Sunday, November 22, 2015

Overlapping Conflicts

Let’s look at the conflicts erupting and simmering in the Islamic world.
The Russians have told the West that they cannot “two cards at the same time.” Attacking both the Assad regime in Syria and ISIS at the same time is counterproductive, they claim. Americans still make regime change in Syria a basic principle, although there now talk of a time-line for Assad’s departure from power. As the only presidential candidate with a tangible, multi-step anti-ISIS program, Hillary Clinton focuses on addressing the Assad issue first as an essential precondition to crushing ISIS. Conflict One: Sunni Rebels and the West vs. Syria’s Assad.
Shiite nations in the region (Iran – 95% Shiite, Iraq – 60% Shiite, and the Syrian leadership – 10% Shiite ruling a nation that is 80% Sunni and 10% Christian), including their Hezbollah surrogates in places like Lebanon and Houthis in Yemen, are staring down militarism from extremely anti-Shiite Sunni nations like Saudi Arabia and the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Conflict Two: Regional Shiites vs Sunni Powers. Conflict Three: Saudi Arabia vs Yemeni Houthi.
This further complicates the “boots on the ground” necessity to face down ISIS, which now rules over vast tracts of Iraq and Syria – all Sunnis as ISIS has declared itself the protector of Sunnis against Shiites, the West and Israel. The most likely forces – Shiite troops from Iran and Iraq (including Hezbollah) and Shiite-led troops from Syria – are the last “rescuers” that conquered Sunnis under ISIS rule want to see.
In Afghanistan, politely a failed state under a mega-corrupt government installed by the United States, struggles against local warlords and, mostly, a reconfigured and much stronger Taliban insurgency (Sunni extremists). Conflict Four: West and Installed Afghan Government vs. Taliban. Add: Taliban vs. Neighboring Pakistan (Conflict Three and a Half?)
In Libya, what seemed like a successful secular election that followed the toppling of the brutal Muamar Kaddafi dictatorship has devolved into a religious war between fundamentalist Sunnis and the incumbent “elected” government: Conflict Five: Civil War in Libya.
In Nigeria, ISIS sympathizers and murdering/kidnapping Sunni extremists are struggling to usurp government control in the north (including neighboring nations). Conflict Six: Boko Haram vs. Nigeria’s incumbent government and the Christian south.
As al Shabaab militants from Somalia have raided and blasted, shot and terrorized neighboring Kenya, that war has escalated. Conflict Seven: Kenya/Somalia vs. al Shabaab.
Meanwhile, even as Sunni Turkey makes nice-nice with Shiite Iran (because Iran is a regional powerhouse with a big military) and Russia (a world power ready to take big risks), even as it has joined the fight against both Assad and ISIS, President Recep Erdoğan has used his mandate against ISIS to field forces against his own independence-seeking Kurds. Conflict Eight: Turkey vs. Its Kurdish Opposition Parties.
Russia has now laid the groundwork to step into the void left by the failed regional efforts by the United States and her allies. Allied with Iran and Syria, with a downed airliner, clearly the work of ISIS terrorists who planted a bomb on board a Russian aircraft, Russia has now redoubled her efforts against ISIS, but even as a peace and a working détente of some kind is needed to coordinate Western/Russian efforts, there are Russian pilots in the air over Syria, striking at anti-Assad rebels and ISIS alike, generating a direct surrogate shooting war in Syria against Western-supplied rebels.Conflict Nine: Russia vs. the United States and Her Allies. Will the Paris ISIS strike bring Russia and the West to the same side? France thinks that is part of the solution.
The antagonism between mostly Hindu India and mostly Muslim Pakistan over the bona fides of India’s rule over mostly-Muslim Kashmir has bubbled over frequently with violent attacks between the principals and their surrogates.Conflict Ten: India vs. Pakistan over Kashmir.
The main battle seems to be the war against ISIS (add al Qaeda, al Nusra, etc., etc.) as ISIS solidifies its hold on huge areas and significant cities in both Syria and Iraq. While drones and airstrikes have hit ISIS facilities and degraded their oil fields, these efforts seem little more than mosquito bites against a malevolent force that seems to have been increasingly entrenched in their positions. With few inroads against them, mostly from Kurdish Peshmerga forces, the absence of a major concerted ground assault against ISIS forces has resulted in virtually no change or significant reductions in ISIS power or controlled lands. Conflict Eleven: ISIS vs. Shiites, Regional Moderate Sunnis, Christians, Russia and the West.
But we cannot forget about what has moved from center stage to a side-show, albeit one of the most critical struggles in the Middle East. Knifings and shootings suggest the potential return of the Intifada to the region.  Conflict Twelve: Israel vs. Palestinians (and their allies).
But the biggest conflict of all is within Islam itself. It’s what we don’t like to talk about, and it is quite apart from the massive schism between Shiites and Sunnis. It is the undercurrent that threatens to become a war of civilizations, the truly most serious aspect of the current litany of conflicts: CONFLICT THIRTEEN (NOTE THE NUMBER!): AN EXTREME AND VIOLENT, INTOLERANT INTERPRETATION OF THE QUR’AN THAT MANDATES KILLING, CONQUEST AND UNTOLD CRUELTY IN THE NAME OF GOD.
