Thoughtful action, not just any action

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“Frankie Boyle on the fallout from Paris: ‘This is the worst time for society to go on psychopathic autopilot’” – The Guardian:

In times of crisis, we are made to feel we should scrutinise our government’s actions less closely, when surely that’s when we should pay closest attention. There’s a feeling that after an atrocity history and context become less relevant, when surely these are actually the worst times for a society to go on psychopathic autopilot. Our attitudes are fostered by a society built on ideas of dominance, where the solution to crises are force and action, rather than reflection and compromise.

If that sounds unbearably drippy, just humour me for a second and imagine a country where the response to Paris involved an urgent debate about how to make public spaces safer and marginalised groups less vulnerable to radicalisation. Do you honestly feel safer with a debate centred around when we can turn some desert town 3,000 miles away into a sheet of glass? Of course, it’s not as if the west hasn’t learned any lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan. This time round, no one’s said out loud that we’re going to win.

See also:
Op-Ed | France and the West: Inconvenient Questions


Op-Ed | France and the West: Inconvenient Questions

This essay originally appeared in The Globalist.

January 2013: French troops being airlifted to Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)

January 2013: French troops being airlifted to Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)

Nothing can ever justify or excuse an act of terrorism against civilians. But that does not absolve us from truly comprehending the links between the foreign and military policy approaches pursued by Western governments and the reactions this generates.

The aftermath of a terrorist attack is an especially difficult time to ask difficult questions about strategy. But just as the United States has faced a lot of (justified) criticism for refusing to acknowledge the direct linkages between misguided interventions and blowback incidents, we cannot apply a different yardstick to France.

Watch for the warmongers

This is all the more critical as, in the wake of the events in Paris, there are those pundits and policymakers who are trying to let slip the dogs of war or beat the drums by defining the scourge of “radical Islam” and “homegrown terrorism” as the root of all evil.

If we should have learned one thing by now, it is that tough talk is not the same as serious, strategic policymaking. It is irresponsible to undertake foreign policies without accurately representing to the public the likely risks to them that it will create.

As we assess the future approach, we must also take account of the role that Western governments have played in creating this catastrophe.

This applies especially to all those who glibly claim that ISIS “cannot be contained; it must be defeated,” as Hillary Clinton has just done.

Such an argument conveniently overlooks the fact that it was the U.S. government that inadvertently gave rise to this movement. Its decades of invasions and unpopular interference in the region ultimately culminated in the Pandora’s box war of choice in Iraq. Out of, and in reaction to, these policies grew al Qaeda and ISIS.

The advocates of such a strategy must also explain what can possibly be accomplished by responding with yet more force in an already war-torn region.

An eye for an eye strategy, while sounding principled, makes the whole world blind to the pitfalls such an approach has been triggering.

The French example

France can actually serve as Exhibit A of the pitfalls of a more “muscular” approach. The cruel attacks in Paris are demonstrably reactive in nature.

The unfortunate reality no one wants to discuss at the moment is that France’s Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012) and François Hollande (2012-present) have pushed the envelope for modern France on maintaining a highly aggressive and forcible military presence in majority Muslim countries.

Not since perhaps the Algerian War has France meddled with, sent troops to or bombed so many predominantly Muslim regions in such a short span.

President Sarkozy led regime change in Libya by air campaign in 2011 at the nadir of his domestic popularity. We know what that resulted in. He did it for oil and whatever it was that Iraq War apologist Bernard-Henry Lévy promised him would transpire.

But his successor, President Hollande, went way, way farther — claiming, almost George W. Bush style, that he was fighting ‘them’ over there to protect France from terrorist attacks at home. This approach painted a much bigger target on France’s back.

Hollande’s misadventures

The Hollande record is this: First, he invaded Mali in January 2013, after it collapsed as part of fallout from the Libya meltdown. He did so purportedly to stop terrorism and prevent the creation of a terrorism launching pad near Europe (despite Libya being much closer and truly festering).

