Tuesday, May 23, 2017
The Worst is Not Over
"It is now concluded on the basis of today's investigations that the threat level should be increased for the time being from severe to critical." U.K. Prime Minister, Theresa May, May 23rd, after the Manchester bombing
I remember living in the Middle East, as a son of a U.S. diplomat. Our TV shows and movies were very popular. Young people – even the displaced Palestinians living within eyeshot of the homes they lost when Israel was formed – were still filled with hope. The life they saw in those Western images set an achievement bar they longed to emulate. But their corrupt leaders – often willing to play ball with the West on a diplomatic/military plane to keep that money flowing in – took the funds pouring in from the West… and put the cash in their bank accounts, using newfound military hardware to crush opposition.
Wars exploded among and between factions, taking millions of civilian casualties. It wasn’t the people fighting then. Just leaders seeking power. And then the double-whammy hit them: permanent loss of fertile farmland turned into desert by that same industrialization that made the West rich (i.e., the basis for global climate change). Millions were impacted. There were hordes of people, hopeless, abandoned by their own leaders and the rest of the world… with nothing left to lose and lots of people to blame.
Fundamentalist Muslim clerics began preaching a rejection of Western materialism, a message that resonated with a large body of people who now knew they could never live anything more than a life on the edge of survival. Leaders used blame – we’ve seen it in our own political world – on their corrupt leadership empowered with the complicity of the West, especially the United States that just couldn’t seem to be able to stop meddling and sending arms to the “wrong side,” all under the guise of fighting evil (communism at first, then people who wanted to overthrow their dictators, then religious factions), but to them, but transparently and really in the interest of controlling the flow of oil. They railed against their former colonial masters in Europe with equal venom. They railed against Israel as an occupier of their former homes.
Anger seethed. Blame was the driving message. All things Westerns were the new definition of evil. Materialism was despised, and this developed as a call to arms by young and angry Muslims who were trained in Madrassa (radical schools supported heavily by the same Saudi money that is courting Donald Trump) to fight evil – any country or religion that rejected the Muslim holy word. Quite naturally, there was a Western backlash against a new enemy.
There is no excuse, no justification for the nearly two dozen killed and sixty injured in that suicide bombing at the Manchester concert venue on May 22nd. Including children. A twenty-three-year-old suspect (Salman Abedi) has been identified. ISIS has taken credit for the massacre, and the U.K. is, as the above quote suggests, on lockdown expecting another “imminent” attack. Britain's armed forces have been deployed to boost security.
There is also no excuse for any of the attacks on civilian innocents from the 1993 bombings, the 9/11/01 attacks in New York and Washington, and the dozens and dozens of attacks against targets in the West under the name of righteous Islam. The same can be held true in the vastly greater carnage within the Islamic world, clearly noting that most of the casualties rest in that part of the world.
Nothing… no one… is safe. Our daily lives here, from getting through airports to going through bag checks at sporting events to carnage when we travel, have been changed forever. We lend arms, launch airstrikes, wage war… all in the hope of eradicating this cancerous terrorism from the planet. We may take back territory from ISIS and aid in secular wars with jihadists everywhere… but this is a problem that is only growing worse.
Bennett Seftel, deputy director of analysis at The Cipher Brief (May 23rd) explains: “Ousting ISIS from its de facto capital of Raqqa may not be too far behind. Last month, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of Operation Inherent Resolve, said that he hoped the assault on Raqqa would be ‘underway by this summer’ and would be surprised if it continued into next year.
“Townsend also stated that he had ‘no clue’ where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was hiding, but if he were in Mosul, then ‘we have got him trapped.’
“Territorial losses have weakened ISIS’ international prestige and have shrunk the number of foreign fighters traveling to Syria and Iraq to join the group. At the peak of its international recruiting efforts, an estimated 40,000 individuals from more than 120 countries were fighting on behalf of ISIS.
“‘ISIS pushed the idea that it was a ‘winner’ in its propaganda, and now even its own propaganda admits that it is losing,’ Daniel Byman, Senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, told The Cipher Brief. ‘As a result, it is less attractive to many potential recruits and funders.’
“Nonetheless, Dr. Michael W.S. Ryan of the Jamestown Foundation anticipates that ISIS won’t vanish but instead morph into an insurgent group operating ‘within the strategic wrapper of classic guerrilla warfare’ that will continue to threaten regional stability.
“‘We must consider ISIS, or perhaps its replacement, as a permanent terrorist threat in Syria and Iraq, unless sectarian divisions can be healed and its apocalyptic brand of Jihadi Salafist ideology is thoroughly discredited,’ Ryan told The Cipher Brief.
“Ultimately, according to Rasmussen, triumphing over ISIS on the battlefield is ‘necessary but insufficient in the process of eliminating the ISIS threat.’
“‘One doesn’t have to look very far or very hard to see how the ISIS threat is manifesting itself in almost every Western nation,’ he stated. ‘The global reach of ISIS is largely intact despite the extremely effective work that has been done to degrade ISIS in its caliphate.’…
“‘Here in the United States, homegrown extremists present the most immediate unpredictable threat that we face,’ remarked Nicholas Rasmussen, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, during a speech earlier this month at the Center for New American Security. ‘Today, many homegrown violent extremists gravitate towards the violence and adventure of fighting rather than absorbing the nuances of jihadist ideology as a rationale for violence.’
“In many ways, while the battles against ISIS in Mosul and Raqqa may soon reach their conclusions, the war against the terrorist organization has really just begun. Law enforcement bodies, intelligence services, and national security establishments must remain vigilant to prevent terrorist acts from occurring on their soil.
“Ultimately, according to Rasmussen, triumphing over ISIS on the battlefield is “necessary but insufficient in the process of eliminating the ISIS threat.”
“‘One doesn’t have to look very far or very hard to see how the ISIS threat is manifesting itself in almost every Western nation,’ he stated. ‘The global reach of ISIS is largely intact despite the extremely effective work that has been done to degrade ISIS in its caliphate.’”
Even in the unlikely event we were somehow able to eradicate ISIS entirely – unlikely as their soldiers simply ooze out and move elsewhere, recruiting locals around the world – they are just one group. Al Qaeda alone has never had more branches, more recruits or more strength. They are particularly hostile to the United States as bin Ladin’s son has risen to power… with a clear road to attack the United States as his focus.
There is nothing more powerful or difficult to extinguish than masses of abandoned and hopeless people who have developed a new sense of purpose, a group in which they feel they belong. Innocent Muslims, wanting nothing more than to live their ordinary lives, fear these radicals… and the governments who do not seem to be able to distinguish between killer-terrorists and ordinary citizens… walk in even more fear than do we. Terrorist values must be rejected. Hope reinstated. Lives rebuilt. And in the meantime…
I’m Peter Dekom, and there are no short-term solutions for any of this; it is going to be a very long and very violent struggle.