Sunday, November 15, 2015
Bringing the war home
I think anyone would be forgiven for not knowing there was a Democratic debate last night. It's hard to compete with the fallout of the fourth Republican debate and the Paris attacks. Bernie Sanders' campaign was apoplectic over the format changing at the last minute to reflect the coordinated ISIS attacks on Paris. This pretty much made foreign policy the center piece of the night, which isn't exactly Bernie's calling card. Surprisingly, it was Martin O'Malley who had the quote of the night, "my son is not a pair of boots on the ground," which he took from a mother of a young man who served two tours during this neverending "War on Terror."
It was a much more manageable event with Jim Webb and Lincoln Chaffee dropping their campaigns. Lawrence Lessing also dropped his bid, but I don't think many persons noticed he was even running. This opened up the stage for former Maryland Governor O'Malley, allowing him to lock horns with Bernie and Hillary.
Whether the Bernie campaign team liked it or not, there was no way to avoid the Paris attacks. They were emblazoned all over the news and each of the Republican candidates were responding to them in the most hyperbolic terms. To his credit, Bernie tried to play down the event, whereas Hillary and Martin addressed the issue in strong terms. Sanders' campaign wanted CBS to stick to the initial economic format, but the first 30 minutes of the debate was devoted to ISIS, which clearly favored Hillary Clinton. Oddly though, O'Malley came away the strongest by focusing on a greater international security effort in dealing with radical groups like ISIS rather than another war.
ISIS is nothing new. It is just the latest amalgam of terrorist groups under a new banner. Their philosophy or religion, if you can call it either, is the same as was that of the Taliban and al Qaeda before them. Even the Toyota Hilux trucks stay the same. They use anarchist methods to establish a new "caliphate" based on a very corrupted reading of the Koran. The Taliban briefly had a "caliphate" in Afghanistan, and continue to claim large swathes of the embattled country and neighboring Pakistan. The same mentality pervades ISIS, which seeks to do the same in Iraq and Syria. They have established a capital of sorts in Raqqa, Syria, but they are a "state" only in their own minds.
Going to war with ISIS is simply an extension of our ongoing war with al Qaeda. O'Malley and Sanders both stated the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan only further exacerbated the situation, not remedied it, as much as some Republicans would like to think so. The only difference is that ISIS has been relatively recently formed and it is convenient to lay the blame at the steps of the Obama White House.
Unfortunately, we are going to hear a lot more about ISIS in the months ahead as the Republicans politicize the organization to suit their anti-immigration agenda. Trump has already vowed to deport all Syrian refugees taken in over the next year, which is pretty much the same sentiment of the other candidates if not so forcibly expressed. ISIS claimed they had infiltrated the refugee population and two of the suicide bombers in Paris have been identified as part of this recent wave of refugees. Not that they wouldn't have had plenty of homegrown Parisian Muslim radicals to draw from.
The Democrats have opted for a more pragmatic approach, but if more such acts are committed in the year ahead, you can well imagine public sentiment will shift toward the Republicans in this regard, as Americans are not very keen on Muslim immigrants in general. You remember Rick Perry claiming ISIS had already infiltrated Texas as a result of our porous border security. I'm sure he would love to say, I told you so, in his Texas twang.
The Republicans are using ISIS to undermine White House foreign policy. It doesn't matter that ISIS offers no tangible threat to the United States, it is the existential threat they are playing on. The GOP candidates want to incite fear in the electorate, and nothing is more scary than the specter of 911. CNN obliged by constantly showing images during their telecast of the new Freedom Tower where the World Trade Center towers once stood. If only these candidates would express the same anxiety over school shootings.
It is very interesting how these debates are shaping up. The Republicans choose to incite their audience with fiery rhetoric, promoting a renewed war on terror, with the United States firmly in the lead. Meanwhile, the Democrats call for a greater concerted effort among all nations to combat terrorism, which is what the Obama administration has been pursuing.
There are always weak links. France has shown itself to be one both on the international and state level, as it pursues its own interests. It has been particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks this past year, with some thinking the principally Muslim suburbs of Paris are incubators for Islamist terrorist cells. This was the same thing being said of Germany in the aftermath of 911, and has become the subject of the current season of Homeland. Both Germany and France put greater emphasis on individual liberties in their societies, which does make these countries more susceptible to attack, but then no nation is immune from terrorist attacks, no matter how strict their homeland security.
What I like about Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley is that they take the broad view when it comes to terrorism, not seeing it as an object within itself. Unfortunately, this is the case with Hawkish politicians like Hillary Clinton. She offered a more muted view on Iraq during the debates, but you figure she still feels that invading Afghanistan and Iraq were the right thing to do, which she strenuously defended the last time she ran for President in 2008.
At some point we need to pull back from the abyss and view the world as a whole, not as isolated regions. Of course, that's hard to do when terrorists bring the war home as they did in Paris. It is easy to become overwhelmed by emotion and launch fiery broadsides to persuade the electorate you are the man or woman to rid the world of this pernicious evil. But, how many more wars must we wage in the name of terrorism?