ISIS: Think The X-factor


5th December 2015


Why bomb Syria? Simple.  It is what has to be done until some one comes up with a good idea. Bombing is lethal mood music.

Most of America has never heard of ISIS, IS, ISIL or Da’esh.

Until  a law office pinned the badge on the California shooting a couple of days back ISIS was mostly an unknown here. The rest of America is armed to the teeth to shoot anyone who it thinks needs shooting (more than 300 gun slayings in the US so far in 2015) so does not need the incentive of what happened last month in Paris, France.

Inside the beltway of the Nation’s Capital here the view is broader. Why not? A thousand or so think tankers are making this year’s fortune in personal appearances and consultative values talking nothing else but how to stamp out what we now label as modern fascism.

Yet there is a quiet group that is not yet getting a big hearing because what they have to say is impossible for most to understand.

Executive Washington and not a few on Capitol Hill just as in the UK and France are simple people with little sense of history and even less understanding of what they are facing.

The introduction of the UK bombing in Syria had more to do with the good PR for clean-kill Brimstone missiles than any concept of theatre and strategic concepts that divert the way of ISIL ambitions and what comes next.

The got-to-do-something European notion is more understandable than the American view because Paris could have been in any other of 30 European capitals especially as there is evidence that radicals in Birmingham England were part of the planning for Paris.

In other words, we have a short term plan that cannot work because no one has come up with any true concept of what the threat really amounts to.

Maybe then it is time to work out how we come to live with a thought that has its origins not in post-Paris thinking but in the mind of a man who died ten years ago, George F. Kennan. Kennan was the man who taught us how to handle the ambitions of post-World War II USSR

In 1946 Kennan was the US charge d’Affaires in Moscow. His job was to analyse what Stalin planned for Communist Russia and his establishment of a near abroad of states that would provide a cordon between Russia and Western Europe.  That analysis was in an 8,000 word telegram in 1946 that Kennan sent to the State Department. The shorten version was in Kennan’s conclusion that American policy towards the growing threat must be “firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies”.

The following year, the containment document was published under the nom de plume Mr X in the American journal Foreign Affairs.

Take the model of George Kennan’s report and you will find the kernel of reluctant conclusion of what is going down here in the back rooms of State.

The outline reads like this:

For all the mighty military and political powers of the US led coalition including those in the UK and France, this joint superpower cannot destroy ISIS.

There can be military success with many ISIS killed but the surviving leadership – now across three continents – will continue the threat and consequences in ways that so-called sophisticated Western society cannot handle.

Therefore the Kennan option has to be imagined.  The resources of the US-led coalition has to devise a military and political option to “live with” the threat but as best that can be, keep it in check.  This is the 1946 American policy of containment.

The most remarkable concept is this: containment may be the only part defence the West has but as ISIS increases its success as a caliphate so it will become hogtied by all the restrictions of holding the ground and running a caliphate that in the long term can only be ruled by patronage.

Containment as it was modelled by Kennan and those who followed anticipated three or for decades of Cold War and then the uncertainty of common interests – which is what we have now between Washington and Moscow.

As ISIS moves from an AK-47 enemy to one armed with drones and worse, containment becomes the only option.  The IS move on fellow Wahabi Saudi Arabia can only be imagined.

The weaknesses are obvious in a more complex world than 1946 and powerful regional interests some of which and whom are Western allies. But for the moment this may be the only game in town: bomb to clear the ground for mechanised infantry warfare; the recognition of new boundaries and then the containment of something that is effectively a new world order.

After that? No one could possible know.



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