Robin Harris argues here for increased U.S. and U.K. military action, combined with active aid to trustworthy local factions. The problem with this is that no local factions favor pluralism and Western-style republican rule. Massive military intervention would just be a holding action postponing the fighting of various Sunni and Shi’ite factions, as it was before. There would have to be a massive change in the political culture of both countries, which is not on the horizon, before such an intervention could even have the possibility of being genuinely effective. But Harris is certainly correct that Obama, Cameron and other Western leaders don’t dare explain clearly or confront what the Islamic State is all about, for to do so would expose the catastrophic errors of the analyses on which both their countries have based key foreign policy decisions for years.
“ROBIN HARRIS: Our leaders are in denial about this Islamic revolution because it exposes their own naivety,” by Robin Harris, Daily Mail, August 11, 2014:
The terrorist group now calling itself Islamic State has been lucky. It has so far been able to advance its repulsive agenda of violence and cruelty without bothering about comeuppance from the great powers.
This is because it is confronted by probably the most incompetent and ill-equipped Western leaders of modern times. For two months, this barbaric group has been rolling forward. But Washington just dithered.
Barack Obama and David Cameron do not dare, even now, tell the truth about what Islamic State (or IS) are, or what motivates them. Obama and Cameron talk of averting ‘genocide’. But genocide is, by definition, the destruction of a racial or national group.
Islamic State isn’t remotely interested in that. It is interested in religion — its own extreme brand of Sunni Islam — and it has for months now been engaging in forced conversions, killings, plunder and expulsion of all those it considers infidels.
The Yazidis, dying on a mountain in northern Iraq, while being pelted from the skies with humanitarian aid, are seen as devil worshippers. The Shia Muslims, meanwhile, are heretics, and so worthy of death. The thousands of Christian victims of IS, about whom Obama and Cameron found it convenient to stay silent, are regarded as having no rights whatever.
In the Iraqi city of Mosul, Christian properties were painted with the Arab letter ‘N’ (signifying Nazarenes) and then confiscated. The Christians were first told to convert or pay the Jizya (tax on infidels), and then, to simplify matters, killed or expelled.
They sought haven in the Nineveh plain; that, too, then fell to Islamic State. The likely fate of many or most of these Christians, and of the Yazidis, is now a horrible death.
The West’s strategic interests are also imperilled. Islamic State is a more dangerous terrorist force than even Al Qaeda. It has carved out a vast territory sprawling far across the Iraq-Syria border. It possesses a huge cache of advanced weapons. It has its own financial resources, in the form of conquered oil installations. It is a magnet for global jihad.
And the West has looked on. Or rather Western leaders have looked away, and focused instead on Ukraine.
American bombers may have finally flown sorties over northern Iraq at the weekend, but for months it is as if nothing has mattered on the world stage except ratcheting up pressure on Russia.
David Cameron was photographed engaging in an (allegedly) ‘tense’ telephone conversation with President Putin. He will shortly be playing host — and, doubtless, playing to the gallery — when Nato leaders head to Newport, Wales, for their summit.
Cameron repeatedly pledges ever tougher economic sanctions. But if the objective is to make Russia disgorge Crimea — which it annexed months ago — then it is simply a waste of time. That will not happen. If the goal is to stop Russia supplying arms to rebels in East Ukraine, then that will not happen either — until some modus vivendi is achieved between Kiev and Moscow.
During the Cold War, the stand-off between the West and the Soviet Union was, of course, far more dangerous. At certain junctures, it could have led to a nuclear exchange. For that very reason, Western leaders and their advisers were cautious.
It was a cardinal rule for Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to combine steady pressure with the minimum of rash provocation and the avoidance of foolish name calling. Resolve was combined with active diplomacy, open channels of communication and basic courtesy.
So what would Reagan and Thatcher have done now? I suspect that a secret personal message would have gone to Putin proposing a way forward that saved his face, while also saving Ukraine as a free but neutral country — while making it absolutely clear that Nato will defend its members with the full resources of a formidable nuclear alliance.
What we would give today — as Iraq becomes a blood-soaked killing field — for that assured combination of the iron fist and the velvet glove.
But, then, would any previous generation of Western leaders have viewed with such a mix of hopelessness and helplessness the rolling Islamic revolution which now threatens the existing order of states in the Middle East?
Western policy created the conditions for it, by the botched Bush-Blair war against Saddam. Western policy has since continued to focus on the overthrow of other secular authoritarian Arab leaders, to be followed by religious extremism, anarchy and war.
The West still refuses to acknowledge that in this region, religious revolution is a far greater evil than undemocratic government.
David Cameron’s head was turned three years ago by the cheers of Libyans celebrating Gaddafi’s fall. Today, they are sheltering from the bandits that now run the country.
If Cameron, of course, had had his way last year, Britain would now be engaged on the same side as Islamic State, fighting President Assad’s regime in Syria. But, then, the British Prime Minister is merely one egregious example of collective folly.
Western leaders, as a whole, remain in denial about what is occurring in Muslim countries because it exposes their past analysis as catastrophically naive.
What is clear is that Islamic State can be defeated. Here, Bosnia provides a model.
Not till 1995 did the West follow Mrs Thatcher’s urging to intervene, but when it did the aggressor Serbs were defeated. Massive Nato air strikes were accompanied by the advance of Western-armed, local Croatian and Bosnian ground forces in a lightning operation. We provided the cover and military hardware; locals fought the battles.
We must recognise that Iraq is a failed state with a dysfunctional government. Its army not only fled, but obligingly left its weapons behind to be captured, many of which were gifted to it by the Americans and are therefore of the highest quality.
We should arm only those enemies of Islamic State who are prepared to fight. We should give serious military aid and provide up-to-date intelligence, and also political backing, to the Kurds of northern Iraq who now find themselves on the front line fighting to keep the terrorists — who seem to so relish beheading and crucifying their victims — away from the Kurdish capital of Irbil.
It may be hard for Cameron to swallow, but we must also recognise that in Syria the Assad regime is the only alternative — and, despite its brutal record, a much better one — to Islamic State. An effective policy will definitely entail a high level of co-operation with Iran. And, yes, it will mean ending the dangerous, directionless confrontation with Russia.
To secure our own interests, we need assured access to the Middle East, where the Russians have shown greater diplomatic aplomb than we have, and reaped the benefits in terms of influence.
Russia may be our strategic competitor in Europe — though a manageable one — but it is an essential strategic ally in the Middle East and in the broader fight against Islamist jihad.
The British ambassador to Washington has publicly described President Putin as a thug. This may, on some definitions, be true. But it was stupid, not just undiplomatic. In the Middle East today, Putin can and must be our thug.
The Western nations are crying out for strong and decisive leadership in the face of the calculated slaughter of innocents. Already, Obama has been mocked for playing golf even as his warplanes were preparing to bomb Islamic State positions at the weekend, and his officials seem as concerned about the fate of U.S. diplomats as they are about the plight of thousands of beleaguered Iraqis.
Now is the moment for Britain and America to stop the march of the jihadis before it is too late.