Friday, November 27, 2015



Paris 13 November 2015

By Jack Random

At first we are stunned, senses deadened, mind and body paralyzed.
We see without seeing, hear without sound, absorb without taste, touch or smell.
It is not real.
It is a video game, a you-tube contrivance, a trick of the mind.
At length it seeps into our conscious minds.
We deny it as if denying can make it stop.
It does not stop.

Our senses kick in and we are overwhelmed with horror.
We fear and our fear breeds contempt and contempt yields to anger and anger becomes rage and rage cries out for revenge.
We hate because we sorrow and sorrow cannot fill the void.
We mourn not to heal but to bury the pain.
We send our soldiers off to war to make them suffer as we have suffered.
We wreak a horrible vengeance and it numbs our senses.

We are stunned, deadened, paralyzed.
It is not real.

Only time can heal the wounds of Paris. We are in mourning but our need for vengeance has not yet been fulfilled. We have arrived at the most dangerous phase of the response cycle where any actions we might take will almost certainly be unwise yet act we must. The need takes hold of our collective soul and overwhelms.

At this stage in our response to September 11 we set our sights on the Taliban and launched the Long War in Afghanistan, a war that continues to this day. Contrary to neocon mythology, a mythology perpetuated by our current president, the Taliban did not intentionally harbor international terrorists, the Taliban did not bring Al Qaeda to their country (the CIA did), the Taliban did not arm Al Qaeda (the CIA did) and the Taliban did not refuse to hand over Osama bin Laden. They offered to hand him over to an international tribunal and we refused the offer. We did not crush Al Qaida in Afghanistan. We did not kill or capture Osama bin Laden.

Our need for vengeance unfulfilled, we moved on to Iraq and launched another war that continues to this day. In a strategic blunder of epic proportions, we captured and killed Saddam Hussein (letting the Iraqis carry out the deed), destroying a delicate balance of power in the world’s most dangerous region. That our actions gave rise to the Islamic State and the chaos that reigns throughout the Middle East today is the litmus test that divides historians from propagandists.

Americans will recall that the French took the lead, standing almost alone among European nations, in opposing our march to war in Iraq. We condemned them in the strongest terms, all but accusing them of aiding the enemy, for offering truth to power. By now we should all know and accept that they were right and we were wrong. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no connection to September 11. Saddam Hussein was in fact an enemy of Al Qaeda.

Had we listened to the French then the world would look very different today. But we were in no mood to listen to anyone. The United Nations Security Council voted down our motion for war and we did not listen. Three million people took to the streets in a single day of protest, the largest demonstration in history, and we did not listen. Every foreign policy expert who did not drink from the poisoned well of the neocon imperialist vision warned us of the dangers in occupying Iraq but we did not listen.

We cannot know what follows. We can only hope that we have learned something from the past. Not the distant past, not the failures of the British and French empires, not Viet Nam or Algiers: We know we have learned little of value from these failures. We can only hope that we have learned something from the immediate past, the living past, the current nightmare born of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Among the lessons we should have learned:

That we cannot and should not invade and occupy foreign nations that pose no existential threat to us or indeed our allies without dangerous, unpredictable and potentially disastrous consequences.

That we cannot and should not engage militarily in what is fundamentally a civil war, involving the powers of a foreign land.

Despite its ambition, ISIS is not a nation but it is a regional power that has engaged in the civil wars of Syria and Iraq. ISIS is not an existential threat to any nation outside the region. It is an existential threat to the governments of Iraq and Syria but neither can be considered our ally at this juncture – except perhaps in the abstract world of strategic maneuvering. It is a threat to the Kurds, a people without a nation and an enemy to Turkey, our official NATO ally.

The situation quickly escalates to the complicated level of a master chess game. The Kurds despise the Turks with their history of genocide and the Turks would like to see the Kurdish military force decimated – perhaps as much as ISIS. The Saudis, whose teachings produced Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, have their own problem with radical elements but their primary concern is the rise of Iran. Like the western world, Iran is fundamentally opposed to ISIS but unlike the western world supports Bashar al-Assad, the beleaguered president of Syria.

Enter the Russians, playing four sides against the middle to protect their own interests and the presidency of Assad. ISIS takes down a Russian passenger plane and then, in a strategic move of mind-numbing audacity, Turkey shoots down a Russian fighter jet.

It is a minefield and a very dangerous game. The potential for intended or unintended disasters are everywhere.

We are already engaged in an intensive bombing campaign. Now, in the wake of Paris, there is talk of a grand coalition to defeat and destroy ISIS by military means. All the media experts agree: It requires a large and long commitment of soldiers on the ground.

Never mind that ISIS cannot be defeated and destroyed militarily. ISIS represents a religious ideology and that ideology appeals to a significant portion of the Islamic population. An ideology representing millions of people cannot be destroyed on the battlefield. To the contrary such an effort would reinforce their belief that they are engaged in a holy war. It would increase their appeal to young devotees.

If we were to defeat ISIS on the ground, its soldiers would fold back into the population and rise again when our eyes inevitably turn elsewhere. If it sounds familiar, it should. It happened in Iraq. If we occupied the Middle East a hundred or a thousand years – something we cannot, should not and will not do – the outcome would be the same.

It is difficult and unpopular to advise caution and patience in the wake of the Paris attack. I love Paris. I love its people, its spirit and its love of art. I love a culture that embraces creative minds and makes the irreverence of Charlie Hebdo possible. I mourn the loss of innocence and the loss of lives. I mourn for who they might have been and what they might have contributed to this world had their lives not ended on a bloody Friday evening in the city of lights.

I am myself still going through the cycle of response to this tragedy but I have drawn one conclusion and it is my duty to advise France as France advised us after September 11: Vengeance is not the way.

The powers in the region must address the threat of ISIS and the problem of radical Islam. It took centuries for Christians to abandon the crusades. It seems Islam is still working on it. The Turks must decide that the threat of ISIS overrides their fear and hatred of the Kurds. The Saudis must similarly decide that ISIS is their primary threat and recognize that their own Islamic teachings are at least part of the problem.

What we should not do is what the leaders of ISIS no doubt want: Holy war in the Middle East.

Je suis Paris.