US Defence Secretary James Mattis is busy across the Potomac building a fresh, restructured plan for dealing with the Islamic State militants.
Part of his design reportedly includes sending conventional ground forces into Syria. This doesn’t mean US manoeuvre battalions, but it doesn’t matter much anyway. The reason the US finds it impossible to deal with the militants is that its own domestic political system has made it impossible.
The Islamic State is easy to understand. These people are nationalists, hoping to create a specific kind of nation. The "root cause" of nationalism is not resentment, it is not education and it is certainly not the printer. Nationalism works because people think it has a chance of success.
I was for the US invasion of Iraq because, by the standards of all sensible, civilised people in the 19th century, 18th century, 17th century, 16th century, and even the first half of the 20th century, it was a no-brainer. By these standards, any hostile infringement on sovereignty is a problem. The problem is not the quantitative impact, but the game theory.
If a guy comes up to you on the street and asks you for $5, do you give it to him, because it’s only $5? If he then asks you for $10, do you say, what the heck, it’s only $10? When he says, okay, $20, what do you say? By the time you get to say, $160, you might have a little trouble getting rid of him. That’s Saddam’s Iraq.
Remember that the Iraq invasion was a smashing success. What failed was the occupation. Fortunately for the IS crazies, Washington is so broken that it can barely conquer and occupy a third-rate, Third-World country. Of course, Washington can’t conquer and occupy its own inner cities, either.
If there is one thing that can be said for the disastrous occupation, it's that jihadis are sneaking into Raqqa rather than Auckland. They are not "motivated by the Iraq occupation." This is Wilsonian nonsense. They are motivated by the desire for power and glory, like everyone who fights. But at least we've made that glory available locally only in the desert.
The pattern for the last 50 years of Syrian history is that the insurgents of today are the rulers of the future. And it is obvious to anyone with a brain and an AK-47 that the Americans are (a) weak, and (b) not going to commit. Plus, fighting the US offers all those riches, power and glory.
One factor I think almost everyone overlooks is that the people who want to be “terrorists” are warriors, which isn’t exactly a new role in human history. And warriors would much rather fight in a war than strap bombs to themselves and blow up shopping malls.
It’s not that they won’t come to Auckland to blow up shopping malls, it’s just that with Iraq and Syria going on they feel like they have something better, more exciting and more manly, to do. Whereas before 9/11, they didn’t.
So if you want to say the occupation of Iraq was a failure, that’s fine. But it’s disingenuous to calculate therefore that occupation of a foreign country is impossible. In reality, military occupation of a foreign country, whether the natives are Arabs, Eskimos, Japanese or Finns, is not a difficult problem. Consider that 100 years ago, the British governed Egypt for 25 years. Egypt is not Syria, but it's about as close as you get.
According to Lord Cromer’s 1908 book Modern Egypt, the population of Egypt was about 10 million. Number of British soldiers needed to control it: about 5000. All costs were paid by Egyptian taxpayers. Number of militias, private armies, political parties, ethnic mafias or jihadists in Egypt: 0. Number of assault helicopters, main battle tanks or UAVs owned by British Army: 0.
In the end, it seems to have succeeded in Iraq – congratulations. It seems likely to fail, however, in the fourth-rate, Fourth-World country whose primary domestic industry is throwing stones at women. No prizes for you, America.
Here’s how to successfully pacify Syria, Lord Cromer style: Establish a Syrian government whose employees are Syrians and whose executives are internationals. Establish a Syrian army whose officers are Americans and whose soldiers are Syrians. Suppress all political parties, mafias, militias by hanging as many people as necessary.
Then set up a transition plan which involves handing over a stabilised Syria to a real ruler, probably a Gulf prince. Better yet, split the country into emirates and pick a Gulf prince for each. It's not like there is some great shortage of Gulf princes.
The irony is that Lord Cromer's advice would be to cancel the Syrian intervention plan because Washington can't do any of this. An effective programme of colonial administration run by the Pentagon is impossible because the State Department wouldn’t allow it. The root cause of terrorism is liberalism. And it is essential to address the root causes, not the symptoms. But the symptoms remain dangerous.
In reality, State Department progressives don't care about Syria or Syrians. We saw how much they cared about Vietnamese human rights in 1975. Their real motivation is the same one held by everyone in politics: defeating their real enemy. In this case, the US military, which they hate like poison. (I’ve been to San Francisco. Don't try to tell me I'm wrong about this.)
The Pentagon and Mr Trump’s fundamental error is to think they can win a domestic political victory by winning a foreign military victory. Its Beltway enemies are on to that game. There is no way they will let it happen. Staging a civil war by proxy in Syria is a waste of time, money and lives. If the Pentagon wants to take over Washington, it should grow a pair and do it the old-fashioned way.
If Washington was a well-run nation-state, no band of jihadi crazies would be able to influence its behaviour. Anyone who tries to slice off a piece of a state’s sovereignty by controlling its actions through violence, even if the policies they want to force you to adopt are good ones, must be defeated through violence. And at this point, I’m starting to wonder if the State Department actually finds IS useful for its side of this domestic Beltway civil war.
This is the problem with people who point out that deaths on 9/11 were only 1/10 of annual US car fatalities. This is the logic of sheep: to a sheep, anything bad that happens is an accident. Sheep next to you falls in a well: accident. Sheep next to you is eaten by a coyote: accident.
We are not sheep. And we pay enough taxes that we should not be the prey in any sort of predator-prey relationship, no matter how trivial. Moreover, the obvious way to minimise the impact of predation is not to be predated at all. Being predated, but only mildly predated, is a tricky balance to maintain.
Because the jihadists (who are just Third World revolutionaries with a Kufic font, not Islamofascists but Islamo-communists) will take anything they can get. The question is not what they will take, because their military capacity is irrelevant. The question is what their friends, the progressives, will give them. As the experience of South Africa shows, the maximum answer is: everything.