Why Political Tuberculosis Can Lead to Unintended Consequences

The great medieval Florentine political philosopher Nicola Machiavelli observed that political problems are akin to tuberculosis- easy to cure in the early stages but almost impossible to cure in the late stages.

The situation with the so-called Islamic State (IS) being able to maintain its Caliphate amongst large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq for a substantial period of time is a form of political tuberculosis which could eventuate in the broader ramifications of Donald Trump being elected president of the United States in 2016 and France electing a far right/neo-fascist president in the person of Marine Le Pen in 2017.

Furthermore, a move to the far right in either (or both) the United States and France could in turn orientate Russian president Vladimir Putin toward entrenching an already authoritarian regime into become a de facto neo-fascist one which pursues an aggressive ‘win-lose’ foreign policy that threatens world peace. The political domestic ramifications of Russia’s military air intervention in Syria have already caused dangerous tensions between Moscow and Turkey. A domestic by-product of this tension could be that Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan consolidates the establishment of an authoritarian regime which eventually aligns with republican Iran despite Tehran’s current alliance with Russia.

An authoritarian Turkey which is aligned with republican Iran could encourage Ankara to further repress its Kurdish minority and eventually undertake military action in Iraq to fatally undermine the legitimate aspirations of the Kurds in that nation. Such a scenario is conducive to wider military conflict in the Gulf which is now becoming the Balkans of the twenty-first century.

Overall, a failure by the Obama administration to undertake intense but expeditious military action in 2016 against IS in Iraq (similar to the military surge successfully undertaken by American troops under the command of General David Petraeus in that nation between April and May of 2007 against al-Qaeda) could also result in republican Iran eventually gaining control of Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, a failure of the United States to undertake a military surge in Iraq in 2016 could embolden republican Iran (which has recently undertaken ballistic missile testing) to later brazenly disregard the nuclear deal which was finalized in Lausanne in Switzerland in April 2015.

The Critical Factor of Time

Time is of the essence for the Obama administration to militarily destroy the Iraqi component of the IS Caliphate by despatching troops on the ground if the above cited scenarios are to be avoided. It should not be forgotten, that for all the vitriolic attack for which President George W Bush was subjected to for invading/liberating Iraq in April 2003, that military victory was eventually secured in that nation. This was due to the successful 2007 military surge campaign which was conducted under the brilliant command of General Petraeus. The success of the 2007 military surge establishes the precedent which can still be applied to defeat IS in Iraq in 2016.

It should not be forgotten that Al-Qaeda was militarily defeated in Iraq in 2007 and that IS is actually distinct from that aforementioned terrorist group. IS militarily emerged in Syria in 2011 as that nation plunged into civil war. For reasons which are inexplicable, the Obama administration did not undertake effective diplomatic or political action to forestall Syria falling into the abyss of civil war. Consequently, the scope was created for Al-Qaeda and break away groups such as IS to fill the void in Syria.

The essentially do-nothing American policy in Syria had broader implications for the Middle East when IS (supported by the Iraqi Baath Party) utilized Syria as a base in late May 2014 to launch an invasion of Iraq. Had the American residual forces (numbering approximately 10,000 troops) not have been withdrawn in late 2011, then Iraq might have had the capacity, with the assistance of American ground troops, to have successfully have withstood the 2014 IS invasion. Instead and consequently, IS was able to seize swathes of Iraqi territory to proclaim the establishment of a Caliphate in June that year.

The Obama administration’s response to IS gains in Syria and Iraq was to launch an American led air campaign by bombing Jihadist positions in this newly established Caliphate. Whatever the military effectiveness or otherwise of this bombing campaign, the fact is this military effort is taking too long so that there are broader negative ramifications for nations outside the Middle East such as France and the United States. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed ruler (Caliph) of IS calculated, that undertaking terrorist action in nations outside his region would adversely affect their political dynamics.

It was probably with this rationale in mind that al-Baghdadi instigated the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, anticipating that this would help France’s extremist National Front (FN). While the response of the French government of President Francois Hollande has been to increase his nation’s participation in the air war against IS in Iraq and Syria, this is probably insufficient due to the absence of French ground troops. Indeed, there has been a shift in public opinion in nations such as Britain and France that IS positions be bombed from the air but a corresponding reluctance to commit ground troops.

This reluctance to commit ground troops to Iraq was paradoxically reflective of the British House of Commons voting to authorize air support to bomb IS positions in Syria with members of the *Labour Party crossing the floor to endorse this action. However, there is still a deep seated fear of sending British troops to Iraq to expeditiously defeat IS due to the previous quagmire that had occurred in that nation in the 2000s. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that that quagmire had been overcome by the 2007 military surge– which showed that victory can be achieved against Jihadists when they are directly engaged.

(*The Labour leader Jeremy Corbin did not seem to appreciate that al-Qaeda had been previously defeated in Iraq by the American military surge in 2007. Consequently, Mr. Corbin apparently did not seem to realize that IS had emerged in Syria as a distinct organisation separate from al-Qaeda due to relative western inaction to support that nation’s moderate opposition in the wake of the 2011 uprising).

