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by John Brian Shannon | November 15, 2015
Prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, there was no identifiable thing as ‘Islamic Terrorism’ – the terminology was unknown
If ‘Islamic Terrorism’ existed anywhere in the world, it had until 1990 been confined to the Soviet/Afghan War which officially ran from December 1979 to February 1989, with the West as willing participants promoting the unconventional warfare that dealt many hard blows to the Soviet Army in Afghanistan.
Of course, we didn’t call it terrorism. And we especially didn’t call it ‘Islamic Terrorism’
The brave ‘Mujahadeen’ of Afghanistan (translated to English means ‘Freedom Fighters’) were the West’s high-value allies in the struggle against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — itself a footnote in the monumental Cold War clash between the West and the Soviet Union.
Therefore, we did not refer to our allies the Mujahadeen in anything other than glowing terms and we always couched their actions (no matter how horrific) within the context of the great moral battle against the tyranny of Soviet thought.
The United States CIA, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and the Saudi government cooperated daily with the Mujahadeen of Afghanistan. The CIA brought to the table a dazzling array of options, ISI provided deep links to operators within the region, while the Saudis bankrolled the entire operation.
Billions of dollars of guns and ammunition, shoulder-fired missiles, grenades, IED’s and know-how were delivered to the Mujahadeen to fight the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. And because they were ‘our terrorists’ they weren’t known as ‘terrorists’ or ‘Islamic Terrorists’ — but by the handle ‘Mujahadeen’.
‘Our Brave Mujahadeen, the West’s Freedom Fighters!’ (spoken with a patriotic sigh)
Those were the halcyon years of ‘putting it to the Soviets’ and the Mujahadeen were spoken-of in reverent tones throughout America, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Every Western Cold Warrior loved the Mujahadeen freedom fighters.
Yet at the end of the Soviet/Afghan War, we suddenly left Afghanistan and Our Brave Mujahadeen, ending the food drops that were necessary to sustain life in the country.
Some 500,000 Afghan Mujahadeen and their families died of starvation because we abandoned them
Eventually, over 1,000,000 Afghani men, women and children perished on account of the slight chance that we would upset the Soviets (by our continuing to drop food and medicine to Afghans) and the Soviets could conceivably renege on their agreement to vacate Afghanistan.
I forgot to mention that one of three people considered by the CIA, the ISI, and the Saudis as one of the most effective Mujahadeen operators, was Osama Bin Laden.
The cessation of the food and medicine drops so enraged Osama Bin Laden that he swore revenge on the West that had abandoned the Afghan families and their warrior Mujahadeen.
We created our own monster
Beginning in 1990, Osama spent billions of dollars creating the so-called Madrasa schools all over Africa, Asia, India, the Middle East, South America and in the former Soviet republics. These schools for the most part guaranteed food and water to the students (but not their families) as well as an anti-Western education. Each student of a Madrasa must be able to (orally and without the help of props) recite the entire Koran from cover to cover before they can graduate from the school. And each student is given a high level of weapons and physical combat training.
Now the monster numbers in the millions
These schools are still pumping out students and while many have moderated their views in recent years, many have become even more hardcore. Each year, millions more students graduate from Madrasas all over the world.
More Madrasa schools are being built as we speak
Soon, over 1 billion kids will have attended Madrasas somewhere in the world. Let me say that plainly, the day is coming that one in seven people alive in the world, will have been educated K-12 in a Madrasa school.
Calling the decision to stop food aid and medical aid to the Mujahadeen and their families a foreign policy disaster, doesn’t come close to describing the incompetence of that fateful decision. The decision virtually created Islamic Terrorism on its own. Or re-created it, depending upon your worldview.
Scholars will tell you that there was some amount of terrorism by Muslims in the 19th century, mostly in the Philippines or other frontier Southeast Asian states. However, two points must emerge when this is being discussed:
- Those Muslims who performed terrorist acts were defending their home territory from invaders — they were not blowing innocent people up in faraway countries.
- There was a definite end to terrorism by Muslims in the 19th century, and there had been few instances of what could be termed, ‘Islamic Terrorism’ since then.
The failure to care for Our Brave Mujahadeen in Afghanistan has changed the world in ways that are not yet apparent. We should tread carefully.
The worst thing that we could do now, is to go stomping into (name any country) and start blowing up innocent people (and the occasional terrorist) just to express our rage at the senseless attacks in Paris
That’s the kind of thinking that got us here in the first place.
Closing the foreign policy lapses which allowed these mind-numbing examples of incompetence to occur, is like closing the barn door years after the horses have bolted from the stables
It’s too late for closing the door. Thanks to our foreign policy incompetence, we’re now in a kind of ‘salvage-what-we-can’ mode where almost any response to Islamic Terrorism will be the ‘wrong response’. And irrationally as usual, that’s where we’re heading.
Using the pretext of the Paris attacks to invade yet another oil-rich Middle Eastern country is not the answer to our problems. That will only result in a million anti-Western Madrasas being built, each school having anywhere from 10 students up to 2000 students.
The answer to Islamic Terrorism, is to build security into our nations without going overboard
- Above all, stop invading or bombing other countries that haven’t declared war on us. (That would be all countries, as no country has declared war on us)
- Everyday citizens in Western countries must be trained to spot unusual activity and feel that they are instantly and thereby empowered to report suspicious activity to police, or agencies such as Homeland Security.
- Once an individual or terrorist group has performed a terrorist attack they must be quickly taken through the legal system with a high degree of transparency and media exposure. If we are trying to portray our nations as great moral and justice leaders, then we should start acting the part. Give these people their day in court, let the media air the terrorist’s ridiculous reasoning for killing innocent people, and let that message be heard around the world. Even the most virulent terrorists don’t want to be seen as ridiculous or uneducated, or having any kind of association with ‘those outed terrorists’ — especially when it is broadcast globally on TV and on the internet.
- Once an individual or terror group has performed a terrorist attack and been killed by police or onlookers, it’s time to move along instead of dragging it out and milking it for all it’s worth — in order to justify invading yet another oil-rich nation. Once the terrorist individuals are dead, they’re dead. Get it? There is no waking them up from death to kill them again and again in a vain attempt to cool our anger. The terrorists killed some innocent people, now the terrorists are dead.
- No more invading other countries to soothe our hurts. The same goes for bombing campaigns. Once those particular terrorists are dead, that’s the end of it.
- Each person on the planet is in contact with or is related to, an average of 250 people. Therefore, using military means to contain this problem won’t work. All we’re doing when we kill one Madrasa-schooled person is to enrage another 250 anti-Western Madrasa-schooled people. When we kill 10,000 Madrasa-schooled people, we enrage another 2.5 million anti-Western Madrasa-schooled people.
- In the future, if we kill 100,000 Madrasa-schooled people, we will enrage 25 million anti-Western Madrasa-schooled people. Care to go for a billion? You getting this?
- Remember, all of them have advanced combat and survival training, on par with any recently enlisted soldier.
- How many enraged and highly-trained anti-Western people do we want visiting or living in our Western cities?
The people of the West need to wake up and realize Western policies created this imbroglio in the first place, and that this situation is already out of control
There’s no way to re-educate the millions of people that have been taught by anti-Western Madrasa schools all over the world since about 1990. Nor is there a way to prevent the millions of kids presently enrolled in those schools from completing their (anti-Western) education.
At this late date, all we can do is try to contain the carnage and use the strengths inherent in democratic nation-states (strong societies, high quality policing and security, the rule of law, human psychology, and the media) to mitigate the terrors that we ourselves have created
And we aren’t even at the beginning, of the beginning, of that path…
That path means proving to the world, and by extension any potential terrorists, that our system of government and our culture works better in practice than the system and culture they’ve been indoctrinated to believe.
If we can’t prove their Madrasa instructors were wrong, they’ll conclude that their Madrasa instructors were right…
by John Brian Shannon | September 27, 2015
A unique opportunity presents itself tomorrow when President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia addresses the UN General Assembly and later meets with U.S. President Barack Obama.
The question on everyone’s mind is;
Will that *opportunity* turn into an *action plan* that lowers the death toll, casualties, and displacement of Syrian citizens?
