SIBKIS: The So-called ISIS Crisis

Benjamin G. Davis, Associate Professor of Law, University of Toledo College of Law

Just watched Evan Kohlmann and Michael O’Hanlon on Hardball discussing the latest awful murderous thing that ISIS has done. They were fanning the flames of war.

Here is the way it looks from Toledo. Russia is asserting a sphere of influence in Ukraine because Putin and his leadership are not comfortable with Ukraine not being a client state. It was a fundamental part of the old USSR and to “lose” it to the West and Europe further weakens Russian standing. Russia has a hard time doing diplomacy in Eastern Europe so the assertion of force is its 19th century way of doing politics.

The West led by the US worked hard to overthrow in our Western way the Russian friendly prior government as part of its effort to confront and isolate Russia on its Western front. The economic blandishments of Europe are perceived by enough Ukrainians as more lucrative than any from Russia and so we have the reversal of government. Russia arming separatists and taking Crimea was the bear’s moves to instill fear of a force based solution to Ukraine – another war in Europe.

Russia being one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and thus a guarantor of the post-World War II (at least in Europe) peace, these signals by Russia are a clear message that the Ukraine gambit by the West is seen as a provocation of significance to the edge of war in Europe.

Russia has strengthened ties with China and China has its own ambitions in the South China Sea and Asia.  As such, a Russia-China tandem asserting territorial claims in their respective parts of the world may be emerging. China is more resource poor so its own strategy of tying up resources in Africa and the Middle East is its effort to shore up its relative position for the long haul.

Russia has made clear it wants to protect its clear client states in Syria and Iran. Iran is a serious concern for the US and its principal client state Israel. Israel has been trying to get the US to go after Iran and Syria which would weaken its adversaries in the region like Iraq has been weakened. Gulf states and Saudi Arabia are interested in a weakened Iraq (too close ties to Shia Iran) and Syria (Assad minority government oppressing Sunnis).

The Syrian Civil War is a place outside of Europe where some of these ambitions can play out. Jamal Al Nusra fights Assad which is good for Gulf States and bad for Russia and Al Qaeda.

Step in ISIS – al-Baghdadi’s means to instrumentalize radical Islam ideas to gain power, money and territory. ISIS self-finances to the extent it controls who pays it, steals for it, or buys oil from it. Clearly people are willing to do business with them for private gain. ISIS has a social media strategy that multiplies the terror impact of their murderous acts to sap its  adversaries will to fight and recruit persons with death wishes who seek glory in fighting (and dying) for what they think is Islam. And they are on the move.

Obama operates through air strikes to blunt ISIS advances and is recruiting powers to a coalition to fight ISIS. Obama operates through NATO to try to avert a war in Europe to raise costs for the bear in Ukraine.

ISIS wants to draw America into the battle in order to kill Americans. Sunnis in Iraq, dissatisfied with the post-Saddam deal they are getting, bet on Al-Baghdadi as the new Sunni boss. The change of the Iraqi government is a hope to build a new internal Iraq deal for the Iraqis to fight ISIS, peeling off the Sunni support of ISIS.

In the US the pre-midterm machismo types we have endured for nigh on 50 years, respond with their classic calls for confrontation without tactics. We saw how that strategy worked in 2002 pre-midterm rushing us into Iraq.

It seems to this person that the regional strategies that Obama is using to regionalize any efforts and have the local governments out front in defending themselves against and confronting these ISIS threats and Russian threats makes the most sense of all I have heard. His regional efforts towards China also are coherent with that strategy.

The illusion that the US will put its own troops in harm’s way for these battles is an illusion. It may serve the budget interests of the military-industrial complex and electoral ambitions domestically to portray the President as weak, but of course they have nothing more to bring forward on dealing with this.  His is a long haul strategy that frustrates the short term vision of Americans but is more consistent with longer term structural battling while averting world war.

The foreign fighters meme serves to instill fear in the US and encourage the extension of domestic repression and restriction of dissent.  These threat stream arguments are potent fear inducing tools to get us to do our historic approach of using violence externally and internally.

Unwinding this will be difficult and take deftness beyond violence.  More unintended consequences of the War in Iraq.

Let the cool heads prevail in this deadly multitiered transnational power struggle. The hot heads will get us all killed.