We don’t normally do straight political/current affairs posts at The Grit. But one of the great humanitarian disasters of the age is unfolding right now, we are involved, and it deserves our attention.
It’s nice to hear that France has joined the Coalition dropping bombs on Syrian towns and cities. The United States, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have been at it for a year now. Australia has recently joined in. It’s been so good that now France wants a piece of the incendiary action.
The purpose of the operation is to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy’ the IS and thus bring safety to the world. Sounds good doesn’t it? But here’s a strange thing: after all the bombing deaths, and around $1 billion worth of bombs so far, the Coalition is now admitting that IS seems to be as strong as ever, if not stronger. Not degraded that much, really, let alone destroyed.
Because, since the bombing began, more and more foreigners have been flooding in to join the fanatical group. And more and more money is flooding in too.
Why is this happening?
The most obvious reason is to do with IS’s apocalyptic vision of its own role. It has set itself up as the true Caliphate, the bastion and defender of Islam against its enemies – in particular against the West. IS tells a story in which the hatred of Allah’s enemies everywhere is focussed on the Caliphate in a devastating war – a war from which the Caliphate emerges victorious. In the pursuit of this narrative the IS openly invites confrontation with the US and her allies. In fact, this confrontation is necessary to legitimate the story IS is spinning to young muslims everywhere via the Internet.
To provoke this war the IS has conducted and inspired terrorist attacks and attempts in various countries around the world, including France, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Italy, the US and many others.
These attacks have achieved two main goals:
First, they have led to Western leaders declaring the IS ‘a real threat’ to Western civilisation – music to IS’s ears. Its stature grows with every announcement of this sort – Western governments and media are doing its advertising for it free of charge. “FBI says IS is a bigger threat than Al Qaeda” – that sort of thing. Those are the headlines IS longs for. We’ve promoted them very quickly to the role of ‘biggest bad guy on the block’. Left to themselves they would have taken years to achieve this reputation.
Second, and most important of all, the attacks have led to retaliation. Like a kid throwing rocks at a wasps nest, IS has stirred up the wasps. They have effectively drawn the US and others into the very conflict they have been preaching. The West and its buddies have flown straight at ’em. In doing so they have of course entered into the IS apocalyptic narrative, and are now playing the part assigned to them.
In other words the Coalition bombing campaign is convincing muslims around the world that IS’s vision is coming true. After all, the US is saying it will spend between $5-10 billion dollars on this conflict. If the West is taking it so seriously, it seems the Caliphate must be the real deal. And a $5 billion conflict is the kind of large-scale battle scenario the IS envisions. It’s happening just like they said it would. Baghdadi preaches the doomsday sermons, and the US provides him with the real-life illustrations.
The retaliation also tells muslims that the IS are in control of events, pulling the strings, orchestrating the actions of their enemies. They put out the bait, and we bit – and bit, and bit. We take the bait every time.
This stuff feeds straight into the IS’s promotional material. And that promotion is working: IS is looking better and better to young Sunni Muslims around the world. Even as we bomb the hell out of the current crop of IS fighters, that very bombing is enabling them to successfully recruit a larger crop to take their place. And to attract more and more funding from the oil-rich Middle Eastern muslim communities, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
We’re like the old lady who fixed the holes in her blanket by cutting them out: every time we act, we make the problem bigger.
Countries like the US (and Australia) are aware of this situation and have said that they will stop their citizens emigrating to join the IS. Deal with the problem at both ends: cut off the supply of fighters and weed out the existing ones using high-tech weaponry. Sounds like a plan.
Trouble is, it hasn’t been working. Turns out we can’t control our citizens the way we thought we could. More and more have been leaving to head to Syria. Not even the US has been able to stop this at home, let alone stopping it in other countries. And no one can stop or even trace the flow of money.
Also our high-tech weaponry hasn’t been as good at singling out militants as we were led to believe. More and more reports of civilian deaths from Coalition bombs are coming through – which of course turns the population further against the west and towards the IS. After all, who is killing their children? We are. Turns out that if your enemy is in a town, bombing is not a very effective way to root him out without harming the civvies. It’s fundamentally a blunt instrument. Who knew?
The Western governments involved are starting to look rather foolish. Guilty of over-confidence and over-reach all the way down the line. Acting the parent figure, asserting their will on foreign soil, controlling their own people with totalitarian thoroughness. Arrogant, ineffective, hapless, out of their depth and overwhelmed by complex human dynamics that bombing just can’t deal with.