Certainly it would look like a Win-Win for both President Putin and President Obama if they put their political differences aside and announce a plan forward — one that involves working together to ‘beat back’ the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) to the point that it no longer threatens the sovereignty of Syria, its long-suffering citizens and neighbouring countries.
Presidents need successful outcomes in order to accrue political capital to boost their political momentum — which they can then use to further their foreign or domestic policy goals.
But for President Putin it is especially important to make the most of this opportunity as the Russian economy is in crisis mode due to the dramatic fall in oil prices over the past months, while President Obama must always work to counter the GOP narrative.
It’s theirs to lose
One way that both leaders could leave the UN in Win-Win fashion is to ink an agreement (a map) showing exactly where in the skies and on the ground that Russia and the U.S./EU nations will and won’t operate in Syria.
Combat Area Operations Agreement
This is a simple way to guarantee that Russian and Western fighter jets don’t accidentally or otherwise, engage each other within Syrian territory. (“You take the North and we’ll take the South. Now, where do we draw the combat operations line?”)
The same applies to ground-based units.
Mutual Agreement to Support Moderate Forces in Syria
One way to drown out the terrorists is to continually work to strengthen moderate forces in the country. Whether combat groups or civilians who want a return to stability and are proactively working toward that end, such people can have a dramatic effect as their numbers are infinitely larger than the ISIS hooligans trying to take control of Syrian towns and cities.
Whether U.S.A.-supported moderates or Russian-sponsored moderates — each of those are enemies to ISIS.
Of course, a constantly updated Who-Is-Who list needs to be kept, so that everyone works off the same page.
Agreement to Prevent Israeli Involvement in the Syrian Conflict
As this would trigger even more trauma for the region resulting in thousands more casualties and millions more refugees, it is important to have a unified policy.
Not only that, but a significant military force must be dedicated to preventing terrorists from crossing into Israel from Syria.
No good will come of trouble along Israel’s northern border and either Russia, the U.S., or a major (and majorly funded) UN peacekeeping/active patrol force must control a 20-mile wide strip of land across the southern Syrian frontier.
It is unthinkable to not do this, as the consequences of multiple attacks across the border would surely complicate and enlarge the war. (What happens if Israeli fighter jets cross into Syrian airspace in full rage mode to hit back at a terrorist Katushya rocket base, and suddenly encounter Russian Air Force or Syrian Air Force fighter jets?)
Internally Displaced and Refugee persons Handling Agreement
A unified approach to handling internally displaced persons in Syria and how to handle those persons wanting to leave the country to become refugees in neighbouring nations, is of paramount importance.
It’s one thing for thousands of people to leave a country by road, it’s quite another when military units are emplaced there expecting a major tank or infantry battle to break out at any minute, along the very path that Syrian citizens are fleeing!
And in the case of large swathes of land full of unmarked landmines left over from previous decades (millions of mines) it is important to prevent civilians from crossing those sections of land.
Both Russia and the Western powers must notify each other of mined areas in well in advance of approaching civilian convoys (whether they are travelling on foot or by vehicle) and obviously, that information must be kept secure from ISIS.
Mutual Support along Common Corridors or near Demarcation Lines
If U.S. forces (for example) get the best of ISIS and they retreat, the very obvious place for them to run is across the line of control into the Russian or Syrian controlled zone. And the reverse is true for ISIS fighters are fleeing Russian or Syrian military units/combat aircraft.
But when preexisting agreements are set up, ISIS fighters will (quite unknowingly) run into a trap — just when they think they’ve escaped their pursuers.
Agreement to Support the Democratically Elected Leader of Syria
Whether some in the West like it or not, Bashir Al-Assad is the democratically elected leader of Syria and significantly, he is the only game in town. There isn’t anyone remotely qualified nor imbued with a power base sufficient to replace him. Like it or not, Assad is going to be the President of Syria for many years to come.
Even ISIS, as successful as it has been on the field of battle couldn’t pull off running a government. Winning a series of paramilitary battles is one thing — governing a country is a different thing altogether.
