Sunday, August 10, 2014

Iraq as Our Humanity

During my spiritual journey I have encountered and deeply sampled perspectives that elevate our humanity as something basically good and that the word "humane" can be almost universally applied across human expressions of experience and human cultures.  Ultimately, I am skeptical of such positivism and find such perspectives hopeful to the point of absurdity.  I have told many friends and acquaintances through the years that there is no inherent reason humanity will not become a bunch of badass Klingons.  People look at me funny when I say that.

Witness the emergence of the Islamic State within the unstable borders of Syria and Iraq by a militant culture known popularly in the current news cycle as ISIS.  The foothold ISIS established in Syria in 2013 has allowed them to spread into much of Iraq in 2014.  They have successfully carved a unified but diplomatically unrecognized state inside these other two recognized countries.

Having been denied an audacious attempt to capture Baghdad, ISIS has since captured Iraq's largest dam.  They are now pressing hard against the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, having captured the large city of Mosul earlier this year. They are what most cultures would see as primitive in terms of their abject violence and brutality.  But, as of this post, they are winning.

From the beginning ISIS has committed atrocities against anyone not part of their radical brand of Islam - primarily Shia Muslims and Christians. (I want to stress ISIS does not reflect the views of mainstream Islam.  They should not be used as a basis for critiquing Islam as a whole).  Their seizure of Mosul led to ISIS ransacking within that city, destroying businesses and terrorizing neighborhoods.

Suddenly last week it became evident that ISIS was killing and possibly beheading large numbers of anyone outside their strict faith.  This has led to the displacement of more than 40,000 Christians and other minorities in the region which created an immediate humanitarian crisis as these displaced people were without food, water, and medical supplies.

Ultimately, this prompted President Obama to order an air campaign against ISIS in northern Iraq late last week in an attempt to prevent a genocidal situation from occurring. Obama has stated that this will be an extended campaign that may last for months. This reveals the magnitude of what has, until now, developed unabated.  It will take weeks to fix this mess.  Initial strikes hit ISIS mortar and artillery positions as well as some of their supply chain in hopes of disrupting their effectiveness in attacking these thousands of displaced human beings.

My assumption is the campaign is an attempt to take out the heavy firepower and disrupt the ammunition supplies of this radical group so that Kurdish forces can effectively attack the group. Since no western country seems willing to put troops back on the ground in Iraq, a country the US officially withdrew from in 2011, it will ultimately fall to the fragile Iraqi Army to do something about the situation.  Unfortunately, that army lacks the "heart" to fight ISIS insurgents. Specifically, the Iraqi 2nd Division crumbled in the fighting for Mosul. Which is the most fundamental reason for renewed American intervention.

This reminds me of the late-period of the Vietnam War when US air power remained to support the ARVN on the ground. We all know how that turned out.  On the other hand, more recently the French were successful combating insurgents in Mali; though that effort demanded French ground forces ultimately be committed after weeks of air strikes.  

Some claim this effort will not work.  Perhaps it won't.  It certainly won't if the local Kurdish forces and the national Iraqi Army fail to create a cohesive force to resist and control ISIS forces. We have no will power to go back to Iraq a third time.  

ISIS knows this so this particular fact may be the greatest strength ISIS has.  They know if they hunker down and hold their gains no one is capable of driving them away.  US air power can severely weaken them but at some point someone must attack these militants and push them away from Baghdad and out of the Mosul region.  The longer that takes to happen, the less likely it will ever happen and this state within as state will have, shockingly, won itself a war. Will genocide follow despite of our air power?

More fundamentally, ISIS is probably "inhumane" as a culture but they are, even in their neurotic madness, as human as you and me. These men are living what is, for them, the highest form of religious life creating a caliphate. This is humanity.  The killing, the retaliation, the fleeing in fear, the desperate attempt to save these people. This is, all of it, all-too-human.  Goodness has a lot of competition in the chambers of the human heart.

Late Notes: Kurdish and Iraqi forces (mostly Kurdish I think) retake the Mosul Dam thanks to support from US air strikes. Meanwhile, the Pentagon claims the threat by ISIS is "beyond anything we have seen" before.  The Islamic State poses an almost unparalleled threat to global oil supplies.

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