Stepping back from the horror, the editorializing, and our own sense of disbelief that such evil is even possible, let’s look at what’s actually happened within the space of a single week. The Islamic State, otherwise known as ISIS, has launched major attacks on three targets:
- A Russian airliner, killing 224.
- A market in a southern suburb of Beirut, known as a Hezbollah bastion, where 44 were killed
- Multiple attacks in Paris, where 129 (and counting) were killed.
What’s interesting is that two out of three of those targets are deemed enemies of the United States: the Russians are regularly denounced by US government officials and their media echo chamber as “aggressors” whose actions are inimical to American interests. Indeed, the French “satirical” magazine, Charlie Hebdo, which was the target of the last Islamist assault on the City of Light, devoted itself to mocking the murdered Russian passengers of Metrojet Flight 9268, and only the Russians were outraged.
Hezbollah, for its part, is deemed by the US State Department as a “terrorist” group, and its leaders are sanctioned. I didn’t hear one word of sympathy for the Beirut victims of ISIS terror, at least not in the West.
Now look at the perpetrators of these attacks, their origins and their sources of support. The so-called Islamic State has been funded by wealthy donors in the Gulf states: Saudis, Qataris, and Kuwaitis. The governments of these countries are all US allies, and yet they have done little or nothing to stop the flow of money.
Not only that, but the US and its Western allies have been playing the “Sunni card” in their efforts to oppose what they view as Iranian expansionism in the region: indeed, this Defense Intelligence Agency memo predicted the rise of ISIS, and declared “this is exactly what the supporting powers of the [Syrian Islamist] Opposition want.” And included among those “supporting powers” was the United States, which has been funding and training Islamist rebels in Syria for years with the goal of overthrowing the regime of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. As Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former head of the DIA, put it in an interview with Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hassan:
“Hasan: You are basically saying that even in government at the time you knew these groups were around, you saw this analysis, and you were arguing against it, but who wasn’t listening?
Flynn: I think the administration.
Hasan: So the administration turned a blind eye to your analysis?
Flynn: I don’t know that they turned a blind eye, I think it was a decision. I think it was a willful decision.
Hasan: A willful decision to support an insurgency that had Salafists, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood?
Flynn: It was a willful decision to do what they’re doing.”
The “Free Syrian Army” held up by the Obama administration as the Good Guys in the civil war never really existed. Instead, what existed were a multitude of protean Islamist groups on the ground, which eventually mutated into ISIS and al-Nusra, the latter being the official al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Groups supposedly “vetted” and then armed by the US defected in droves to ISIS and al-Qaeda, effectively acting as a transmission belt for arms and recruits to the Islamic State. The situation got so bad that Gen. David Petraeus, the disgraced former head of the CIA, came out publicly for allying with al-Nusra, ostensibly to fight ISIS.
Washington’s “war on terrorism” essentially ended with the so-called Arab Spring, which the US sought to manipulate to its own ends: supporting the overthrow of secular despots in Egypt, Libya, and Syria in order to get on board the train before it left the station. Indeed, playing the “Sunni card” had long been the linchpin of US strategy in the region, ever sine the “Arab Awakening” and the drive against the “Shia crescent.” By the time the Obama administration came into office, US policymakers had long since shifted their focus to the alleged threat emanating from Iran, and, in tandem with the Saudis and the Gulf states, aimed their efforts at limiting if not eliminating Tehran’s growing influence in the region.
If we look at the position taken by the Israelis, whose openly stated strategy often reflects the covert aims of their Western allies, all becomes clear: their main focus has been identical to that of the Syrian rebel groups, including ISIS – overthrowing Assad, a longtime goal of Israel policymakers that is now within reach. Indeed, top Israeli government officials have not been shy about who they’re rooting for in the Syrian civil war: former Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren has brazenly stated that ISIS is the "lesser evil." They’re all "bad guys," said Oren, but "we always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran." Back in 2013, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, Sima Shine, openly declared:
"The alternative, whereby [Assad] falls and] Jihadists flock to Syria, is not good. We have no good options in Syria. But Assad remaining along with the Iranians is worse. His ouster would exert immense pressure on Iran."
