Middle East

  • ISIS, Islamic Extremism, and the Long War (by Francis Rooney)

Regardless of various opinions about the United States’ military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, I would argue that President Bush’s words to a joint session of Congress on 20 September of that year ring just as true and valuable now: “We are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom” against an onslaught by terrorists practicing “a fringe form of Islamic extremism”.

Recent unconscionable acts of violence by Islamic militants, including beheadings and burnings alive not heard of for hundreds of years, demand broad and possibly unique means of response and concerted action by the modern world. Certainly the “overseas contingency operation” with which the Obama Administration replaced the “Global War on Terror” in May 2009 has failed to accomplish the task. Now ISIS leaders openly threaten to “conquer your Rome, break your crosses and enslave your women.” 

Not since the Communist state of Stalin, or perhaps the Third Reich, have we faced such a potential, or at least self-proclaimed, existential threat to the modern world. It required a half century of containment to mutate the former and a brutal world war to eradicate the latter.

The religious inspiration behind ISIS, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and affiliated groups add a different face to the movements which call for responses broader than purely military activity. Recalling President Truman’s unsuccessful effort to draw the world’s religions into the fight against communism, we need to draw religious leaders from all traditions—especially the vast majority of Muslims who do not align themselves with the medieval barbarism of the terrorists—into open and concerted action in opposition to the threat posed here.

In the early 1950s, Truman found only one group, the Catholic Church, willing to broadly and openly attack communism. In 2006, it was Pope Benedict XVI who spoke out more clearly and aggressively against the evil of using religion to inspire hatred and violence—and of the fundamental incompatibility of the Prophet’s command to “spread the word by the sword” with the way of life in the modern 21st century. He urged the Islamic world to reconcile the Koran with modernity, to bring reason to its interpretations just as the Enlightenment did for theocratic monarchies in the 18th century. He made it clear that moderate Muslims must take responsibility for their own religion.

And while there have been some encouraging comments, inter-religious dialogues, and op-eds to this effect, we are still in the early stages of a protracted struggle for the minds of heretofore not radicalized muslims. The “soft power” of religious opinion makers is an important factor. In fact, some have argued as Ambassador Charles Freeman (USFS, Ret.) has that “only a coalition with a strong Muslim identity can hope to contain” the terrorists. He argues that the doctrines of ISIS cannot be successfully refuted by non-Muslims because the U.S. “lacks the religious credentials to refute” Islamic terrorist groups as “a moral perversion of Islam.”

The lack of cultural integration in different nations’ societies also presents a major challenge. Whether it is European “multiculturalism,” or an affirmative prejudice, the lack of alignment of many Muslim groups with the national identities and cultures of their countries has created a breeding ground for radicalization. Here is where our unique American “exceptionalism” can show the light. Our “melting pot” tradition of assimilation of diverse peoples has created—despite some bumps in the road—a uniquely broad and culturally tolerant society. And the related concept of citizenship based on residence and personal actions rather than blood and lineage can serve as a powerful model.

As the world gropes for solutions, it has become clear that concerted action by the modern world, akin to the Allied Powers’ collaborative actions to confront the Axis, is absolutely necessary. Spain and France recently passed bi-partisan laws granting expansive powers to the authorities to monitor and interdict internet connectivity with radical Islamic sites, to isolate and track down “lone wolf” terrorists, and to restrict and contain travel to and from places of known terrorist activities. Modifying the Schengen visa program and putting in place tightened border security are issues to consider as means of improving tracking of known terrorist suspects.

Lastly, we should consider a “containment” and isolation program to ring fence the terrorist geographies, turn them onto themselves and limit their capacity to export murder beyond their borders. In so doing, perhaps we can help assure that their neighbors who are our allies in all this (especially Jordan) are reinforced and protected. Turkey has a powerful role to play both because of their long land border with Syria and Iraq, and due to the complexities presented by the PKK in Turkey and the evolution of Kurdistan and its Peshmerga, which are capable fighters and allies of the West. Only a comprehensive strategy can turn the tide and lead us to ultimate victory in the Long War.

  • Is this War Yet? (by Francis Rooney)

Contrary to the constrained and parsed language that the Obama administration uses to describe the terror radiating from the Middle East, we are at war.  The terror attacks in France only underscore this reality.  This is a struggle for the values and freedoms the Western world holds dear.  The modern secular state where all religious faiths are respected, and the rights of all men and women are to be protected, is under siege.  These attacks are neither sporadic “episodes,” nor are they merely criminal.  We confront a locally and regionally organized movement with a unifying ideology and global ambitions.

While the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and their ilk are in some ways more complicated than traditional nation states, the underlying ideology has echoes of mid-20th Century fascism.  There is tyranny in the beating heart of both movements.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton correctly noted that the enemy are “jihadists,” but shied away from conceding that it is unmistakably and by its own description Islamic.  You can argue whether the wave of terror that began with the Iranian Revolution and reached new heights with the Islamic State attacks on France is truly inspired by a perverted interpretation of Islam, or rather the cynical and calculated manipulation of religion for the purpose of hegemonic conquest.  Either way, the result is largely the same.  The Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and the constellation of Islamic extremist groups that orbit around them have spread fear across the world.  They have imposed a significant “security tax” on free societies.  And they have seized significant territory across North Africa and the Middle East.

The question confronting all free societies targeted by these extremists is whether to declare war against those who are waging war against us.  If so, what is the best means to mount the kind of wartime response traditionally associated with nation state conflicts?

One possible measure would be an embargo that cuts off extremist held territory in Iraq and Syria from the rest of the world: No cross border movement, no flights in and out, no connection with the global commons.  This would essentially treat extremist held territory as a belligerent nation, and it might well entail recognizing the already de facto partition of Iraq and Syria into their Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions.  Islamic State leaders believe they occupy a Caliphate, so why should they avoid measures that traditionally constrain aggressor nations?

More punishing measures could also target any governments or non-governmental organizations that nurture or support the terrorists, including the governments of many of our Sunni allies in the Middle East.  Even indirect or private support for a radical movement that has declared war on the civilized world should carry a heavy cost, one that creates an incentive for these nations to become part of the solution to a problem that is in many respects of their own making.  In short, cut off the money, dry up support, and starve the extremist movement.

The plight of innocent people in areas occupied or contested by these extremists is a humanitarian tragedy on an almost incomprehensible scale.  While all innocent people driven from their homes or persecuted by these extremists deserve our help and support, the plight of Christians in this regard is unconscionable.  The world needs to help all of the displaced persons created from this conflict, but the ultimate answer to their suffering is to stop the wanton violence and destruction so that they can return home.

A good place to start is the “No Fly Zone” and safe corridor in Syria which Governor Jeb Bush and others have endorsed.  Such a safe haven could offer a means to bring humanitarian aid to the displaced, stem the current refugee tide, and serve as a base of operations for more moderate forces opposed to the extremists.

This sad chapter in human affairs will pass, but decisions and actions are urgently needed to hasten the day when the Islamic State and its fellow travelers take their rightful place on the ash heap of history, alongside other extremist movements like fascism, imperialism, and communism.  As in past wars, free peoples will ultimately prevail so long as free nations stand united against tyranny, recognizing it under whatever black flag it travels.  Appeasement and parsed language, such as we have repeatedly seen from the Obama administration, will not deter hardened jihadists.


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