Britain has joined a war against Islamic State (Isis) within a political framework that guarantees frustration if not failure. The House of Commons was rightly wary of another open-ended foreign intervention in Iraq, Syria or anywhere else. But, while MPs are conscious that Britain is entering a minefield, they were much less good at identifying where the mines are and what, if anything, can be done about them. As in 2003, the US and Britain are plugging themselves into a series of inter-related conflicts in Iraq and Syria in which the main players have very different agendas from what they pretend.
It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate nwith villains like Isis, so why do’t we do it and save some lives?
He’s offered to do a deal with Isis. No, not David Cameron. Not Obama, of course. I’m talking about Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader. He’s demanding that the Lebanese government swap Islamist prisoners for 21 soldiers and policemen held by Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra.
Those who use violence to shape the world, as we have done in the Middle East, unleash a whirlwind. Our initial alliances—achieved at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dead, some $3 trillion in expenditures and the ravaging of infrastructure across the region—have been turned upside down by the cataclysm of violence. Thirteen years of war, and the rise of enemies we did not expect, have transformed Hezbollah fighters inside Syria, along with Iran, into our tacit allies. We are intervening in the Syrian civil war to assist a regime we sought to overthrow. We promised to save Iraq and now help to dismember it. We have delivered Afghanistan to drug cartels and warlords who preside over a ruin of a nation where 60 percent of the children are malnourished and the Taliban is poised to take power once NATO troops depart. The entire misguided enterprise has been a fiasco of gross mismanagement and wanton bloodletting. But that does not mean it will be stopped.
Rioters in Liberia’s impoverished West Point district destroy a planned Ebola intervention centre in the neighbourhood, insisting that they don’t want it. A YouTube video shows a belligerent young man, who, having escaped from an Ebola treatment centre, is storming through a densely populated area, refusing to return to the centre. Eight healthcare workers and journalists are killed by villagers in rural Guinea.The news from the front-lines of the battle against the spread of this highly contagious disease has been punctuated by situations such as these – where those who are to be helped seemingly inexplicably fight back against those who have come to help them. How do we account for this peculiar situation?These people are not crazy. They’re afraid. And not just of Ebola and death, but also of what it represents, likely conditioned by complex beliefs that lie outside the scope of clinical medicine. These unexpected behaviours prompt us to broaden the scope of what we consider contextually significant in responding to the Ebola outbreak, and especially the complex, extensive, and rather recent histories of the countries of the Mano River basin.
As the Obama Administration prepared to bomb Syria without congressional or U.N. authorization, it faced two problems. The first was the difficulty of sustaining public support for a new years-long war against ISIS, a group that clearly posed no imminent threat to the “homeland.” A second was the lack of legal justification for launching a new bombing campaign with no viable claim of self-defense or U.N. approval.The solution to both problems was found in the wholesale concoction of a brand new terror threat that was branded “The Khorasan Group.” After spending weeks depicting ISIS as an unprecedented threat — too radical even for Al Qaeda! — administration officials suddenly began spoon-feeding their favorite media organizations and national security journalists tales of a secret group that was even scarier and more threatening than ISIS, one that posed a direct and immediate threat to the American Homeland. Seemingly out of nowhere, a new terror group was created in media lore.
“The Gulf of Guinea is the most insecure waterway, globally,” says Loic Moudouma. And he should know. Trained at the US Naval War College, the lead maritime security expert of the Economic Community of Central African States, and a Gabonese Navy commander, his focus has been piracy and maritime crime in the region for the better part of a decade.Moudouma is hardly alone in his assessment. From 2012 to 2013, the US Office of Naval Intelligence found a 25 percent jump in incidents, including vessels being fired upon, boarded, and hijacked, in the Gulf of Guinea, a vast maritime zone that curves along the west coast of Africa from Gabon to Liberia. Kidnappings are up, too. Earlier this year, Stephen Starr, writing for the CTC Sentinel, the official publication of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, asserted that, in 2014, the number of attacks would rise again. Today, what most Americans know about piracy likely centers on an attraction at Walt Disney World and the Johnny Depp movies it inspired. If the Gulf of Guinea rings any bells at all, it’s probably because of the Ebola outbreak in, and upcoming US military “surge” into, Liberia, the nation on the northern edge of that body of water. But for those in the know, the Gulf itself is an intractable hotspot on a vast continent filled with them and yet another area where US military efforts have fallen short.