Regime change isn’t an option in Syria’s case regardless of how appealing that may sound to those in GroupThink office cubicles around the world. What looks good on paper from 5000 miles away can seem truly hallucinogenic to those on the ground in Syria and to those with any experience in the region.
We are stuck with Assad for some time. There is no other option unless the EU agrees to accept 10 million Syrian refugees. Therefore, we better learn how to work with him.
President Obama should be encouraged to instantly fire any federal government employee (including military members) who indulge in the utter fantasy of regime change in Syria. It is so unrealistic a goal, that to waste any time speculating on it should immediately brand the person making the suggestion as sophomoric and functionally illiterate on the topic of Syria.
Where do we want Syria to be in Five Years?
We’ve seen what the past five years have brought.
“If we keep on doing what we have been doing, we’re going to keep on getting what we’ve been getting.” — Jackie B. Cooper
No sane person, no culture, no nation, wants to see another five years of murder, rape, mayhem and destruction for the people of Syria.
Practically any other option is better than that, and we must all reconcile ourselves to the fact that change must come to the Syrian situation. No amount of wishing away the past is going to make the presently-failing plan suddenly begin to work and achieve our goals.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” — Albert Einstein
Therefore, it is time to take-Russia-on as a full and valued partner to a sustainable solution in Syria, knowing that we will be dealing with Bashar Al-Assad for the next decade, and with a view to lowering the total amount of trauma, death, and destruction in that country every day.
If we can’t work together, ISIS wins
If the U.S.A., Russia, and some of Europe’s leading nations can’t agree on mutually-agreed solutions to solve the Syrian crisis, then I respectfully suggest that the present world order has far bigger problems than ISIS.
If the ISIS leadership is allowed to infer that they can defeat great powers by playing them off one-against-the-other it will embolden ISIS far beyond the limited goals they’ve set for themselves in Iraq and Syria.
Differences in approach must be set aside to allow the U.S.A., Russia, the EU, and Syria to work together to marginalize the deviant ISIS group, or we and future generations may experience a never-ending stream of such conflicts.
- War has forced half of Syrians from their homes. Here’s where they’ve gone (CNN)
- Russia steps up Syria support ‘to stop fall of Assad’ (Al Jazeera)
- Putin says Russia’s aim in Syria is supporting President al-Assad (The Globe and Mail)
- Exclusive: Syrian army starts using new weapons from Russia: military source (Reuters)
- Russia Surprises U.S. With Accord on Battling ISIS (New York Times)
- Russia-Israel military coordination talks on Syria to open Tuesday [October 6, 2015] (Reuters)
by John Brian Shannon | September 23, 2014
The truism, “The only constant in the universe is change” is one that nobody can deny. Even the stars change, eventually burning out after shining brightly for 10-50 billion years, depending on the size and composition of the star at its formation.
The same is true with politics. Civilization is constantly changing, individual societies within our civilization evolve — and to hopelessly complicate matters — all of the societies are evolving at different speeds and began from different starting points.
No doubt that all nations are on a path of enlightenment, it’s just that none of them occupy the same position on the path. Some are ‘behind’ us and some are ‘ahead’ of us, to put it in undiplomatic terms.
No matter. We do our best, and sometimes history has been kind to us and sometimes not, thereby making each country what it is today. Each nation is the sum total of its history.
There are no ‘perfect politics’ there are no ‘perfect political systems’ and there are no ‘perfect politicians’ — nor is perfection often found anywhere in the universe. Even so-called ‘perfect diamonds’ have microflaws in them.
The fact that we try to improve, is everything. Where we are today or tomorrow is much less important.
Striving to be better, means that eventually we will be better. And there is that learning curve which makes progress exponential once a certain point is reached.
We Celebrate Political Successes, But We Are Necessarily More Concerned With Political Failures
When faced with political failure at the international level, the result is often war. At best, nations will ‘agree to disagree’ for a time, until enlightened political thought (diplomacy) takes hold and solves the situation, thereby making that problem obsolete.
Within countries, political failure can ultimately lead to civil war. However, things can and usually do go on for some time in a state of fog or brimming discontent before it erupts into civil strife.
