The Secret History of ISIS aired recently on PBS’s Frontline. This 54-minute feature documentary was created by Michael Kirk, a prolific and highly successful television documentarian with a quiver full of awards to his credit. This documentary, however, is better termed a documonstrosity. It is an insult to the intelligence of anyone who knows anything about the subject, whether from personal experience or old-fashioned learning.
The New York Times reported this week that many European nations are paying ransom to Al-Quaeda for return of their kidnapped nationals. While the humanitarian impulse behind such payments is wholly understandable, they pose a clear danger to the security and ultimately to the liberty of the West, including the United States. Ransom payments encourage more kidnapping. And they fund Al-Qaeda. The substantial sums of money raised could be used to launch even more serious plots, including plots to obtain and use weapons of mass destruction. ISIS is also likely to copycat this successful strategy. And remember that Al-Qaeda disaffiliated with ISIS because the latter was too violent and extreme. (Parenthetically, I might mention that 20 years ago, I was able to walk with complete safety in Raqqa, now the de-facto capital of ISIS. That recollection, along with the memory of the old-world charm of the now decimated Aleppo, is a personal measure of the calamity that has befallen the region).
The West had better come to international legal agreements to stop such ransoms–and soon. International coordination is required because ransoming hostages of one nation endangers the security of everyone by making terrorists more powerful. The United States, which has properly refused to pay ransom, must lead the effort for international agreements here.
Last week, US special forces captured one Abu Anas Al-Libi, suspected of having taken part in the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Africa that killed 224 and injured some four thousand. Good. But the US government treated the event much as The New York
Times and especially The Wall Street Journal described it, “a major victory” especially for US intelligence in the “war against al Qaeda.” The Journal went on to describe Al-Libi as “an intelligence gold mine” who can tell us “the ways that al Qaeda is decentralizing and expanding in Africa,” and to urge the government to get this war-winning information out of him by…well, you know… This is fantasy.
Our Ruling class is at odds about how to respond to the Middle East warring factions’ threats and blandishments because it has forgotten US foreign policy’s basic principle – we are on America’s side – and never learned what justifies departure from that principle, namely war.
John Quincy Adams best stated the principle. America, he said, “is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.” When foreigners war amongst themselves, we Americans must take neither side. If and when we do, we make their wars our own. Then we must deal with the consequences according to the logic of war.