I have many thoughts about the events in Paris, and about the reaction in our country. The thoughts are mine, but they’re based on research and my developing perspective on how stuff works. Organizing those thoughts has challenged me, so the structure may not be great. Anyway, here goes:
Nothing Justifies the Actions of Those Who Killed 140+ People and Wounded Hundreds More. I know I’m offering up a “duh” comment. I state the obvious, however, because many of my words will upset people, and I want to be clear about the fact that explanations do not justify murder. For those who need it twice: Explanation ≠ justification.
The Problems Are Decades or More in the Making. Many commentators link last week’s attacks to the Iraq War. Others blame President Obama’s “decision” to withdraw troops from Iraq. (Leaving aside for a moment the relationship between starting the war, leaving Iraq, and Paris, Eugene Kiely for FactCheck.org provides an excellent analysis of the responsibility for the troop withdrawal in Bush, Clinton Play Blame Game in Iraq. Highlights? W agreed on a 2011 withdrawal, in writing. Obama tried to renegotiate, and the deal fell apart over protecting U.S. troops from Iraqi courts.)
I don’t think the Iraq War or the troop withdrawal are primary causes for Paris, or any of the many other terror acts we’ve faced (and the many, many more we will surely face.)* The Western World—and, especially, the United States—has used Arab nations and Iran as filling stations, supporting our commitment to a lifestyle driven by, well, driving. To get our oil in a dependable way, we have had to support governments which, almost always, do not support our values. (Saudi Arabia is an ally, yes, but it treats its citizens badly.) Support them we did (and do), however, for any upset interrupts the flow.
Another issue factors into the mix. From the late 1940s until the late 1980s—four decades—our diplomacy focused on containing the Soviet Union. We orchestrated a coup in Iran in 1953, getting rid of the progressive Prime Minister, Mohammed Mosaddegh. We meddled in Chile in 1973, helping to overthrow President Salvador Allende, a Socialist. We did Afghanistan in the 1970s. And then, of course, there was that war in Southeast Asia. In all of these and many other instances, our leadership—both parties own this one, by the way—saw a binary set of options. Align with US, or with the USSR. Choose US and we’re your friend; otherwise, watch out!
Finally, for almost 60 years we have supported Israel. Great choice! Unfortunately, that decision—coupled with a phenomenally successful six–day war in 1967 and its disastrous 49 year follow-on occupancy—has created an environment which is, to be most kind, “not helpful!” I know there are commentators who parse motives and issues, and ISIL-Daesh does not focus much on Israel, but people have lots of stuff going on in their heads. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians does not solve the terror situation, but there’s no solution to the global terror issues if there’s no peace involving Israel.
You reap what you sow. Galations 6:7-8. For many decades the United States and other first world nations have been more concerned with the top than the bottom. But for foreign aid—much of which gets lost when we send it to corrupt leaders in nations we support—we have spent little energy or time on issues which concern the masses. So we shouldn’t too terribly surprised to find out these people are more than little bit pissed off. And if hopeless stays constant for many generations, watch out!
They’re Not All the Same, Just Because They’re All Muslims. You’ll have to give me something pretty effing conclusive before I will ever believe the Bush 44 Administration knew from Sunni v. Shia. Experts surely appreciated the differences, but the decision-making process concerning the Middle East from about 10 a.m. on 9/11/2001 through March 19, 2003—when the United States invaded Iraq—was “expert free.”
Why does this matter? If you don’t understand a situation, you won’t deal with it effectively. Our policies, for too long, have failed to appreciate the subtleties of the Moslem world. Terror groups have their own agendas, which are often in conflict with one another. I believe the Obama Administration knows and understands these difference; too many others don’t.
We Can’t Win This War By Killing People. On Monday, November 16, President Obama had a press conference in Antalya, Turkey. Here’s the transcript. In it he said much, but for me the takeaway moment occurred when, in response to a question from Margaret Brennan of CBS, he said, in part:
But understand that one of the challenges we have in this situation is, is that if you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people. That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weapon that they possess, but it is the ideology that they carry with them and their willingness to die. And in those circumstances, tracking each individual, making sure that we are disrupting and preventing these attacks is a constant effort at vigilance, and requires extraordinary coordination.
It surely feels passive to just leave the matter to the hard work associated with tracking, disrupting, and preventing, as well as much of the rest of what’s being done. We need to go bomb someone. Or send troops a la Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), both of whom would have us in about a dozen wars, if anyone paid attention to them. That’s what Americans want and expect, for it feels good and reaffirms our powerfulness.**
Sugar Works Better than Vinegar. No kindness should be directed at the terrorists. They should be hunted down, and shown no mercy at all. However, there are 1,600,000,000 Moslems in the world. Almost all of them don’t like bombings and shootings any more than we do. Further, most of the bombings and shootings occur in Moslem nations, and most of the victims are Moslems. So, the shit we hear from morons like Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Donald Trump, and so many others helps us not at all. We should be joining hands with Moslems to solve a problem we all face!
We’ve Got a Deep Hole, and Filling Deep Holes Takes a Long, Long Time. We live for quick fixes. Our lives revolve around 24-hour news cycles, and for long-term thinking we focus on national elections every two years. That won’t work here. We need a plan which reflects what knowledgeable people know about the Middle East. We need buy-in from both parties and the public, and a commitment to follow through on the plan for as long as it takes, subject to making adjustments on “as needed” basis.
Now, I could also use about $1,000,000. The likelihood that I’ll get it—somewhere between slim and not at all, and slim is not around—greatly exceeds the likelihood that we’ll come together around a plan, and stick with it for the time it will take to change the status quo. So, sadly, I think we’re stuck with the world in which we live, with no likelihood that it’ll get better soon.
*Invading Iraq was a trigger for what we have now. As bad as Saddam Hussein was, he made the trains run on time. And then there’s the Pottery Barn rule, attributed to former Secretary of State Colin Powell: “You break it, you own it.” I don’t think invading Iraq was a primary contributor to the terror we see today, any than I see the more immediate trigger—leaving Iraq because it would not provide immunity from the Iraqi justice system—as a primary contributor. That said, what we face today and the connections with Iraq should remind everyone that the world is very complicated. It’s easy to break stuff, and whether you’re accountable for broken stuff or not, the world we inhabit is complicated and dangerous. (Frankly, it’s far too complicated for the easy answers I read about after each and every Republican Party Presidential Debate.)
**Many terror attacks have surely been foiled here and in Europe, and the fact that we don’t hear about them is totally understandable, for it is bad trade craft to announce such things.