In December 2013, he then invaded Central African Republic to ‘save’ Christians from Muslim militias that had already been disbanded. (It did not help that French troops now implicated in widespread child abuse stood by as Christian militias mutilated Muslim civilians’ corpses in front of them.)

In May 2014, Hollande announced a large, permanent rapid strike force deployment to five “Sahel-Sahara” West African nations, all of which were majority or plurality Muslim. He sent jets to bomb Iraq in September 2014. Finally, a year later in September 2015 he sent jets to bomb Syria.

It is difficult to understand Hollande’s declaration that the November 2015 Paris attacks are an “act of war” by ISIS, in view of the reality that France has already been at war with ISIS for more than a year.

Note, too, that the United States was barely involved in half of those misguided efforts.

Whether or not it can match U.S. capacity, France is no longer a junior partner or even hapless “sidekick” to the United States’ mayhem. In that sense, Hollande has gone much further than Tony Blair ever did during the Iraq War episode. Blair restrained himself to just being a sidekick.

France under Hollande has turned itself into an active cyclone by pursuing a militarized foreign policy – a strategy that may prove self-defeating. Read more

Let’s get it right this time.

A guest essay by Georgia. Republished with permission.

When 9/11 happened I was nine. Our parents told us what had happened but nobody bothered to explain it in terms a child could understand. We knew that some people flew a plane into a building, we knew that lots of people in a place called New York had died, and that was bad, and we knew that it had something to do with a place called Afghanistan. Nobody tried to explain that terrorism’s main goal is to spread fear among the people beyond the immediate victims of the attack, that it hopes to provoke a backlash so severe from the attacked society and government that more sympathy is generated for the terrorist’s cause. Nobody tried to explain what Islam was, what an Arab was, what a Pashtun was. Nobody tried to explain how an entire people are not responsible for the acts of their government, or the acts of a small group of people within their borders. And nobody tried to explain that terrorism has no religion, that the hijackers had as much claim to the Qur’an as the KKK has to the crosses they set on fire. I really think I could have comprehended all that at age nine, if someone had tried to find the words to explain it to me.

The adults in our lives failed us morally at that moment. We absorbed the racism and fear that was filtering down to us in an odd distorted form from the media, from the things we overheard grown-ups saying. We became mini-jingoists, parroting words we didn’t understand, and not one person, not even in the bluest of blue states, Massachusetts, had the moral courage to set us straight. I remember a friend of mine saying that when he grew up he wanted to “blow up Afghanistan,” and my father making an uncomfortable face and sort of dithering before delivering a lukewarm disapproval and changing the subject. I believe that my generation’s soul still bears the marks of that moral failing, and the world is a much worse place because of it.

Now I am an adult, and there are a lot of children in my life who are around the same age as I was back in 2001. I don’t know how much they will be hearing about what has happened in Paris, and I don’t know exactly how I am going to respond to the questions they have. But I do know that I am going to go into school on Monday with a determination not to repeat the silence, the cowardice, the atavistic nationalism that failed my generation. I would ask that my friends, especially those who interact with children, but even those who do not, make a conscious choice to spread love and understanding this week. Educate yourself with the facts, assuage the fears of those around you, stand up to racism, and do not be silent. Let’s get it right this time.

Ted Cruz wants us to bomb more civilians

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt via Wikimedia)

MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt via Wikimedia)

Think Progress — Ted Cruz’s horrid quote on combating “radical Islamism” after the Paris attacks…

It will not be deterred by targeted airstrikes with zero tolerance for civilian casualties, when the terrorists have such utter disregard for innocent life.

1. I wonder where he thinks we have pursued a zero-tolerance-for-civilian-casualties air campaign policy. Certainly not against ISIS.
2. He emphasized “targeted airstrikes” as part of the problem. Does he want old-fashioned carpet bombing?
3. Responding to terrorism with “utter disregard for innocent life” by bombing civilians seems like the route to a pretty big and unending cycle of violence.

What a hot take, Ted.