Sunday, 15 November 2015
15 years into the "war on terror" we still have no plan
Whatever you may or may not think of any of these terrorist groups, there is one undeniable fact. We are no nearer to getting to grip with the threat that these groups pose. When billions have been spent over such a long period surely the time has come to ask why we are failing so miserably. The answer is plain for all to see. It is impossible to deal with anything without some sort of plan. We don't have one. As someone who is living with cancer, a simple analogy is available. I have a small tumour in my prostate. I have the choice between dealing with this whilst it is small or waiting until it grows and invades the rest of my body. Ever since I discovered the problem, I've changed my lifestyle and tried to remove as many of the factors which promote cancer from my life as possible. I am also about to embark on treatment. In short I have a plan.
The only plan our governments seem to have is to attack the symptoms. The Drone strike on Jihadi John is perhaps the latest example. The guy was clearly a deranged sadistic serial killer. The US military "vapourised" him in a drone strike. It has been very good for the newspapers. I daresay they've sold a few extra copies, but think about it for a second. Does it really make any difference at all? If Jihadi John was a sick nutcase serial killer, luring people to his flat to film himself beheading them, killing him would have solved the problem. But he isn't. He is part of a large organisation. When he committed the beheadings, there was someone else holding the camera. There were other ISIS members there guarding the site. There was somone authorising the beheadings. Jihadi John was simply the public face of the movement, probably because he spoke good English.
Now consider the way the news will be greeted in the ISIS controlled areas of Syria and Iraq. A quick scour of socia media etc shows that they will say "Look, the West are hypocrites. They say they have law, but they execute Muslims with drones. They are too cowardly to do anything else". They are addressing a radical Islamic audience, so they will say "Jihadi John is a martyr. Tonight he is in Paradise with his reward of 70 virgins". Most tellingly they will say "He must be avenged". These are not sentiments I support or agree with, but this is what is being said on the streets, on social media and in radio and TV broadcasts in ISIS controlled regions. We may not like it, but this pours petrol on the already incendary feelings of angry young men. ISIS do not put their horrific videos on Youtube to scare us. They do it to recruit the angry and disaffected. This is what we are up against and this is where the current "strategy" breaks down.
The assumption is that if you kill the leaders and the figureheads, the philiospohy will die. Nothing could be more stupid. Every time the West acts outside of the law, we lose the argument. Guantanamo Bay is another example. For me it is beyond comprehension that you can keep people locked up for fifteen years without any judicial process. You either have some evidence to keep them there or you don't. Not only that, but some of them have been tortured for years on end. Now it may make us feel happy to know a few nasty people are having a thoroughly rotten time, but like a good Judo competetor, they are using our own strength against us. Given that there was no realisitic way of arresting Jihadi John, I have no issue with stopping him in this manner. I do however have a massive issue with the gory press coverage of the assasination. Why do we give the ISIS propagandists the opportunity to say "Look how they celebrate when a Muslim is killed"? Surely if we'd said "We deeply regret the fact that we couldn't make this individual stand trial for his crime, but this action was necessary as the man was a brutal serial killer and it was the only we we could prevent him killing innocent people, in direct contravention of both International Law and the principles of the Koran". If that was the only headline in The Sun and on Fox news, don't you think it may have been far more powerful. Glorifying that you have extra-judicially executed someone by "vapourising" them sends a completely different message to young and impressionable men, who are in the process of being radicalised.
In the west, we are blessed with the most uninspiring, useless crop of Politicians in living memory. Barack Obama has no clue about foreign policy. He's more than halfway through his second term and he hasn't come up with a single idea to deal with the issue. David Cameron is even worse. He has no authority, no plan and no clue. Wheras Britain and the USA have historically lead the west in such matters there is a complete vacuum. Don't get me wrong, I think that Bush and Blair were the architects of this disaster, but at least they understood the need for a plan. Whilst that plan was pretty disasterous for Iraq, Cameron and Obama have simply stood like rabbits in headlights as Libya and Syria have imploded. They have buried their heads in the sand, whilst ISIS have put down roots and bloomed.
The one leader who seems to understand the threat and have recognised the need for action is Vladimir Putin. His solution to the Syria crisis is not pretty. Bomb ISIS, strengthen Assad and then hope he wipes them out. Cameron and Obama wring their hands but they have no alternative. They have no plan. However you look at it, Syria is the Primary tumour. It is where ISIS are being driven from. If we have no other solution, I can see no reason why we should criticise Putin.
But there is another way. Ask yourself this. Do we really believe that our concepts of freedom, justice and democracy are worth defending and worth making sacrifices for? If the answer for you is yes, then those are the terms which we should address ISIS by. We should state our fundamental principles. We should constitue, under the auspices of the UN (after all that is why it gets billions of funding every year), a panel of regional experts to try and formulate a plan to actively deradicalise the angry young men in Syria and Iraq. We spend billions bombing them. Surely some of that money would be better spent educating them. As to the likes of Jihadi John. We should specifically state that extra judicial execution is a last resort. We should state that our preferred method would be to capture such individuals and see them put on trial for their crimes. If this is impractical or impossible and we need to stop them to spare innocent individuals, so be it. I personally would say to the likes of Jihadi John "Surrender yourself and we will guarantee you a fair trial, where you will have legal representation" most wouldn't take up the offer, but when it becomes clear that they are losing, maybe it would not be such a bad option, to spend your life in a comfy prison, with hot dinners and a telly.
We also have to try and end the Syrian civil war. Clearly this isn't a simple matter, but Cameron and Obama cannot bury their heads in the sand. They are clearly scared that Putin has hijacked the plane and is steering a very different course to the one they wanted. As they lack the cojones to stop this, then they should at least try and make sure that the groups we have been rather tepidly supporting are not massacred as part of the settlement. If they are, then that will create another generation that believes the West is completely untrustworthy.
Which is in effect the problem. The West is not trusted in the Middle East. The reason for this is not irrational it is simply based on reading of history books. The only Arabs in the middle east who have ever been treated fairly and decently by the west are those who are rich, powerful and sit on large oil reserves. We turn a blind eye to all manner of sordid practises in coutries such as Saudi Arabia. We ignore sexism, racism, religious intolerance, beating floggings, stonings and hangings. What sort of extraordinary double standard can we have that says we turn a blind eye to stonings of adulterous women in Saudi Arabia, but we how with disapproval at ISIS murders? Until such time as ISIS can't say to angry young men "Look how these hypocrites behave" we really have nothing to counter their propoganda. If our leaders in the West were honest, they'd take a long hard look at themselves and then set up a properly funded UN task force to deal with terrorism in a fair and just way. We have some sort of model in South Africa with the concept of the Truth an Justice commision. It won't happen overnight. What we need is a UN sponsored plan, where the people of Syria and Libya and other places can see some sort of infrastructure put into place to guaraantee justice and to address the issues which drive the hate and anger. Ideally if external foces have to be used, they should be from countries which are predominantly Muslim, so there is no charge of crusaders arriving. There are many poor Islamic countries that would welcome a UN subsidy to provide peacekeeping forces. A scheme which aimed to bring peace and justice would be welcomed by the populace. The Syrian people are a well educated people used to living in towns and cities with a decent standard of living. They would welcome a return to peace and prosperity.
I suspect that ultimately the choice we have is to either start actually live the principles we claim to have and deliver a plan based on those principles or sit back and let the Russians and Assad murder every last one of them. If I was a betting man. I'd put my money on plan B being adopted by the west. Sadly I think that Plan B will result in another fifteen years of this carnage and madness.