Small World: A time of testing


Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

There is a school of political scientists that argues candidates for high office ought to be selected by examination rather than ballot.  Not a very significant or noisy school, to be sure, but it’s a thesis that bears examination. Let’s say those in the presidential contest were sat down behind desks for an essay exam. Let’s say the subject was a frequently discussed one: How would you, dear candidate, deal with the terrorist Islamic State (ISIL)? Their answers (unidentified as to author) are taken from their many pronouncements; the comments are my red pencil notes thereon.

Bring back torture, starting with water boarding. Apart from violating international and national law, this idea — according to experienced experts — doesn’t work. A committed terrorist either won’t talk or will mislead.

Surge the number of intelligence agents working the problem. In my data collecting/analyzing experience, CIA officers prided themselves on doing more with less or fewer. Enlarging the bureaucracy is not apt to generate efficiency.

Carpet bomb the area; make the desert sands glow. Could there be a reason why our military hasn’t turned to this option? Could it have to do with turning innocent civilians who suffer losses into newly minted, vengeful terrorists?

Go after the terrorists’ kinfolk. The Russians regularly apply this option against the Chechens and, reportedly, it sometimes seems to work. The Israelis destroy family homes and have been doing it without winning their struggle over 50 years. But, when it comes to the United States, our ideology rejects punishing the innocent for the crimes of others, kin or not.

Push regional Arab states into taking effective action against ISIL. The starting point for this initiative is the fact that ISIL and its mates were originally funded and assisted by Sunni supporters in the Gulf and Turkey. Although their attitudes might have changed somewhat, they regard Shia Iran, not their fellow Sunni ISIL, as their chief enemy. Additionally, when, at the same time, it is suggested that the United States might put the squeeze on Saudi Arabia for more dough, that kind of pressure is unlikely to produce a willing and cooperative ally.

Ban Moslem immigrants from our shores. Assuming we want the help of Moslem Near Easterners, this kind of blanket insult is unlikely to generate warm friendship among intended allies. The 1.2 billion members of the faith will feel collectively insulted.

Patrol Moslem neighborhoods in the United States and record dwellers therein on a database. Ditto.

Tear up or renegotiate the nuclear deal with Iran and avoid any cooperation with Tehran. We have few real and effective allies in the fight against ISIL. Iran is one of them. It makes no sense to turn them away, just as it makes no sense to join Turkey in hostility towards the Kurds who are the best fighters against ISIL.

The Assad regime, backed by Russia, has to go. Leaving what kind of governance behind? If the Syrian state is beaten, ISIL and other militant Sunni and secular groups will fight over the spoils. The United States and its allies will face a far more difficult challenge from a failed state housing terrorists than from one that has structure and a degree of order.

What’s missing from the Test Responses? Not one of the aspirants for the job defending America prescribes the use of U.S. forces on the ground to wipe out the enemy. That tells you something about how seriously this Middle Eastern threat is perceived vis-a-vis an aroused and unhappy electorate

In none of the discussions (with the some time exception of Bernie Sanders) is there any effort to relate ISIL to its origins and current manpower sources in the corrupt and bumbling autocracies of the Middle East and slums of Western Europe. (For an enlightening description of some young men who sign up, see the article on Exporting Jihad by George Packer in the March 28 New Yorker.) Nor is there (excepting Sanders) much discussion of the consequences of the disastrous Bush initiative to invade and rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan.

Once the facts of history are set forth, the question becomes what is to be done about not repeating them. That, alas, is another question no one wants to try to answer in a sound bite campaign.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer. This essay first appeared in LobeLog.

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