And modest, of course, it will be, involving cooperation on a scale not seen since World War II. But to genuinely destroy the Islamic State and end the regional crisis that fuels it, one must think big.
Diplomacy has been tried in the past, but diplomacy tends to fail when equally matched powers are unwilling to give ground. For all intents and purposes, every force within the Middle East is capable only of influencing and protecting portions of the region; even the United States has proven unable to impose a solution. This has produced a stalemate and between the partitioned spheres of influence these outside forces have left no man’s lands. Within those no man’s lands, predictably, the madmen are king.
It was not, of course, just Paris this weekend: Beirut also felt the murderous strategy of militant Islam. For those who are attuned to ignoring the developing world, the attacks in Paris were shocking, confusing and subject to simplistic explanation: they hate us, they hate freedom, they want Sharia, etc., etc.
But when it comes to organizations training, supplying and directing acts of terrorism, hate and religion are not the explanations we seek. Organizations, like nation states, are neither suicidal nor nihilistic: they seek to empower themselves and gain security through whatever means are available to them.
First it was Great Britain, now it’s Spain: the devolution of once all-powerful nation states continues. On Monday, Spain’s Catalonia region’s autonomous parliament voted to secede from Spain by 2017, having won elections in September promising to do just that.
Here now is the predictability of geopolitics coming to the top of the news cycle: when you are top dog, you don’t take kindly to anyone trying to tear you down.
In the last week the United States, an empire in all but name, has struck back against its chief rivals. The first occurred in the disputed South China Sea where Beijing has constructed whole islands right in the middle of heavily-trafficked and potentially resource-rich waves. China’s plan was to extend its sea claim outwards from these islands, but the United States thwarted that scheme by sending a warship directly into China’s no-gone zone.
Meanwhile, in Syria’s murderous civil war, Russia’s deployment of bombers and tanks has now begun to be matched with the public announcement America is sending forces to fight in Iraq and to train allies in Syria.
So many arguments across the Internet these bicker over the same thing: everyone’s sources are wrong. To post an article from a British source automatically makes it suspect of a pro-British bias; anything from America is Western propaganda; Saudi news agencies get their checks cut by the king while Al Jazeera is beholden to the al-Thani family and their interests.
Propaganda as a means of warfare is as old as war itself but only in the twentieth century did it become a pillar of any self-respecting state’s defense strategy. World War I saw posters; World War II saw films; the Cold War manipulated newspapers and media.
Now, in the Information Age, when facts are so readily verifiable, propaganda machines have gone into a node mode and the most successful propaganda regime of all is Russia. The Russian template has more effectively covered up Putin’s weaknesses than any other modern propaganda machine. It’s done so well that Facebook comments are riddled with adoration for Putin’s war in Syria, claiming Russia’s relatively small-scale air war will do something the much larger American-led coalition can’t.
Especially in the United States, Palestinian-Israeli violence always sucks up the headlines, siphoning valuable media and filling it with tried-and-true journalistic narratives that play to the myriad of biases that always come to the fore when discussing the Holy Land.
Evangelical Christians get their dose of Biblical chaos, hoping beyond hope that this time, the Rapture will follow this latest spasm of violence. Conservatives and neoconservatives find yet more ammunition against Islam, Islamism or, to the brute racists lurking among them, merely Arabs in general to fill the Facebook comments of every article that covers the attacks. Liberals dredge up well-worn tirades against colonization, colonialism, Western power and Israeli abuse.
Rather than sit this one out, I’ve decided to delve into the very basics of the conflict at risk, of course, of revealing my own bias (spoiler: I don’t care).
Haters do hate and many of President Barack Obama’s greatest haters despise what he’s done about Syria; or, more accurately, what he hasn’t done. Some of that criticism is fair but much of it is not, for Syria is not worth the blood, treasure or time of the United States when there are much bigger, nuclear-armed fish to fry elsewhere.
Much of the world’s attention is fixed on the refugee crisis emanating from the warzones in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. It’s a simple enough narrative for journalists: fleeing the bombs and bullets of the Islamic State or the Taliban, refugees swarm peaceful Europe, hoping for humanitarian salvation.
But that narrative overlooks a key failure of European migration policy. This wave of migration is hardly new. On the continent itself are states that have long propelled their citizens to jump the borders for greener pastures in Western Europe.
Three of Germany’s top five asylum-seeking countries of origin are not in the wartorn Middle East but rather the overlooked Balkans: Albania, Kosovo and Serbia. Macedonia, another Balkan state, ranks seventh.
It’s important to remember how swears like that will net the sort of Google-searching folks I very much want here: the sort who want to understand, but who don’t need the gross, and largely unimportant, blow by blows.
In two years, Vladimir Putin has taken Russia to war in not one but two countries; he’s conquered the strategically vital Crimea, froze a conflict in Ukraine and now has turned his war machine upon Syria’s conflict. The hapless United States under Barack Obama seems paralyzed with handwringing indecision and the Google searches for “World War III” are skyrocketing.
Yes, we all ought to be worried and we all should try to understand why powerful places choose to seek war in faraway lands.
So why is Russia now at war in Syria? What the hell happened, and, most importantly, what can happen?
South America gets a lot less attention that it deserves from foreign policy chats and geopolitical blogs. Much of that is because the continent is largely stable: not since the 1930s have there been any interstate wars and now that Colombia’s FARC revolutionary army is on the back foot, it appears failed states have also receded over the horizon. South America’s stability is taken for granted by both the hemispheric superpower and much of the rest of the world.
But within Venezuela, all kinds of chaos is breaking loose.
Last week, the country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, threatened to invade and annex half his neighbor, English-speaking Guyana. Before that, he deployed forces to the border with Colombia. Meanwhile, at home, he’s been arresting enemies and presiding over a state that feels very much like it’s collapsing.
Should Venezuela’s state behave as irresponsibly as its past suggests it will, the next great geopolitical crisis will not be in well-trodden battlefields in the Middle East, Asia or Europe but in the United States’ own backyard. Read more “The Next Great Geopolitical Crisis: Venezuela”