Fomented over the years by elements like oil-rich Saudis (and others) paying guilt-money to atone for their excessive lifestyles (used to fund militants as well as for Islamist madrasa – schools that teach intolerance and hate), sympathetic Pakistani intelligence services and power-hungry jihadists ready to use God to recruit and maim, this willingness to embrace extremism impacts way too many Muslims who have anchored their violent views with direct references to the Qur’an.
Unless this mega-issue is tackled from within Islam itself, most other efforts will not solve the overall terrorism elements that threaten us all. While most victims are fellow Muslims, even as we exterminate radical vermin from their positions of power, the world will just face sequential groups of extremists testing their mettle against the most obvious targets, regional and global.
There are additional root causes of this jihadist trend. Betrayed by Western promises and corrupt leaders, too many have turned to violent extremism as a last hope. Without a massive effort from the huge majority of Muslims who interpret their faith as tolerant and laden with charitable values, the horrors we see will expand and invite the kinds of military responses that cannot benefit anybody. The resurrection of Islam’s seventh century growth of “conversion under the sword” is an intolerable presence in the twenty-first century.
There are lots of other recent Islam-related explosions in Egypt, Morocco,  Mali (including the November 20th hostage debacle from al Qaeda), Thailand, Western China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and other nations in that world that could be cited as additional conflict zones, but for now, let’s just leave the list as noted in the red sections above. That should be more than enough to reflect the complexity of the Islam-driven conflict the world over, the greatest source of violence on earth.
With 90% of global violence today linked to Muslim insurrection of one form or another, it is easy to ignore the non-Islamic firestorms in Latin America, like the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) rebellion in Colombia or the sure-looks-like-a-civil-war cartel bloodshed in Mexico, driven by demand for illicit narcotics in the United States and the massive illegal smuggling of guns (legally purchased in the U.S.) south into Mexico. But today’s blog is about the Islamic issues that are in the global spotlight right now.
Think about the complexity of dealing with all of the above Islam-related parties, the above internecine rivalries and the undercurrent of extremism that just seem to be getting worse. Some of these battles seem like distractions – like Saudis fighting Shiite Houthis in Yemen instead of deploying forces against ISIS. But when you think of the alignments needed to tame this beast, ISIS (and its ilk) is going to have its way with the world for quite a while. As long as they only face air attacks, they are willing to endure. They have even decentralized their military command to insure against strategic damage from drone strikes against their leadership.
Alignments? Yeah, like healing the great Sunni-Shiite rift that keeps Sunnis like Saudis and Shiites like Iranians from joining forces to a common end: killing ISIS that is dedicated to destroying both Iran and the Saudi monarchy. Add NATO power Turkey, directly impacted Syria and Iraq, Egypt as well as the United States and its European allies and Russia. Will France’s renewed commitment to the anti-ISIS fray based on the Paris attacks added to Russia’s rage at the destruction of their commercial airliner help erase some of these rivalries? Notice the absence of Israel and Palestine from the above list of required participants? Time will tell.
And who is going to address the regional economic collapse, the farms rendered fallow from global-warming-caused droughts, the lack of work, upside and hope among their young, even the college-educated? There are too many undercurrents to expect this global infection to be cured anytime soon. We cannot underestimate the seething pain from these socio-economic issues as great motivators of “nothing-left-to-lose” militant radicalization.
So let’s now cut to the mutterings of the vast majority of presidential candidates with simplistic bully-bully slogans-masquerading-as-solutions and compare their tough-dude words to the litany of conflicts, rivalries and socio-economic challenges that are the hard facts in this distorted world. Is the tough talk, the railing against refugees, the pledge of more airstrikes and supplying local anti-ISIS combatants offering a solution? Or simply playing into the battle plan that ISIS has mapped out, facilitating their recruiting of tens if not hundreds of thousands of new fighters as the West continues to provide irrefutable proof that this has now become a war between the West and Islam? Which candidate do you think really understands the complexities that really exist and the profound difficulty in taming this revolting set of beasts?
I’m Peter Dekom, and you’d think that after the debacles we caused in Iraq and Afghanistan, we would have learned to shy away from bully-bully simplistic slogans-instead-of-solutions to understand the complexities of our mission… you’d think!

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