The one thing to take away from this, is that unless things are ‘getting better’ — they’re getting worse.
It’s a poor Captain who doesn’t alter course when the boat is being pushed backwards by the sea or the weather. One makes the necessary adjustments and the journey continues. There is no other choice.
“All War Represents the Failure of Diplomacy” — Tony Benn
When we have war it’s because we disagree with other political actors in other countries. This holds true for the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and so on.
When there is a lack of tolerance and insufficient diplomacy, then begins war.
It’s important to remember that all of this isn’t fated to happen. At any point in time, one side or the other is fully capable of changing their position and ending (or preventing) the conflict. A simple phone call can convey a change of heart and many lives can be spared death or the endless misery of lost family and friends.
Politics is Never Static
In the Middle East example, things which were once thought immovable are shifting.
Iran, yes that Iran, is talking to the UK about participating in the effort against ISIS. Arab nations are teaming up with the Europeans and the North Americans to fight ISIS in Iraq.
It’s important to note that while Iraq has invited Western nations inside its borders to assist the fight against ISIS, Syria has (so far) not invited any nation to fight ISIS inside Syria.
It’s a trust issue. Otherwise, Syria would gladly welcome any assistance in the fight against its supreme arch-rival ISIS. To underscore this point, the first IS in the acronym ISIS stands for Islamic State, while the second IS stands for Inside Al-Shams (Al-Shams is Arabic for the word ‘the Syria’) making Syria the prime target of ISIS, as they seek to establish an Islamic State in Syria by deposing the government of Syria.
Would the government of Syria like our help? You bet they would! Their very lives and future are at stake.
So why aren’t we invited inside Syria to fight ISIS?
In simple terms, it’s a failure of diplomacy. We’ve failed to convince Syria of our good intentions towards Syria and towards the millions of innocent Syrian people (many of whom are now running for the Turkish border at full speed) to escape the ISIS thugs.
The Enemy of My Enemy, is My Friend
Iran sees this truism and looks willing to participate in fighting ISIS to a standstill, if not complete defeat.
Why not to the point of complete defeat? Because without full Syrian involvement, there will be no victory over ISIS, only a never-ending beating them back into Syrian territory.
Iran is giving some good advice to Washington, and that advice goes like this; As ISIS is primarily based inside Syria, the ISIS entity will never be defeated unless a coalition can be invited into Syria for the sole purpose of routing ISIS — and just so that everyone is clear on this, Iran doesn’t mean allowing the coalition to take liberties with the situation and engaging in regime change while we’re in Syria.
The Iranians are experts in the region and they want the end of ISIS as much as anyone — and they feel that to win will require the support of the Bashar Al-Assad government.
It’s too late to begin ‘reinventing the wheel’ by starting with a brand new government in Syria. Iran says we should work with what we’ve got: the Bashar Al-Assad government. We’ll have plenty of time to bicker about other things with Bashar Al-Assad — after ISIS is routed.
Which, even with the support of Iran, the Arab nations, the West, and good luck, all working together in perfect harmony should take about 10 years. Maybe 15.
Pathways to Progress against ISIS
It’s great to have purist debates about how to wage war. However, when the diplomats have failed the war must actually be fought.
Like so many things in life, you work with what you’ve got. Purist debates must sometimes wait.
Right now, in the battle against ISIS, we’ve got Iraq, the United States, Europe, the Arab States, the UK, Canada and Australia as major contributors. There are other nations that want to contribute and we thank them for their contribution as well.
Iran is suddenly looking like it might join the coalition. Let’s hope that happens and soon, as Iran, more than any other country in the region is poised to play a major role and is perfectly placed to do so much good in this fight.
However, Syria has not felt comfortable enough to willingly allow coalition warplanes to overfly their territory, nor to have any country’s troops on their soil.
And, at this point, who could blame them? Even their regional allies didn’t help them in their hour of need, which eventually led to the partial collapse of their nation.
So we work with what we’ve got, which is much, but even all of that together is not the optimum combination to solve this growing and morphing problem.
