Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How should America react to the ISIS-produced video beheadings of journalists?

Photo credits: public domain.
In a recent email conversation, a friend and I exchanged concerns about the flare-up of violence throughout the Middle East and where it might lead. My friend despaired of ever understanding the roots of war in that area. In reply, I noted the readiness to kill one another off for religious differences among various sectarian factions in the area.

All too often leaders of the opposition party in the U.S., media reps, and ranting Facebook or other social media participants plunge in to take sides in one conflict or another, frequently offering unqualified recommendations for intervention by the United States. That’s why it’s always such a relief to read NY Times op-ed columnist Tom Friedman’s analysis of foreign affairs. Friedman has the intellect and knowledge to grasp the complexity of Middle East conflicts and offer a few wise insights, even in response to the evil forces motivating the ISIS beheadings of journalists.

Friedman writes:

President Obama has been excoriated for declaring that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for effectively confronting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. In criticizing Obama for taking too much time, Representative Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told “Fox News Sunday” that “this ‘don’t-do-stupid-stuff’ policy isn’t working.” That sounded odd to my ear — like we should just bomb somebody, even if it is stupid. If Obama did that, what would he be ignoring?

First, experience. After 9/11 that sort of “fire, ready, aim” approach led George W. Bush to order a ground war in Iraq without sufficient troops to control the country, without a true grasp of Iraq’s Shiite-Sunni sectarian dynamics, and without any realization that, in destroying the Sunni Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Sunni Baathist regime in Iraq, we were destroying both of Iran’s mortal enemies and thereby opening the way for a vast expansion of Iran’s regional influence. We were in a hurry, myself included, to change things after 9/11, and when you’re in a hurry you ignore complexities that come back to haunt you later.

There are no words to describe the vileness of the video beheadings of two American journalists by ISIS, but I have no doubt that they’re meant to get us to overreact, à la 9/11, and rush off again without a strategy. ISIS is awful, but it is not a threat to America’s homeland.

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