Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What Will Defeat ISIS

I see that Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, is experiencing quite the backlash from conservatives for suggesting that - when it comes to ISIS - "We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups." Of course, that kind of thinking is anathema to the fear, anger and need for revenge that is invoked so often in this country.

But my question is always - what is the end goal of all the killing that is usually offered as the alternative? Certainly we can interrupt the advancement of a group like ISIS and protect more people from being victims of their barbarism. But as President George W. Bush found out - there will be no "Mission Accomplished" moment when ISIS leaders formally "surrender" and the threat is eliminated.

That's why President Obama said this during his interview with Matt Yglesias:
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.
It strikes me that this is a lesson the United States has had trouble learning over the last 60 years. Its why the President often talks about the need for a new set of tools to deal with the challenges of the 21st Century. During WWII, the American military helped defeat dictators who not only oppressed their own people, but sought to expand their power beyond their own borders.

But following that victory, we became embroiled in conflicts on the side of dictators who were fending off challenges as their own citizens sought to throw off the yoke of tyranny that was often the legacy of colonialism. Those efforts didn't end so well because people who are willing to fight and die for their own emancipation are not likely to "surrender."

In one of the most important speeches of his Presidency, Barack Obama addressed this shift in his remarks to the young people of Europe almost a year ago.
Throughout human history, societies have grappled with fundamental questions of how to organize themselves, the proper relationship between the individual and the state, the best means to resolve inevitable conflicts between states. And it was here in Europe, through centuries of struggle -- through war and Enlightenment, repression and revolution -- that a particular set of ideals began to emerge: The belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose. The belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed, and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding. And those ideas eventually inspired a band of colonialists across an ocean, and they wrote them into the founding documents that still guide America today, including the simple truth that all men -- and women -- are created equal.

But those ideals have also been tested -- here in Europe and around the world. Those ideals have often been threatened by an older, more traditional view of power. This alternative vision argues that ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign.
In his interview with Yglesias, the President noted that the older, most traditional view of power is giving way to the reality that power is derived from the consent of the governed.
I am a firm believer that particularly in this modern internet age, the capacity of the old-style authoritarian government to sustain itself and to thrive just is going to continue to weaken. It's going to continue to crumble that model. My argument to any partner that we have is that you are better off if you've got a strong civil society and you've got democratic legitimacy and you are respectful of human rights.
Going back to his speech in Brussels, President Obama pointed out how this has played out recently around the globe.
Indeed, the ideals that came to define our alliance also inspired movements across the globe among those very people, ironically, who had too often been denied their full rights by Western powers. After the Second World War, people from Africa to India threw off the yoke of colonialism to secure their independence. In the United States, citizens took freedom rides and endured beatings to put an end to segregation and to secure their civil rights. As the Iron Curtain fell here in Europe, the iron fist of apartheid was unclenched, and Nelson Mandela emerged upright, proud, from prison to lead a multiracial democracy. Latin American nations rejected dictatorship and built new democracies, and Asian nations showed that development and democracy could go hand in hand.
It is exactly the same kind of movement that was unleashed by the Arab Spring. What we are witnessing is an attempt to exploit that movement by sectarian extremists. That is why Harf is exactly right in saying that the answer ultimately will come from addressing the root causes. The disorder caused by throwing off the shackles of dictators needs to be met with the development of strong civil societies with democratic legitimacy and respect for human rights. That is ultimately what will defeat ISIS.

Here's how the President ended his remarks in Brussels:
I believe that if we hold firm to our principles, and are willing to back our beliefs with courage and resolve, then hope will ultimately overcome fear, and freedom will continue to triumph over tyranny -- because that is what forever stirs in the human heart.
P.S. These are the same lessons that Putin will need to learn in the Ukraine and Netanyahu will need to learn in the Middle East (especially with regards to the occupation of Palestinian territories).


  1. It fascinates me that this measured and careful response that respects local national and people's sovereignty is greeted by the MSM as 'a chaotic foreign policy'. Oh? What is more chaotic than intervening everywhere, usually on the side of RW dictators, and bombing people back to the stone age (in the manner supported by RW militarist Gen. Curtis LeMay)? Watching the news I've thought time and again - when was the last time we can remember some military other than ours taking up he defense of their own people? Hearing Egypt respond to the slaughter of Egyptian Copts was life altering on a thousand different levels. See Jordan step forward against ISIS was astonishing. And on and on and on. THAT is foreign policy as we have demanded on the peace side. Failure of both emos and the media to see it (I don't expect the uber warmongers on the Right to want it) is the weakness of our people, NOT of this president. May his successor have this vision, and long may it prevail.

    1. This is zealotry. The Egypt that "responded" is an ultranationalist military dictatorship that has allowed ISIS to already infiltrate its borders and slaughter its own soldiers by the dozens and lives in existential fear of a new wave of terror like the Gamaa Islamiya. It cares no more for protecting Christians than the Muslim Brotherhood government it overthrew. The Jordan that "steps forward" is a rotted-out monarchy presiding over a country that is literally half filled with refugee camps. These aren't the allies of the future. They barely function as allies of the present.

      I know it's hard, but it's time to acknowledge that there isn't a brilliant zen master in the White House ushering humanity into a new Age of Aquarius. We are not at the end of history. We're in a long war fought across many nations. And while the global threat from these isolationist and revanchist forces is small in comparison to communism and fascism, they are also hardly in their dying throes. These aren't people who want to one day attend human rights conferences in New York and Geneva and Paris or get invited to state dinners or meetings at the White House or in Dubai. They don't want their daughters to grow up to be doctors or their wives to work outside the home. They reject globalism and secularism thoroughly and believe in an endtimes of Islamic destiny that has been stolen from them by savages from afar. They think we're the slavers who would ruin them all. You can't negotiate with that.

    2. Anonymous @12:43

      I'm not sure who you are arguing with here. Nowhere did Churchlady or I suggest that Egypt or Jordan were thriving democracies nor did we suggest that its possible to negotiate with ISIS. After all, this whole post was based on how we DEFEAT ISIS.

      You seem to be arguing with either things you've read elsewhere or ghosts in your own head.

    3. "when was the last time we can remember some military other than ours taking up he defense of their own people? Hearing Egypt respond to the slaughter of Egyptian Copts was life altering on a thousand different levels. See Jordan step forward against ISIS was astonishing. And on and on and on. THAT is foreign policy as we have demanded on the peace side."

      Um, what the what now?

  2. The same thought would apply to the slave states domestically.

    1. The whole question of when/how an enemy/opponent is "defeated" is an interesting one to apply in a lot of situations.

  3. ISIS and/or groups like it will wither once the Muslim world gets tired of seeing their people killed by their own people. But they tend to think in centuries, not years.

  4. "I know it's hard, but it's time to acknowledge that there isn't a brilliant zen master in the White House ushering humanity into a new Age of Aquarius."

    I'm pretty sick of this BS attitude from no-it-alls who probably never had to made a decision affecting the very lives of people in their life. No one that I know considers President Obama a "zen master". Maybe it's the voice in your own head that believes that. However, President Obama is brilliant - I'll give you that. But we are not currently in the age of Aquarius and I don't believe it's suppose to be anytime soon.. And I for one am grateful that we have a brilliant and thoughtful leader in this nation. I've lived under too many idiots, thank you very much.


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