Monday, 22 September 2014

Islamic State and Pentagon's Turf War

Nothing in President Obama's four-part strategy to defeat and ultimately destroy the Islamic State group has generated as much debate as his firm decision not to have American ground troops involved in front-line combat in Iraq or Syria for that matter. The eccentric policy which is at the very heart of the president's IS strategy has pitted the White House against Pentagon something which, though highly consequential, is an inconvenient fact which the elite media, it seems, would rather gloss over at this time.

The reason behind this selective scrutiny of the issue by the media is the fact that highlighting the issue may be incongruous with the war effort which in the minds of Americans, the majority of whom are deeply concerned about IS and want its threat neutralised, might be considred unpatriotic. That is feared could potentially lead to an unprofitable backlash from the public and as in many businesses these days, profits triumph over principles.

This regrettable state of affairs is reminiscent of the catastrophic failure of elite media in the run up to the 2003 Iraq invasion and should be challenged. A proper public scrutiny of Obama's counter-terrorism strategy against IS especially in the light of such glaring past mistakes in Iraq is warranted and the media have a duty to facilitate if not lead that scrutiny.

The President who is also the Commander-in-Chief is resolute on his decision not to have American boots on the ground in Iraq. His decision is informed by the apparent futility of using force as the only or primary component of dealing with threats to US interests and security emanating from radical ideology. And when it comes to the use of force, nothing is more counterproductive than having ground forces in the front line.

Their mere presence, worse than anything, smacks of an occupation which is the one thing that alienates the entire population the most and creates more enemies in the Muslim world. Radical ideology itself also needs their presence to validate its core beliefs and attitudes. It impassions its ideologues message that fans the embers of hate, recruits new fighters, and emboldens the rank and file jihadists. There is no question however on the usefulness of having boots on the ground in combat situations but their efforts and sacrifices only leads to Pyrrhic victory which ultimately empowers those who thrive on violent conflicts.

Chief among those who harbor reservations about Obama's contrivance to degrade and destroy IS is none other than the cantankerous-looking Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. General Dempsey's veiled preference for boots on the ground and show of force is nothing more than Pentagon's macho posturing and its primary objective is to validate America's superpower status in hopes of warding off real and perceived threats to America's hegemony.

Apparently the prevailing view at the Pentagon and among Republicans is that America's credibility as a superpower depends on its ability to project awe inspiring power.

The most striking thing about this debate is the way nobody seems to have figured out, except for Gen. Dempsey, is that what Obama prescribed was not "an F-16 strategy" as House Speaker John Boehner put it but rather an intensification and expansion of the drone warfare, which is Obama's idea of a smart approach to the war on terror. Unfortunately for Gen. Dempsey, the drone program is largely under the control of the Central Intelligence Agency and not the military where he has full control.

The president promised that the drone program would be transferred from the CIA to the Pentagon, but that has not happened yet. Therefore, the CIA, not Pentagon, will ultimately be leading the war on terror and that's what's got Dempsey on edge.

For congress, the divergence between the White House and Pentagon will merely lead to fluffy congressional debates on the president's war powers while for some White House staffers, Gen. Dempsey's suitability as Chair of Joint Chiefs could become the idiomatic elephant in the room.

To be sure, it is not that Dempsey or Pentagon for that matter does not appreciate the new kind of war that terrorism presents, it is Pentagon's suitability to lead that war that should be the focus of a serious debate.

Pentagon's penchat for machoism certainly does not auger well in the war on terrorism as it tends to validate the radical ideology behind terrorism.
On the hand, the CIA's demand for secrecy augers perfectly well for the war on terror as long as there are no major blunders and there is zero collateral damage. But is that feasible in the theatre of war? No!

The tragic blunders of the use of drones in Yemen, Afghanistan, and northern Pakistan speak for themselves. Southern Syria which is where IS will retreat to, will soon become the new theatre of Obama's drone warfare and it remains to be seen how that warfare will be conducted and if America has learnt anything from northern Pakistan and Yemen.

