James Foley, US journalist, before execution, in a video released by IS on 19 August 2014. Image Source: Buzzfeed.
I have a friend, R., who is a retired British army colonel. He once said to me: "March is not the problem! Beware the Ides of August, when everyone goes away on holiday. That's when the real trouble happens, when no one is at the helm." After that, I paid more attention to what happens in the second half of August.
News stories ebb and flow as the MSM turn their attention from one item to the next. They create the false impression that one issue disappears while another suddenly intensifies. Ebola flares up alongside the crisis in the Ukraine. Those stories subside, combined with a ceasefire in Gaza, which draws attention to Ferguson, Missouri. This morning, Ferguson quietened, following news of the beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State (IS/ISIL/ISIS).
The MSM initially covered the Foley story with numbing euphemisms such as 'risks journalists follow in conflict zones.' The Guardian was more concerned, citing 'outrage' and a need to identify James Foley's British executioner, who was obviously chosen to spread even more fear in the west. The euphemisms are a sign of fear. But this was the organization that even frightened Al Qaeda - until its Yemen affiliate decided formally to join forces with IS on 19 August (see report here).
MSM journalists' rationale for downplaying IS is that not reporting on IS deprives the group of media sway; the MSM outlets refuse to be commandeered into becoming IS mouthpieces. However, the flip side of this decision is that the mass of people - unless they search online - do not know what is going on at all!
MSM coverage misleads further, because all these news stories are ongoing and interrelate. Twitter surged to cover Ferguson's police brutality, witnessing the rise of America's police state. Michael Brown's shooting in Missouri also confirmed Obama's individual significance. His presidency marks a turning point in the history of race in America. The only problem is that troubles in Ferguson just happen to coincide with the total failure of Obama's foreign policy.
The media seamlessly divert attention from foreign to domestic affairs without acknowledging what that diversion means. In a similar way, Clinton's 1998 impeachment during the Monica Lewinsky scandal obscured his foreign policy failures in Africa in the 1990s. One could argue that those failures helped pave the way to 9/11.
There is a reason why Putin now flexes his muscles in the Ukraine, whereas in 2002, Russia's relations with NATO were cordial. In 2010, the Moscow Times commented on why Russia will never join NATO. It boiled down to Russia's refusal to mingle domestic democratic accountability with foreign policy:
NATO requires that its members have civilian and democratic control over their armed forces. This is a fundamental princip[le] that allows for military integration and inter-operability among members. Although NATO countries have different political systems — some are presidential republics, others are parliamentary — they all have transparent defense budgets and public and legislative oversight over their countries’ military affairs. This includes independent investigations into military failures and abuses, parliamentary control over how funds are allocating — or not allocated — for weapons programs and constitutional checks and balances on a leader’s ability to send troops to fight in foreign military operations. In Russia, however, civil control over the military is anathema to the basic principles of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s vertical power structure, which has effectively folded all three branches of power into one huge executive branch. Any autocratic power, by definition, rejects public accountability in all spheres of government — and this is particularly true for its armed forces.
Obama's passivity in this gathering storm confuses even his critics who expect him to do nothing. The trouble lies in the extended domestic sensibility America brings to its foreign politics. While Obama is emblematic of everything the Americans struggle with when they look inward, he has also epitomizes everything they struggle with when they look outward. How can this superpower, founded in revolutionary anti-imperialism, accept its mantle as an imperial global superpower? Many Americans reject any imperial legacy as uncivilized, autocratic and cruel. The president of the republic cannot become caesar. Progressive Americans demand at the very least that American foreign policy function as an arm of domestic values. Meanwhile, America's critics regard the US as a hypocritical power because it often acts well beyond that domestic democratic remit; and critics see the USA spouting democratic cant while secretly, tactically promoting vicious dictatorships.
How can Obama respond to the Islamic State? As a domestically-minded superpower, America is trapped between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Whether they are hawks or doves, Americans can't win. No mindset of small town democracy, with its civic and legal orthodoxies, will defeat the people who executed James Foley and who have tortured people across Syria and Iraq. The US cannot meet IS actions with hand-wringing, moral pleas and media blackouts. But if America moves ruthlessly to crush these brutal opponents, the USA becomes an agent of chaos, a torturer, a democracy that betrayed its best values. Others would argue that it is the USA itself that pulls the strings behind the curtains of conflict. It is one of the oldest problems in the book. Power corrupts. The American position changes depending on perspective. But whatever perspective on the USA you may take, one thing has happened that no one expected: America has found a way through.
