Don’t Overhype ISIS: Remember How Russians Fought Napoleon

Viewpoint by Jonathan Power

LUND, Sweden (IDN-INPS) – Politicians have it in their DNA to hype our supposed present dangers. So do journalists. So does the military-industrial complex. So do certain think tanks and university professors who depend on sounding the alarm about this and that to gain grants from foundations.

When Leon Panetta was defence secretary under President Barack Obama he was not atypical when he said that any defence cuts would undermine the military’s “ability to protect the nation” and reductions would “invite aggression”.

Yet today’s wars tend to be low-intensity conflicts that on average kill 90% fewer people than the wars of the 1950s. The first decade of this century had fewer war deaths than any decade of the last century.

As for terrorism nothing is more over-hyped. Of the 13,186 people killed in terrorist attacks in 2010 only 15 were American citizens. Unless you live in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia or Syria the chance of dying from a terrorist attack today has fallen to just above zero.

Even the latest spate of bomb attacks in France and Belgium barely affect this world percentage. The U.S. is almost Islamic terrorist-free. What terrorism there is comes from right wing white men.

According to the New York Times, groups or individuals claiming some relationship to ISIS have killed 600 people outside Iraq and Syria but in the same period 14,000 plus people were murdered inside the U.S.

Right now the alarmists have their eyes fixed on ISIS. It is regarded as something very special. Yet we have seen it all before – and worse. The French, Russian, Chinese, Cuban, Iranian and Cambodian, revolutions.

Instead we should regard ISIS as “a small, under resourced revolutionary movement too weak to pose a significant security threat, except to the unfortunate people under its control”, writes Stephen Walt, Harvard professor of international affairs.

Rarely have we ended up with a revolutionary “cascade”, as the alarmists like to forewarn. “The more typical result,” argues Walt, “is a protracted struggle between the new regime and its various local antagonists, which ends when the revolutionary movement is removed from power, as were the Sandinistas in Nicaragua or when the states moderate their revolutionary aims, as did the Soviet Union, communist China and Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran.”

Only the Soviet Union, in the aftermath of World War 2, became expansionist but that was a not-to-be-repeated situation.

North Korea, Cuba, Ethiopia under the Dergue, Nicaragua and the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia all lacked the muscle to spread their rule outside their borders.

ISIS has about 30,000 troops to control an area that at its peak was as big as the UK. But most of this is empty desert. Its national income is about the same as that of the Caribbean island of Barbados. Now it is in retreat.

Yes, the U.S. and its allies have hurt ISIS with their bombing and regained much territory with the help of the Kurds. But they have also bolstered ISIS’s claim to be Islam’s greatest defender of the faith and have created a great deal of local animosity.

It would have made more sense, instead of playing policeman, to allow the neighbouring states, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Iraq and the Kurds, a mix of both Sunnis and Shiites, to confront this perverted version of Islam.

When Iran was in its militant phase it backed a good number of proxies but none of them came to anything. Muslims all over the Middle East applauded the Iranian revolution with its Islamic version of “Black Power”. Young people loved it but Iran soon found their rhetoric delivered little. ISIS will meet the same fate.

Creative ways of dealing with ISIS are necessary. My suggestion is that when ISIS enters a town the inhabitants should be encouraged by the Middle Eastern states to empty the town and move into the temporary refugee camps that these states have rapidly built.

Cut off the water, electricity and mobile phones in the town and then wait for the ISIS brigades to surrender. The Russians did this with Napoleon and it worked. Napoleon’s troops entered Moscow and found nothing there.

Leave this part of the Middle East alone to be a battle within Islam. 90% of the world’s one billion Muslim look upon this political mess with a great deal of sorrow – there is little support for such a brutal organisation as ISIS. They have seen the beheadings on television and heard about the rapes, torture and forced marriages.

The West is not the part of the world most threatened by ISIS. The few bombs set off in Europe do not make a revolution, and never will. Middle East countries have to keep their own house in order – with less corruption, a better distribution of income and fair policing.

The U.S., Europe and Russia should pull back. They have no place on the front line. [IDN-INPS – 23 August 2016]

Note: Jonathan Power syndicates his opinion articles. He forwarded this and his previous Viewpoints for publication in IDN-INPS. Copyright: Jonathan Power

Photo: A carnival float in Duesseldorf depicts Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Turkish President Erdoğan, 2016. Abu Bakr is the leader of the Sunni militant jihadist organisation known as the ISIS_Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which controls territory in western Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

IDN is flagship of the International Press Syndicate.

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