A hundred million years ago, I was an undergraduate international relations major, primarily focusing on US-Soviet relations, Russian history and security studies. Isn’t it great that two out of the three became totally obsolete within five years of my graduation in 1985? (My parents were so pleased with their investment that I paid for law school myself. That investment worked out just a bit better). Russian history is always going to have some relevance (if nothing else as a good excuse to drink security studies came back in vogue after 9/11, but trust me, what I learned and what the authoritarian daddy yahoos are teaching today bear no resemblance to each other.
But I also learned about general concepts, like how states relate to each other in the international arena, what are the rules and norms of international law, and a smattering of intelligence concepts like blowback, unintended consequences and the problems presented by American exceptionalism in the modern age. And when we talked about “non-state actors” in the 1980s, we were thinking about multinational corporations that acted across international boundaries. “Terrorism” meant the German Baader-Meinhoff gang, or the Red Brigades in Italy. What we call terrorism today didn’t exist, nor did the idea of a non-state entity like ISIS having de facto sovereignty over parts of several countries.
I think these new developments in the past 15 years have utterly flummoxed the world of international relations. We can’t use traditional descriptions or norms to analyze ISIS and al-Qaeda and other groups, because they aren’t playing by the rules the world has developed over many decades and even centuries. And in the case of the United States, the fact that fundamentalist factions in the Arab countries we call “allies” have been funding and encouraging the development of these non-state actors has been completely ignored. We ignored that inconvenient fact after 9/11, we continued to ignore it in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and we continue to ignore it today.
So when we talk about “what to do now” and “how do we respond,” this time we have to put all the facts in play, and not just deploy bombs and planes and other traditional military resources. We’re not going to defeat ISIS that way. So it’s time to tell Dick Cheney and that whole crew of soulless vampires to go back to the land of the dead, and try something different.
As usual, Charles Pierce says all these things better than I can.
These are a few things that will not solve the terrible and tangled web of causation and violence in which the attacks of Friday night were spawned. A 242-ship Navy will not stop one motivated murderous fanatic from emptying the clip of an AK-47 into the windows of a crowded restaurant. The F-35 fighter plane will not stop a group of motivated murderous fanatics from detonating bombs at a soccer match. A missile-defense shield in Poland will not stop a platoon of motivated murderous fanatics from opening up in a jammed concert hall, or taking hostages, or taking themselves out with suicide belts when the police break down the doors. American soldiers dying in the sands of Syria or Iraq will not stop the events like what happened in Paris from happening again because American soldiers dying in the sands of Syria or Iraq will be dying there in combat against only the most obvious physical manifestation of a deeper complex of ancient causes and ancient effects made worse by the reach of the modern technology of bloodshed and murder. Nobody’s death is ever sacrifice enough for that.
Abandoning the Enlightenment values that produced democracy will not plumb the depths of the vestigial authoritarian impulse that resides in us all, the wish for kings, the desire for order, to be governed, and not to govern. Flexing and posturing and empty venting will not cure the deep sickness in the human spirit that leads people to slaughter the innocent in the middle of a weekend’s laughter. The expression of bigotry and hatred will not solve the deep desperation in the human heart that leads people to kill their fellow human beings and then blow themselves up as a final act of murderous vengeance against those they perceive to be their enemies, seen and unseen, real and imagined. Tough talk in the context of what happened in Paris is as empty as a bell rung at the bottom of a well.
Francois Hollande, the French president who was at the soccer game that was attacked, has promised that France will wage “pitiless war” against the forces that conceived and executed the attacks. Most wars are pitiless, but not all of them are fought with the combination of toughness and intelligence that this one will require. This was a lesson that the United States did not learn in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001. There are things that nations can do in response that are not done out of xenophobic rage and a visceral demand for revenge. There are things that nations can do in response that do not involve scapegoating the powerless and detaining the innocent. There is no real point in focusing a response on the people whose religion makes us nervous. States should retaliate against states.
It is long past time for the oligarchies of the Gulf states to stop paying protection to the men in the suicide belts. Their societies are stunted and parasitic. The main job of the elites there is to find enough foreign workers to ensla…er…indenture to do all the real work. The example of Qatar and the interesting business plan through which that country is building the facilities for the 2022 World Cup is instructive here. Roughly the same labor-management relationship exists for the people who clean the hotel rooms and who serve the drinks. In Qatar, for people who come from elsewhere to work, passports have been known to disappear into thin air. These are the societies that profit from terrible and tangled web of causation and violence that played out on the streets of Paris. These are the people who buy their safety with the blood of innocents far away.
It’s not like this is any kind of secret. In 2010, thanks to WikiLeaks, we learned that the State Department, under the direction of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, knew full well where the money for foreign terrorism came from. It came from countries and not from a faith. It came from sovereign states and not from an organized religion. It came from politicians and dictators, not from clerics, at least not directly. It was paid to maintain a political and social order, not to promulgate a religious revival or to launch a religious war. Religion was the fuel, the ammonium nitrate and the diesel fuel. Authoritarian oligarchy built the bomb. As long as people are dying in Paris, nobody important is dying in Doha or Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba – but the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money, according to Hillary Clinton. “More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups,” says a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state. Her memo urged US diplomats to redouble their efforts to stop Gulf money reaching extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,” she said. Three other Arab countries are listed as sources of militant money: Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The cables highlight an often ignored factor in the Pakistani and Afghan conflicts: that the violence is partly bankrolled by rich, conservative donors across the Arabian Sea whose governments do little to stop them. The problem is particularly acute in Saudi Arabia, where militants soliciting funds slip into the country disguised as holy pilgrims, set up front companies to launder funds and receive money from government-sanctioned charities.
It’s time for this to stop. It’s time to be pitiless against the bankers and against the people who invest in murder to assure their own survival in power. Assets from these states should be frozen, all over the west. Money trails should be followed, wherever they lead. People should go to jail, in every country in the world. It should be done state-to-state. Stop funding the murder of our citizens and you can have your money back. Maybe. If we’re satisfied that you’ll stop doing it. And, it goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway – not another bullet will be sold to you, let alone advanced warplanes, until this act gets cleaned up to our satisfaction. If that endangers your political position back home, that’s your problem, not ours. You are no longer trusted allies. Complain, and your diplomats will be going home. Complain more loudly, and your diplomats will be investigated and, if necessary, detained. Retaliate, and you do not want to know what will happen, but it will done with cold, reasoned and, yes, pitiless calculation. It will not be a blind punch. You will not see it coming. It will not be an attack on your faith. It will be an attack on how you conduct your business as sovereign states in a world full of sovereign states.
The last paragraph is critical. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are not our friend. That’s 1980s thinking, it’s Bush family dogma, and it’s no more relevant in 2015 than my expertise in US-Soviet relations. If I could come to terms with that, so can our country’s foreign policy and defense leadership. One would think, anyway.