Monday, 15 September 2014

The Trouble with Obama's IS Strategy

President Obama's much awaited strategy for degrading and ultimately destroying the Islamic State (IS) group was unveiled last week to a captive international audience that has been horrified by the sheer savagery of the group. There is no doubt that IS poses a threat to global peace and stability and as such it had to be confronted through a concerted millitary effort.

The long over due four part strategy has by and large been welcomed across the world with the usual exception of Russia and China, Syria's ever-reliable allies, which have expressed reservations in regards to Syria's territorial integrity and of course by Al Assad's Syria, which insists that it must be co-opted in any action against IS within its boarders, never mind that it has no control over large parts of Syria which are under IS control and Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow Al Assad.

There is little doubt that Obama's strategy will, at least in the short-term, degrade IS to the point of reducing it to a rag tag band of rebels without control over any territory in Iraq. The same however cannot be said of Syria, the group's safe haven, which is where the jihadists will eventually retreat to once they are routed in Iraq.

What however is debateable about Obama's IS strategy is its ability to achieve its main objective of destroying the group. If the decade-long war on al-Qa'ida is anything to go by, IS won't be ultimately destroyed through military effort alone. In fact, as a result of this intervention, IS will in all probability mutate into something else potentially more virulent and resilient than itself in pretty much the same way it metamorphosed from al-Qaida to Islamic State.

The Trouble with President Obama's IS strategys is that it places very little emphasis on addressing the Islamist ideology which is the root cause of the Islamic State problem. Deploying the military to degrade and destroy the IS group will certainly disrupt the group and help put a temporary stop to its murderous campaign.

However, a comprehensive strategy for countering the Islamist ideology that is propelling IS and other jihadist groups is infinitely more important and effective in dealing with the persistent problem of jihadism. Obama's strategy pays lip service to the underlying problem of Islamist ideology and that is its greatest shortcoming. His strategy, unfortunately, deals with the urgent and ignores that which is more important and that is not what we expect of President Obama.

Confronting the Islamist ideology is a battle for hearts and minds something which the State Department, not Pentagon, is better equipped to undertake. The Department's public diplomacy outreach, which among other things, works to confront ideological support for terrorism is home to the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. Unfortunately, the State Department is always overshadowed by Defense Department when it comes to matters security and it seems America would rather cure the problem through military might than prevent it through the thankless tasks carried out by the State Department.

Not too long ago, in his commencement speech to West Point graduands, President Obama counseled his countrymen telling them that, "U.S. military action cannot be the only or even primary component of our leadership in every instance." "Just because we have the best hammer", he went to say, "does not mean that every problem is a nail."

In his four-part strategy to defeat IS, Obama seems to have either forgotten or pressured to make military action the primary component of his response to the threat posed by IS against his better judgements. Whatever the case may be, he still has the opportunity to reogarnize the priorities of his strategy. If the air strikes are successful in putting a halt to the bloodshed and IS goes into hiding, that could be an opportune moment for reworking the priorities of his strategy. If however, history repeats itself as it is notorious for doing exactly that, IS will retreat to Syria and Syria will become the new Afghanistan.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Middle East Culture Wars

The tragedy of how the elite media failed catastrophically in Iraq is living proof of just how little the West understands the Middle East. From Iraq to Libya and from Syria to Yemen, the region is encumbered with strife and the issues underlying the conflicts are rather complex. The complexity of the issues is perhaps only matched with the savagery of the hostilities and quite frankly, nobody seems to know exactly how to intervene and stop the bloodshed and resolve the underlying issues.

Recently, President Obama admitted that his administration didn't have a strategy for dealing with the Islamic State group which is based in Syria and which in July made foray into Iraq seizing control of almost a third of that country. That stunning admission by the President underscored just how ignorant the Western world's is concerning the Middle East and the trigger-happy knuckle heads clamouring for yet another US-led intervention in Iraq and Syria are further proof of this ignorance.

