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.

Either:

  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.

Bombing for Peace. This time: Syria.

1.  Cameron loses Commons vote on Syria action

“It is clear to me that the British parliament…does not want to see British military action”

“”David Cameron, Prime Minister, 20th August 2013

BBC: “MPs have rejected possible UK military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government to deter the use of chemical weapons.  David Cameron said he would respect the defeat of a government motion by 285-272, ruling out joining US-led strikes.”

Had that very close vote gone the other way, we would be attacking Syria’s government, troops, infrastructure and, inevitably, civilians as “collateral damage”.


2.  MPs support UK air strikes against IS in Iraq

Intervention at the request of the Iraqi government was “morally justified” to combat a “brutal terrorist organisation” and was clearly lawful.  Britain has a clear “duty” to join the campaign, and IS is a direct threat to the UK and I am not prepared to “subcontract” the protection of British streets from terrorism to other countries’ air forces.

Paraphrasing of David Cameron, Prime Minister, 26th September 2014

BBC: “The UK Parliament has backed British participation in air strikes against Islamic State extremists in Iraq.  After a seven-hour debate, MPs voted for military action by 524 votes to 43.  Some MPs expressed concerns about the prospect of future engagement in Syria.”


3.   David Cameron believes ‘there ​i​s a case to do more’ in Syria

“British MPs need to think again about what else British forces can do to help moderate forces in Syria.”

David Cameron, Prime Minister, 2nd July 2015 via Downing Street

Guardian: “No 10 stressed it would be better if military action, likely to be air strikes, only went ahead if there was a consensus in the Commons.  Michael Fallon, defence secretary, said Isis was directed and led from northern Syria.  He vowed that if there was any decision to include air strikes in Syria as part of a full spectrum response (spot the weasel words), the government would seek the approval of parliament. “Our position remains that we would return to this house for approval before air strikes in Syria.  We are clear any action we take must not provide any succour to Assad’s regime.”  The prime minister’s spokeswoman stressed that British military assets were already flying over Syria, and British forces were helping to train members of the Syrian Free Army outside Syria itself.”

So we’re training ‘freedom fighters’ / ‘insurgents’ / future terrorists?  Isn’t that the classic mistake the CIA has been making for decades?


4.   Syria air strikes conducted by UK military pilots

” ”  ← (i.e. nothing so far)

David Cameron, Prime Minister, 17th July 2015

BBC: “UK pilots embedded with coalition allies’ forces have been conducting air strikes over Syria against the Islamic State group, it has emerged.  Crispin Blunt, Conservative MP and Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, said the 2013 vote on action in Syria was a “totally different decision” to the question of strikes on IS and that that decision had not been undermined.  Labour has indicated it would not oppose military action in Syria. Acting leader Harriet Harman has said the case for air strikes was now different to the situation in 2013, when Labour voted against UK military action in Syria.”

When was this discussed and arranged?  Apparently a couple of days ago when the Greece crisis was all over the news.  What a good day that was to bury bad news.

Both sides of the Commons are all for this.  Politicians are odd creatures: opposition in everything, everything, as a matter of principal, regardless of the logic, yet unity in wanting to extend violence.  There is something about the desire for power that results in a mind-set of wanting to see others hurt.  [ note to self – there’s a psychology essay to be written based on that last sentence. ]


It seems there are three sides in Syria:

  1. Assad’s regime which is being attacked by the US and allies.  UK troops may or may not be embedded and supporting these attacks.
  2. The revolutionaries trying to bring down Assad’s regime (sorry, who are these people exactly?) who are being trained by the UK.
  3. IS / ISIS / ISIL / whatever we are to call-them this week are being attacked by the US and allies and (covertly) the UK.

This is like the proxy wars of the Cold War in the1900s where NATO and the Warsaw Pact tested and demonstrated their weapons’ capabilities in other countries by supporting opposing sides.  At least then the West and East could pretend we/they were on opposite sides.  Now the West seems to be supporting the fighting on all sides.

Had the 2013 vote gone the other way (requiring a difference of just 7 MPs’ votes), we would be openly bombing all of Syria.  No wonder Moslems think there is a Holy War going on.

As for training the rebels (the next generation of elite mercenaries and terrorists) trying to bring down and take over Assad’s government, how many of them are now fighting for, leading, arming or training the IS / ISIS / ISIL forces?

Presumably, if and when IS / ISIS / ISIL have been defeated, the airstrikes will continue but against the Syrian government.  Therein lies the inevitable argument of the next few days: “We may as well start bombing Assad now to prevent his resources falling into IS / ISIS / ISIL hands“.  Yep, I predict a scorched earth policy, although it will not be called that.

Here we are in 2015, still bringing peace with bombs.  And how well has that been working since 2003?

There is no pax Americana

Bringing down stable governments of countries and failing to put something in its place is the principal cause of the terrorism and conflict going on in the world at the moment.

When the Romans invaded, they took control, dictating foreign policy, providing defence in exchange for a promise to not rebel and pay tribune.  In so doing peace reigned over the Roman Empire at the cost of freedoms at a national level. This was the pax Romana.

The Islamic Golden Age, inspired by the philosophy that “the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr“, in which huge advances were made in medicine, mathematics, culture and science, was also a period of peace, sometimes called the pax Islamica.

A thousand years later the Mongols conquered much of Asia and held it to produce the Pax Mongolica.

The Ottoman Empire in turn provided peace to its citizens in the pax Ottomana.

A similar arrangement to the Roman Empire was achieved by the British Empire to produce the pax Britanicca.

Chinese empires have come and gone and provided their own periods of internal peace, as have many other cultures.

The concept of “empire” has come to be seen as purely a bad thing since the mid 20th century as countries gained their independence, partly through economic consequences of the World War 2, partly through improved communication and education and partly through the disruptive influences of the Cold War.  In place of an imposed external governing body, freedom for those of a territory has been granted, often with disastrous consequences.  The lesson that could and should have been learned from those experiences are that independence should be done slowly, replacing institutions and structures with new ones, a part at a time.  It is frustrating, but far more stable. [Note to self: specific examples needed.]  A clean break leaves a county with no stable government and civil war and decades of turmoil is the usual result.

But the desire to ignore the beneficial benefits of a benign empire has resulted in much chaos, death, suffering and desire for revenge of late years.  The removal of stable governments from countries like Iraq and Libya without replacing it with something else that works has been far worse than what most empires have done in the past.

It would have been cheaper and less destructive (but probably no more productive in the long term) to simply assassinate those leaders that were considered undesirable.  At least there would not be hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed civilians and a world-wide problem with revenge terrorism.

The idea the USA has been the global policeman producing a pax Americana is a fallacy.  They are not spreading peace: just fear and hate, chaos and disorder.

Instead of toppling a regime, take it over and change it from within, fools.  Learn from thousands of years of history.