Henry Rollins: The ISIS Quagmire
[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.]
As I write this, American forces have just conducted airstrikes in Syria. Syria is a sovereign nation that has never struck at America. The country’s president, Bashar Assad, is backed by Vladimir Putin’s government. Assad and Putin will have to address this action.
The attack was aimed at ISIS targets, not at the Assad regime — this is clear. But however you look at it, America just bombed Syria. Who knows how this will be perceived and spun by people and governments all over the world. If Putin says nothing, he will be seen as soft. So how does Putin stick up for Assad without coming across as somewhat complicit with the actions of ISIS? By committing Russian forces to join this anti-terror campaign? No way. Too humanitarian. (Weak.) In any case, it’s clear that America’s new chapter in the War on Terror is incredibly complex.
The airstrikes come weeks after politicians on both sides of the aisle have been strongly urging the president to take action, bashing away at him for not doing a lot of shock-and-awe shit immediately — though strikes have been conducted in Iraq for weeks now. They know better, but many have elections in November and ISIS could not have come at a better time for the GOP.
One of the reasons why it has taken so long for this president to finally stand up to the terrorists, quote unquote, is because everything having to do with ISIS is going to be tricky, complicated and unable to be done by American forces alone. Adding to that, no matter how well it’s handled, and no matter how many other countries pitch in, it will be a gruesome mess with a mountain of slaughtered innocents who no doubt will be turned into recruitment tools.
I get angry letters about all of this. Poorly spelled and rarely signed, they basically say the same thing: “Hey pussy, what’s up with your boy Odumba? I bet you’re cool with him sticking up for all his Muslim terrorist buddies.”
Fuck you. It’s like I have stock in the president, as if I am the go-to guy for why some Old Testament retribution isn’t happening before the commercial break. These are hammer carriers. It is a very simple world they live in. It is landscape of nails they see, and there’s only one thing they know how to do.
At least 99.9% of the president’s detractors couldn’t last a strategic minute in his shoes, so it’s not even worth going into.
One thing is for sure, this will not be over quickly and most likely will not be over in our lifetime. Who knows if it ever will be.
In 2004, President Bush took a ton of shit because, when he was on The Today Show and was asked if we could win the War on Terror, he answered, “I don’t think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world.” He was right. This is the real work and the heaviest possible lift. If you really want to create conditions that do not perpetually create more groups like ISIS, an overhaul of the Western world’s foreign policy would have to happen. It’s not going to.
ISIS, Hamas, al-Qaida, Hezbollah, the Taliban and countless other groups and splinter groups have as much to do with 9/11 and extremism as they do with the three Anglo-Afghan wars, the creation of Iraq in 1932, Israel in 1948, Operation Ajax and the American/British effort that ousted Iranian prime minister Muhammad Mossadegh in 1953, to name but a few.
I am not excusing bad behavior, I’m just saying all this goes back a long way, and, to cool it out, you would have to get millions of men all over the world to basically say, “Yeah, our ancestors got beaten by a bunch of Westerners who used them like the help, took their oil and redrew the landscape. We’ll just take it because that’s our lot in life and we don’t have the spine to stand up to them.” That simply isn’t going to happen. Some people want to make this into Islam versus everybody else, but that’s not what this is about.
ISIS, like all these groups, is spread like mist. Estimated at more than 20,000, they are not all that concentrated anywhere, making it impossible to bomb them into extinction, unless you want to scorch a major portion of the earth. Even then, you won’t get them all.
As time goes on, there will be more. There can’t not be. Forces have been at work for decades to make sure terror and unrest will be a constant. By fighting it, it spreads. By not fighting it, it stabilizes.
If America didn’t have to spend what it does tracking and zapping bad guys to protect Americans and their allies at home and abroad, things would be very, very different.
The president has said repeatedly that he will not put U.S. forces on the ground. I hope he doesn’t have to artfully walk that back at some point, but military experts say that to neutralize ISIS, an air campaign will not be enough. When you get estimates of a year or more to train up soldiers from the regions where ISIS might be, you see where all this is going.
In 2003, Rumsfeld and Cheney claimed the “war” in Iraq would be concluded in a period of weeks or months. Eleven years later, we’re still talking about this place.
The next president will be dealing with ISIS. How depressing.
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