What do you believe is the best way to deal with ISIS?

I was privately asked by someone on The Student Room forum the following question:

Your sig has intrigued me for a while (Studying to support my peace activism), and if you don’t mind me asking, I was wondering if you could expand further upon your views especially with respect to current issues involving ISIS? What do you believe is the best way to deal with ISIS?

Bear in mind I still consider myself a student of peace studies and my opinions are not as well-informed as I want them to be.

Firstly, I don’t think we should have got ourselves in this position.  I was one of those who thought the Second Gulf War was going to be a stupid mistake.  Arranging for the disposal of Gadaffi was another.

Change should not be brought about on a national scale so quickly; people can’t adjust and accommodate it.  A transition from a tyranny or autocracy to democracy takes generations and we have plenty of evidence—especially in Africa—to show this.  It is necessary to educate the majority of the population in justice and political theory and let them experience it for themselves before they will be the force that demands it and supports it.

However, having made the mistake and created government-less states, we should have imposed one.  We could either have used the colonial model which we know how to do (and would be unpopular) or invented a completely new model such as a UN Peacekeeping Government formed from a committee of the security council and stable Middle East representatives with a 20 year plan.  Use the experience of the Marshall Plan as a model.  Putting in a puppet government was doomed to failure, as it always has been throughout history.

But most of all, don’t intentionally topple a government without a plan for what happens next. That was just irresponsible stupidity.

However, that’s not where we’re at.  We didn’t do go in with a proper plan and so it went belly up.  What a surprise.  (I’ve only got 15+ years of project management and I could see it was not planned properly.)

So, instead of a stable government we have a guerilla force taking territory.  They cannot be fought by airstrikes or conventional warfare.  Every war that stopped came to end because the fighting stopped and talking started.  That talking should have begun in September 2001 by the USA saying “What on Earth did we do to make you so angry?” rather than saying “A bit of shock and awe will make them behave“.  The days of gunboat diplomacy are long over.  Another 2,000 words are needed to explain what I mean but essentially the USA should have engaged with Middle East countries and opened up communication to understand differences.  Hopeful, they would have acknowledged that cultural imperialism really is just as bad, if not worse, than military imperialism.  At least the Romans would let you run your own country and not force you to learn Latin, buy their products and worship their gods.  The USA has no idea (and no experience) of how to run an empire so their attempt at capitalist cultural imperialism is causing this global hatred that is surprising them so much.

But that communication didn’t happen, so now we have huge areas of angry people.  Is it legitimate they are angry?  Subjected to cultural imperialism and imposed American business who have a bad reputation, especially with regard to mineral rights, overseas human exploitation and not caring about the local environment overseas.  Then having their governments toppled with the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians in the process.  Yeah, I think they might be entitled to be grumpy.  Like most terrorists, they are trying to be heard but nobody is listening.

When the listening starts, the fighting can stop.  Not talking, listening.

Now for some old, and new, saws:

  • Peace cannot be kept by force.  It can only be achieved by understanding.
  • War doesn’t fix war.  It’s not wrong if someone gives up — he’s not actually losing, he’s saving people’s lives.
  • All wars have to end in some kind of political compromise.
  • To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.

I am aware I haven’t answered your question yet.

What do you believe is the best way to deal with ISIS?

Bear in mind you are asking me for the solution to a problem that Putin, Cameron, Assad, Merkel, Obama and others have not solved.  They have rather more resources and advisers than I have.


  1. flood the entire area with hundreds of thousands if not millions of peacekeepers (think of what we did in Northern Ireland street corners, but for the entire IS territory) (I wish we had done that when Yugoslavia had started to collapse);
  2. try and kill everyone in the entire IS territory, or all the males at least, until the remaining women beg their remaining menfolk to surrender (I think history will call that a genocide) which seems to be the current plan;
  3. call a cease-fire and open communication to come up with a negotiated settlement.  This will be a toughie since the UN does not want to recognise the Islamic State organisation as a legitimate state.

(Oh, and we move Heaven and Earth to re-take the the oil fields and stop buying the fecking oil off them, FFS.)

Personally, I’d go for the third option and go into negotiations wielding a humongous military threat: we’ll recognise you as a state IF you agree to democracy within 10 years, complete cease fire, votes for all, compliance with international human rights, education to age 16 for all, a government model based on the historic moderate Caliphates not a militaristic Islamist state, etc. and we will fund the replacement of the destroyed infrastructure.  If they refuse say we re-start the assassinations and large scale bombing.

They will accept – they will have to because it gives them what they want.  But it will collapse within weeks into in-fighting (civil war is inevitable, it always happens in these situations – warriors are not politicians [with the remarkable exception of Fidel Castro, of course]).  That is the opportunity to ‘assist’ and bring stability by starting to apply option one.  In those areas where stability can be brought either impose a government or, if possible, re-instate the previous local government under international direction and supervision.

Effectively, create a state similar to Iran, then work on making it more moderate by keeping communication open, re-establishing trade and tourism (“peace through tourism”) and keep the big fist in plain view.

If they want recognition as a state give it, but on terms the rest of the world find acceptable.  That’s the deal: the only alternative is assassinations, massive military invasion, total destruction, war trials and an imposed government.  Complete destruction and replacement.

As for justice for the killings – forget it.  Go for a ‘peace and reconciliation’ exercise like that which worked in South Africa and trade justice for peace.  It is controversial but has worked many times.

(I expect a few quiet assassinations accidents might occur when names and locations of certain unpleasant individuals are leaked to Mossad, Putin and the like.)

Bear in mind, this is off the top of my head and not backed up by teams of advisers and academics.

And you will also note I am not an absolute pacifist (although I respect and support those who are.  But if war is required, plan it properly, execute it efficiently and have a proper plan for what is to follow.  War solves nothing, it only destroys.  Peace has to be built.

War and Peace in the Lonely Planet

Just reading the Lonely Planet guide to Scotland’s Highlands & Islands and a couple of lines stood out.  Firstly, about violence:

The Vikings were probably no more blood-thirsty than the Romans, Picts or Celts, but they made the fatal public relations error of attacking the monasteries, which produced all the history books from the medieval period.

Alternatively, it could be they had a reputation for brutality because they attacked the monasteries; and it wasn’t a bit of light shop-lifting from the monastery visitor centre shop.  Top tip to modern day marauders: stop destroying religious sites, it gets you a bad name that lasts quite a long time.

Secondly was about the construction of roads into the Highlands as part of the suppression / taming (choose your own standpoint) of the clans:

New military roads were driven through the glens and garrisons were established…  As a side effect, the new roads increased trade between the Highlands and the lowlands, reducing the traditional suspicion of Highlanders in the lowlands and exposing the Highland clan leaders for the first time to the wealth of the lowlands.

So, from this interpretation communication and trade finally brought peace in Scotland.  I wonder what high speed rail links and motorways into Afghanistan and the Middle East might achieve.  Form—or find—the Afghanistan Tourist Board, tell people what to visit, and communication and trade will increase.  So will understanding.  People are already going, and it’s not as bad as it was.  And here’s what the Lonely Planet web site has to say about it.

Meanwhile, the gov.uk web site says:

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all or all but essential travel.

with the latest bad news being from three days ago ‘13 May 2015 – an attack on a guesthouse/ hotel in Kabul‘.  What to do?  Leave them to their own devices, or go and buy trinkets and see one another as just people.  It reminds me of growing up in London when there were no tourists—except the brave Japanese, of course—because of the IRA.  England was seen as far too dangerous to visit.

I wonder where the reality lies?  And is the risk to the individual outweighed by the benefit to world peace?