James Foley interviewed by BBC in 2012 on freelancers' work in severe conflict zones and their relationship with the MSM. Video Source: BBC via Youtube.
If you only follow the MSM, the Foley story seemed to come out of nowhere. The big Middle Eastern story has been Gaza and what is widely considered Israeli murder of Palestinian civilians. Islamic State actions over the past months - beheadings, amputations, torture and murders, crucifixions and burying children alive, decapitation of children, rapes so terrible that female victims afterward commit suicide or plead to be killed, terror in villages, roads lined with hacked up bodies, all relentlessly combined with military successes - have cut a swath of horror across Syria and Iraq, which barely made a ripple on the MSM's surface. The media's near-silence on the matter persisted despite the distant warning: "We will raise the flag of Allah in the White House."
In mid-August, Benjamin Netanyahu deflected criticism of the Israeli nightmare in Gaza and asked the world to look at the IS before condemning Israel. CBN:
The Islamic State have also cultivated links and networks in Nigeria, Libya, Egypt and Gaza, the UK and the US, Germany and the rest of Europe. They are savvy Internet users - so much so that earlier this summer, the hacktivist group, Anonymous, declared a cyberwarfare offensive against IS. The Anonymous Operation NO2ISIS targets IS-supporting countries, which Anonymous hackers claim include Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. But in June 2014, the IS won ground there too, and hacked an Anonymous account on Twitter, prompting Anonymous to grant an interview, of all outlets, to Forbes:Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angrily rejected a U.N. investigation of alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza. In a nationwide address, Netanyahu accused the U.N. Human Rights Council of giving legitimacy to terror groups like Hamas and ISIS. ... "Instead of inquiring into the massacres that [President Bashar] Assad is perpetrating against the Syrian people or that ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] is perpetrating against the Kurds, the U.N. has decided to come and check Israel -- the only democracy in the Middle East, a democracy that is acting legitimately to defend its citizens against murderous terrorism," he said. "They should visit Damascus, Baghdad and Tripoli; they should go see ISIS, the Syrian army and Hamas -- there they will find war crimes. Not here," Netanyahu concluded.
Last week, a Twitter account called @theanonmessage was taken over by ISIS supporters and dozens of graphic images of violence were posted to its timeline. The activist who operates the account admitted that Anonymous were shocked at the attack, which appeared to mimic the tactics already employed by the Syrian Electronic Army itself. “To be honest, we were taken off guard,” he said. “We didn’t expect a bunch of ragtags to [do] any damage. The ISIS hacking techniques were very similar to hacks done by the Syrian Electronic Army, so that’s pretty interesting.”
Tame: Anonymous Operation NO2ISIS (June 2014). Video Source: Youtube.
Other reports state that IS strategists are in this for the long haul and are recruiting children. IS elements have been active in Lebanon and the West Bank, are storming toward Baghdad and then will likely turn toward mainly Shiite Iran. Iran's elite guards are already active in Iraq, trying to push IS fighters back before they reach Iran's borders. Although the Islamic State fighters are identified as radical Sunnis, they will kill Sunnis or Shiites. The Islamic State aims to build a geopolitical powerhouse, a United States of Islam, a Caliphate state, so to speak, a great religious empire. The FT published a map of IS actions here.
Vice report on IS (14 August 2014). Video Source: Vice via Youtube.
To witness the Islamic State's progress is to see a terrifying situation of growing strategic and humanitarian urgency. This is not a two-sided conflict that is easy to understand; it is a savagely brutal, uncompromising, multi-sided contest for regional control involving local, middle and great powers. The Islamic State is winning against all concerned by breaking all the conventional rules of war. The stakes have been raised beyond the unspeakable standards of the Nazis, Pol Pot, or the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide. The Islamic State goes where others will not. The Foley decapitation was a horrible snuff media coup. This is the 21st century; they do genocide differently here.
The tactics the Islamic State fighters use are so terrible that anti-American conspiracy theorists insist that IS must be CIA-backed, a western proxy, or an Illuminati tool; false reports surfaced in Egypt and Lebanon that Hillary Clinton admitted to creating ISIS. Indeed, the whole mentality of IS and the response to IS is one of transferred and projected responsibility. The Foley execution video was an example of that, in which his executioner declares, in a British accent, that America made him do this.
