"Nessie" or Syrian "moderates": Which will we find first?
This week's syndicated column
I'm trying to look on the bright side of what passed for debate over another doomed effort to secure U.S. interests by embarking on the fruitless pursuit, cultivation and empowerment of Islamic "moderates," this time in Syria. We would get better results sending an expeditionary force after the Loch Ness sea monster. No matter. In deliberations resembling a stampede, we heard: The ISIL is coming, the ISIL is coming! Quick, leave our own borders undefended and save Saudi Arabia!
That seemed be the subtext, anyhow, to much talk of Syria. There were odd glimmers of light as when House Appropriations Committee chairman Harold Rogers erupted in candor to say, "They use the term 'moderates.' I don't know a moderate person in Syria." Rogers also gave voice to the ever elusive obvious in noting that "arms that we supplied in Iraq and Afghanistan, American arms" are now in enemy hands. He could have added Libya to the list and established the unmistakable trend. The U.S. is a total failure at rewiring the Islamic world, the impossible dream of disastrous wars and other interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, "the Middle East peace process" and elsewhere. Now, with predictably tragic consequences, we're about to do it again.
And still our own nation's borders remain undefended. I know I just said that, but this epic failure to protect these United States at our first and last line of defense -- the ultimate betrayal -- cannot be underscored enough. Killers -- terrorists and disease -- have easy access to our towns and neighborhoods, and our leaders' priorities are elsewhere.
One look at the world map, however, shows that the most dire threat the ISIL-proclaimed "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria poses is to the seat of the "shadow-caliphate" next door in Saudi Arabia, as the headquarters of the international Islamic organization, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, is sometimes called.
A recent Saudi opinion poll reportedly released on social media claimed that 92 percent of respondents agree that ISIL "conforms to the values of Islam and Islamic law." If the poll is even half-accurate, the ISIL threat could well be existential to Saudi Arabia. For all of ISIL's barbaric violence, even including the most recent beheadings of Westerners in the region, ISIL poses no such existential threat to the United States. If it did, though, this latest vector of jihad would in no way be blunted by U.S. support for Islamic "moderates" again.
"Nobody has a better idea," Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., told The Washington Post by way of explaining his support for the president's plan to arm and train Syrian "moderates" in Saudi Arabia to fight ISIL in Iraq and Syria. "Total isolation doesn't seem appealing at the present time, and the vote itself is legally the smallest possible thing. The interpretation of the vote will be that we vaguely support his not-entirely specific plan."
On the force of such rhetoric -- regrettably typical -- Congress approved the president's anti-ISIL, pro-"moderate" program. Then again, maybe interventionists voted for old time's sake after retired ambassadors and generals from the failed Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns sent around a letter saying what a great idea it was to turn "properly vetted members of the Syrian opposition" -- as if! -- "(into) a moderate force" -- as if! -- "that is capable of defeating ISIL and bringing about a post-Assad Syria that is free of terror."
And rainbows and unicorns will return to the land.
Only they won't. They haven't anywhere the U.S. has tried to work "moderate" magic before. Just ask the bereaved families of U.S. soldiers killed by "properly vetted" Iraqi and Afghan "moderates" -- a point powerfully driven home in a floor speech by Rep. Tom McLintock, R-Calif. Meanwhile, how is the administration that designated jihad at Fort Hood a case of "workplace violence" supposed to tell "moderate" from "extremist"?
They can't. But I suspect that's really beside the point.
Let's go back to Saudi Arabia, the not-so-secret central front in this effort to stop ISIL before it's too late (for Riyadh?). The kingdom, a sharia-dictatorship par excellence, will be the training site for the "moderate" army as our "full partner," according to the Obama administration. Secretary of State John Kerry, Time magazine declared in a headline, has now "(Enlisted) Saudi King in War of Ideas Against ISIS."
That's rich. Never mind the reports linking the Saudis and others (including Uncle Sam) to the rise of ISIL. Given that the Koran is the constitution of the Islamic state -- Saudi Arabia, that is -- where leaving Islam is a capital crime, where public beheadings (even for "sorcery") are a frequent feature of public order, where religions besides Islam are banned, where, of course, there is no freedom of speech, where female genital mutilation is prevalent, where women can't drive, where there is no public association of men and women (let alone music class, Valentine's Day, figurative art, etc.), this is one "war of ideas" that may be fought only in the trenches of Kerry's no-man's land of a mind. Do the rest of us really have to follow along to support one "caliphate" over another?
On Sept. 1, 2014, a Saudi appeals court upheld the sentence of human rights activist Raif Badawi, co-founder of Liberal Saudi Network, a website created to foster political and social debate. For this "crime" of blogging -- tweeting -- about reform, Badawi was sentenced by the Saudi government to 10 years in prison, a 10-year travel ban thereafter, a fine of one million Saudi Riyals (roughly $267,000), and 1,000 public lashes. Could ISIL improve much on that? As reported by the Gulf Center for Human Rights, the court stipulated that Badawi receive "no more than 50 lashes per session, with a break of no less than a week between sessions. It is feared that the sentence and the first of the lashes will be imposed any day."
Will that day be before or after our "moderates" come marching in?