I hold no brief for State Department spokesperson Marie Harf, who spends most of her time shilling for her bosses’ catastrophic policies in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, and beyond. But it bodes ill for our prospects of peace that the most sensible thing I’ve ever heard her say is the one thing that has put her in possibly career-ending hot water.
On MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, she had the following exchange with the host:
MARIE HARF, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: I think there are a few stages here, right now we are trying to take their leaders and their fighters off the battlefield in Iraq & Syria, that is where they really flourish.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Are we killing enough of them?
MARIE HARF: We’re killing a lot of them. And we’re going to keep killing more of them. So are the Egyptians and Jordanians, they’re in this fight with us. We can not win this war by killing them. We can not kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium and longer term to go after the root causes that lead people to join these groups, whether it is lack of opportunity for jobs—
First of all, here is what is problematic about her statement. For one thing, she ignores the deepest of the “root causes,” which is US intervention itself: especially, George W. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, which fertilized the east of the Fertile Crescent with blood and chaos, yielding a blooming Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) as its harvest.
AQI (now called ISIS) withered for a time after the Iraqi “Tribal Awakening,” but Harf’s boss Barack Obama gave it green shoots by effectively siding with ISIS and outright backing its mujahideen allies against the Syrian government, thereby prolonging and intensifying the civil war there. Obama thus extended the blood-and-chaos fertilization project to the west of the Fertile Crescent, yielding yet another deadly harvest, this time in the form of ISIS in its rapid-conquest phase.
Harf also unforgivably neglects the seething resentment that such murderous intervention naturally engenders, and the chief role that rage plays in motivating people to join groups like ISIS.
However, it is undeniably true that such intervention also brought absolute ruin to the economies of Iraq and Syria. That not only feeds into the resentment mentioned above, but also does indeed lead to the paucity of non-violent ways of earning a living that Harf cites. And it is also undeniably true that, whatever motivations (like vengeance) may play a leading role, economically desperate times can only make a person more susceptible to resorting to such desperate measures as joining a band of conquering brigands. Economics is always a factor, even if it is not a motivation.
Yet, let us not forget that the spark that ignited the “Arab Spring” was the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi. A Tunisian man unable to find a job, Bouazizi tried to earn a living by setting up his own fruit stand. But his micro-entrepreneurial endeavor was crushed by the License Raj of the US-backed dictatorship in Tunisia when a municipal inspector confiscated his wares. So, at the end of his rope, Bouazizi doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire on December 17, 2010. He died weeks later. This kicked off a series of street protests, and within a month, the Tunisian government was overthrown.
The Arab Spring spread, and also overthrew the US-backed governments of Egypt and Yemen. The Obama Administration hijacked the Arab Spring in Libya and Syria, allying with mujahideen in both countries, and turning both into chaotic, civil war-ravaged “jihadist wonderlands.” And, again, the Syrian civil war led to the resurgence of ISIS, which recently emerged in Libya where its local faction beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians.
And it all started with an unemployed, expropriated fruit vendor. Economics matters.
So Harf is not wrong to identify “lack of jobs” as a “root cause” of jihadism. Rather, her problem is that she fails identify the root cause of that root cause: namely, the interventions she herself and her predecessors have championed, including not only wars and sanctions, but the propping up of despotic kleptocracies.
And of course, she is also wrong if she thinks the needed remedy is some kind of “jobs program” or more US foreign aid “investment” provided to the client government in Baghdad. The needed remedy is to stop intervening: to get out of the way and stop precluding local efforts to marginalize the psychopaths, negotiate peace, pick up the pieces of the shattered economy, and rebuild. That is the only way for capital to accumulate once again, which is the only thing that makes peaceful job opportunities possible.
Nonetheless, it is always welcome whenever a Washington official says something like, “We can not kill our way out of this war.” While it doesn’t recognize the blowback-generating perniciousness of virtually all of the killing the US has done in the region, at least it perhaps evinces some limits to the Administration’s willingness to try to climb over its problems on an ever-growing pile of corpses and rubble.
Yet, according to many of the conservatives aghast at Harf’s statement, even such a small degree of restraint is ridiculously naïve and foolish. They have long been impervious to consideration of even the “blowback” factor, dismissing it as “blaming America.” So they have absolutely zero tolerance for contemplating the economic factor. They implicitly insist, along with Chris Matthews, “Why of course our current predicament, which we have reached by piling up corpses and rubble, can only be surmounted by adding to the pile and continuing to climb it. Don’t give me this “librul” nonsense about economics and Muslims not appreciating Muslim corpse/rubble piles. They clearly hate us (1) because we’re awesome, and (2) because they’re Muslim. That’s hard-nosed realism!”
Leave it to conservatives to make the Obama Administration look sane.
UPDATE: Also see this excellent, detailed article discussing the same topic by Iraq War veteran and libertarian/antiwar writer Joel Poindexter.