Even the Islamic State itself does not believe its own radical Muslim horror could emerge from the Islamic sphere! The west - especially America - must be to blame. America is the ultimate agent of all that is wrong in the world. On 20 August 2014, The Hindu reported that Indian Muslim intellectuals met in New Delhi to issue a statement that IS actions are "worse than genocide," that these crimes are conducted in the name of Islam but are anti-Islamic, and that the west is partly to blame:
Dissociation, transference and projection of responsibility are psychological turns which, when indulged on a mass scale, typically portend the worst acts of violence. It is almost as if a whole country or society suffers a break from reality and begins to display a multiple personality disorder.“We strongly condemn such barbarism which is against the teachings of Islam. We express our heart-felt sympathies and solidarity with the survivors of those whose near and dear ones have been mercilessly butchered, and the tens of thousands of Iraq’s minorities who have been dispossessed, forced to flee their homes and are now living in extremely difficult circumstances,” added Ms. Hashmi who was joined in her condemnation by Navaid Hamid of the Movement for Empowerment of Muslim Indians and John Dayal, former president of the All India Christian Council. They also issued a statement which was signed and endorsed by more than 80 Muslim intellectuals, activists and religious leaders condemning Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed Caliph of the Muslim world for claiming that he was acting in the name of Islam.
“It is of utmost importance to highlight here that ISIS not only conducts atrocities against minorities, but against everyone who is against their policies, all in the name of Islam. This violence based on the wrong interpretation of Islam is unacceptable,” said Mr. Hamid.
“Their brutality is worse than genocide. They are killing women, elderly and children who are respected in Islam. Their conduct is against every teachings of Islam,” he added.
The statement also blamed the USA, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait for “fuelling the flames” in strife-torn Syria and Iraq.
To say that the Islamic State is not part of Islam is like denying that German Nazis were part of the western tradition. The truth is that anti-Semitism was rampant across the west before the Nazis rose to power and while they were in power. Even after the Holocaust, which should have put an end to the issue once and for all, anti-Semitism remains a pervasive western sickness. Is the Islamic State part of Islam? Yes. Does it encompass the totality of Islamic thought and culture? Of course not. But this group is making a bid to seize the power of decision, to alter perception inside and outside Muslim culture. They seek to become the determining Muslim voice, the victors who write a purely Islamic history. That should scare everybody.
How should America, the domestically-minded superpower, fight this? It is bad enough that American political spin skews every interpretation, leaving no consensus on how to confront infinite ruthlessness. Allen West, a retired American army colonel, argued today RIP James Wright Foley: to defeat terrorists we must instill a greater terror:
However, to meet force with force is a moral trap, where defenders of freedom become tyrants and oppressors. If America follows this path, IS will win. Perhaps this is why Obama remains so curiously immobile. He can't win by acting. To act would mean brutalizing America and her military to unprecedented degrees. She would have to become darker than the Islamic State in order to win. But Obama can't win by not acting; this makes the US look weak, compromised and open to attack, and so IS fighters and strategists gain confidence. They spread and become stronger.“Islamic State militants also claimed in the video to be holding U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff and said his life depended on U.S. President Barack Obama’s next move. The video was posted after Obama resumed air strikes in Iraq for the first time since the end of the U.S. occupation in 2011. “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” said a masked man in the video posted on social media sites, speaking English with a British accent as he held a prisoner the video named as Sotloff, who went missing in northern Syria while he was reporting in July 2013. Foley was kidnapped on Nov. 22, 2012, in Syria by unidentified gunmen.”
Here is what must happen. Americans residing in countries on the terrorist list must be evacuated or consolidated into facilities with U.S. armed support and security. The administration must immediately get accountability of all journalists free roaming in Gaza, Judea-Samaria, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Qatar and require them to return or have U.S.- supported armed security. There should be a heightened security status for Americans traveling abroad and sadly so in cities such as London and Paris. We MUST secure our border NOW!
It is too late for Steven Sotloff who has already been taken by these Islamic barbarians but we can take action to prevent the kidnapping of any further Americans.
My next decision would be simple: eradicate the existence of ISIS. There is only one response that America can send and it is not one that we shall be intimidated by an Islamic terrorist organization. Wherever there is the black flag, people will die.
