Vail Daily column: Strong and wise in Mideast
“And America is weak.”
It was not an accusation as much a lament. German journalist Kurt Pelda’s concluding comments were his first and only mention of the United States during a TedxZurich presentation on Nov. 6 that exposed the propaganda disseminated by the Russians and ISIS. According to his investigation the Russians are attacking anti-Assad forces, not ISIS, with old planes and antiquated munitions that result in mass casualties rather than precision strikes. ISIS, far from the well-equipped formidable force they would have us believe, is driving around in mostly Soviet-era museum pieces. Their fighters are poorly trained and poorly equipped. And while their comrades in France may be eager to die for the cause, most of them are not. Pelda has covered the conflicts in the Middle East for decades. He was justifiably distressed at the wanton destruction inflicted by the Russians, ISIS and the Assad regime and the misery it was exacting on the people of Syria. The photos of formerly prosperous Syrian towns reduced to rubble were sobering. But was this America’s responsibility to fix?
I pressed my neighbor, also German, on this question. “Do you guys think America is weak?” After some hesitation she replied, “Well, America is so powerful, I guess we expect you to do something about this.”
Echoing this sentiment and verbalizing a question that was likely on many people’s minds, CNN’s Jim Acosta infamously asked President Obama at a news conference following the Paris attacks, “Why can’t we take out these bastards?”
Well, Jim, because this is a lethal game of Whack a Mole. It is tempting to believe that military might will solve this problem, but consider the Taliban, the first folks we attempted to eradicate in the region. According to the BBC, the Taliban emerged in predominantly Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the mid-1990s, indoctrinated in schools funded by Saudi Arabia that promote a fanatical form of Islam. More on the Saudis in a moment, but remember, we went into Afghanistan after 9/11 to wipe out the Taliban, not because they carried out the attack, but because they harbored the people who did. Initially we beat them back, but they have resurfaced. In September they recaptured Kunduz and held it for 15 days, giving them time to free their fighters imprisoned there and seize military hardware from the Afghan military.
Al-Qaida, the guys who carried out the 9/11 attacks, is still around. Since Osama bin Laden’s death the organization has fragmented and operates more as franchises. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris earlier this year. According to Al Jazeera, Al Mourabitoun carried out the Mali hotel attack in conjunction with al-Qaida’s regional affiliate. (Another group, Macina Liberation Front, has also claimed responsibility.) That attack took place just a few days after the attack in Paris in what might be a rivalry of villains between al-Qaida and ISIS.
Which brings us back to Saudi Arabia. As a reminder, Saudi Arabia was the home of bin Laden and most of the 9/11 terrorists. An op-ed by Kamel Daoud in The New York Times succinctly captures why attempting to eradicate ISIS through military means is destined for failure. “The West’s denial regarding Saudi Arabia is striking: It salutes the theocracy as its ally but pretends not to notice that it is the world’s chief ideological sponsor of Islamist culture.” Military action would be myopic according to Daoud because it would “target the effect, not the cause.”
Boots on the ground would be whacking another mole, and before long another mole will pop up somewhere else. As long as we befriend and ally with the source and the propagator of fanatical Islam, we will not put an end to the terror. We are rightly horrified by ISIS’ acts of barbarism such as beheadings. So we should be deeply disturbed that according to Al Jazeera, Saudi Arabia has beheaded 151 people this year, or nearly twice as many as ISIS.
I am not unsympathetic to the plight of the people in the region who are caught up in the fight. But whenever someone says that we should “do something” about bad guys somewhere in the world, it means someone else’s son or daughter, husband or wife, mom or dad will be the ones stepping into harm’s way.
Now is the time for America to be strong and wise and not concede to pressure to throw military hardware and young lives at a problem that requires a reevaluation of our partners and allies in that region. The first candidate for scrutiny should be the non-democratic theocracy that exports oil with a side of extremism.
Claire Noble is the author of “State-Sponsored Sex and Other Tales of International Misadventure.” She can be found online at clairenoble.org or follow her on Twitter @byClaireNoble.