The middle east is more unstable today than it's been since Axis and Allied armour ranged across it in a hot war 75 years ago, on the fringes of living memory, yet we are not treating ISIS as a serious threat. It cannot mount an invasion of the west, it cannot come close to winning an offensive conventional war with the west, and it cannot hope to compete economically with the west. But it threatens instead to embark on the sort of destabilization programme the early Comintern practised, that ultimately led to the cold war and the containment policies of the 1950s and 60s that took us to the brink of thermonuclear exchange on more than one occasion.
After the Napoleonic and Soviet revolutions, the Wahhabist Islamic State (ISIS) is the third major ideological challenge to the Westphalian system, drawing in individuals and groups from around the world, mostly from Africa and parts of Asia, but including the post-industrial west in a massive program of systemic destabilization. More than that, it is a self-proclaimed revitalization of a centuries-old Islamic advance against the west, an advance held in more or less enforced hiatus since Suleiman the Magnificent was stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683.
The current middle eastern battleground is a confusing network of alliances and counteralliances that makes the old Austro Hungarian porridge of alliances look straightforward - the Kurds are our allies against ISIS but enemies of our Turkish allies, who are bombing ISIS and Kurds alike, not to mention shooting down Russian planes, which are bombing so-called "moderate" Islamists and ISIS with equal gusto, whilst defending Assad, whom the western allies have sworn to overthrow. Compounding all of this is the geo-strategic implications of the Russians and Americans butting up against each other in a shooting war, while Iran, widely believed to be developing nuclear weapons, plays one off against the other in what amounts to high stakes brinkmanship.
Things can get very hot very fast if something goes sideways, but western civilization must somehow stamp out the Islamist scourge.
After the Napoleonic wars, Napoleon was taken to an island far away from his imperial ambitions and France returned to its place among nations. In postwar Germany, the allies embarked on a deNazification programme that destroyed Nazism utterly and allowed West Germany to rejoin the international system. In the current battle against ISIS, we haven't even been able to bring ourselves to identify Islamism as Islamic, despite the best efforts of the Islamists to convince us, much less set about destroying it. Yet.
A troubling meme amongst the pacifist left here in Canada and abroad is that we brought this all on ourselves. This thesis is built around the formulaic soft racism of paternalistic post-colonialism or, to put it in plain English, the idea that we in the west have inflicting grave harm on former colonial nations - a harm that apparently flows down each generation into the next long after everyone went home - and everything that the west has done since is intended to keep them in perpetual misery. According to this view, radical Islam is our fault, 911 is our fault, the civil war in Syria is our fault, and the fact that Islamists don't seem to care about peace as much as we do is our fault too. It couldn't possible be anything to do with their own culture, because if they don't act like us, it can only be because they aren't allowed to.
This post colonial world view was for a time lent academic credibility by a rickety theoretical scaffolding pasted together by Marxian scholars like Immanuel Wallerstein who saw the rich northern world as the bourgeoisie and the poor south as the proletariat. As an academic school it collapsed with the Berlin wall, but these days the Marxian Internationalist paradigm, more or less stripped of its scholarly dignity but festooned with self-imposed western guilt, has drifted into the background noise in Canada where it still influences foreign policy formulation.
One manifestation of this tendency toward western guilt has morphed into the notion that our bombing campaign against ISIS is itself to blame for creating the refugees flooding out of Syria; a notion that can only be advocated by folks who have no idea what the allied Rules of Engagement (ROE) are, and no idea what war looks like in the 21st century. In point of fact the ROE are so restrictive in the current air campaign in Iraq and Syria that a single civilian being killed by vetted bombings is unlikely, the accidental hospital bombing in Afghanistan notwithstanding. The refugees are not running from us, they are running from ISIS and its reign of terror over parts of Syria and Iraq.
But because this guilt runs through public discourse as a sort of given in some circles, it precludes real engagement against ISIS, certainly in federal Liberal circles, where our involvement is seen as optional. Our participation in allied air attacks is not enough, but it is absolutely crucial not only to the war effort but to our status as a civilized nation among civilized nations.
— Scott Anderson is a Vernon City Councillor, freelance writer and a bunch of other stuff. His academic background is in International Relations, Strategic Studies, Philosophy, and poking progressives with rhetorical sticks until they explode.