Tuesday, November 17, 2015

When All Else Fails, Scream

Isis distinguished itself from Al Qaeda by its insistence on the need to control territory and its contempt for merely theatrical terrorism. The outfit proposed to build Sharia law in one country by creating and defending an actual Caliphate, however small. Al Baghdadi wanted to be a Lenin, not a Bakunin like Bin Laden. That dream is fading now. It isn’t just the effects of constant bombing or this or that tactical reversal or the death of particular leaders. Larger factors are at work. Whoever is calling the shots may have hoped for a Syrian version of the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg, a falling out among the enemies of movement, but the Russians aren’t going to go home and it appears that Kerry has come to an accommodation with them on the fate of Assad. Meanwhile, the Kurds have made it much harder for new recruits to enter Isis controlled space; and now they’ve cut the road to Mosul. Perhaps worst of all, Obama didn’t let the war become an American affair; and partly as a result, it’s everybody’s affair. No matter how much fanaticism you can muster, you won’t be able to defeat the world. The world will defeat you. The recent spasms of terrorism are evidence of the weakness of the movement, not its resilience. The Isis leadership knows that. The handwriting on the wall, after, was originally a Mesopotamian thing. What’s peculiar and potentially dangerous is that so many Americans continue to overestimate Isis, especially politicians exploiting the fears of the public.

When the Nazis began the Blitz against London in 1940, British leaders realized that the Germans had given up on winning air control by defeating the RAF and therefore given up on invading Britain. Resorting to a terror campaign was an acknowledgment of strategic failure. Now every conservative I’ve ever met, at least all the male ones, know the history of World War II in mind-numbing detail. They can and do debate fine points of tactics down to the platoon level and identify every tank, gun, and plain on all sides. So why don’t these same people recognize the recent Isis attacks in Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria for what they were, evidence of military despair? From a rational point of view, blowing up Russian airplanes and shooting up French music halls makes even less sense than a doomed campaign of bombing. In fact it’s even more counterproductive than what the Germans did in ‘40, more like what happened in ’44 when the collapsing Reich wasted resources on revenge weapons like the V2 whose only effect was to reinforce the allied determination to insist on unconditional surrender. Mobilizing the Egyptians, the Russians, the French, and probably all of NATO against you when you’re already taking a beating from the Americans and Kurds isn’t a strategy. It’s the geopolitical equivalent of suicide by cop. So I repeat. Why do the great right-wing military philosophers not understand what’s going on? Apparently the prospect that Obama will succeed in the Middle East is as intolerable as good economic news or the Ace’s failure to fail is at home. Or maybe they simply suffer from fragile nerves.

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