From Those Who Know ISIS Best: “No Thanks”

September 15, 2014 § 6 Comments

I just got around to reading yesterday’s New York Times.  I just read two stories that made me angry.

One reports that, when Secretary of State Kerry asked Mr. Sameh Shoukry, the Prime Minister of the Military Government of Egypt, to join the effort to stop the growth and spread of ISIS, he responded, ‘Egypt believes it is very important for the world to continue their efforts strongly to fight this extremism.’  But Egyptian officials declined to specify what help they would provide in the campaign against ISIS, and Mr. Shoukry made it clear that he also had in mind fighting Islamist militants at home and in neighboring Libya.”

Translation:   “Oh, you mean those crazy ISIS people?  Oh no, we wouldn’t be interested in becoming involved in that problem.  After all, they’re in Iraq and Syria, aren’t they?  We’re too busy with our own issues to help you out over there.  Good luck, though!”

The other story reveals how ISIS picks up over a million dollars a day by selling oil they steal from Syria and Iraq and selling it on the black market in Turkey.  When President Obama asked Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to crack down on that illegal avenue of funding, a Turkey “senior official” described the talks as “sensitive”.   The real response came a few days later.  Here is how it went:

“Turkey declined to sign a communiqué on Thursday in Saudi Arabia that committed Persian Gulf states in the region to counter ISIS, even limited to the extent each nation considered ‘appropriate.‘ Turkish officials told their American counterparts that with 49 Turkish diplomats being held as hostages in Iraq, they could not risk taking a public stance against the terror group.”

Translation:   “We are grateful  you guys  decided to send your pilots over here to  stop ISIS.  They’re real scary dudes.  We hope not too many of your young people are shot down.  It would be terrible if they are captured by ISIS.  But we think we may be able to make deal to save our diplomats.  And besides, our people really like the bargain prices for that black market oil.  Good luck!”

Yesterday I posted my reaction to Obama’s pledge to stop ISIS.  I think he allowed himself to be bullied into making an unwise promise and violated the Constitution.   After further thought, and after these two stories confirm what I expected to be the reaction of the countries located in the Levant [see yesterday’s post to find out what “Levant” means.], I have a sort of “Plan B” reaction.

If President Obama intended to declare war on ISIS, he, at least, should have negotiated with  Middle Eastern countries who face more imminent threats from ISIS than we do, before announcing his decision.  That would have given Secretary some leverage.  By making the commitment first and recruiting allies second, he left his negotiator nothing with which to negotiate.  Why should Turkey, Egypt, Syria or Saudi Arabia become involved in an expensive and dangerous conflict with ISIS when all they have to do is make encouraging but meaningless noises while American men, women and  taxpayers do the all the fighting and bill paying?

Here is a link to the Egypt story:  Egypt

Here is a link to the Turkey story:  Turkey

To paraphrase President Obama, this was a dumb way to start a war.


§ 6 Responses to From Those Who Know ISIS Best: “No Thanks”

  • Who does Obama have giving him advice?


  • Sid says:

    Bob: Touring Europe on a bike gives one a very unique historical perspective on the Christian religious wars that bloodied every corner of the continent for 200 years. Actually makes ISIS look almost … rational! Unfortunately, these days it’s not horses, cannons and long-bows, but WMD’s of many flavors… and they, just like our ancestors, would be happy to use them if they can get their hands on them. I guess my point would be that these are not sane people by any standard, and given a vast difference in weaponry would conclude that they, unlike the Chinese and the Europeans of the 17th and 18th centuries… will not pass us like ships in the night. Bin Laden proved that, if nothing else, and I personally wouldn’t want to be the chief executive who was on watch when we learn it again.

    Your read of Egypt’s position I also find wanting. They are fighting the Muslim Brotherhood in their own country, Hezbollah in Gaza, and now the Libyan ‘revolutionaries’ there. They are doing more than their own heavy lifting. Very heavy. That you characterize them as not being interested in helping I wouldn’t agree with at all. The question becomes one of capacity. They’ve got their hands full with their own version of crazy. Again, just look at Europe in 1700 and you’ll get the idea. These are not people with whom even Lyndon Johnson could say “Come, and let us reason together.”…

    Which gets me to my last point: what exactly do you advise? Ignore them? Advise the Iraqi’s? Disrupt the Turkish black market oil deal (of course, Turkey is coming out of this with the loss of Kurdistan any way you cut it, so this is simply the payoff to them to not fight the Peshmurga while they fight ISIS). Tell the Saudi’s and the Gulf Sunnis to stop funding them? There are NO good moves on the table that I can see, and I’m pretty sure that’s what Obama sees too. However, he must act, as ignoring them while the rich fanatical Saudi Sunni’s fund their ‘friends’ trying to set up a Caliphate by killing Shiites simply isn’t an option IMO.

    Every time I see a drawbridge on the old city gates to a medieval and post-reformation fortified city… I’m reminded that the west wasn’t much different in it’s days of internecine religious crimes. Problem is, the world is the Muslim oyster these days, and there are no more draw-bridges.

    all the best


  • Thomas Laing says:


    I have always thought it was a mistake to get involved in the civil wars of others. It has never worked out for us or them. One only has to look into our lifetimes to see what good came from Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan X 2, Iraq and now the administration is talking about supporting the Syrian rebels who have been slaughtering Christians for the last several years. Other than for Israel, which has been an anchor around the neck of a desperately trying to swim in the present Middle East sea of hate and discontent, I cannot see any reason to get involved. That said I have no idea why Israel is so important. Our national debt has grown exponentially to our Middle Eastern involvement. We give them money and arms. They still hate us. Let them fight it out and deal with the winner.

    Hope you have a happy day and all is well in Texas.



    • Bob Hall says:


      I agree with you. My main concern is that we are ignoring our Constitution. But, beyond that, I think it is unnecessary for us to slide back into a Middle East war just as we are extricating ourselves from the Iraq mess. You can see from my response to my friend Sid that I think that, even if ISIS manages to attack us, we can best deal with it without involving ourselves in a full scale war.


  • Bob Hall says:

    Sid, your disagreement is just another episode in what has been, for me, a debate in which I have been involved since I was about 19 or 20 years old. You and I disagree about how to frame the issue. I have not suggested that we ignore ISIS. I have not suggested that, if ISIS causes an attack on us, we should do nothing.

    I see most significant public policy decisions as inflection points between three forces: the force of our government; the force of corporate business; and the force of individuals exercising rights guaranteed by our Constitution.

    When the issue involves conflict between individuals and corporations, I usually align myself with government. When the issue involves conflict between government and individuals, I usually align myself with individual rights. I regard the Constitution as the repository of those rights in these inflection situations, so when I see the government violating the Constitution, I oppose it because, as stated, I perceive that as an assault on individual rights.

    The problem that almost always gets me crossways with others is this: I believe procedure is vital, more important than the substance of an issue. In the world I live in, debating the right and wrong of an issue is pointless unless there is a procedure in place to implement and enforce the conclusion.

    So, you ask, “What do you propose to keep ISIS from threatening to destroy or significantly harm us?” My answer, as stated in my blog post,: Follow the procedure prescribed by the Constitution. Do nothing unless it is authorized as required by the Constitution.

    My reason: Because otherwise, the precedent you establish threatens the only defense we have against our government and the most imminent and ever-present threat we face is the power of our own government.

    These ideas sometimes lead to positions that are hard to defend. When a child rapist or an axe murderer is freed because the cop didn’t offer him his Miranda rights, or because the cop beat a confession out of him, I grieve the injustice, but I applaud the result because I think the alternative is too dangerous and too likely to lead to harm far more serious than the individual injustice of an unpunished criminal.

    So far as concerns the declaration of war against ISIS, there was no imminent threat of harm to us. The only urgency resulted from the emotional impact of two televised executions and the use of them by politicians seeking advantage in an election and support for their perennial demand for expanded use of America’s military might.

    As I have stated, I think the choice of what we should do about ISIS is a very complex problem. Using our military force against ISIS in Syria, where they are fighting a civil war against a dictator of whose defeat we are committed, is merely one aspect of that complexity. The fact that ISIS is undefinable geographically, unidentifiable nominally and unclassifiable organizationally makes the claimed goal of defeating it impossible to define. If someone in the ISIS organization should decide tomorrow to surrender, he or she would not know how to do it unless everyone claiming to be in league with ISiS joined in the surrender.

    I think the Congress of the United States should have convened. The President should have presented a written request for a declaration of war. A debate should have ensued that allowed time for all opinions and questions to be stated and asked and answered. If, after that process concluded, the Congress declared war on ISIS, I might have disagreed, but my disagreement would not have been the one stated on this blog.

    Sid, you write that you wouldn’t want to be responsible for another attack like the one on the World Trade Center. The response to that attack was handled by Bush and Chaney. The Congress chose not to function. They defaulted by adopting the AUMF. The results, still unfolding, caused far more harm than the World Center attack. Our “war” on Al-Qaeda is still going on. There is no end in sight. There is no reason to believe that our new “war” on ISIS will be different.

    If ISIS is defeated, it will be because the religious leaders of Islam join together to disavow and discredit it. That may have to await a long period of bloody conflict and, at some point, that conflict may spill over into our country. If that happens, I think we will have willing allies throughout the world that will help us track down and find those who attack us. We will finally be able to kill or arrest them. If they are arrested, our courts will convict them and they will be imprisoned.

    That’s what happened when the Boston bombers killed some of our citizens at a marathon race. That’s what happened when a bomber killed people in Oklahoma City. That’s what happened when we finally found and killed Osama Bin-laden.

    We have fairly recent examples of two ways to react to these situations: Iraq War II and Vietnam – or the other examples I just listed. I do not understand why we learn nothing from our experience.

    Our Constitution prescribes procedures that are messy and risky. Depending on Congress to make decisions about military matters is frustrating to those who are confident they know what should be done and how to do it. Despite these problems, I think it is the only safe way to insure against government.

    So far as concerns your dissent from my complaint about Egypt, you may be right. Perhaps they are too involved in air strikes in Libya to offer any help with ISIS. Given our open-ended offer to solve the problem for them, I suppose it is understandable that they excuse themselves from helping us. They could, at least, help to organize other Arab neighbors in joint expressions of disapproval on ISiS. And, if we proceed with our military plans, Egypt can offer rhetorical support that, given their prominent place in Muslim religious thought, would be helpful.

    If Turkey continues to allow and benefit from ISIS black market oil sales and transportation, I think that is indefensible, whether or not they lose Kurdistan.

    I have a friend who is Egyptian. I think she agrees with you about Egypt. I will ask her to read your comment. She undoubtedly knows more about it than I do.

    As always, you are exactly the kind of person I hoped for when I began this blog. The web is a fascinating place. When I recently wrote some critical comments about Israel’s war in Gaza, a very intelligent woman in Gaza began bombarding me with her take on the matter. She has a blog of her own. You can check it out. Her name is Nadia Harhash.


  • Sid says:

    Great to get more color on your thinking, Bob, and you mostly touch a point that I totally ignored in my reply to you, which was the use… or lack there of recently, of Constitutionally prescribed procedures for the national use of force. I agree there with you totally, and believe that Obama is REALLY blowing it by not FORCING a vote on the issue. REALLY BLOWING IT. So there we have no disagreement.

    The question of what to do is related, but only tangentially. That is, with or without a legal, procedural outcome… something must be done. That ‘doing’ could be anything from ignore ISIS (or, in the only instance to my knowledge that Sarah Palin made sense, “Let Allah sort it out”); to GWBush it and engage with all we’ve got. Leaving the legal question aside (where we agree totally), it seems to me that the most cold-hearted of the options is the best; let Allah sort it out with a little help from our friends.

    I have zero tolerance for religion, so that would put my tolerance for religious fanatacism somewhere south of minus 50. That being the case, it’s my wholly held view that the only good religious fanatic is a dead religious fanatic (as I don’t have a dog in the race, I’d include them all without fear or favor; christian, jew, muslim, LDS, you name them). As this current batch seem to be doing an outstanding job of destroying each other without getting absolutely anywhere (i.e., nothing of import has really happened, including 9/11, by historical norms (let’s see… how many were killed at Gettysburg? Verdun? Stalingrad?… but I digress), my own preferred policy would be to keep the flames burning until they burn out. The premise of that argument is this: it’s going to be IMPOSSIBLE to put them out sooner by any other means.

    Yes, I know it sounds terrible. Hell, it is terrible… but that’s what us humans are, proven time and again on the battlefields of hell. Obama should keep them occupied murdering each other until they themselves lay down their arms, something that may happen 5-10 years from now we’re lucky. Again, it won’t happen sooner any other way. Took the Christians…. your great great greats and mine over 250 years, after all. if the Muslims manage to do it in under 25, it’ll be another religious miracle!!

    And yes… I’m from Berkeley.

    all the best


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