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How ISIS Suckered the West

byMaajid Nawaz

LONDON — It began with the refugee crisis. Photographs of dead children being washed ashore shook the international community’s new isolationist convictions.

But it was the jihadist attacks in Paris on Friday the 13th that united politicians from across the divide. Few now believe that what happens in Raqqa, stays in Raqqa.

Socialist French President François Hollande asked conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron to come to his aid bombing ISIS in Syria. The British prime minister supported a French-sponsored UN Security Council resolutionbacking such airstrikes last week. Cameron is now preparing to put the vote to the UK Parliament, probably this Wednesday. The Obama-led  “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” foreign policy is finally unraveling.

Despite this shift in momentum, President Barack Obama made it clear in his G20 speechimmediately after the Paris attacks that he would not budge from his current Syria policy. Apparently, he thinks it’s still working. And while, at 48 percent, a near majority of Britain’s public is now in favor of airstrikes, 22 percent remain undecided, and Cameron is yet short on votes in Parliament. The far-left leader of his opposition, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, also remains firmly opposed to any such strikes.

The jury is out as to whether any of the more centrist Labour Parliamentarians will rebel to vote alongside Cameron.

Here’s why they should, and in writing this, I appeal to them directly.

Over a decade ago Osama bin Laden, the late founding father of this global jihadist insurgency, predicted our coming political paralysis in the West.

Bin Laden’s world view was not informed by any addiction to random savagery, but by something more akin to calculated sociopathy. He divided his enemy into the “near” and the “far.” His decision to globalize his “jihad” was informed by his belief that Arab rulers, the “near enemy”—and his real target—could not be overthrown until their Western backers, the “far enemy,” abandoned them.

To achieve this, “the West” needed to feel the cost of its support for Arab rulers in the only terms they understood: body bags. And as the casualties began to escalate, Bin Laden relished the disastrous American overreach in Iraq under George W. Bush. Bin Laden believed that this overreach would provoke Muslims to rise up en masse and join his “jihad,” making it impossible for the international community to maintain any presence in the Middle East. This fight would cause international fatigue from war, leading to the withdrawal and abandonment by the West of its Arab allies.

Bin Laden’s vision of a Middle East abandoned by the international community has indeed come to pass. This is largely due to the mistakes under Bush, and the Left is right to be wary of the lessons learned from this episode.

However, where the Bush administration rushed headlong directly into the jihadist snare, the international community is now sleep walking towards a precipice. Led by Obama, the world has remained slow in responding to ISIS. But, again, this is exactly what Bin Laden wanted to happen. As the Western “far enemy” withdrew in exhaustion, Bin Laden believed that the “near enemy,” Arab rulers, would be left alone to fend off the jihadist uprising he would provoke. Arab rulers would be powerless to stop it. And once overthrown, a “caliphate” could be declared in their wake, wherein Islamism would reign supreme.

The only snag in Bin Laden’s strategy was that with his death, ISIS broke away from al Qaeda, usurped its mantle, and declared this “caliphate” as their own. Other than that, Bin Laden pretty much envisioned what would happen over the last 15 years. And each time, we in the international community have obligingly fulfilled our role in his grand strategy. For each time, we have woefully misunderstood, and underestimated, our enemy.

There could have been no greater evidence of misdiagnosis than the now defunct State Department term “al-Qaeda inspired extremism” to describe the problem. No, al Qaeda did not inspire extremism, Islamist extremism inspired al Qaeda, and then ISIS, and will continue to inspire others, until it is rendered intellectually obsolete.

The world faces a global jihadist insurgency, working to a well-thought-out operational strategy, and fed by an Islamist ideological conviction that remains appealing enough among Muslims. Bombing ISIS in Raqqa alone will not solve the problem of ISIS. Airstrikes in Raqqa may weaken ISIS operational capacity, but cannot defeat its appeal. What is needed is a comprehensive global counter-insurgency strategy. But this comprehensive strategy must not exclude bombing. And that’s why the British Parliament should authorize the UN-approved use of military force in Raqqa.

Alongside airstrikes, it is high time to put aside the politically motivated agenda to sideline the Kurds. Yes, this will be uncomfortable for our allies the Turks, and the Iraqi regime, but to date the Kurds have proven themselves, over and over again—in northern Iraq, Kobani and Sinjar—to be the only effective fighting force on the ground against ISIS. If given a chance, a Kurdish state could rise to become the only democratic, secular Muslim-majority state in the Middle East. This would set an example, and could go on to become a torch light for the region. It is inexcusable that our diplomacy has until now neglected the possibilities this presents. 

Airstrikes must also be supported by an international ground force. These would number a few thousand, not tens of thousands, and ideally be fronted by Sunni Arabs. These Sunni Arabs should be backed by an international squad of special forces and support staff. The aim would be to dislodge ISIS from its capitals of Mosul and Raqqa.

A NATO component invoking Article 5 and the doctrine of “collective defense” could be invoked to involve Turkey, who should be invited to form part of this nascent international coalition. In return, the Turks must also be pressed to come to terms with the Kurds, and retreat from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman vision and courting of Islamists in the region. Sunni ground troops would then be able to establish safe zones inside Syria, thus providing sanctuary, and stemming the unmanageable flow of refugees through Turkey and into Europe, while providing territory in which to train and reequip the Sunni-Arab fighters. 

Beyond ISIS, the question of what to do with Assad in Syria remains. As part of a deal with Russia and Iran, the Syrian regime should be kept intact, to avoid the abyss that engulfed post-Saddam Iraq. But, put simply, Assad must go. There will be no peace while Assad remains in power. Likewise, the international community must simultaneously oversee the eventual disarming of all militia as part of any peace deal that absorbed them into a new Syrian Federation. As Libya demonstrates, armed militia will ruin any fragile peace within the blink of an eye.

A Syria and Iraq strategy cannot succeed divorced from a regional strategy. ISIS still has a strong hold in Libya, and could fall back there. Sisi’s Egypt must be encouraged to work with the transitional Libyan government in common purpose against ISIS, while liberalizing, and absorbing their respective opposition.

But none of this will work anywhere if Arab civil society is not supported in challenging the appeal of Islamism at the grass roots. ISIS is merely one of the manifestations of a global jihadist insurgency, which in turn is merely the violent spasm of Islamism taking root in the region. No insurgency survives this long without significant enough support on the ground, and it is this support that must be sapped. Counter-Islamism and democratic reform on the Arab street are the only way forward. The alternative to Islamist theocracy cannot be more Arab monarchy.

If President Obama had a strategy of his own, it would do well to look a bit like the above. The pendulum swing towards excessive intervention can be just as damaging as the excessive pendulum swing against it. Doing nothing can also mean allowing something terrible to be done to us, by others. Hence, the Popepontificating that we find ourselves in World War III.

The need for a strategy may sound like an academic dispute, but in practice the lack of one means losing the initiative and allowing our enemy—in this case jihadists of all bents—to seize the initiative. Adding the tactical ability to strike at the ISIS capital in Raqqa would only strengthen our options, not diminish them. For a strategy means developing our own vision for the region, and working towards achieving it tactically. Without one, we are doing exactly what the jihadists want, every time. Courtsey---The Daily Beast