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The War Debate America Isn’t Having

The U.S. and Britain both intervened in Iraq and Libya. Only one is now seriously reckoning with those choices.

Over the last two months, the British public has been engaged in a debate about war that has been largely absent from the U.S. presidential election.On Wednesday, a parliamentary committee in the United Kingdom released a report condemning the government of former Prime Minister David Cameron for its role in the 2011 military intervention in Libya’s civil war.
The air campaign by Britain and other coalition members, including France and the United States, prevented Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi from attacking the rebel-held city of Benghazi, and ultimately resulted in Qaddafi’s overthrow and death.
But in the years since, Libya has lurched from democratic elections to political chaos and violence. Libya, to the extent that such an entity still exists, is now home to feuding militias, an ISIS affiliate, prospering arms dealers and human smugglers, and a flickering national government buffeted by rival governments.

Andrew Bossone shared this link. September 17 at 8:52pm ·
theatlantic.com|By Uri Friedman
 
The parliamentary report chastises Cameron’s government for numerous failings:
acting on shoddy intelligence about the threat to Libyan civilians, rushing to war rather than exhausting diplomatic options, underestimating the presence of Islamist extremist groups among rebel forces, allowing the mission to drift from protecting civilians to toppling Qaddafi, not planning for what would replace Qaddafi, and losing interest in rebuilding the country after Qaddafi’s fall.
If these critiques sound familiar, that’s because many echo the findings of a massive report released in July by the former British official John Chilcot, who rebuked former Prime Minister Tony Blair for joining George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 even though the intelligence justifying military action was flawed, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein posed “no imminent threat,” there were peaceful alternatives for disarming Iraq, and few preparations were made for the day after Saddam’s ouster.The BBC’s James Landale nicely captures the complex lessons of these inquiries:“The subtext [of this week’s parliamentary report on Libya] is that the lessons of Iraq were ignored,” he writes. “Yet in truth the report also reveals the uncertainty among policymakers about military intervention, torn between avoiding another Srebrenica-style massacre when the West turned a blind eye to the killings of Muslims by Bosnian Serbs in 1995 and the need to avoid another Iraq-style intervention when Western countries got bogged down in an internal conflict. What happened in Libya was a half and half policy, of intervention without occupation. And it is a model that did not work.”

I mention all this in the context of the U.S. election because last week, after a “Commander-in-Chief Forum featuring Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, moderator Matt Lauer was tarred and feathered in the media for not challenging the Republican candidate when he claimed to have opposed the Iraq War from the start.
Trump cited a 2004 Esquire article in which he labeled the war a “mess,” but conveniently didn’t mention that time in 2002 when Howard Stern asked him whether he supported invading Iraq, and Trump responded, “Yeah, I guess so. I wish the first time it was done correctly.”
Nor did Trump mention his other stray, wishy-washy comments about the war before 2004.Yes, Trump wasn’t telling the truth. And, as countless critics pointed out after the forum, Lauer should have fact-checked him, rather than pivoting to a frothy question about Trump’s “temperament.”But this wasn’t exactly Trump’s first evasion of the truth. And the “fact” at issue here is an answer that a businessman 14 years removed from a presidential run gave to a radio host. It’s a couple lines in an interview where more time was spent discussing the looks of Trump’s girlfriend than the Iraq War.The fact—Trump’s “I guess I’m for invading Iraq” —was the verbal equivalent of a shrug emoticon.

Where, by contrast, was the outrage about Trump’s non-answer to an audience member’s question about his plan to prevent a group like ISIS from reemerging in the Middle East if and when ISIS is defeated?

Trump’s response largely consisted of restatements of the question and regret that the United States didn’t “take” Iraq’s oil. Lauer asked how America could have taken Iraqi oil, but he didn’t press Trump on his plan to win the peace in the region.

Where was the outrage about Clinton’s claim that the Libyan intervention, which she forcefully advocated for as secretary of state in the Obama administration, “was the right decision. Not taking it, and permitting there to be an ongoing civil war in Libya, would have been as dangerous and threatening as what we are now seeing in Syria.”
Clinton didn’t mention the very real fighting—the civil war, you might say—that followed the intervention in Libya. She didn’t reflect on whether, on balance, the Libyan intervention has made Americans safer. And she didn’t discuss the excruciating calculus commanders in chief must make: how she weighs the Libyan lives lost in the conflict that came after the dictator’s death against the Libyan lives that could have been lost had the U.S. and its allies not intervened against Qaddafi. Lauer followed up with a question about Iran.

Where was the outrage about Trump’s assertion that Clinton “made a terrible mistake on Libya … [and] then they complicated the mistake by having no management once they bombed you-know-what out of Qaddafi. … I think that we have great management talents.”

Lauer didn’t ask Trump why then, back in 2011, he had supported U.S. military intervention in Libya to “save … lives,” and why Trump had been so confident that it “would be very easy and very quick” to overthrow Qaddafi given his alleged longtime opposition to the Iraq War.