To be sure, putting a stop to the violent conflicts across the region is relatively easy but the crux of the matter is in resolving the underlying issues causing the conflicts in the first place. There is no doubt that the US military can respond in a moment's notice should it be called to action anywhere in the Middle East but resolving the underlying issues fueling the conflict is not something that can be resolved militarily. If anything, military action has in the recent past served to fan the embers of hatred for the West and the ongoing vicious cycle of violence.

Seeing the Big Picture

Thanks to new-found oil wealth and the ensuing interchange of good and services, Muslim Arabs today have access to highest standards of living that money can buy. Along with that, the traditional Arab way of life has undergone a complete makeover thanks to the exchange of world views, ideas, and culture that takes place in the marketplace and the global public square. Traditional Arab values and attitudes have been greatly modified and in some cases replaced while in others lost all together. Arabs now proudly live in ultramodern cities and towns, where family and tribal ties tend to break down and where women, as well as men, have equal access to education and employment opportunities.

This trade-off and rapid integration of the Muslim Arabs world into the global scheme of things is highly welcome and unwelcome in equal measure. Whereas the advantages and irresistible comforts of mordern life are highly welcome, the attendant social political and cultural shifts are in some cases diametrically opposed to Arab people's sacred way of life that has hitherto remained untouched for centuries. Unfortunately for the good people of Middle East, the abhorrent changes that have come with modern life in the 21st century are inevitable as much as they are a fact of life.

For the ruling elite in all the autocratic states across the region and especially Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Baharain, the social political change has served to enlighten and empower their populace to stand up for their rights and democratic governance. In the UAE, for example, where the ruling elite are just as paranoid about their grip on power as the House of Saud is across the border, innocent activists are labelled terrorists and coup plotters and hardly a month goes by without Emirati activists being tried and convicted often in absentia to prevent them from going back home.

For the religious types across the region, the guardians of everything moral, the socio cultural change sweeping across the region has sparked in some rekigious leaders an extremely dangerous militant reaction that has led to the horrific 'holy wars' that we are witnessing across the region. For these religious fundamentalists and their followers, anyone who does not subscribe to their doctrines and values and beliefs simply has no right to live. Al-Qa'ida (AQ), Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al-Shabaa, Ansar al-Islam, Boko Haram, and Islamic State are prime examples of jihadist groups which believe that their way of life is the only acceptable way of and the must become the way of life for everybody else and they stop at nothing in their efforts to impose it on others.

Elements of a Solution

The jihadists across the region and other parts of the world must howevrr be helped to come to terms with the inevitability of the socio political and cultural change and the folly of their crude resistance to it. Contrary to the widely-held belief, the change sweeping across the globe, not just the Middle East, is not the product of American machination or the West as it were, but rather is something that is actually driven by economic and technological forces and as many religious people will agree, spiritual forces, that are well beyond the control of America and all Western governments put together. 

There simply is no amount of bloodshed or acts of terrorism, no matter how vile, that can slow down much less reverse the paranormal process bringing change across the globe. If anything the jihadist resistance to change has rendered the Middle East arguably the worst casualty of the change sweeping across the world.

The jihadists and the region as a whole must accept and learn how to co-exist in the same society with other people with whom they have sharp religious cultural and political differences. It is not reasonable for anyone in this 'new civilized' world which is anything but civilized, to impose their values, beliefs, and attitudes on everybody else, that only ends in conflict. The only acceptable way of propagating one's views in this new age is by being living by your values and beliefs and being a good specimen of their effects and alternatively by gently persuading others to adopt one's values and beliefs.

World powers working to find lasting solutions to the crises in Iraq and Syria and other parts of the Middle East, must realize that the sectarian conflicts are primarily a struggle between elements seeking to use state machinery to resist cultural change and whereas the extremist' murderous campaign must be stopped effort must be put in place to help them accept and cope with change. 

On the other hand, autocratic governments should be helped to navigate the transition into democratic societies. A thorough understanding of the undercurrents in the various conflicts across the region is essential to crafting the appropriate response. Limited military intervention might be necessary in some cases but if only to stop wanton bloodshed, but sustainable solutions to these conflicts will require a totally different approach that takes cognizance of the facts at play and that avoids the counterproductive use of force.