On the evening of August 8th, Najat Ali Saleh, a former commander of the Kurdish army, was summoned to a meeting with Masoud Barzani, the President of the semiautonomous Kurdish region that occupies the northern part of Iraq. Barzani, a longtime guerrilla fighter, was alarmed. Twenty-four hours before, fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham ISIS had made a huge incursion into the Kurds’ territory. They had overrun Kurdish forces in the western Iraqi towns of Sinjar and Makhmour, and had surged as far as Gwer, fifteen miles from the capital city of Erbil. At the Mosul Dam, on the Tigris River, they had seized the controls, giving them the ability to inundate Baghdad with fifteen feet of water. The Kurdish army is known throughout the region for its ferocity—its fighters are called peshmerga, or “those who face death”—and the defeat had been a humiliation. “We were totally unprepared for what happened,” Saleh told me. Kurdish leaders were so incensed that they relieved five commanders of their posts and detained them for interrogation. “It would have been better for them if they had fought to the death,” he said.Saleh, a veteran of the Kurds’ wars against Saddam Hussein, was being called back into service. His orders were to retake Makhmour and keep going, pushing back ISIS fighters wherever he found them. Working quickly, he gathered several thousand soldiers, surrounded the city, and went in. By the next day, Makhmour was in Kurdish hands; in the following weeks, the Kurds forced ISIS fighters out of twenty surrounding villages. When I saw Saleh, on a recent visit, his men had just recaptured a village called Baqert. With mortars still thudding nearby, he exuded a heavy calm, cut by anger. I asked him if he’d taken any prisoners. “Only dead,” he said.
via ISIS vs. the Kurds.
The dawn found them sprawled like corpses around the cramped station room, atop a collection of soiled floor mats and a metal bunk that listed heavily to one side. They lay close together, some still wearing their uniforms from the night before. On a typical day in Aleppo, they would soon be woken by the sound of helicopters and jets roaring in to drop the first bombs on the rebel-held side of the city, which the regime has sought to pound to dust. But it was quiet this morning, and so they slept.Standing outside his office next door, Khaled Hajjo, leader of the Hanano Civil Defense team, dragged on the first of many Gitanes and surveyed his small domain. The one-story, cinderblock station house was set in the corner of a large concrete lot the size of a soccer pitch, its perimeter hemmed by a 12-foot stone wall. At the far end of the lot was a mass of stacked old tires and a broken-down lifting crane. It had once been a car impound, but like so many buildings in Aleppo it had been repurposed for the war.
As the world observes the continuing clash between Russia and the West in Ukraine, tensions are rising further south, in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Like in Ukraine, rivalries among political factions and ethnic groups in Georgia dangerously intersect with the broader Russian and Western struggle for influence in the former Soviet space. Without the dialogue necessary for peace, a serious conflict could erupt here as well, with very negative implications for regional and international security. The situation can’t be ignored.
Located at a strategic crossroads between East and West, Georgia has been a major theater of contention for many years. A country rich in history and hospitality, it is viewed by Washington as a conduit to Central Asian energy and as a means of expanding influence into the former Soviet Union. Moscow views it as an important component of its traditional security structure, enhanced by history and the shared ties of Orthodox Christianity.
As the US, UK and French governments escalate military action in Iraq and Syria against the ‘Islamic State’, in an operation slated to last “years,” they are moving fast to justify the need for mass surveillance measures at home, while neutering calls for surveillance reform. The end result could well be accelerated regional violence and increasing criminalisation of Muslims and activists in the West.
Intervention abroad, policymakers are arguing, must be tied to increased domestic surveillance and vigilance at home. But US and British military experts warn that officials have overlooked the extent to which western policies in the region have not just stoked the rise of IS, but will continue to inflame the current crisis. The consequences could be dire – while governments exploit the turmoil in the Middle East to justify an effective re-invasion of Iraq along with intensified powers of surveillance and control – the end result could well be accelerated regional violence and increasing criminalization of Muslims and activists.