Today being what it is, I’m likely going to pack it in after this post and turn off all the noise for a while. But here are a couple of other things to keep in mind (apart from the reaction I had last night) as the Obama administration’s plan for taking on the Islamic State unspools over the weeks and months to come. First, from Marc Lynch, is the very important point that, historically speaking, when the US makes counter-terrorism the focus of its engagement in the Middle East, despotic Middle Eastern regimes start using “counter-terrorism” as an excuse to bludgeon their internal opposition:
But there’s just one point I want to throw out there now, because it doesn’t seem to be getting much play: when Arab regimes set out to fight “terrorism” they almost always use it as pretext for political repression. When I hear an Arab leader talking with the United States about confronting terrorism these days, what I see is the journalist Mohammad Fahmy and the dedicated activists Alaa Abd el-Fattah, Ahmed Maher and Mahienor al-Masry rotting in an Egyptian prison on trumped up charges while Secretary of State John Kerry opines on Cairo’s path to democracy.
Most, if not all, of the Arab regimes earmarked for the anti-ISIS coalition have spent the last few years dramatically ramping up the arrest and abuse of activists, journalists and independent voices of all persuasions. Saudi Arabia may crack down on terrorist financing, but it’s also going to take the opportunity to sentence the liberal activist Raif al-Badawi to 1000 lashes. Most of the other Gulf regimes have been doing the same, combining moves against extremist groups with heavy-handed repression of political opponents.
These are the governments we’re going to be working with against IS, because we mostly have no choice, but we can’t let the threat (or “threat”) of an IS attack on the US blind us to the actions that governments like Egypt’s or KSA’s take to squash their own people in the name of Fighting Terrorism. Supporting these oppressive regimes is, in the long-run, bad for US interests and bad from the perspective of doing away with extremist Islamic terrorism.
The second point comes from Dan Froomkin at The Intercept, and it relates to Obama’s apparent unwillingness to openly seek Congressional approval for what he’s about to do. I think part of his issue with going to Congress might be that so many people in Congress seem to have lost their minds over IS (sorry for the extended quoting but it’s necessary):
When judging the hyperbole emerging from Capitol Hill about the Islamic State, you must keep this in mind: “The threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated.”
That’s what Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, wrote in a USA Today op-ed on Sunday.
In other words, there can be no hyperbole.
In what is therefore, by definition, understatement, Feinstein called the Islamic State “the most vicious, well-funded and militant terrorist organization we have ever seen.”
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) got all metaphorical on Fox News earlier today: “ISIS is, in kind of a scary way, it’s like something Ian Fleming created. It’s like Dr. No,” he said. “It’s the evil empire that is not a nation, just an evil group of people, or an evil individual at the head, that’s a threat to the free world. It’s like privatized terrorism; a public-private partnership.”
And the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jim Inhofe (R-OK), told a TV station in August: “We’re in the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in as a nation.” That’s ever.
“They’re crazy out there and they are rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city and people just can’t believe that’s happening,” Inhofe said, evidently incredulous about the naivete of his fellow Americans.
These are people who are essentially out of their minds. You can’t overstate this threat? Really? Dr. No? Are you guys joking? “The most dangerous position we’ve ever been in as a nation”? Jim Inhofe turned 28 in late 1962, so I hope he remembers what happened that year. Or any of these other times during the past 60 years when we came to the precipice of a full-on nuclear freaking war. But this is the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in as a nation? The British burned our freaking capital 200 years ago!
Froomkin, in another piece, also notes the folks in Congress who seemingly haven’t gone around the bend, but shockingly they tend not to get the same kind of media attention as the ones who have.