Saturday, March 21, 2015

Is the World on Fire?

Paul Waldman had the appropriate response to the whole kerfuffle about Sen. Ted Cruz scaring a child with his assertions that the world is on fire. Whether or not one child was scared is apparently debatable and mostly irrelevant. The real question is why Cruz would say such a thing in the first place (a statement like that is designed to scare people...that's the whole point) and whether or not it's true.

The Republicans have made it their business to scare people. I suspect that if it wasn't for ISIS, they'd find something else to use for those purposes (Ebola worked for a while, as did the children crossing our border from Central America). But for right now, ISIS is their weapon of choice. And according to the data Waldman provided from the latest CNN poll, it seems to be working.

What's interesting is to compare that with what John Simpson reports from Baghdad - a city that was feeling a real threat from ISIS just last summer.
After 12 years in which the worst of any range of possibilities usually came about, it does feel as though Iraq could at long last be starting to turn the corner. That is certainly what people here in Baghdad, probably the most pessimistic city on earth, are now allowing themselves to hope. 
Why would the people of Baghdad be thinking that their country "could at long last be starting to turn the corner?" Perhaps its because their future depends on knowing the truth rather than being fed lies that are designed to stir up fear...truth like this:
The call of the caliphate has galvanised zealots. Yet, even as IS launches terrorist attacks, the good news is that cracks in the caliphate are becoming increasingly apparent. IS is losing ground, money and the consent of the people it rules.

The caliphate has been pushed out of the Syrian town of Kobane by Kurdish fighters, backed by American air power. It is being squeezed in Tikrit (the tribal base of the former dictator, Saddam Hussein) by the Iraqi army and Shia militias co-ordinated by Iran. Compared with the peak, when it was at the gates of Baghdad, its territory has shrunk by about 25%.

IS’s funds are dwindling, too. America and its allies have bombed lucrative oil facilities. Most of the hostages have been sold or murdered in video-recorded beheadings. Now that IS’s forces are retreating, the loot of conquest has dried up. Some analysts reckon it may have lost up to 75% of its revenues. That makes it harder for IS to keep fighting and to provide services to the roughly 8m people living under its rule.

That may help explain signs of internal tension. The movement has started to kill its own followers, sometimes for fleeing before the enemy and on at least one occasion supposedly for zealously beheading too many people. Residents complain of extortion, violent repression and declining public services. There are reports of tensions between local and foreign members over disparities in pay.

Judged by its own standard, then, the caliphate is failing as an all-conquering state and model for society. That matters because a proto-state with a large territory and population to defend is also more vulnerable to setbacks than terrorist groups that are not rooted to a patch of land. Precisely because IS claims to be running a model Islamic state, its visible failure exposes the bankruptcy of its ideology and the hollowness of its claims to would-be recruits. If, as some say, the secret of IS’s success is success itself; then failure will gain momentum, too.
As that article goes on to say, the "degrade" portion of President Obama's strategy of "degrade and destroy" is underway. But...
Destruction is much further off. As much as Islamic State is a cause of chaos in the Middle East, it is also a symptom. Its ideology feeds off Sunnis’ sense of victimhood. The group has taken root across the region, and especially where the state has collapsed. Defeating it is ultimately a matter of rebuilding governments in the Arab world—a task that will take decades.
That echoes exactly what President Obama told Matt Yglesias.
So the biggest challenge we have right now is disorder. Failed states. Asymmetric threats from terrorist organizations...

But this is going to be a generational challenge in the Muslim world and the Middle East that not only the United States but everybody's going to have to deal with. And we're going to have to have some humility in recognizing that we don't have the option of simply invading every country where disorder breaks out. And that to some degree, the people of these countries are going to have to, you know, find their own way. And we can help them but we can't do it for them.
Allowing fear to guide our response to these challenges is exactly what FDR warned us about when he said: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." To avoid that danger we need to inform ourselves, accurately assess the situation and support efforts to tackle these issues both in the present and over the long term. Simply shouting "the world is on fire" won't cut it.


  1. If you want something to fear, fear republicans. They are the greatest danger we face. Screw ISIS.

  2. I can't imagine why anyone would think the Republicans or Israelis would abandon the tactic of using fear to control people. It works so well. If it stopped working, they might stop using it. As long as there are humans, then the tactic will work. The media is always going to support the fear model because it drives ratings. The only antidote to this is hope. If the Iraqis can find hope, then so can we.