Lauer didn’t ask for a couple concrete examples of how Trump would have managed the post-Qaddafi period better than President Obama. Instead, Lauer asked if Trump was “prepared” to be commander in chief.

Where was the outrage when Clinton said her vote for the Iraq War (as a national political leader authorizing war, not a businessman sounding off on a radio show) was a mistake, but then didn’t explain why, specifically, her support for the Libyan intervention wasn’t?
Lauer didn’t ask for an explanation. Regarding the Iraq War, Clinton said “it is imperative that we learn from the mistakes.” Lauer wasn’t interested in what lessons she’d learned.
A national-security forum would have been a sensible time to probe the candidates on their theories of war in the post-9/11 world, and how those theories substantively differ—why they took the positions we know they took, what they learned from those decisions, and how they would apply those lessons as president of the United States.
After all, as my colleague David Graham has noted, the interventions in Iraq and Libya “show how Clinton and Trump both came to the same conclusions about hitting Baghdad and Tripoli: The wars would be short, good for America, and good for the world.
In both cases, they were wrong, and the major contrast between them is that Clinton was better versed in the specifics of both cases when she made her calls.”The Commander-in-Chief Forum was just one of many instances so far on the campaign trail when matters of war and peace have been boiled down to who was for what when, who founded ISIS, who is a gift to ISIS, and so on.In Britain, the wars in Iraq and Libya have recently prompted introspection and serious wrestling with hard truths. Not so across the Atlantic.

Note: After 9/11 in 2001, Europe blindly sided with the US foreign policies, particularly England. They joined the US interventions and then after the fact decided to perform their meya cilpa

Does It Really Matter What People Call the So-Called Islamic State?

Language is part of the armory of human resistance,” says Wole Soyinka.

 “we insist on respectfully referring to them as a state. Such proponents of spurious egalitarianism fail a crucial test of responsibility to truth and language. Yes, there’s freedom of expression, but there’s also freedom of choice of expression. And that does not cost much.”

By Uri Friedman. June 1, 2016.

Is there a right and wrong way to describe depravity?

When a terrorist organization has seized control over millions of people and chunks of countries, when it has killed thousands and drawn world powers into war, is what we call the group really all that important?

When that organization calls itself “the Islamic State,” and it takes inspiration from actual Islamic theology and administers actual territory, why not refer to it as such?

What’s the use of opting instead, as many government officials have, for derogatory acronyms like the Arabic Daesh, or taunts like the “Un-Islamic Non-State”?

“We have a pretty straightforward policy here,” Michael Slackman, the international managing editor for The New York Times, told The Washington Post, in explaining why his paper goes with the term Islamic State.

“We use the name that individuals and organizations select for themselves,” and then try to contextualize it.

(Some English-language news outlets add context with qualifiers such as the ­self-styled Islamic State or the Islamic State group; others stick to relatively anodyne acronyms like ISIS or IS. The Atlantic typically uses “Islamic State” or “ISIS” interchangeably.)

Tonnie Ch shared this link
The Atlantic. June 1 at 10:07pm ·

“Today’s preeminent aggressor is not ‘Islamic.’ It’s more like an ‘Anti-Islamic Murder Incorporated’ whose existence and activities have not been endorsed by a single internationally recognized Islamic nation.”

This logic applies not just to the media, but to academia, according to Will McCants, the author of The ISIS Apocalypse. “I understand why political leaders would want to choose [which name to use],” he told the Post. “I don’t understand the pressure for academics to follow suit. It’s one thing for politicians to shape perception. I’m looking for a more neutral way to describe an organization.”

The term “Islamic State,” he added, is “the one consistent part of their name, which has changed over the years. I chose not to confuse people.”

Last week, in a talk at the Human Rights Foundation’s Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway, the Nigerian playwright and poet Wole Soyinka condemned this logic. And his reasoning is worth considering:

After all, the 81-year-old Nobel laureate intimately understands the potency of language. He has spent his career deploying words against kleptocrats and dictators, a practice that earned him 22 months in solitary confinement in Nigeria and later a death sentence in absentia.

“Art should expose, reflect, indeed magnify the decadent, rotten underbelly of a society that has lost its direction,” he wrote in 1977.

In 2016, he sees that rotten underbelly stretching roughly from Raqqa in Syria, which ISIS claims as its capital, to the Sambisa Forest in Nigeria, where the group’s affiliate Boko Haram is active.

In Oslo, Soyinka’s message was to not underestimate the force of semantics. “Language is part of the armory of human resistance,” he said. “Rejection of the self-ascribed goals of an enemy is a critical part of the defense mechanism of the assaulted. Whenever an unconscionable claim is denied, rejected, openly derided, it erodes the very base of the aggressor’s self-esteem.”

