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Hullabaloo


Saturday, August 23, 2014

 
Thought for the day

by digby

A year ago everyone was agitating for the US to bomb Syria on behalf of the rebels in order to unseat the war criminal Bashar Assad who was committing atrocities on innocent civilians. Today the same people are agitating for the US to bomb Syria on behalf of Bashar Assad in order to push back the rebels who committing atrocities on innocent civilians.*

I don't have an answer for the problem of ISIS but I think it's a very good idea to take a breath and ask some questions before running around screaming like the Martians have invaded. This piece in the NY Times indicates there are some people who are taking a thoughtful, rational stance:
With the rapid advance of ISIS across northern Iraq, and the release this week of a video showing one of the group’s operatives beheading an American journalist, the language Obama administration officials are using to describe the danger the terrorist group poses to the United States has become steadily more pointed. But some American officials and terrorism experts said that the ominous words overstated the group’s ability to attack the United States and its interests abroad, and that ISIS could be undone by its own brutality and nihilism.

“They have a lot of attributes that should scare us: money, people, weapons and a huge swath of territory,” said Andrew Liepman, a senior fellow at the RAND Corporation and former deputy head of the National Counterterrorism Center. “But when we’re surprised by a group, as we have been in this case, we tend to overreact.”

These notes of caution from inside the government and from terrorism watchers come as the White House considers expanding military action against ISIS, including possibly striking across the border in Syria.

American intelligence agencies are working on a thorough assessment of the group’s strength, and they believe that its ability to gain and hold territory could make it a long-term menace in the Middle East. Intelligence officials said there were indications that ISIS’ battlefield successes had attracted defectors from Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Africa, who are eager to join a group with momentum.

But experts say ISIS differs from traditional terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and its affiliates, primarily because it prefers enlarging what it calls its caliphate over discrete acts of terrorism. It has captured dams and oil fields, and has seized spoils of war like armored personnel carriers and tanks.

“This is a full-blown insurgent group, and talking about it as a terrorist group is not particularly helpful,” said William McCants, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the Defense Department did not believe that ISIS had “the capability right now to conduct a major attack on the U.S. homeland.”
If you watch Lindsay Graham flapping his hands like Butterfly McQueen all over Fox News you'd think ISIS was days away from a full-blown invasion. (Honestly, these war hawks are nothing more than hysterical panic artists.)

That horrific execution of James Foley  proves that ISIS has a sophisticated grasp of how to stir the emotions of the Western powers. It's impossible for us not to react with horror and anger at such barbaric acts. But it's somewhat relevant to keep in mind that the act of beheading is actually not uncommon in the middle east. Just last week American ally Saudi Arabia carried out similar executions as official acts:
Saudi Arabia has beheaded at least 19 people since the beginning of August in a surge of executions, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

The deaths relate to the period from 4 to 20 August and are included in the 34 deaths ordered since the beginning of January.

According to HRW, international standards require that capital punishment should only be reserved for the “most serious crimes” in countries that still use it.

Offences that resulted in the Saudi Arabian death penalties in August ranged from drug smuggling and sorcery.

Four smugglers were executed on 18 August for smuggling a “large quantity of hashish” into the country amid an effort by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and the government to tackle the social ill of narcotics and warned that anyone else doing the same would also be punished “according to Sharia”, the Saudi Press Agency said.

The men were all part of the same family and their deaths were condemned by Amnesty as being part of the “disturbing” surge in executions. Reuters reported that their confessions may have been obtained through torture.

Mohammed bin Bakr al-Alawi was beheaded on 5 August for allegedly practicing black magic sorcery, the Saudi Gazette reports, while according to Amnesty, a mentally ill man, Hajras al-Qurey, has been sentenced to death for drug trafficking “after an unfair trial” and will be killed on 25 August.

Al-Qurey’s son had reportedly confessed to drug smuggling and said that his father was unaware that the contraband was in the car.

The elder claims to have been beaten into confessing, despite repeatedly exclaiming that he was innocent and that he suffered a mental disability. He was held criminally liable despite an examination finding symptoms of mental illness including auditory hallucinations.
And this from Egypt last week:
Four beheaded corpses were found by residents of a town in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, security sources said, blaming Islamist militants waging an insurgency against Cairo.

The security sources in Sinai and Cairo, said residents of Sheikh Zuwaid found the bodies two days after the men were abducted by gunmen while travelling in a car in the town, a few kilometres from the Gaza Strip.

Though the men were civilians, they may have been targeted for their perceived allegiance to the police and army, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity. They gave no other indication of the identity of the men.

The militants have stepped up attacks on policemen and soldiers since then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013.

The government does not distinguish between the Sinai militants and the Brotherhood, which it has designated a terrorist group although the movement says it is peaceful and denies any links to the wave of militant attacks.

Today's New York Times front page has a chilling picture of armed men dressed in black and wearing black masks alleged to be preparing to execute Palestinians who they suspected of spying for Israel. (The story itself is on A10!) They apparently shot them, which I guess passes for civilized behavior these days, but to me that picture was every bit as terrifying as the other pictures we saw this week.

That's the context in which these horrors are unfolding.

It's probable that the US as the world's policeman (a situation that needs to be dealt with before anything else will change) will end up right in the middle of it again whether we like it or not. But it does no good to start charging around like a bull in a china shop bombing who we think the "bad guys" are this week. You can't look at this situation as one between "good guys" and "bad guys." The line between good and evil resides in every human being and right now, in the middle east, the evil side of a whole lot of people seems to be dominant. And here in the US we've seen some pretty awful examples of the same phenomenon. (Certainly, after our performance of the past decade in terms of unjustified invasions we are in no position to moralize. We have delivered plenty of brutality.)

A cool temperament and wise counsel are called for now. At the very least assume that anything the pearl-clutching Lindsay Graham says must be done should be tabled for at least a month.

This interview with former State Department official Matthew Hoh is worth reading. He makes the important (and obvious) point that there are simply no good recent examples of "intervention" actually helping anything. Not that it seems to matter. But it's worth considering as we watch yet another seemingly unstoppable march to war in the middle east.


*h/t to SM

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