Wednesday Morning Live
Words of War/War of Words
No one I know is really happy about today's Middle Eastern situation. The headlines are thoroughly disgusting. Thus the most popular knee-jerk reaction is to simply go to war. To do whatever is necessary no matter the cost to stop terrorism from ratcheting higher in terms of barbarity, cunning, and shocking military successes. But the recent UN speech by President Obama gave us an unexpectedly philosophical perspective. Promises were made. Convictions were re-affirmed. The prediction that victory in the end is assured was also stated. Airstrikes were upheld as the main strategy. Nobody claims that by themselves they will degrade and destroy ISIS/ISIL. But charge! Or full speed ahead! Nothing doing. Not yet. Maybe not ever. Perhaps the President is right in being circumspect. He will not be stressed to the breaking point by the more vociferous hawks. For example, reconnaissance flights are only just getting under way. A staging area has been hit, in addition to oil facilities, both military targets, completely justifiable. Nevertheless, the engagement we now enter, if we so choose, against an enemy that is the embodiment of sheer evil, should be the result of a lengthier process. What is needed is different than merely sending a message. It requires a long-term commitment. The idea of short wars has to date proved chimerical. After all, ISIS/ISIL is not quite (to lay people) a fully congealed, knowable, definable whole. It is either still forming or partly invisible. Thus, I think, perhaps in the company of a small minority, that it pays to stop and reflect on just what it is we are getting into -- assuming we have the luxury of time. By we, I mean everybody. Taking into account the sobering fact that this is a global world, not parceled out into discrete, self-contained, isolated regions.
To be sure, the Islamic World is busily brewing cups of wrath that are hard for Westerners to swallow. We have had more than a stomachful of internet beheadings. The Middle East is not only treacherous. It is tricky; it is the devil's playground. To be provoked into getting involved (which we are anyways) on the enemy's home turf might actually be a sign of weakness rather than strength.
America Will Never Be At War With Islam
Words or words to this effect at first struck me as somewhat unfairly accusative. The implication is extreme. Yet, maybe the words needed to be said. The problem at hand is murky enough to admit a misunderstanding that might well confuse the enemy with a religion. That most of its rank and file come from Muslim backgrounds only makes the objective position that much more difficult to attain. In fact, aside from Western journalists and other non-militants, Muslims are more victimized by the enemy than anyone else.
It is perhaps a necessary reminder in an era during which public emotion is routinely stoked to state plainly that America remains non-judgmental when it comes to either the practice or non-practice of religions. Further, what we think privately about the end-days or other religious matters should not impact upon so serious a decision as the movement of troops thousands of miles away. Our porous border, open not just to ragged orphans but funded terrorists, is the more urgent concern in today's turmoil. The questions of Syria and Iraq can be addressed more dispassionately, a step at a time. The reversal in terms of American-friendly governments overseas is a depressing setback. But immediate warfare is not going to bring overnight changes.
Muslim Cleric: His Words Are More Persuasive than Bombs
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Call it pseudo-intellectuality or whatever, but I personally resolved to explore the topic just a bit further. The Prophet Mohammad is a real barrier in my mind, compelling me to stop, turn around, and return to wherever I started out. I have enough trouble with my own beliefs without burdening myself with those of another. All the same, the President is probably right. The exploitation of a religion to pad one's pockets, accumulate deadly arms, and dominate a cowed population is not a true representation nor the correct observation of one of the world's major religions. Still, it plays a role. As such, it is not readily understood by most. To possess within our borders a couple few million law-abiding Muslims only increases our bafflement. By default, in lieu of private research, citizens must trust their leadership. The situation over there is a tinderbox, liable to ignite at any moment by means of any pretext.
From what little I think I know, Jihad is contextualized within the framework of Muslim worship. As to what activates it, how far it is supposed to go, and what it permits or forbids, I have no idea. Yasser Arafat used to employ the word with little effect except to please the ears of otherwise defenseless, docile Palestinians. Thus, a legitimate reservation arises about Westerners so "gallantly" willing to fight. The enemy is hard to distinguish in his camouflage. He cannot be fought surgically since he makes sure everything he does or says dovetails with a religious orientation few outsiders comprehend. In other words, American aggression, perceived as such, however unintended, can stimulate a hostile, counterproductive groundswell. That is to say, to destroy ISIS/ISIL and concomitantly lose hearts and minds is only going to sow the seeds of future conflict.
Not Just Syria/Not Just Iraq
ISIS/ISIL and Squeaky Wheel Theory
It gets the oil. Thus, once again, the President is right, if flirting with unpopularity, to approach the subject of combat in Iraq and Syria by bringing up an assortment of issues competing for worldwide attention. What about stamping out Ebola in Africa? It is a possible goal, whereas an all-out confrontation in the Middle East could be the quickest route into an endless quagmire. What about not just the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, but the dangers peaceful citizens face daily in a less civilized America? How soon do we forget the senseless shootings and routine murders that afflict us on our own soil.
Another way of looking at the overall problem is to include the lack of general hysteria in Israel. Why are we so worked up when Syria's neighbor is unruffled? The emotional tone of Israel acts as a kind of barometer. On news shows, Israel's representatives typically seem more apprehensive of Iran's nuclear potential than the latest litter of outlaws from hell. Perhaps our policies and short-term goals require a reassessment and adjustment. These awful organizations, regardless of what they call themselves, who wreak havoc, must be fought. No thinking person would disagree. But they must be fought smart or not at all.
More by this Author
Trying to understand Jihad is a lost cause. As much as we would like our most fanatic peacemakers to intervene, there is no real place for them.
Speeches are full of them. Gripes, that is. It is high time to get everything off our chests.
Two authors wrote a lengthy book on the failures of modern nations. They place the blame mostly on "extractive institutions".
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