Shortly after I awoke and rose from my bed in the wee hours this morning, I caught the tail-end of a Radio Five Live interview conducted by guest Up All Night presenter Lucy Grey with Michael Schwayer [query the spelling, I just noted it down as I heard it], a Professor from Georgetown University in New York.
The subject was the West’s current strategy as regarding dealing with the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) crisis in Iraq/Syria.
I’m wary of going so far as to describe the interview as a ‘tour de force’ lest, by doing so, I risk giving said professor’s assessment a deal more credit than it warrants simply because I tended to agree with it. However, what particularly impressed me about his performance was the apparent certainty and seductive logic of his thrust.
In the passage I heard, he began by challenging the reaction of countries like the USA, Britain and France to the brutal execution of American journalist James Foley by an Islamic State fanatic believed to have a British accent.
He opened by saying that there was effectively no chance in hell of ‘bringing the perpetrator to justice’ as US President Obama has vowed to do.
Further, he asked ‘Anyway who cares?’
Killing or capturing the murderer would do precisely nothing towards dealing with the threat presented by the Islamic State. The organisation probably still held between ten and twenty other Western hostages. There’s nothing to stop them taking these unfortunates out into the desert tomorrow, killing them all and then releasing graphic videos of the murders, one by one, over the course of the next few months in furtherance of their strategy firstly, to court publicity and revulsion in the West, and secondly, attract further followers.
The West had mislaid its military compass. It had fought disastrously ill-advised wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, interfered in Syria and Libya without considering the consequences and – in the process – had lost both the confidence of its public and the will to do what is necessary to deal with threat of an organisation such as the Islamic State.
Bombing Islamic State positions in northern Iraq would have little to no effect in the absence of a simultaneous willingness to deploy the 500,000 troops it would take to wipe out the organisation in its entirely. Worse, it was playing into the Islamic State’s hands because every America air raid was adding hundreds of potential recruits to the jihadist cause.
In summary, the West was floundering around, trying and failing to fight a war on its own terms. As usual, its leaders were wringing their hands, desperate to appease the disquiet of their electorates by being seen ‘to do something’. In addition, again as usual, the West was taking token (supposedly public-pleasing) actions which completely failed to address the fundamental problem.
Accordingly, by default, it was effectively conceding the advantage to the Islamic State by inadvertently playing the Islamic State’s game which, of course, was quite different and played by entirely different rules.
So what should we do, he was asked.
Stop the jihadists at source, was one thing he suggested.
The British secret services such as MI5 were some of the best in the world. British intelligence knew exactly who most of the British jihadists flocking to fight for the Islamic State were. If the West wanted, it could [presumably by ignoring such fripperies as the rule of law, human rights legislation and/or convention et al.?] take them all out of circulation as soon as they raised their heads above the parapet, still less bought one-way British Airways tickets to Turkey, which is the believed route of choice to reach northern Iraq.
At this point, presenter Lucy Grey brought the interview to what I felt in the circumstances was a premature conclusion.
Presumably she had to stick to her schedule and other topics were demanding attention. However, I could have gone on listening to this New York academic for a lot longer if only the BBC had given him the air time.