Tag Archives: ISIS

Speaking Of Foreign Policy

Yesterday, I posted about our truly frightening Secretary of State, and the infusion of fundamentalist religious doctrine into America’s foreign policy. But our international  challenges–which are mounting as quickly as our global influence is declining–are not limited to the results of Pompeo’s zealotry.

That’s because, in foreign affairs, the President has the last word. And when delicate and complex international issues are being decided by an erratic buffoon who is monumentally ignorant of world affairs and the way governments function, America’s interests can take quite a beating.

Just this week, Business Insider–a “non-lefty” publication that has been admirable in its coverage of the disaster that is the Trump Presidency–devoted considerable space to a scathing Penagon report that places the blame for the resurgence of ISIS squarely on Trump.

A report from the Pentagon inspector general found that President Donald Trump’s decision to rapidly pull troops out of Syria and divert attention from diplomacy in Iraq has inadvertently aided the Islamic State’s regrouping in Syria and Iraq.

The Department of Defense’s quarterly report to Congress on the effectiveness of the US Operation Inherent Resolve mission said that “ISIS continued its transition from a territory-holding force to an insurgency in Syria, and it intensified its insurgency in Iraq” — even though Trump said ISIS was defeated and the caliphate quashed, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Many officials and experts have repeatedly warned that a rapid US withdrawal from Syria would enable ISIS to regroup into an insurgency after their battlefield defeats by the US-led coalition.

The IG’s report also explicitly said the troop drawdown in Syria, which Trump announced at the end of last year, contributed to instability in the region. The drawdown, which prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left the US’s Syrian partners in the lurch, without the training or support they needed to confront a resurgent ISIS. In Iraq, the Iraqi security forces lack the necessary infrastructure to fight off ISIS for sustained periods.

Trump was warned that his focus on Iran–one of his numerous efforts to reverse agreements entered into or regulations passed by Obama, no matter their reasonableness or value– would erode U.S. capacity to counter ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to Brett McGurk, the former special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS. McGurk served under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

McGurk, like Mattis, resigned his post after Trump announced his drawdown. In a January op-ed, he warned that Trump’s policies in the region would give “new life” to ISIS and other US adversaries, and that the decision would “precipitate chaos and an environment for extremists to thrive,”exactly what the IG’s report said was happening on the ground.

But of course, Trump boasts that he knows more than the Generals. (This is the man who assured us that trade wars are “easy to win,” and who recently explained that we shouldn’t use windmills to generate electricity, because televisions won’t work when the wind isn’t blowing…among many, many other expressions of idiocy.)

A link to a one-page summary of the Pentagon report is here. Read it and weep….

Inequality…and ISIS?

Wonkblog reports on what it concedes may be “the most controversial theory” about the rise of ISIS: inequality.

A year after his 700-page opus “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” stormed to the top of America’s best-seller lists, Thomas Piketty is out with a new argument about income inequality. It may prove more controversial than his book, which continues to generate debate in political and economic circles.

The new argument, which Piketty spelled out recently in the French newspaper Le Monde, is this: Inequality is a major driver of Middle Eastern terrorism, including the Islamic State attacks on Paris earlier this month — and Western nations have themselves largely to blame for that inequality.

The theory is relatively straightforward: wealth in the Middle East is concentrated in countries having a relatively small a share of the population, making the region the most unequal on the planet.

Within the fabulously rich monarchies, a very few people control most of the wealth. Others, especially women and refugees, are kept in what he describes as “a state of semi-slavery.” Picketty says that it is those economic conditions that have provided justification for the region’s  jihadists–although he concedes that the casualties inflicted by the West’s wars have been a contributing factor.

The clear implication is that economic deprivation and the horrors of wars that benefited only a select few of the region’s residents have, mixed together, become what he calls a “powder keg” for terrorism across the region.

Piketty is particularly scathing when he blames the inequality of the region, and the persistence of oil monarchies that perpetuate it, on the West: “These are the regimes that are militarily and politically supported by Western powers, all too happy to get some crumbs to fund their [soccer] clubs or sell some weapons. No wonder our lessons in social justice and democracy find little welcome among Middle Eastern youth.”

If we take Piketty’s argument seriously, we can add terrorism to the list of deleterious consequences generated by inequality. If the West did accept the analysis, it would also suggest that economic measures, not tanks, are the armaments most likely to be effective in the fight against ISIS.  (Considering everything from entrenched worldviews, the political clout and interests of arms dealers, and–in the U.S.– a political system that routinely categorizes countries unwilling to dance to our tune as “evil-doers,” I don’t see America accepting Piketty’s premise any time soon. If ever.)

Even if we were able to forge a consensus on the need to ameliorate economic inequality–not just in the Middle East, but here at home–we would still have to confront thorny issues. It’s one thing to identify inequality as a central problem of our age; it is another to determine the precise point at which unequal distribution of life’s goods becomes inequitable and counterproductive. It is one thing to say “We need to fix this,” and quite another to figure out how.  (If communism taught us anything, it was how not to redistribute wealth.)

The challenge for our age is to figure out how to be fair without being stupid.

I think I’m going to reread John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice….