Let’s not keep shooting elephants to avoid looking a fool

Here’s my lesson of the day:  Read opinion pieces and articles written by folks you generally discount!  Being opinionated can serve to blind you to reading views that run counter to yours and isolating yourself to reading the work of writers and websites ideologically aligned to your own views will keep you swimming in endless circles in a goldfish bowl.

I mostly ignore Fareed Zakaria’s reporting and interviews, preferring to relegate him to “Obama-apologist status”, but here’s his very thoughtful opinion piece,“Why they still hate us, 13 years later”,  from the Washington Post (9/4/14). He writes:

“The central point of the essay was that the reason the Arab world produces fanaticism and jihad is political stagnation. By 2001, almost every part of the world had seen significant political progress — Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, even Africa had held many free and fair elections. But the Arab world remained a desert. In 2001, most Arabs had fewer freedoms than they did in 1951.”

“The one aspect of life that Arab dictators could not ban was religion, so Islam had become the language of political opposition. As the Westernized, secular dictatorships of the Arab world failed — politically, economically and socially — the fundamentalists told the people, “Islam is the solution.””

“The Arab world was left with dictatorships on one hand and deeply illiberal opposition groups on the other — Hosni Mubarak or al-Qaeda. The more extreme the regime, the more violent the opposition. This cancer was deeper and more destructive than I realized. Despite the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and despite the Arab Spring, this dynamic between dictators and jihadis has not been broken.”

Assessing the nation-building aspect of our effort, Cora Sol Goldstein, in a piece titled, “The Afghan Experience: Democratization By Force” (page 20, published in the Autumn 2012 Parameters), writes:

“The case of Afghanistan exemplifies the challenges associated with attempting to democratize a reluctant population by force. Small wars aimed at regime change do not create the conditions for executing such ambitious agendas as nation building. The decapitation of the regime’s leaders or the transient defeat of a guerrilla movement does not necessarily lead to popular support for a program of radical change inspired by the victors. A military occupation following a war with limited violence will exacerbate nationalism, sectarianism, and militarism, passions that fuel resentment and the violent rejection of a foreign agenda. In Afghanistan, the presence of the Western allies, and their attempt to impose ideas of governance, first generated skepticism, then political resistance, and finally the emergence of a full-fledged insurgency. NATO forces became involved in a counterinsurgency operation that inevitably led to human rights violations and unacceptable excesses. This resulted in the consequent loss of the moral high ground that supposedly inspired the original occupation, and led to the collapse of the transformative agenda.”

In the past 13 years we the people of the United States of America have been trained to rely on “experts” to guide us on the path to defeating Al Qaeda, by eliminating safe havens for them, by costly democratization efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by believing in the universality of our democratic aspirations.  However, since our politically correct policy experts set off formulating policy to fit multiculturalist arbiters rather than reality, we have lost thousands of American lives tilting at windmills and now, faced with the reality that Islam does not mean peace, Al Qaeda is just part of the threat, and “democracy” is not the aspiration for millions of Muslims in the Arab world, our policy experts on both sides of the political aisle keep trying to hide behind mindless slogans and repeating the same old tired rhetoric.  Parsing takes the place of facing up to the failures and wrong-headed analyses and policies.

Being stuck facing gloating Islamist nuts gleefully displaying beheaded Americans, one can almost feel our leaders reacting like George Orwell in his story, “Shooting An Elephant” and let’s hope President Obama, a weak and ineffectual leader, does not follow the same course:

“I got up. The Burmans were already racing past me across the mud. It was obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not dead. He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his great mound of a side painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide open – I could see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be. The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured breathing continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further. I felt that I had got to put an end to that dreadful noise. It seemed dreadful to see the great beast Lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression. The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock.”

“In the end I could not stand it any longer and went away. I heard later that it took him half an hour to die. Burmans were bringing dash and baskets even before I left, and I was told they had stripped his body almost to the bones by the afternoon.”

“Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.”

Craig Whiteside over at War on the Rocks, laid out the background on the internal dynamics in Iraq, “Obama Shouldn’t Lose His Cool Over The Islamic State”, and he concludes:

“One can look at the chaos in Libya to see that airstrikes cannot be a stand-alone solution, regardless of how much a group “deserves” that kind of attention. If we couple an expanded airstrike campaign with steps aimed at the elimination of militias and reduction in the Iranian presence inside Iraq (including proxies), we can help the Iraqi government convince (once again) the Sunni reconcilables to return. The consequences of failure are ten years of warfare over exactly how Iraq will be “partitioned,” a reduction in oil production and a rise in global energy prices, and a worsening of the sectarian civil war that is threatening the entire region. This is the time to “think slow”and not just react out of anger for the Foley/Sotloff tragedies and other IS atrocities.”

Just last week news reports on another American attack following the same “leadership decapitation strategy”, which John Brennan and President Obama rely on as their silver bullet approach was reported, “Pentagon: Airstrike kills terror leader in Somalia”.   Hooray, we killed another #1 in an Al Qaeda affiliate, but Al Shabaab responded:

“Al-Shabaab’s new leader is Ahmed Omar Abu Ubaidah, spokesman Sheikh Ali Dheere said in an audio message posted online.”

“He is the group’s third leader and was characterized as a low-ranking commander. No other information was available.”

Alas, Nightwatch printed a very insightful comment on this approach 11/7/13.  So in case John Brennan and the CIA didn’t see it, here it is:

 “It also highlights a degenerative leadership pattern resulting from the US program of leadership decapitation. First, there is always someone waiting for the chance to be leader. Second, the new leaders are less experienced and wise than the men they replace. Third, the new generation of leaders is more extreme and theologically rigid than its predecessors. Finally, the new leaders tend to be unknown to intelligence relative to their predecessors. Decapitation is not a permanent solution to an insurgency or an uprising.”

Eureka, JK’s formula, “AQI>ISIL>ISIS>IS”, hummmm “more extreme and theologically rigid than its predecessors”, sound familiar?

Now is the time to start reading our own intelligence reports, study the lessons learned reports, talk to people outside our own comfortable niche of policy “experts” and begin to form a broader, long-term strategic framework.   The voice that has never wavered on the big picture threat we face, Andrew McCarthy, states:

“The same has also always been true of the ideological/doctrinal divide between Sunni and Shiite jihadists. For example, al-Qaeda has had cooperative and operational relations with Iran since the early 1990s. Iran collaborated with al-Qaeda in the 1996 Khobar Towers attack that killed 19 U.S. airmen; probably in the 9/11 attacks; certainly in the aftermath of 9/11; and in the Iraq and Afghan insurgencies. Al-Qaeda would not be what it is today without state sponsorship, particularly from Iran. The Islamic State might not exist at all.”

“The point is that al-Qaeda has never been anything close to the totality of the jihadist threat. Nor, now, is the Islamic State. The challenge has always been Islamic supremacism: the ideology, the jihadists that are the point of the spear, and the state sponsors that enable jihadists to project power. The challenge cannot be met effectively by focusing on one element to the exclusion of others.”  (The Islamic State Is Nothing New, National Review Online 9/3/14)

Let’s not keep shooting elephants to avoid looking a fool.



Filed under Culture Wars, Foreign Policy, General Interest, Islam, Military, Politics

4 responses to “Let’s not keep shooting elephants to avoid looking a fool

  1. JK

    I suppose I should check my thesaurus for synonyms for ‘another superb post’ but I have the suspicion that’d simply add to my commenting ‘must-do list’. One cautionary LB, researching outside “the echo-chamber” is a cacophony.

    In that vein, just a note on Mr. Whiteside’s (WOTR) article – paragraph 5, wherein he alludes to al-Baghdadi’s “background remains murky.” I realize some number of interested persons remain a little in the dark, as they “Search Engine Research” that very background.
    Copied and pasted from an email sent to somebody who’d queried. WOTR’s noted article’s paragraph 5 embedded link leads to a NYT piece, some valuable stuff there but:

    There is one error I noticed immediately in the above NYT piece here:

    “The Pentagon says that Mr. Baghdadi, after being arrested in Falluja in early 2004, was released that December with a large group of other prisoners deemed low level. But Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi scholar who has researched Mr. Baghdadi’s life, sometimes on behalf of Iraqi intelligence, said that Mr. Baghdadi had spent five years in an American detention facility where, like many ISIS fighters now on the battlefield, he became more radicalized.”

    The Pentagon claim of “less than a year’s detention” is correct – if as al-Hashimi, the Iraqi scholar claims, “Baghdadi spent five years in American detention” he wouldn’t have been out and about, able to get quoted in the very first sentence of the Introduction of West Point’s CTC release (2007) of Iraq’s Foreign Fighters [sometimes identified as The Sinjar Records] as follows:

    “On December 4, 2007 Abu Umar al‐Baghdadi, the reputed Emir of al‐Qa’ida’s Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), claimed that his organization was almost purely Iraqi, containing only 200 foreign fighters.”

  2. You sure are quick with the timelines and discrepancies JK. Thank-you for that excellent bit of detective work. Glad you liked this post and see you even recommended that Orwell short story a long while back and now it fit in perfectly here, lol. Thankfully, like you JK, I bookmark everything imaginable, just in case later I might make use of it. You know regards al Baghdadi some US commanders in Iraq were convinced he was a mythical figure and not a real person, due to the many aliases and conflicting information. All the “murkiness” adds to their aura of mystique and invincibility, until like that Al Qaeda mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, we see them in stark reality. Then the picture is less-flattering and not so awe-inspiring (see the above photo – mysterious-looking, to the captured photo, where he looks like John Belushi after a night of partying http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khalid_Sheikh_Mohammed).

  3. JK

    … some US commanders in Iraq were convinced he was a mythical figure and not a real person …

    Yup. Some did until Musab al Zawqari got AQI “effectively decapitated” leading to al-Baghdadi’s first re-labeling of AQI > ISI then – well you know … kinda late in the evening and I’m tired of having to remember all these guys correct [approximate/variational] name spellings.

    My eternal gratitude to you LB for your bookmarking – too often having to reply to some forgetful, “Who? You’re gonna have to get me in the ballpark, I can’t possibly save every email” is pert near woeful.

  4. Pingback: Suggested Reading | libertybelle diaries

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