Today’s preeminent aggressor is not “Islamic.” It’s more like an “Anti-Islamic Murder Incorporated” whose existence and activities have not been endorsed by a single internationally recognized Islamic nation, argued Soyinka, who grew up in a Christian household but later embraced elements of traditional Yoruba spirituality.

Nor is the enemy a state.

It’s more like “a sadistic, morbidity-obsessed, irredentist group [that] indulges itself in destabilizing states—genuine states, that is—and extinguishing peoples, the Yazidis [in Iraq] most notoriously.”

And yet, he continued, “we insist on respectfully referring to them as a state. Such proponents of spurious egalitarianism fail a crucial test of responsibility to truth and language. Yes, there’s freedom of expression, but there’s also freedom of choice of expression. And that does not cost much.”

Soyinka criticized publications for their promiscuous use of the name Islamic State. “Those who live directly under the sword [of the group in Syria and Iraq] have no choice: They must call them by the name they choose for themselves. But what of the rest of us?” he asked. The media’s normalization of the term, he charged, is “an act of insidious cooperation with the agenda of unlimited violence.”

Journalists are deluding themselves if they think they’re being impartial in calling the organization by its self-proclaimed name, Soyinka told me after his speech. “Language is hardly ever neutral. … [Journalists] have no choice but to make a choice.”

And they’re deluding themselves if they believe they’re merely documenting the conflict between the organization and its opponents, rather than being engaged in it.

Their stake in that conflict goes beyond the beheadings of journalists like James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

“Far and above any other enemy I have ever recognized, [groups like ISIS and Boko Haram represent] something totally deleterious to humanity,” said Soyinka. “How do you fight such enemies except with everything you have, including language?”

For Soyinka, the fight is urgent and existential. He believes twin threats—the depredations of Boko Haram and the corruption that corroded the Nigerian state under former President Goodluck Jonathan—have placed his country in a “precarious” situation.

They are imperiling a nation that, as a result of British colonialism, is a frayed “quiltwork of various nationalities, interests, loyalties. Many Nigerians do not know and are not interested in what is known as ‘Nigeria,’” he said.

It’s not as if Soyinka is an ardent Nigerian nationalist. “I hate the word ‘patriotic,’” he told me. “I just believe in solidarity with the human beings with whom I live.” He’s said in the past that he considers himself a Yoruba before he’s a Nigerian.

But in recent years, he’s become preoccupied with borders and the integrity of states.

In a BBC lecture in 2004 on the changing nature of collective fear, he noted that during the Cold War, people tended to worry about nuclear war between superpowers. These days, he said, “the fear is one of furtive, invisible power, the power of the quasi-state, that entity that lays no claim to any physical boundaries, flies no national flag, is unlisted in any international associations, and acts every bit as mad as the M.A.D. gospel of annihilation that was so calmly annunciated by the superpowers” during the Cold War.

For Soyinka, the fight is urgent and existential. He believes twin threats—the depredations of Boko Haram and the corruption that corroded the Nigerian state under former President Goodluck Jonathan—have placed his country in a “precarious” situation. They are imperiling a nation that, as a result of British colonialism, is a frayed “quiltwork of various nationalities, interests, loyalties. Many Nigerians do not know and are not interested in what is known as ‘Nigeria,’” he said.

It’s not as if Soyinka is an ardent Nigerian nationalist. “I hate the word ‘patriotic,’” he told me. “I just believe in solidarity with the human beings with whom I live.” He’s said in the past that he considers himself a Yoruba before he’s a Nigerian.

But in recent years, he’s become preoccupied with borders and the integrity of states. In a BBC lecture in 2004 on the changing nature of collective fear, he noted that during the Cold War, people tended to worry about nuclear war between superpowers. These days, he said, “the fear is one of furtive, invisible power, the power of the quasi-state, that entity that lays no claim to any physical boundaries, flies no national flag, is unlisted in any international associations, and acts every bit as mad as the M.A.D. gospel of annihilation that was so calmly annunciated by the superpowers” during the Cold War.

It’s a choice, moreover, that journalists don’t always make, despite their claims to calling things as they are.

In the U.S. press, for example, North Korea is not known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, perhaps in part because it is the antithesis of a democratic republic. Nigeria’s terrorist menace is referred to as Boko Haram, a local name often translated as “Western education is forbidden,” rather than the extravagant titles it has bestowed on itself, including the “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad” and the “West Africa Province [of the Islamic State].”

If journalists feel fidelity to language and truth, Soyinka suggests, they should recognize that while use of the term “Islamic State” brings clarity to the entity being discussed, it breeds confusion about the meaning of the term’s constituent parts: “Islamic” and “state.” They should recognize that while the group’s official name is one truth, its distortion of mainstream interpretations of Islam and its subversion of states are truths as well. They should recognize that politicians aren’t the only ones in the business of shaping public perception.


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