The Islamic State’s attack on Hezbollah limns Israeli operations aimed at achieving the same goal: the elimination of an Iranian ally on Israel’s northern border. The Sunni jihadists are also taking on Russia, Assad’s principal ally in the region, another plus as far as Tel Aviv is concerned. Although the territory controlled by the Islamic State is now contiguous with Israel, there have been no assaults on Israeli territory. Indeed, what the Daily Mail called “ghoulish Israeli day-trippers armed with binoculars” gather on a mountain in the Golan Heights overlooking the three-way battle between ISIS, the Syrian “moderate” rebels, and Assad’s forces. From Israel’s perspective, what’s not to like?
The Paris attacks are the signal for full-scale Western intervention in Syria, a “pitiless war,” as French President Francois Hollande put it, and the US is likely to follow in his wake. This will achieve another longstanding Israeli goal: the interposition of a substantial Western military force between Israel and its enemies. (Although the Israeli far right doesn’t necessarily agree.)
What we are looking at is a Western expeditionary force aimed at smashing the Islamic State, occupying Syria, and imposing a “negotiated settlement” of the civil war. The outlines of this have already been drawn with the negotiations between the US, its allies, the Russians, and the Iranians. The coming massive Western intervention is designed to counter Russian and especially Iranian influence on the outcome: the Paris attacks couldn’t have come at a more convenient time.
ISIS, for its part, welcomes the Syrian apocalypse: it will draw every Islamist nutball on earth to their ranks and encourage the in-migration to the Islamic State that has been a staple of their propaganda.
Our own War Party now has a pretext to go all out and invade Syria with all the force at Washington’s command, and the cry will go up demanding that we act – with even alleged anti-interventionists jumping on the bandwagon.
“Everything’s changed!” That was the post-9/11 watchword that led us into the double-quagmire of Afghanistan and Iraq – with disastrous consequences all around. The same thing is happening today. But everything has not changed: if we had invaded Syria yesterday, it would’ve been a horrific mistake, and it is still a mistake even as the casualty count from the Paris attacks continues to rise.
There is no magic solution to the problem posed by ISIS, which was created by interventionism to begin with – and cannot be cured by more of the same poison. As Andrew Bacevich rightly argues:
“Rather than assuming an offensive posture, the West should revert to a defensive one. Instead of attempting to impose its will on the Greater Middle East, it should erect barriers to protect itself from the violence emanating from that quarter. Such barriers will necessarily be imperfect, but they will produce greater security at a more affordable cost than is gained by engaging in futile, open-ended armed conflicts. Rather than vainly attempting to police or control, this revised strategy should seek to contain.
“Such an approach posits that, confronted with the responsibility to do so, the peoples of the Greater Middle East will prove better equipped to solve their problems than are policy makers back in Washington, London, or Paris. It rejects as presumptuous any claim that the West can untangle problems of vast historical and religious complexity to which Western folly contributed. It rests on this core principle: Do no (further) harm.”
The Russians and the Iranians are already in the field, fighting the Islamic State – and its de facto US-supported allies, the “moderate” Syrian rebels. If the French want to join the fracas, that is their affair. The people of the United States, for their part, have had quite enough of the Middle East: after sacrificing thousands of American lives, and spending trillions of dollars on “liberating” the region, all we have to show for our efforts is worse – far worse – than nothing.
Let the savages of the Middle East stew in their own blood-soaked juice. Let us shore up our defenses, and treat ISIS as we would an outbreak of bubonic plague: by quarantining the entire region. Our answer to the War Party must be unafraid and unequivocal: No, not now, not ever again!
It’s necessary now more than ever to strengthen our resolve and stand up to the war hysteria now sweeping the West. We are in familiar territory here, having experienced the general craziness and emotion-laden rhetoric led to the double disaster of invading and occupying both Afghanistan and Iraq.
We all know what happened with that – and this is our weapon of choice. We must remind the world of the lessons of recent history, without conceding one inch to the war-makers. The War Party thinks they have an argument-proof pretext for invading yet another Middle Eastern country – and we can’t let them get away with it.
The last time the cry went up to invade Syria we were an instrumental part of the campaign that stopped them in their tracks. Now we must stop them again – but we can’t do it without your help.
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NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.