Directly despatching American ground troops to Iraq is what IS specifically fear because this will create the scenario for their rapid military defeat. It will not be playing into IS’s hands to have American troops fighting in Iraq because local resentment will not be generated if Iraqi troops and/or allied Sunni tribesmen can quickly fill the vacuum once the military victory has been achieved so that US military ground forces can expeditiously withdraw.

Alternatively the longer that it takes to defeat IS in Iraq by restricting American military action to an air campaign, the more scope that is created for there to be adverse political ramifications detrimental to the west due to the prolonged elapse of time. Even though the al-Abadi government in Iraq is receiving air support from an American led campaign, the longer that this takes the greater the scope will be for Baghdad to enter into an alliance with Russia and republican Iran at the expense of Iraq’s Sunni minority.

If however Washington placed pressure on the al-Abadi government by utilizing the influence of *Kurdish politicians in Iraq to allow for the despatch of western ground troops to Iraq to quickly defeat IS, then the position of that nation’s Sunni minority would be protected. It should not be forgotten that victory with regard to the 2007 military surge would not have been achieved without Sunni tribal militia supporting US ground troops.

(*The United States has unfortunately until recently has been negligent in arming the Kurds in Iraq and Syria to fight IS).

Similarly, Sunni tribal militia would again have to support another American led troop surge in Iraq. The positive consequences of such military assistance would not only be to quickly achieve military victory over IS but also that the interests of the Sunni minority within a federal Iraq would be advanced so that a political balance be facilitated which is conducive to democratic political processes subsequently developing.

Strong and effective US military action in Iraq with the despatch of US ground troops would also send a strong signal to Moscow and Tehran that they should support an expeditious political settlement in Syria. While the Russians and republican Iranians have publicly committed to supporting a diplomatic/political settlement in Syria, the fact is that the longer the war is drawn out in Iraq, the stronger the possibility that that nation will consequently move into Moscow’s and Tehran’s orbit.

Therefore it is not necessarily in either Russia or republican Iran’s interests to reach a political settlement in Syria in which an effective transitional government is formed to unite the anti-IS forces to defeat the Caliphate and subsequently hold democratic elections. Even though there is a concerted international air campaign in Syria, the Assad regime simply lacks the manpower to retake substantial amounts of territory. However, the air campaign which is being conducted against IS is sufficient to enable the Assad regime to hold onto its territory while the relatively slow pace of the military campaign in Iraq creates the scope to move Baghdad into Russia’s and republican Iran’s sphere of influence.

The Neo-Fascist Threat

The longer the elapse of time is in Iraq to achieve military victory over IS –not only creates the scope for Baghdad to move into Russia’s and republican Iran’s orbit –but also generates the potential for dangerous populism in the United States and for neo-fascism in Europe, particularly in France.
The recent defeat (December 2015) of the FN in run-off regional elections in France is no cause for relief or complacency. This is particularly the case because the FN still increased between the first and second rounds. These voting patterns will probably continue when the first round of the April 2017 presidential elections are held. It is almost certain that the FN’s Marine Le Pen will come either second or third in this first round. Should Marine Le Pen come second with President Hollande coming third it is almost certain that the Socialist Party (PS) will support Nicolas Sarkozy to ensure that this former president returns to power.

However, should Sarkozy fail to make it to the second round (with Maine Le Pen qualifying for that round,) then it is by no means certain that conservative voters would support President Hollande in the second round, thereby creating the potential for Marine Le Pen to win the French presidency! Should Marine Le Pen win the French presidency, the prospects for French democracy may be fatal considering the strong executive constitutional powers vested in the French presidency.

At the very least French Muslims, will re-act negatively to Marine Le Pen winning the presidency which would create the potential for enough of them to in turn support IS or other Jihadist groups. A disgruntled French Muslim community could in turn create the scope for a President Marine Le Pen to establish an authoritarian regime which takes France out of the European Union (EU).

Furthermore, with regard to France’s international alignments under a Le Pen presidency, the FN leader has already expressed support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A Moscow-Paris Axis under a Le Pen presidency could orientate Putin toward entrenching a neo-fascist type of dictatorship with the Russian president becoming a mentor to other extreme right-wing movements in Europe which might eventually come to power in their own right unless IS is expeditiously defeated.

Should the above scenarios come to pass, then the legacy which the victorious Allies achieved in 1945 – the defeat of fascism – may become unravelled. Such a development would be ironic because no nation in Europe lost more people in fighting against fascism then Russia did as a part of the then Soviet Union.

The scope for Putin’s Russia to mentor neo-fascism in Europe is already there as far-right political parties are registering over 20% support in opinion polls in nations such as The Netherlands. The inflow of refugees from Syria and Iraq into Europe reaching over one million is helping create this scope for far right parties to break into the political mainstream to become powerful political actors which at the very least threaten the viability of the EU. Although Hungary’s ruling Fidesz Party is not neo-fascist per se, there are still hard right euro-sceptics elements within its ranks which could eventually establish an authoritarian regime which is mentored by Putin’s Russia.