States as powerful as our modern western nations are apt to fall into the delusion that they are all-powerful. Our societies lack any real belief in god, but nature abhors a vacuum. The state inevitably moves in to take up the role, playing god themselves, announcing what they will allow and not allow, stating in advance what they will achieve. Somehow no matter how many times the reality doesn’t match up to the dream, yet the delusion remains. You might think that after Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, a bit of humility would have set in. But no, the military machine is so vast that it seems to generate unlimited quantities of hubris.
Let’s take a step back a consider a few key facts about bombing Syria:
- There is an effectively unlimited supply of muslim fighters for the IS, because the pool they are recruiting from is so vast: hundreds of millions.
- There is a bottomless purse of money available to fund the IS so long as it captures the hearts of Middle Eastern muslims.
- Closing borders to prevent fighters reaching Syria is non-achievable.
- Stopping the flow of funds funds is non-achievable.
- Western bombing makes this recruiting and fundraising more effective not less.
- The West has a virtually unlimited supply of ordnance. It can bomb indefinitely.
Where will all this end? It won’t. It’s a cyclic structure. We’re talking escalation: endless cycles of escalation is the trajectory we are currently on. A bigger and bigger war in Syria.
Which is exactly what the IS wants to see happen.
Of course we know that eventually the US and friends will get tired of it all and pack up and go home, like they did in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. But what sort of Syria will be left by then?
Take a moment, then, to think about Syria itself – the towns and cities of Syria; the ordinary, non-fanatical people of Syria. They have been getting bombed and shelled and generally shot to pieces for four years now. By the government hitting at the rebels. By the many and various rebel groups, hitting at the government. By the rebel groups fighting each other. By the IS. By the government attacking the IS. By the rebel groups attacking the IS. And so on.
They’ve endured chemical weapons. The government has employed cluster bombs and scud missiles against its own people, as well as barrel bombs of TNT and napalm-like fuel-bombs dropped from helicopters. Rebels have used numerous suicide bombings, as well as mortars, rockets and Howitzer-type cannon. Also tanks captured from the Syrian Army.
Stuff is exploding everywhere in Syria. So many people are firing weapons in so many directions, it must be very confusing for the citizens to know who is firing at them at any particular time. The place is in chaos. 4 million have fled the country. 7 million others are displaced within Syria. Just stop and think about those figures. They tell a story of misery on a scale hard to imagine.
And what contribution has the West decided to make to this catastrophe? More bombs. I’m guessing most Syrians would feel that more bombs at this stage were not altogether helpful. That they had a sufficient amount of bombing of their own going on, and foreign bombing was surplus to requirements. I think if the Coalition leaders were to take the trouble to survey the ordinary people of Syria, asking them ‘would they like more bombs dropped on their country?’ they might be surprised by a certain lack of enthusiasm among the natives.
None of this is new. Everything here has been said before.
So why are our governments continuing to bomb Syria?
Because it feels good to be doing something, that’s why. We can’t do much, we can’t make any sense at all out of the crazy complex puzzle of warring factions in Syria and the Middle East generally. We can’t dismantle one terrorist group without three others springing up as a result. We can’t stop young muslims at home being radicalised and acting out.
But there’s one thing we know how to do well: we know how to drop bombs! And when you’ve spent as much on military toys as the West has, it feels good to be playing with them. It feels right. It validates all the military expenditure, if you actually get to use it. We did it in Libya, and look how well that turned out!
And anything seems better than admitting that we are powerless. Anything. Even playing right into the hands of IS seems better than admitting we can’t fix things. Bad stuff is happening over there. Bad stuff is threatening us at home. Taking the fight to its source feels hopeful. It helps us feel powerful for a bit longer. Contributing to the smashing of Syria into little bits seems a small price to pay.
Ok so we don’t have much actual strategy about how bombs are going to help resolve the massively complex civil war raging there. Ok so the bombing is not working so far. But you know what, I can think of a great way to improve on our efforts there. We need to try harder. And longer. It’s only been a year. Yes, that’s right, thinking all this over, putting together the pieces, I think it all points in one direction. There’s only one logical, reasonable way forward here:
LET’S DROP MORE BOMBS ON SYRIA!
When I put it like that, isn’t it obvious?
It’s nice to know that Putin is reading this blog. Just days after we posted, he’s taken up our advice and brought Russia in to join the bombing! Sure, he’s bombing different guys, some of the other rebel groups, to help Assad, you know the guy who we want to see removed (though we hate his enemies even more than him). Whatever. The main thing is, more bombs falling!
I’d like to think that Australia has helped generate international interest in this exciting bombing campaign. We’ve led by example, making it that much easier for timid nations like Russia to join the fray.