Aaron Zappaz

A Response to Dr. Paul Miller’s article:

Dr. Miller argues that we have been treating problems in the Islamic world in ways that have been consistent across administrations. His proposed policy is to contain ISIS to Iraq and Syria and other places in the Middle East where it may have manifestations, and to roll it back in Afghanistan and other places outside the realm of core ISIS penetration. His approach is based on methods that have already been tried with no great success in the Islamic world.

The administration of George W. Bush attempted to deal with Iraq by imposing regime change and giving people the vote. Neither the Bush administration nor the democratically elected government they helped set up could provide good governance. Ironically, the Kurds managed their own affairs extremely well with little interference. The best way forward at present seems to be to use US power lightly to keep Iraq’s government in power and hope that it can muddle through to finally be able to provide good governance and secure the allegiance of a substantial majority of Iraqi citizens. For Iran the approach advocated is intense monitoring of their treaty obligations. For Syria the approach advocated seems to me to be to let it burn itself out because the presence of Iran as a nearby ally and Russia (a nuclear power) as a more remote ally with a significant military base in Syria.

This plan leaves the USA doing some measure, perhaps the only appropriate measure, of nation building in Iraq, and abandoning Syria except for the laudable diplomatic efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Despite mention of some of the underlying problems common to the entire area, “the social, political, and cultural conditions,” “the region’s own internal pathologies,” etc., he indicates that the USA can only afford to address this class of conditions in the remote areas where rollback is to be attempted. However, it is clear from past experience that the USA has not yet learned how to create the desired changes.

All of Dr. Miller’s proposals seem to me to be taken from the same viewpoint as that of the Bush administration, the Obama administration, and the current proposals of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Their joint viewpoint is that of one government looking down at the region from outside and asking in what ways the USA can interact with the various government and militia leaders (including the ISIS machine). Clearly, these questions must be asked. Do the answers suggest any cures for “the region’s own internal pathologies?” Viewed in top-down perspective, the real and fundamental problems are virtually invisible and also impossible to act on with any efficacy.

Rotate the viewpoint 90° in the Z plane and another way of understanding this problem exhibits itself. We see on the bottom layer prejudices, preconceptions, unexamined causal narratives that almost everybody in the “blighted regions that have given rise to jihadism” accepts. A layer above that we find narratives that have achieved the status of proverbs that also spread throughout the masses. A layer above that we find some of the same kinds of ideas enshrined in religious texts, and where some of these ideas do not appear in, e.g., the Koran, they may still gain religious luster by being used in commentaries on that text. The religious conscientiousness of many people must necessarily be based on the Koran as read in that particular social context. Governments cannot directly intrude on any of these several strata without producing counterproductive results, and yet the causes of “blight” found therein need to be changed as a condition for improving “the social, political, and cultural conditions” that lie under turmoil, conflict, and even warfare.

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