the problem of Isis – again

FT columnist Gideon Rachman argues that the decision to bomb Isis, combined with a commitment to topple Bashar al-Assad (leader of a regime that is fighting Isis), is a ‘Catch-22’ situation. There is no feasible way to achieve both goals.

[A]n anguished debate goes on … about whether the west should change its attitude to the Assad regime – and accept that it is the lesser of two evils. ….

However, the undoubted evil of the Assad regime, and the fact that the west has been calling for its removal for years, has made it politically and ideologically impossible to change course. ….

The result … is that the US is now conducting a bombing campaign in Syria to support a political strategy that is incoherent and lacking in credibility.

The broader problem is that, over the past decade, the west has exhausted all the options when it comes to reshaping the Middle East. In Iraq there was a ground invasion, followed by a huge effort at nation building. But today the state is on the point of collapse. In Libya, there was an air campaign – but no ground invasion and no nation building. But today the state is on the point of collapse. In Syria, the west stood back and there was no intervention of any kind. But today the state is on the point of collapse. The phrase “you can’t win” takes on a literal meaning when one reviews this litany of failure.

Gideon Rachman, “The war on Isis defies logic”, Financial Times, 4 October 2014.

Violence begets violence -unless one side employs overwhelming force. Someone on the US side of the Vietnam conflict said (if I recall correctly) “We had to destroy that village in order to save it”. If we destroy Iraq, Syria and other countries of the Middle East, we might plausibly ‘save them’. Otherwise, the killing will continue.

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