At the time of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, President Bush asked rhetorically if the Iraqi people deserved to be ruled by dictators in perpetuity. Shouldn’t they have the opportunity to embrace democracy and appreciate its benefits, as in the good countries on the planet? Subsequent events proved those liberated from Saddam Hussein unable and unwilling to set aside their tribal hatreds and religious animosities, in effect proving President Bush wrong.
Cut to the current day. Parts of Iraq and Syria are now controlled by ISIS which does the basic functions of a state, including collecting garbage, running schools and hospitals, and so on. ISIS also likes to inflict murder and mayhem on other countries near and far. The state of ISIS runs at a loss so it is kept in business by funding originating in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and by support from Turkey and the United States.
You read the last bit correctly. ISIS does not grow enough food to keep body and soul together. Starvation is averted by imported grain, supply of which is organised by UN agencies with the full approval of the United States. At the same time the United States is conducting an air campaign against ISIS — but that is more aimed at behaviour modification of the regime, rather than changing facts on the ground. Australia is contributing to this Children’s Crusade-level endeavour, with our aircraft operating under rules of engagement which make them ineffectual.
The recent Islamic mayhem and murder in Paris has generated suggestions that Australia should contribute to a land invasion of ISIs to eliminate the source of the scourge. They would be easy enough to achieve militarily. But what follows? The place would have to be garrisoned. Who would run it? Turkey supports ISIS and would be the source of IEDs planted against Coalition troops, just as Iran was the major source of IEDs in Iraq. Fourteen years after the invation of Afghanistan, the United States cannot completely withdraw from that benighted land. Afghanistan would fall to the Taliban soon after and that would be bad for the narrative the Obama administration tries to put across that everything is just peachy. So the US will remain in Afghanistan until the next president is sworn in on Friday 20th January, 2017. Expect the new president will promptly order a withdrawal. There will be some more American dead in the interim.
The US put some effort into training “good” Syrians to fight the Assad regime. The effort failed completely. Finding “good” Syrians to run a liberated ISIS region will have the same fate. To answer President Bush’s rhetorical question, the problem of the Syrians is intractable and they are irredeemable.
ISIS is the creation of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, deeply Islamic states that support it as a purer form of their own societies. A benefit for those Sunni countries is that ISIS also breaks the Shiite arc from Iran to Lebanon. The problem with high-purity Islam is that its adherents read the Koran, which exhorts Moslems to attack non-Moslems. What to do therefore? If we are not going to occupy the ISIS region, how should matters be conducted so that the world achieves a state of minimum entropy, with the least number of Westerners attacked by Islamists, troops killed in combat and lowest military expenditures?
Two things must be done for that to be achieved. The first thing to do with errant regimes is to kill the leadership without worrying about civilian casualties. ISIS will keep appointing new leaders, but that doesn’t matter. The important principal to communicate to ISIS is that there is a cost to its behaviour. That also goes for the civilian population that sustains it. Right at the moment winter is coming to Syria. The most cost-effective way of discomforting the ISIS population would be to blow out their windows with thermo-baric bombs. There is a common misconception that ISIS is unwelcome in the land that they rule over. A high proportion of the population, sometimes whole villages, is pro-ISIS.
The second thing that needs to be done is to cut off ISIS’s access to the west, that is people and goods. That can be achieved if there is a will to do so. Those sanctions should also be applied to Turkey which has been supporting ISIS. The effort that Turkey put into shooting down a Russian jet that may have violated Turkish air space for mere seconds is explained by the fact that Turkey would have been miffed that Russia was being effective in attacking ISIS instead of staging a charade like the US-led coalition. The benefit of the Turkish shoot-down is that it provides public clarity to Turkey’s position.
Sanctioning pro-ISIS regimes so that their citizenry are cut off from travel to the West will prepare the civilised world for the next stage. Most of the countries in the Middle East are playing a version of musical chairs, in which their average population doubling time is 27 years and, one day, they will come up against the hard limit of world grain availability. For example, the last time Syria attacked a civilised nation was the Yom Kippur War of 1973, when it joined Egypt in launching a surprise attack on Israel. At the time, Syria had a population of seven million and Egypt 38 million. It was also the last time both countries were able to feed themselves from their own agricultural efforts. Their populations are now 22 million and 83 million respectively, with all the increase in population from 1973 fed with imported grain. Based on animal models of population growth and collapse, the Middle East region is heading for possibly 400 million dead from starvation when the world’s population finally outruns its ability to grow grain. For civilisation to continue in the civilised parts of the world, we have to seal the Middle East off and let nature take its course.
The sooner we start that process, the better. The repeated acts of barbarity in Paris are a good enough excuse.
David Archibald’s most recent book is Australia’s Defence (Connor Court)