One wonders if the United States will ever learn. When established authority is overthrown absent a ready alternative, the darkest forces almost always fill the liberated vacuum.
The impending collapse of the self-proclaimed Islamic State after the fall of Mosul in Iraq is worthy of celebration only if we remember how we got here. ISIS came about in part due to the chaos that resulted from the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The defeat of the militant group in Mosul is hopefully a sign that the protracted conflict initiated by American intervention 14 years ago is coming closer to an end. The shocking devastation inside the country’s second-largest city, which can be seen in these time-sequenced satellite images taken over recent months during the Iraqi government’s offensive against ISIS, is a testament to the damage done. But Mosul is only the latest reminder of the unintended consequences of foreign intervention.
In Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia, his classic study of the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, William Shawcross documented how the “secret” U.S. bombing campaign during the Vietnam War undermined Cambodian neutrality and the authority of Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia’s royal ruler, and spread conflict in the region. It all ended in the massacre of about one-third of the Cambodian population when the fanatical Khmer Rouge seized power from what by then was a weakened puppet regime. Like the so-called Islamic State, the Khmer Rouge sought to root out traces of modernity.
The parallels to the rise of ISIS in the wake of the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the dismantling of the Iraqi military and then a weak democratic shell of a government are striking on another count. In Southeast Asia, the ultimate demise of the Khmer Rouge after its horrific years in power achieved the opposite end of the American effort to stem a tide of falling dominoes: It expanded Vietnam’s influence. A similar result has now occurred in Iraq. The paradoxical outcome of 14 years of conflict, as The New York Times reported in detail last weekend, has been the broad expansion of Iranian influence.
To those who know even a little about the Middle East, which clearly did not include the George W. Bush administration, this should come as no surprise. Way back in 2004, King Abdullah of Jordan warned of a Shia “crescent” emerging across the region as the new, Shia majority-Iraq tilted toward Tehran. In a background briefing in Davos at that time, I remember raising the issue with then-Vice President Dick Cheney. “Don’t you realize you are handing Iraq over to Iran?” I asked, only to be met with an uncomprehending glare.
Now, it tragically seems that a new round of disaster is in the works as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration sides strongly with Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies against Iran, whose sway has only grown thanks to the great folly of American intervention in Iraq.
Former CIA official Graham Fuller argues that the failed effort by ISIS to create a territorial caliphate will doom any such project to establish the same kind of single seat of religious authority that existed in Islamic history in the future, much as the failure of the Soviet Union doomed the idea of a communist state.
Writing from Baghdad, Belkis Wille worries that the fall of Mosul will not mean the end of ISIS. Instead, she fears it may only mean the emergence of “ISIS 2.0” because of human rights violations by Iraqi forces. “Such abuse,” she argues, “only further inflames the tensions ISIS thrives in.” Rami Khouri, writing from Beirut, similarly warns that ISIS will return unless the Iraqi government rebuilds Mosul and efficiently delivers services to its citizens. He also says the government must break the partisan religious rancor there by involving all citizens in local councils where problems can be practically solved. Ahmet Yayla focuses on the next steps after the military defeat of ISIS, including security for returnees and blocking fleeing fighters heading for Europe or elsewhere. Steven Nabil, who partially grew up in Mosul and witnessed the most recent battle against ISIS there from mere miles away, also says we need to move beyond military strategies to break ISIS and advocates for rule of law in Iraq whereby ISIS militants are held to account by a formal court for their crimes.
One year after the Turkish coup attempt
One of Turkey’s most prominent sociologists, Nilüfer Göle, reflects on the long-term consequences of the coup attempt that took place a year ago on July 15. Tracing her hopes over the years that modernization from below by the ruling Justice and Development party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would bring lasting democracy to Turkey, she finally accedes to the long-held view of a relative that “the abuse of state power by Islamists was predictable from the very beginning. ... [T]he reformists not only failed to assess the danger but even facilitated the dismantling of the pillars of [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk’s republic.”
Going forward, Göle sees a dim future. “Turkish society is going through radical change, turning from an open society into one governed by Islamic populism,” she writes from Istanbul. “Turkey is converging with a global wave of populism, defined by a return to authoritarianism, a constitution that benefits the majority at the expense of minorities, and a celebration of religious and nativist values.”
China’s brutal treatment of Liu Xiaobo
Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who recently passed away after nearly a decade of imprisonment, had ideas about bringing Western-style multiparty elections to China that may have been misplaced, especially given the implosion of democratic politics across the West. But there can be no excuse for the atrocious violation of a dying dissident’s basic rights by any standards of human decency, Western or Eastern. Writing from Hong Kong, Stuart and Mimi Lau report on Liu’s last words and farewell messages from friends.
The capacity of a one-party system to unify the body politic and achieve the consensus to move society forward to the benefit of all makes it a legitimate form of governance. The chief flaw of China’s system is closely linked to this strength; it errs on the side of repressive order over freedom to prevent consensus from fraying. It is the opposite of the West: Our flaw lies within the strength of diverse participation and competitive elections that can, as now, disable the capacity to forge a governing consensus out of the exploding cacophony of voices and interests.
The contest between these two systems will be settled by results, not by repression. Liu’s Nobel Peace Prize will enshrine him as an eternal icon of liberty for the West. For the Chinese authorities, his fate will remain an indelible stain, like the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, on an otherwise impressive record of achievements.
Other highlights in The WorldPost this week include:
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