Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

ISIS is Displeased

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The group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has been making well-publicized gains in its offensive against the current Iraqi government forces. In attempting to interpret what is going on, what should be done and who should be the actor doing it, I have several questions.

What National Reconciliation?

While there is no specific point in time where you can plant a stake and say, “this is when the nation-state was invented,” it is clear that European feudal kingdoms were not nation-states. The King of France, for example, did not truly subordinate the chief retainers who were ostensibly his vassals, most notably the Duke of Burgundy, until the late 1400s. Even England, which due to geography was much more unitary than the Continent, did not really have a national consciousness among its people as Englishmen until the reign of Elizabeth I.

In nation-state terms, what is Iraq? Is it a nation, or just some lines the victors drew on a map at Versailles in 1919 to balance British and French interests in the region? How many people in Iraq see themselves as Iraqis as distinct from members of various clans? How many people see identify themselves as Iraqis as distinct from Sunni or Shia?

Without the people of Iraq having a concept of themselves as Iraqis, there can be no nation, so there is nothing to reconcile. As soon as the annoying people with the heavy weapons go home, we can go back to making our world safe for our group at the expense of the neighboring groups. In such an environment, the only way to get such people to stop killing one another is to get them to unify against you.

What Is the Nature of the al-Qaeda Threat?

I grew up during the Cold War, where every action taken against the official policy of the US Government could be ascribed to reds under the bed. This thinking was a material factor in getting us involved in Vietnam. The Soviets and the Peoples’ Republic of China were seen as the master puppeteers of Ho Chi Minh when, in fact, the two powers were not even getting along all that well.

Are we now in a situation where any bunch of Koran-carrying thugs with guns are automatically an al-Qaeda cell? Do we know what their aims are? By taking action on the suspicion that they are anti-American, will we guarantee the correctness of the suspicion?

When Did We Become Iran’s Border Patrol?

We are already spending blood and treasure in Afghanistan, which is on Iran’s eastern border. Now we have another source of trouble flaring up in Iraq, which borders Iran to the west.

The Iranians were meddling in Iraq over the past twelve years, during the time that we were trying to obtain order out of chaos there. Sure, there were American actions that were open to criticism, but Iraq was not making things easier.

Iran has aspirations to be taken seriously and respected as a regional power. Taken by itself, that is not an unreasonable thing to want. But a serious, respectable regional power doesn’t support terrorist organizations in Palestine and work to destabilize other neighboring governments.

Why not allow Iran to confront the irresponsibility of her own behaviors? Why do we have to make Iran’s borders safe?


Without an understanding of the answers to these questions, it is going to be difficult to figure out what can and cannot be achieved by any action. We have a history of actions that did not work out the way we had planned for various reasons, starting with the Mosaddeq affair in 1953. We need to understand more about what it is we are doing before we do it.

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Written by srojak

June 22, 2014 at 10:49 am

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