Monday, November 03, 2014

We've Seen This Movie Before


Stephen Harper has made an initial six month commitment to the war in Iraq. If anyone thinks the war will be over in six months, Jeffrey Simpson writes, he or she has been smoking something funny:

Last week, the U.S. military and civilian leadership gave an off-the-record briefing in Baghdad. The New York Times reported the briefers saying it will be a “multiyear” campaign. In Syria, the briefers predicted that no ground campaign against the Islamic State could begin for 12 to 18 months.

In the words of Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “the basic goal of degrading and defeating the Islamic State always bordered on the ridiculous.” Air attacks, a more effective Iraqi army and even an improvement in the so-called “moderate” Syrian forces would still leave “some form of violent Islamic extremism.” He says U.S. military officials have told him “that the struggle against violent religious extremism would go on for years, if not more than a decade.”

That kind of commitment will cost money. And last week the prime minister's proposed  tax cuts sliced the surplus in half. Harper is increasingly looking and sounding like George W. Bush. The parallels are particularly pertinent when it comes to understanding the situation Harper has pompously walked into:

In an excellent survey for the RAND Corp., Seth Jones has underlined how “Salafist-jihadi” groups have grown in size and number. Since al-Qaeda first gained international notoriety, these groups have split into four types: al-Qaeda itself, headquartered in Pakistan; groups affiliated with al-Qaeda whose leaders have sworn loyalty to it; other Salafist-jihadi groups; and inspired individuals (perhaps such as the Canadian terrorists who killed two soldiers last week) and networks.

Lumping these groups together is a fundamental mistake easily made by the media and politicians swimming in their own rhetoric. For example, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s leader, cut off all ties between his organization and the Islamic State in February because it would not accept his leadership.

Groups affiliated with al-Qaeda exist in Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Algeria. These groups, and other sorts of terrorist organizations, differ greatly about how much, if at all, to target Western countries and interests. Some wish to concentrate on the “near enemy,” states near to where they operate; others do want to strike Western interests that represent the “far enemy.”

Years after the the United States left Vietnam in humiliation, Robert McNamara admitted that the fundamental mistake American leaders made was not understanding their enemy.

We've seen this movie before.


Lorne said...

it seems to me that an even more fundamental error is the West's hubris in thinking it can still actually change the course of events in the world, Owen. Recent history suggests otherwise, but those lessons are, I guess, an inconvenient truth to be ignored.

Owen Gray said...

Our leaders continue to insist that they can bend history to their will, Lorne.

That's a fundamental misreading of history.

Lulymay said...

Oh, Lorne, I don't think these birds really want to actually change the course of events, as much as they just want to zig zag for a while until their supporters have made a few gazillion bucks, then reverse gears and run the whole process over again, then take another run back at it. It's all about making money, not making the world safer or even people safer. Who else would they sell their war machines to?

I just met a young man today who has been in Canada for 9 months and started working in a bank about a month ago. I asked him what country he came from and he said it was Iran. I mentioned that he must be happy he's not still over there, given what is happening now. He told me that it really wasn't a problem within the population, but rather, none of them likes their government. I told him "not to worry", we don't like ours. So much for any stability just about anywhere these days.

Owen Gray said...

The prime directive for these folks has always been self interest, Lulymay.

When you strip away the rhetoric, it's always been about getting the biggest piece of the pie.