When France’s prime minister Manuel Valls said after last Friday’s attacks in Paris, “nous sommes en guerre” – we are at war – there could be no doubt that the rest of the civilized world, including the United States and NATO, will stand beside our oldest ally in a common struggle to extirpate the barbaric ISIS.
But as this conflict deepens and national emotions surge, it is vital to keep minds clear and principles intact.
Sadly the Republican candidates for president, and too many in their party, will seek to use this crisis as a partisan weapon against President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic presidential contender. They will charge the Obama administration with “weakness” even as American warplanes fly thousands of sorties against ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria. Such political attacks sound ridiculous to anyone familiar with the recent history of the Mideast. As a product of Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS rose directly from the ill-conceived invasion and occupation of that unfortunate country – and the fact that Clinton mistakenly voted to give George W. Bush the conditional authority to wage that war in no way makes her (or Obama) responsible for its botched execution.
The social chaos, religious strife, and massive bloodshed resulting from the US invasion created fertile ground for a new terrorist movement. And as Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick explains in Black Flags, his authoritative new history of the rise of ISIS, the Bush administration elevated its founder, a minor Jordanian gangster named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, into an international terrorist celebrity with its bogus claim that he represented a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
So when historians someday apportion blame, that process won’t flatter the Republicans and their neoconservative advisers, who assured us that “regime change” in Iraq would reshape the region at very little cost to us. Few national security predictions have ever been so confident and so wrong, with such enormous and enduring consequences. Influenced by those advisers, the Bush White House failed to address the terrorist threat before 9/11, and later used it to build a fraudulent justification for invading Iraq.
We might thus hesitate before continuing to follow the counsel of such figures – from William Kristol to Dick Cheney to Jeb Bush, one of the original members of the Project for the New American Century, a powerful lobbying outfit formed 15 years ago to promote war in Iraq, among other misguided ideas. These are the same characters who fought more recently to kill the Iran nuclear deal. Had they succeeded, we now would have no chance of even minimal cooperation with Tehran against ISIS, which is vital.
We would do better instead to reject their ill-conceived notions – and especially their mindless hostility toward Muslims and Islam.
Consider the latest instance: Along with Senator Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and too many other Republicans, “moderate” Jeb Bush today articulates a response to ISIS that includes ominous anti-Muslim overtones. Specifically, he and Cruz urge the government to accept Christian but not Muslim refugees from Syria — and this is merely the most recent in a wave of remarks and statements offensive to Muslims from Republican elected officials and political hopefuls. Whenever a Republican candidate — or any other American — endorses bigotry against Islam and its billion-plus believers, he or she becomes a “useful idiot” serving the cause of terrorist jihad.
As George W. Bush said in his finest hour, our cause is not a war against Islam or the overwhelming majority of Muslims who live peacefully and loyally in the United States and in scores of other nations, from Europe to Malaysia. Indeed, the destruction of ISIS will require an unbreakable alliance with Islam’s true followers, not only in Syria and Iraq but in every place that jihadi terrorists may target. We cannot rely on military, police, and intelligence cooperation from people demonized and demeaned by political leaders and media outlets.
Every imbecile who threatens Muslims is an unwitting agent of ISIS; in fact, it would be unsurprising to learn that ISIS itself is covertly promoting such messages in order to intensify enmity between the peoples of the Quran and the rest of the world. Certainly that is among the primary objectives of attacks like last week’s atrocities in Paris.
What we need now is a diplomatic solution for Syria, which may at last be on the horizon if the Russians are serious about bringing down ISIS. We need a smart, careful, and focused military strategy that builds on recent advances by Kurdish and Shiite forces on the ground. And we need to assure Muslims everywhere – as President Obama has wisely insisted — that they have a place of security and honor in the world we hope to build.
Photo: The Eiffel Tower is lit with the blue, white and red colours of the French flag in Paris, France, November 16, 2015, to pay tribute to the victims of a series of deadly attacks on Friday. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier