The Operative Word

I graduated from Berkeley with a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies. But this does not make me a pacifist. Some wars need fighting, I’m afraid, and some people need killing–even though it strains my humanity to utter it aloud. The second Iraq War–for instance–was a four-star clusterf**k, while we should have gone hammer and tongs into Afghanistan. Osama Bin Laden needed killing–even if it was accomplished four months short of a decade after the terrible events of September, 2001.

Still, there are other people who need killing. Not capture and detention: death. And not by the United States military. Too often the world at large has its cake with us–and eats it, too. We are condemned, by turns, for intervening–or not–every time there is a crisis. It is time, right now, for the whole world–collectively–to act.

Or do you suppose as a goal we should establish a Guantanamo-esque camp somewhere inside Iraq to contain the fiends of the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS? How about rounding up Boko Haram and jailing them somewhere in Nigeria? Sadly, there will first always have to be a hell of a fight. Because these people will brook no argument–they are extremists, remember, terrorists and jihadists–I say: Let the world collectively grant them their jihad. The current round of airstrikes against the Islamic State is a good first step. But the world should put troops on the ground in the Levant and Nigeria–indeed everywhere extremists wantonly execute or abduct innocents–because airstrikes against the aggressors and humanitarian aid for the victims and the nobly expressed opprobrium of the world at large are never enough to stop jihadists.

Ideally, the world should always come together to alleviate suffering and defuse tensions. It should have in the Balkans, in Darfur, in Rwanda–the list is almost endless. Now is our chance–collectively–to correct this where in past situations we have sometimes been remiss. During the Korean War, South Korea welcomed as allies a United Nations peace keeping contingent comprising: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Phillippines, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, Britain, and the United States. But forty years later, it required a Coalition of the Willing–a phrase used to denote an alliance that does not fall under the United Nations’ aegis–to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. Twenty-four countries–Afghanistan, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, France, Germany, Honduras, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Niger, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Syria and the United Arab Emirates–joined the United States in the largest military alliance since the Second World War.

We need more coalitions of the willing–many more; in fact, a coalition for each crisis–because the United Nations, with its internal politics and the stopping-power by veto of any action by any of the five permanent security council nations, is not always capable of effective intervention. It is true that on the Korean peninsula it achieved a stalemate–but, in addition to North Korea, it was also going up against that country’s allies, China and the Soviet Union. In the first Gulf War, the large coalition soundly defeated a friendless Iraq.

But we are not even talking about nations here. The likes of Boko Haram and the Islamic State are intra-national, even if “their” territory overlaps accepted international borders. So–sorry, Islamic State: you are not a caliphate, no matter what you’ve declared. Muslims the world over–not least the Sunni– are not attuned to every utterance of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Don’t know who he is? I rest my case.

He is, of course, the leader of the Islamic State.

Coalitions of the willing would prove vital, I think–if they could be organized in a timely enough fashion–in preventing the long downward spiral of violence we see playing out over our television screens each evening. How long could Boko Haram endure unmolested? Or the Islamic State? What if there were mechanisms in place by which coalitions could be quickly ranged against such jihadists? Let’s put the latter of the two, the Islamic State, into perspective. Estimates of their fighting strength tally between 7,000 and 20,000 combatants, with up to 6,000 in Iraq complimented by 3,000 to 5,000 in Syria.

So we have a jihadi/terrorist group desperate for jihad but settling instead for terror. Again, I say: Let’s collectively accommodate them.

It’s not as though we, here at home, are not in a state of permanent readiness. Forget the military/industrial complex, and the budgetary portion our armed forces claim–our citizens are armed to the teeth, while our local police forces regularly deploy in full military regalia. Yes–I used “regalia” incorrectly: That’s to emphasize the ridiculousness of it all. Picture Sergeant Joe Friday, asking just for the facts–only in body armor, a helmet, and holding an assault rifle.

The militarization of our local police forces is terrifying. Some Peace Dividend! We seem now awfully willing sometimes to coalesce in terrorizing our citizens. But the homefront is not where we need such coalitions of over-zealous police, willing to bring heavy vehicles and storm tactics to their efforts. Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad the federal government has granted local police forces equipment it is good to have if needed. The latter is the operative word here.

Joseph Oldenbourg

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