On the Daesh strategy

There was so much ruined temple at the Palmyra site, that the Daesh are still blowing it up, I learn from news reports. (No one in the West even thought of intervening.) This leaves them less explosive with which to blow up Christians, Yazidis, miscellaneous Sufis, Mershdi Alawites, full Twelvers, Ismailis, Druze, various Shia and other Muslims, as well as the less zealous of their own, we might suppose. But they tend to kill those in more traditional, lower-tech ways; so I doubt there is any upside at all. It would be interesting to know whence the explosives came; or whence the biological and chemical weapons they also seem to have been using (though on a modest scale). I suspect the answers would give so little comfort to anyone, that we would have to dig for them.

Quite seriously, the opinion that Saddam Hussein of Iraq was plentifully provided with “WMD” was so universally held by Western intelligence agencies, prior to the U.S. invasion of 2003, that I still believe there was something in it. Moreover, I think the “rumours” that much of this stuff was parked in Syria for the duration of that war — and thus remained there after the Iraqi Ba’athist regime went down — may also have been credible.

And parked, be it noted, not with Syria’s government, which could hardly wish to risk making itself the next U.S. regime-change target, but with Syrian insurgents across a border they had already made porous.

To the end, Saddam thought the best way to defeat the Americans in Iraq was by bogging them down in an insurgency that would quickly wear the patience of the fickle U.S. electorate; not by upping the ante with WMD. While he did not survive himself, this reasoning proved basically sound.

Now, biological and many chemical weapons are subject to rapid decay, so it does not follow that what had remained potent even until 2003 (from programmes that had flourished much earlier) could still be potent in 2015. But the interesting thing here is the trucks the allies found, abandoned in Iraq, with the remains of mobile labs. Were any “live ones” moved?

I am curious, journalistically, about questions like this, because I should like to know more about the history of the Daesh, which is a Sunni insurgency, opposed to Shia Iran, and also to Syria’s Iran-supported regime. They did not come out of nowhere, but out of somewhere, well-armed, even before their capture of vast weapon and munitions stocks left by the USA. In fact they came out of Syria, where they had already forged their rather formidable discipline, opposing the Assad regime, and had already cultivated international connexions, through the Saddam regime, with Sunni insurgent movements in North Africa, West Africa, and elsewhere.

(I use “Daesh,” incidentally, in preference to the fuller Arabic, ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī ‘l-‘Irāq wa-sh-Shām, which is an eye and mouthful for most Western readers. It translates something like, “the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,” but leads to long discussions about the concept of a “state” in classical or modern Arabic. I like “Daesh,” or Da’esh, or Da’ish, because that is what its Muslim opponents prefer, and because it conveys better the remarkably strange nature of the movement. A product of modernism it may be, indirectly; but of an ideological, revolutionary modernism slurred with ancient Islamic teaching that was also pathologically aggressive, violent, and totalitarian. Too, it is a practice of all totalitarian orders to make titles into propaganda statements — remember, “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” — and we should not feel obliged to accommodate them.)

Our failure to understand — even to study, intelligently — the origins of this movement, has much to do with the successful leftwing demonization of the Bush administration in USA, and the blind incompetence of the subsequent one. For it has become a principle of faith, now in government and media, that “Bush lied” about both the weaponry and the international terrorist connexions of the Saddam regime. He did not; and it does not help that even his own brother now disowns him for the purpose of sleazing ahead in U.S. politics. Read Dick Cheney’s new book (co-authored with his daughter, Liz) for better background information.

A false, and very foolish understanding of the strategic situation in the Middle East now governs our airwaves and thoughtwaves. In dealing with the Daesh, we are absorbing the legacy of Saddam, who in his later years turned to Sunni Islamism himself as his best bet to prevail against his accumulating enemies. The history must be better understood to grasp the nature of the current threat.

We have been repeatedly blindsided by our own ignorance of the growth of a “terrorist network” that has thrived in our media shallows and shadows, and benefited from almost every foreign policy decision of President Obama. Indeed, that is part of what the Benghazi congressional hearings have been about, although their politicization has confused the issue. Hillary Clinton made a mess, true enough, but the congressmen need to expose not only the scandalous misjudgements, but why she made such a comprehensive mess. It was because she was (and remains) so mesmerized by the “liberal narrative” that she had (and has) no idea of the enemy we are actually facing.

To my mind, the great fault of the Bush administration was its failure to communicate its own, flawed, but much better understanding of the circumstances. It could have explained, with calm but rather more candour, why the U.S. and allies went into Iraq in the first place; that the battle was not simply about Saddam, and would not end with his displacement. Had it done so, we might better understand that “al-Qaeda” is more like an errant branch of the Daesh, than vice versa; and that the “Sunni militants” the U.S. Marines faced in Fallujah and elsewhere were already part of a well-organized force that is the Daesh today.

(According to me, they went wrong soon after invading, in thinking it was now a job for the State Department, taking it out of the hands of the Pentagon. They went right again in the “surge,” by taking it back from State, and giving it once more to the soldiers. “Root causes” are a wash: they go back to Adam. We had enemies who needed killin’ then, and alas, they still need killin’ today.)

We — or more precisely, the Obama administration — walked out of Iraq leaving the Daesh bleeding but undefeated; and then subverted the forces opposed to the Daesh (including Assad’s unpleasant Syrian regime). By now, that administration is scrambling to make friends with the Ayatollahs — an even crazier scheme — partly for help in resuming Bush’s war on the Daesh, as if fundamental American and Western interests could be served by a Shia Islamist proxy. To which end, our old Israeli, Egyptian, and Arabian allies have been repeatedly stabbed in the back.

In other words, a tactic that is, essentially, insane, against Daesh tactics that are only “nearly insane.” For the Daesh learnt from Saddam that monstrous acts of inhumanity, very publicly performed, are extremely effective in commanding obedience. Such acts also work as wonderful recruiting tools for psychopathic elements now deeply embedded in Western, as well as in Islamic society. The Daesh are not squandering their advantage to their unchecked murderous impulses. Their murderousness is more calculated than that. Rather they are growing in power, especially in the vacuums the Obama administration has created for them in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and many other countries.

The good news is that Obama, Mrs Clinton, et alia, have now so thoroughly squandered the credibility of the United States not only in the region, but all around the world, that little more damage can be done, at least by them. Moreover, countries including Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, are now cooperating marvellously to defend themselves — against both the Daesh and Iran. (The Saudis partly by trying to help al-Qaeda revive, as a weapon against the Daesh, but that is another story.)

The bad news is that we are waiting for an explosion that will, once again, like 9/11 though on a much greater scale, come to us. Indeed, the current European migrant crisis, chiefly from Libya, gives a first, faint taste of what is already merrily on its way.

(My apologies for “merrily”; that was sarcastic.)