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Stopping the ISIS Butchers – Too Late as Usual

August 11, 2014

ISIS Baghdadi

Some people can say in a few hundred words what I might take thousands to express. One such person is David Aaronovich of the UK Times. Here’s what he says in today’s column about the butchers of ISIS:

Last week in the grotesque bazaar of social media, someone posted pictures of Isis executions by a river in Syria or Iraq. On a concrete jetty awash with blood, victims were being brought one by one to the water’s edge, forced to kneel and then shot in the head before their bodies were pushed into the flow.

For this spectacle to exist there needed to be a minimum of four men: a guy to hold the bound victim and push him to his knees, a guy to hold the Isis flag, a guy to blow the victim’s brains out and — indispensable — a guy to take the pictures on his mobile.

By the Mac as I type this, I have a book with a photograph on the cover that shows much the same scene. A group of eight or nine young men — one no more than 17 or 18 — form the background, standing on a low bank. In front of them a man in a jacket and white shirt, holding an overcoat, kneels looking just to the right of the camera. To the side and slightly behind him, legs braced, is a uniformed man with spectacles, his right arm outstretched, holding a pistol about two feet from the kneeling man’s head.

The book, Believe and Destroy: Intellectuals in the SS War Machine by Christian Ingrao, is an explanation of how “handsome, brilliant, clever and cultivated” young Germans came to be in foreign lands shooting defenceless people in their thousands, and thinking that this mass murder was not just necessary but good.

Most things that are bad — even very bad — are not “like Nazism”. But Isis are very like the SS in occupied eastern Europe. There is the same idea of a mystical destiny that doesn’t just permit killing, but demands it. Like the Caliphate for the jihadis, the east, as Ingrao puts it, “symbolised a mythical space for the SS, a tabula rasa for Germandom to shape, a place rich with possibilities”. In service of that vision, the pits had to be filled with bodies.

There are aesthetic differences. The SS would hang people if they wanted to put on a show and Isis men — including young Britons — will behead, stone or crucify them. But allowing for method, one great similarity will shine through. Just like the SS, Isis men will kill more and more, will be more unconstrained in their savagery, stopping only when they are utterly defeated and every executioner — even if he is such a gentle boy from Purley — is dead or tried. Any politician’s talk that does not envisage this defeat is wasted breath.

Easier said than done. The SS did their work in the context of a world war between evenly balanced opponents. It took the defeat of armies numbering millions by even bigger armies to stop them. By then it was too late.

Since then, we have signally failed to intervene in time to prevent mass homicide. We failed in Yugoslavia, in Cambodia, in Rwanda, and now we’re failing in Syria and Iraq. In each case we – meaning the West – were eminently capable of deploying superior forces and firepower in the air and on the ground in order to stop the massacres. What prevented us was a combination of lack of intelligence, superpower tensions, slow-moving diplomacy, ineffective use of peacekeeping forces and war-weariness on the part of actors that could have intervened. Take an average of three from the five factors above, and you will understand why we have allowed millions to die at the hands of bloodthirsty sadists over the past thirty years.

The same factors are in place today, except that in order to have peacekeepers you need combatants who are willing to respect the rules of engagement. Isis respects no rules but its own.

As Aaronovich says, ISIS will not be stopped until it is utterly defeated. That will not happen unless there are troops on the ground who are capable of defeating them. That could mean another “coalition of the willing”, whatever Obama and Cameron say about not deploying ground forces. Air strikes can prevent further territorial expansion by ISIS, but they cannot stop the insurgents from doing their dirty work within the territory they already control. They are doing it now, so it’s already too late to save the thousands whom they have killed already, and thousands more who are in their gun-sights.

But if we accept that the US and its allies will not risk another Afghanistan by sending troops into the killing fields, what’s the alternative? That the Kurdish Peshmerga continue to struggle against their well-armed opponents with the aid of new weapons and ordnance from the West? That the remnants of the Iraqi army, supplemented by half-trained Shia militia take the fight to ISIS and wreak bloody revenge on innocent Sunnis in the process? An Iranian intervention side by side with the Iraqi Shia, triggering anti-Shia insurgency by remnants of the jihadis allied with the tribes in the Sunni provinces?

All are possible. The only other remote chance is that the alliance between ISIS, the Sunni tribes and former Saddam-era Baathists will fracture because the fellow-travellers will no longer be able to stomach the barbarity of the foreign jihadis. An Iraqi government not led by the divisive Al-Maliki might be able to exploit the differences between ISIS and its allies and turn them against each other. But I suspect that we are now beyond the point at which dissenting elements within the so-called Islamic State would be prepared to overcome their fear of the fighters sufficiently to bring about a disintegration of the new entity.

So we’re back to ground troops, or we must accept a containment policy in the knowledge that ISIS is getting stronger by the day both financially and in the numbers of disaffected extremists from around the world who are flocking to the region to make holy war on every state in the Middle East that is unwilling to see things their way. And that includes Jordan, the Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey and God knows where else.

The killing will not stop until the killers are stopped. That’s the essence of what Aaronovich is saying, and I agree with him wholeheartedly. And that, ultimately and at the cost of many more innocent lives, is what Obama and his allies, or their successors, will eventually conclude. Too late, as usual.

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