of external imperialism.


  1. Rod says:

    “the illegitimate and disastrous Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq”

    Well Michael, pointing the finger of blame doesn’t look too good when you yourself voted for the illegitimate and disastrous invasion.

  2. David Ellis says:

    They would have more chance of stopping the Jihadist cancer if they stopped supporting the Zionist one.

  3. David Melvin says:

    It is the legacy of Blair and Bush, but what credibility has the Labour party when on the Progress faction website you welcomed by a suntanned Tony Blair? The NEC elections may well have gone well for the soft left, but Progress are more concerned to get their PPC’s in place. Looking at those in the Shadow Cabinet it is, in the key roles, Progress. The Labour party is still the problem not the solution if we want a substantial policy difference from the Con-Dem coalition.

  4. Mike says:

    Highly muddled. Free the Middle East from external imperialisms by calling a conference of, er, rival imperialisms, amongst others. What does self-determination for Sunni and Shias mean in territorial terms? At least calling for self-determination for the Kurds has some geographical meaning – but this is not mentioned. Lest we forget, it was the US occupying forces that introduced electoral slates on the basis of religious affiliation, making it a matter of life and death in terms of accessing power and the spoils of power. Given that most of the problems Iraq in particular is now facing were caused by the US, how can we have any faith in the US’s capacity to resolve them?

  5. Robert says:

    Now we will need to go to war. and I will go if the bloke in front of me is Blair, followed by all those who voted to go into Iraq.

    Iraq is our issue, Syria is not.

  6. David Pavett says:

    It’s strange but even on the left there has been little discussion of socio-economic background of young people attracted to go off an fight for a cause in a far away place. Would there be anything like the same attraction if we had full employment of young people with high levels of training an attractive career paths? Precise studies are, of course, difficult in that we don’t know the identities, or even the numbers, of those who have gone to fight. All the same, it would surely be worthwhile doing some preliminary work on the propensity to engage in the Islamist cause among different socio-economic subsets of the Muslim population both here and abroad.

    Second point. The politics of identity. Endless nonsense has been spoken and written about this (and the left is no exception). As soon as people are treated as if they have a single over-riding identity then they can come to see their existence threatened when that identity is seen to be challenged. Amartya Sen writes clearly about this in his book Identity and Violence where he describes how Muslims and Hindus who had lived peacefully side-by-side for generations, ended up killing each other during the madness of the partition of India and Pakistan. Everyone can add plenty of other examples to this.

    So, while I think it is ridiculous to suggest that Michael Meacher does not have the right to reflect critically on the Iraq war because he initially supported it, I nevertheless think that he too falls into the identity trap by talking of the need for self-determination of the populations of the Middle East on religious grounds. It is this sort of thinking that contributed to make a bad situation worse in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion. Fred Halliday says in his Political Journey that Britain has been causing problems by looking at things this way ever since the 1920s.

    For now Assad is the lesser of the evils facing Syria and this should be recognised. The the help of Iran is needed too. Above all the West should only provide help to those parties in the region most likely to find a way out of the mess we have created. It should not act as an independent military player in the region.

  7. Peter Rowlands says:

    A thoughtful response by David, yet a burgeoning civil war in Iraq is clearly based on religious divisions, although the extent to which the established Sunni population will be prepared to continue supporting ISIS remains to be seen – it is probably a marriage of convenience borne of Maliki’s Shia sectarianism.In practice, however, it is difficult to see Iraq holding together or of much will for it to do so.However, there is one national/religious grouping, the Kurds, that have been denied self determination and have been repressed by the countries that have included them, and if independence for them is an outcome of this appalling mess at least that would be positive.

  8. David Pavett says:

    Peter says that a burgeoning civil war is “clearly” based on religious divisions. I am not so sure. A building subject to the energy release of high explosives will fragment along its fault lines but should we say that the collapse is “based on” the fault lines rather than the explosive? Were the troubles in Ireland based on the religious differences between Catholic and Protestant or was that the fault line which gave first under the socio-economic pressures that pertained?

    I am not an expert on Iraq but I note that until a few years ago an expert like Fred Halliday was still fairly confident that Iraq would hold together. I would be interested to see what Charles Tripp says about this in the latest edition of his history of Iraq. Now it does look like the stress and strains brought about by the aftermath of the 2003 invasion may make that unlikely.

    But then a second point is that I do not share Peter’s enthusiasm for a Kurdish state. In fact, in the 21st century I cannot get enthusiastic about any state that defines itself in ethnic terms. How many examples do we need to see that there is a contradiction between the working of a modern liberal democracy (let alone a socialist one) and such ethnic self-definition. Had it not been for the trend to civil war and the sectarian politics encouraged by the UK and the US the Iraqi Kurds would have been prepared to work out their future as a region of a multi-ethnic Iraq. That would have been the best solution. The creation of an ethnic Kurdish state is likely to be a source of on-going problems in Turkey and Syria.

    A modern state should define its citizens in secular terms irrespective of ethnicity or religion. The creation of new states which define themselves in this way may be inevitable but I would hesitate to call it progress.

  9. Peter Rowlands says:

    The problem is partly semantic, in my use of the word ‘based’, I did not mean that the effective civil war in Iraq was caused by religious divisions, although those are what the conflict is rooted in, or based upon. Different religious groups have lived alongside each other in peace for centuries in the Middle East, more so than in the west. As I said, the cause was mainly Maliki’s Shia sectarianism, which caused increased awareness of Sunni group identity because of their treatment.
    On the Kurds I take the traditional view that nations denied self determination should be supported in achieving it. David appears to assume that the Kurds are present only in Iraq, in fact they straddle four countries, all of which have repressed them, particularly Turkey and Iraq.

    1. David Pavett says:

      Well okay, there are semantic issues. “Based on” I think we can agree was ambiguous (in my view dangerously so). As you say the different groups have lived alongside (and more than that, there are many marriages across the groups) for centuries so the religious differences are clearly not the fundamental cause.
      What you refer to as “the traditional view” is far from clear. What is a nation? When does an ethnic group constitute a nation. This is a complex issue as I am sure you appreciate. As Hobsbawm argues in his Nations and Nationalism some ethnic groups have been distinctly anti-nation in the sense of being opposed to any polity. He also says that groups like the Kurds might be considered proto-nations but he adds that “such ethnicity has no historic relation to what is the crux of the modern nation”. I tried to indicate this issue in my previous post. The issue is not at all simple so I think that “traditional views” are not likely to be of much help. There are no adequate formulae, the issues have to be thought through in detail.

  10. Peter Rowlands says:

    OK, not a simple matter, but when a sizeable group have over a long period of time expressed a desire for independence or autonomy and been denied it and persecuted for it ( Palestinians, Kurds, Tibetans, Kashmiris, etc.) the left should support them in their aspirations.

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