Michael Maiello's picture

    The Anger of the West

    Richard Roger Cohen, who seems more and more like a left-leaning Western declinist with each column, writes angrily today in The New York Times about America's incapacity for anger in the wake of the Paris attacks.  Cohen is remarkable tone deaf, given the history of Western anger in the Middle East and what it has wrought for us since 9/11.

    First, and this should go without saying, America's anger enabled the Paris attacks because we destabilized the region without any real plan for building it up again.  We diverted resources from a justifiable was in Afghanistan to a grand adventure in Iraq that militarized the soldiers of fortune throughout the region who became ISIS.  Oh, also, ISIS is made up of a bunch of people we kicked out of the Iraqi army.

    For decades, the developed world, both West and East, has tried to control the region by giving weapons to the "right people" and hoping that problems would take care of themselves. Those weapons did not, apparently, ever reach "the right people."  Or, people change.

    Like a NIall Ferguson off steroids, Cohen insists that the United States commit to military action (with soldiers on the ground), again, in the region, in order to destroy ISIS.

    But Obama does not have the will. “Let’s assume we send 50,000 troops into Syria,” he said in Turkey. “What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen?”

    That’s a straw-man game unworthy of the president. Its subtext: Because you can’t solve all the problems of the world, solve none. ISIS in Syria and Iraq is the core of the terrorist threat to Europe and America today. So destroy it.

    Cohen glosses over a lot here.  Obama's argument isn't a "straw man," it's correct.  He had an eight year mandate to withdraw U.S. ground forces from the region and now he is supposed to reverse it?  Cohen seems to give no thought to what should be done if soldiers are committed and another problem bubbles up.  He also gives no thought at all to the unwillingness of U.S. citizens to fund or fight another war at the moment.

    There is also the not significant issue that it won't work.  Obama argued, against using ground forces, that we can take and hold territory but that the fundamental (fundamentalist) problems will persist.  Once the territory is taken and held, there is no exit.  I see no evidence that we are willing to keep large garrisons in Syria for more than a decade, as we did in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    I'm not advocating crass isolationism here.  There are choices between launching invasions and withdrawing from the world.  The U.S. and the EU can defend themselves with collaborative law enforcement, tailored to preserve the rights and liberties of those being protected along the way.  All developed countries can do more to welcome and care for Syrian refugees (likely for the long-term benefit of all).

    But we don't need more anger, particularly not anger expressed through the use of a much-abused volunteer military and its war weary populace.



    Majority in this country is tired of supporting war.

    Mike, I think you got your Cohens mixed up.  Richard is a neocon writer for WaPo.  Roger writes for NYTimes. 

    It don't matter I don't like either one of them all that much but it might matter to some one else.  

    Roger Cohen is employing the straw-man move he attributes to Obama. Cohen is incorrect when he says, 
    "Its subtext: Because you can’t solve all the problems of the world, solve none. ISIS in Syria and Iraq is the core of the terrorist threat to Europe and America today. So destroy it."
    Fifteen years of playing whack-a-mole hitting the terrorist du jour has taught our country that the core of the threat is not at these battlegrounds we have been sending troops. That lesson is what Obama was referring to when he said, " “What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen?” That lesson is also why Obama wasn't on board when Hollande proposed wiping out Assad earlier.

    That isn't to say that there isn't room for more leadership from Obama and his administration to confront the more fundamental causes. But the piper Cohen is calling for would not be an example of it. Maybe he should contact Rubio who is ready to go now.

    Another deficit in Cohen's situational awareness is that the EU and France by itself are not helpless in terms of taking a lead on the issue. Hollande is pushing for a coalition in a place full of coalition fatigue. It is going to take more than poodles and G.I. Joe dolls to prepare for the next move. To read Cohen's account, one could believe Khrushchev  was still around to talk turkey about Turkey while Europe concentrated on making croissants and beer.

    Cohen couldn't be more wrong.  His column reprises the neo-con theme W made explicit in the wake of 9/11 that terrorists attack the west because "they hate our freedoms".  Of course Bush's explanation served the interests of the military-industrial complex since it mandates a long, bloody, expensive perhaps endless war.  People motivated by hatred of freedom can never be won over by foreign aid and the successful promotion of democratic institutions in the way Germany and Japan were after WWII.  So there's no reason to attempt peaceful solutions.

    Cohen is doing exactly what Talleyrand warned against, as (blatant self-promotion warning alert) set forth in my post yesterday, he is reacting with far too much zeal and no calculation at all.

    In fact ISIS/ISIL has explained its murderous assaults in Paris. 

    Let France and all nations following its path know that they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake in the crusader campaign, as long as they dare to curse our Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), and as long as they boast about their war against Islam in France and their strikes against Muslims in the lands of the Caliphate with their jets, which were of no avail to them in the filthy streets and alleys of Paris.

    Simply put, ISIS/ISIL wants France out of the Middle East and they want the French to stop what the terrorists call their "war against Islam in France".  Presumably, this means overt discrimination against Muslims which is "rife in France" according to the International Human Rights Campaign.

    So what should France do?  Well certainly it should do more to incorporate fully first and second-generation Muslim immigrants into French society and repeal laws that are targeted specifically against Muslims - sumptuary laws, etc.   Regarding its bombing campaign in Syria, Juan Cole suggests that the Paris attacks may have been planned before France started flying sorties against ISIS/ISIL in east Syria.  Still, the French must decide whether continued air strikes are worth an increased risk of more terror.

    The unspoken heart of the problem, and inaccurately directed anger, NYT, from a French paper op-ed, the 'Saudi Religious -Industrial Complex', Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It:

    Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia. In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other....Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books....

    From Wikipedia on 'White Daesh', Saudi Arabia:

    Saudi Arabia allows Christians to enter the country as foreign workers for temporary work, but does not allow them to practice their faith openly. Because of that Christians generally only worship within private homes.[3] Items and articles belonging to religions other than Islam are prohibited.[3] These include Bibles, crucifixes, statues, carvings, items with religious symbols, and others.

    Americans don't want a ground war, but they seem to be okay with an air war. I don't see that the latter is morally superior to the former, although it means that none of the dead are American.

    Fair enough. It is not morally superior.

    Air or ground, western forces or troops won't bring a lasting peace.  The region needs an unlikely end to the Saudi religious-industrial complex, see link above. GWB's Iraq war was the mother of ISIS, the Wahabbi ideology the father.

    I agree with you.

    High altitude wars, cruise missile wars, drone wars -- they all imply the same problem of one force being able to wage war without the fear of retribution.  The notion of this has been around since the longbow gave an advantage over the swordsman (I realize that sounds glib, coming from a blogger who has never fought in a war and likely never will) but technology has really given us the ability to wage war without the fear of physical repercussion and that is a huge issue.

    I'm definitely afraid that the ability to strike without reciprocal consequence makes it more likely that we'll strike.  I'd also note that no advantage lasts forever and that it's never a good idea, in the long run, to set bad precedents.

    I think we need to dissuade our fellow citizens from the idea that there is such a thing as waging war without taking risk.


    The Massacre of the Innocents. 

    Civilization must be saved even if this means sending for the military ,as I suppose it does. How dreary Why is it that in the end civilization always has to call in these professional tidiers to whom it is all one whether it be Pythagoras or a homicidal lunatic they are instructed  to exterminate..


    "For the Time Being"

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