I’m posting this on Sept. 15, because Tuesday, September 11 remains too fraught.
Right on time, we are bombing Iraq again. We’ve been doing this for over 20 years over four administrations. Bombing is much more politically palatable than actually invading. Counting the effectiveness and the dead of bombing is simply not our problem.
We aren’t just bombing Iraq this time. We are also bombing Syria, since our putative enemy, ISIS, is doing a workable job at overthrowing last year’s villain, Bashar Al-Assad, the hereditary leader of Syria. We want Assad out, as we see killing a hundred thousand citizens to maintain sovereignty as unacceptable. Assad is fighting for his sovereign right to lead his own people. To him, our offense at his slaughter is just presumptuous. ISIS doesn’t have the ability to overthrow Syria, but they are carving out a hunk of it. Since they have a Caliph on their side, they feel like they’re on a mission from God. And we feel emboldened to bomb, or drone-strike them because they’ve been taking territory in a brutal sort of way. Nothing out of the ordinary for 1500s Europe. We would prefer everyone do their mass killings remotely it seems.
That risible knot of bedfellows is just a skim and prelude to my real question: “If we are fighting a war on terror, what does it mean to win it”? I claim that the way to win it is to convince them that jihad is not the highest and best use of their time. This is not the same thing as defeating them militarily
The important thing about Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Taliban, Boko Haram, Salafists, and Al-Shabab is that they are not states. They may be trying to usurp their states, and their states may be cowing before them, as with our “Christian” evangelists, but they are not interested in the day to day operations of a state.
They are interested in a cause. The Taliban melted into the Afghan populace when we invaded 12 years ago. I’m pretty sure they’ll reappear the week we leave. They see that the American military is good at fighting states, not people.
And that the problem with a “war on Terror”. Terror is not a state, it is a voice. Terrorism is voice by other means. When people feel like they have no need to express themselves and be heard, they resort to terrorism to insist that they are. Bombing them does not convince them that their view are heeded.
The recent bombing of the Gaza Strip reminded me of a feature of mid eastern country that makes them especially restive, their age. The majority of people in poorer countries are under 20 years old, and they don’t see a lot of old people around to the give them hope for their own futures. Add to this a very limited economy and dictatorial police and leadership, and you have a lot of youth going through puberty with not much to do and a real hatred of the way things are. They cast about for people to blame and people to connect with in their blame. And Jihad is a ready receptacle, like religious movements have always been in times of need.
* These dictators always hog the spotlight
People with lots of youth are likely to be hungry for things to believe in, without the tempering wisdom of elders with the authority and wisdom to tell them otherwise. Nations with a disproportionate share of youth can be incredibly creative and prosperous, as the US was a century ago and Asia was a decade ago. Or they can be incredibly destructive
Bombing ISIS only confirms their conviction that they have an eternal enemy. If we want them to stop being terrorists, we need to stop making their case for them.