The present Syria policy vs. what could be
Only because the West couldn’t win the trust and acceptance of Syria (an example of failed diplomacy) we’ve been pursuing a secondary policy inside Syria, until such times as we can gain the approval of the Bashar Al-Assad government to enter the air and land space of the country, in order to help rout ISIS from Syria, which would nicely complement our effort to rid neighbouring countries of ISIS.
This “Plan B” is a good one, as far as Plan B’s go — strengthening militia groups and individuals (warlords) inside Syria that are already engaged in the fight against ISIS.
But it goes without saying that a “Plan A” would be the better choice. Of course, as I referred to above Plan A would necessarily include Iran and Syrian participation — without losing any of the existing coalition members.
That is the difference between what is (Plan B), and what could be (Plan A). Only the failure of the diplomats has prevented us from activating Plan A. For now we’re stuck with Plan B.
Not that we should blame the diplomats for this failure. Diplomacy takes time and it may yet yield worthwhile results.
Iran joining the coalition might help to co-opt Syria toward coalition membership, in fact the Iranian diplomats might just be the ones to clinch that deal for all of us, and for themselves too as they too have an extreme dislike of the ISIS entity.
Benjamin Netanyahu today criticized the Plan B approach in a CBC television interview
Which is fine. We’re all entitled to our opinions.
And few nations (besides Syria, which is by far the main target of ISIS) have as much to lose as Israel, so I don’t blame the Prime Minster of Israel for criticizing the Plan B approach of strengthening the Syrian enemies of ISIS. (Excellent and wide-ranging interview with Benjamin Netanyahu begins at the 3:10 mark — continues to the 17:00 mark)
Apparently, he feels that all groups in the Middle East should be weakened equally — so that all are equally weak in comparison to Israel — and that the policy of strengthening regional forces presently engaged in fighting ISIS inside Syria (and presumably in Iraq too) is a bad policy.
I well understand the Israeli viewpoint that any group with guns and ammunition in the Middle East represents a threat to Israel. In Netanyahu’s view, those same fighters, once ISIS is defeated, could (in Netanyahu’s mind) conceivably turn to fight Israel.
And, in the absence of vision and leadership for the region and by the region, that’s a possibility. But with proper diplomacy and an inclusive vision for the region that all Middle East nations can feel comfortable with, no MENA nation need ever fear any other MENA nation or group.
The PM of Israel is looking at the situation through the prism of what has been, while I look at what could be
Were politics a static environment, PM Benjamin Netanyahu would win this point easily.
But politics is anything but a static environment, it is fluid and dynamic and as time moves forward we can begin to tailor regional politics to the needs of the countries in the region. And that means Israel too.
If one person in a house is unhappy, all will be unhappy. If one country in a region is unhappy, all will be unhappy. Tell me I’m wrong on this. But I know that you can’t. All of us know this truth and especially in a small region like the Middle East it applies equally to all of the nations.
Forming a coalition against a common enemy (in this case ISIS) where all of the members of the region become members of that greater coalition to fight their common enemy and eventually winning, is the best medicine for the failed diplomacy of the 20th century. Which is what started the whole Middle East problem in the first place.
The thinking of the early 20th century created the map we see today in the Middle East and all that has come since, both good and bad. Using 21st century thinking to make obsolete the problems inherited from a previous century, should be the visionary and leadership goal for the region.
To improve the existing paradigm we will need the cooperation and diligent efforts of all of the players in the region. There can be no leaving-out of Syria, nor of Iran. Whatever the new vision is, it must include the 23 million Syrians and the 38 million Iranians, or it simply won’t work, nor would it deserve to.
If Iran and Syria aren’t included in this herculean task of routing ISIS from the region and contributing to the future Middle East vision, eventually ISIS would win on account of their brutal tactics and their expertise at national destabilization wherever they operate.
For the Middle East, the rise of ISIS affords the best opportunity in decades to rise to meet the challenges of our time instead of shrinking back, and to work together to forge a new and better reality for all of the citizens of the Middle East.
Inclusiveness, tolerance, respect, and a common vision must be the way forward for the entire region.
Leaving Syria, Iran, Israel, or any other regional country out of that common and good future — and you are simply using the same old recipe — but attempting to bake a different cake.