President Obama can no longer state what he is not willing to do. He must destroy the enemies of this country. The entire Congress, House and Senate, needs to be recalled and the president should deliver his strategic plan to destroy ISIS and seek congressional approval. He must declare we are in a war against Islamic totalitarianism and jihadism. He needs to define the enemy and the means by which we shall implement every element of our national power; diplomatic, informational, economic, and military.
America cannot be held hostage by a bunch of 7th Century savages with 21st Century technology and weaponry, as well as social media and communications skills. The Pope has given his blessing and this is not a “crusade” we have undertaken, but as the original crusades were intended by Pope Urban II in 1095, we shall defend liberty and freedom for Christians and religious minorities being persecuted by rabid Islamists. We must hammer ISIS as Charles Martel did at the Battle of Tours in 728 AD.
And just for historical reference, the fictional character Dracula was based upon Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, who was a member of the House of Drăculești. He became known as Vlad the Impaler because of his brutality against his main enemy, the invading Ottomans. Vlad III became renowned in Romanian and Bulgarian folklore for his defense of Eastern European Christianity. We need not adopt his tactics, but at least he understood that to defeat a terrorist you had to instill a greater terror.
After 9/11, America became a centre of sharp, and sometimes hateful, debate between hawks and doves, between Republicans and Democrats and libertarians. The USA has been a country marked by disharmony, chronic political division, electronic distrust, blame and counter-blame on how to respond to one fundamental issue: how can the USA act as an imperial superpower that stays true to its domestic ideals? How can the democratic superpower exercise power - especially against its most dangerous, ruthless enemies - without being corrupted?
For four years, this blog has covered some aspects of that American debate, especially in popular culture. I have often speculated on why American culture fixated on the anti-hero, and glorified an inverted value system, with criminals who are forced to become heroic, a hero who falls, or an anti-hero who survives in a chaotic, corrupted world where all bets are off. After 9/11, one would expect a resurgence of Americans' stereotypical patriotism and national myth-making. Instead their old bright, shiny heroes disappeared, replaced by broken-down misfits. Was it a collapse of American values? A crisis of confidence?
Syrian Girl points to American orchestration of IS action, citing an American foreign policy that aims both to divide and conquer Muslims and selectively undermine local nationalists. Video Source: Youtube.
In the Millennial media, the truth is relative, depending on competing claims of authenticity. In 2012, The Boston Globe summarized how and why America is routinely considered - by a wide range of domestic and global critics - to be the driving power behind all that is wrong in the world; this is the mentality of displaced responsibility:
'The Devil Made Me Do It' argument against America sounds authentic but it involves an abrogation of political responsibility. The fact that many Americans believe this argument against their own country only confirms their psychological turn toward irresponsibility. Did America really make IS behead James Foley? Compare that outlook to the view Mahatma Gandhi took against the imperial British and his views on god.The real war is within the Islamic world itself, between those who favor modernity — secular government, individual freedom, women’s liberation — and those seeking to uphold the traditional social and religious order. This conflict is hardly unique to Islam; but, for complex historical and cultural reasons, fundamentalist forces in many Muslim societies are far more powerful and radical than in the West. The radicals exploit the problems of poverty and corruption to gain support; but these problems (all too common in other parts of the world) are not the primary cause of extremism.America provides a convenient target for modernization anxieties. In a 2011 paper, political scientists Lisa Blaydes of Stanford University and Drew Linzer of Emory University conclude that anti-Americanism in Muslim countries is most reliably predicted by conflict between Islamists and secularists and by anti-American rhetoric from Islamist elites.
Speech by Mahatma Gandhi on the meaning of god recorded in Kingsley Hall, London in 1931. Video Source: Youtube.
Mahatma Gandhi first television interview (1931). Video Source: Youtube.
Today, after the James Foley reports, I finally understood the American Millennial anti-hero. The imperial republic has moved past the battle between good and evil. This country will find a way through, because it is taking responsibility, not deflecting or projecting it. It is doing so in a way that few perceive. These are days when American heroism is cast as the villain, even became the villain - or the torturer, the oppressor, the conspirator, the exploiter or the coward - in the world's eyes, to protect its most cherished values. To become that scapegoat is not a mark of weakness and impending defeat. It is the hallmark of ultimate responsibility.
See my 2016 post on the 2015 drone killing of Foley's executioner.