The continuance of the EU is already under challenge with Britain scheduled to hold a referendum in 2017 regarding that nation’s membership within that international organisation. Hopefully, Britain will vote to remain within the EU but strong support for a British exit from the EU could well bolster the prospects for the euro-sceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) to supplant the Labour Party as the official opposition party at the next British general election.

British public anxiety over the refugee crisis in Europe (a contributing factor being the drawn out nature of the conflict in Iraq and Syria) and the Labour Party’s lurch to the far left by its rank and file members electing Jeremy Corbin as their leader are creating the circumstances for UKIP to become Britain’s second major party.

UKIP is not however a neo-fascist party (that odious distinction rests with the British National Party, the BNP) as it is staunchly monarchist, committed to the Westminster parliamentary system and to maintaining British national unity. Nevertheless, the rise of UKIP could take British politics toward the hard right so that elements within the British Conservative Party may eventually move against the centre-right direction of the Cameron government.

The Cameron government is essentially a left wing version of the Thatcher government (1979 to 1990). As oxymoronic as that ideological categorization may seem, it reflects the fact that the Cameron government is pro-market but with a strong commitment to combating poverty. This social dimension of the Cameron government has been reflected by its effective support of small business as a driver of employment to overcome longstanding problems of inequity which have traditionally bedevilled British society.

That Prime Minister Cameron is conscious of his role –in fighting against domestic and international extremism as political centrism comes under grave threat –has been reflected by his recent denunciation of the Republican Party (Grand Old Party, GOP) front-runner Donald Trump.

The Dangerous Populism of Donald Trump

It would be inaccurate to categorize Donald Trump as a neo-fascist because there is too much uncertainty as to what he actually stands for. Therefore it would be too much of a risk to elect him to the presidency. Already Trump has reciprocated praise which he has received from President Putin and expressed extremist positions on immigration, including a proposal to temporarily ban Muslim migration to the United States.

The GOP front-runner’s foreign policy positions are confusing as he has expressed a determination to militarily destroy IS while criticising American attempts to undertake nation building in Middle East countries which is essential if the Jihadist threat is eventually to be overcome. This apparent disdain to support democracy in other nations is reflected by Trump’s support for Bashar Assad to remain in power despite the Syrian tyrant’s appalling human rights record.

This strand of neo-isolationism is also reflected in the presidential candidacy of Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Senator Cruz has similarly expressed a determination to fight IS while simultaneously condemning American attempts to foster democracy in the Middle East. This presidential candidate(Cruz) unfairly criticised the Obama administration for ‘abandoning’ the former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011 even though all segments of that nation’s society, including the military, had turned on him*. This lack of sophistication on Cruz’s part is also reflected in domestic affairs as he has condemned the political moderation of Paul Ryan, the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, in reaching a fiscal accommodation with the Obama administration.

(*Even though the current Egyptian presidential regime of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is semi-authoritarian, there is still scope for democratic development in Egypt by the United States undertaking positive engagement with that nation by encouraging respect for human rights and for the fostering of democratic processes).

Indeed, if Donald Trump is not really serious about winning the presidency of the United States, then he may well really be a stalking horse for Senator Cruz to be the GOP’s presidential candidacy. At the very least, should Senator Cruz come a strong second in the Republican Party’s primaries, he may block the* emergence of an ‘Anyone But Trump’ (ABT) presidential candidate emerging, such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

(*Indeed, there may be a strategic pact between Donald Trump and Senator Cruz that the latter’s candidacy prevents the emergence of an ABT GOP presidential candidate).

The presidential nomination by the GOP of either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz might bode well for the election of former US First Lady and former New York Senator Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party’s probable presidential nominee. However, the continuing terrorist threat of IS may shift public support toward either a Trump or a Cruz presidential candidacy at the fatal expense of Hillary Clinton.

A *Lash political strategy based on national security could be utilized by either Donald Trump or Senator Cruz to win over voters if the Obama administration is perceived as too weak or ineffective with regard to effectively defeating IS. While Hispanic voters will probably overwhelmingly support a Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy, given Trump’s stance on immigration, it does not necessarily follow that key voting blocs which had carried Barack Obama to victory in 2008 and 2012 will necessarily be there for the Democrats in 2016. This is because the expectations of key Democratic Party voting bases, such as African-American voting bases, have not always been met by the Obama administration.

(* A Lasch political strategy refers to political operatives on the right applying the insights of the late American political scientist Professor Christopher Lasch to appeal to the social conservatism of lower income voters to win them away from the centre-left).

The Need For A More Proactive American Defence Policy

The 2016 American presidential election result is as important in determining the future direction of the United States in the twenty-first century as the result of the 1860 presidential race was to America in the nineteenth century. Hopefully, the Obama administration will expeditiously undertake military action in Iraq in Syria against IS to quickly deprive that terrorist organisation of the capacity to undertake terrorist activity which will consequently prove conducive to promoting neo-fascism in Europe.

The military elimination of IS Caliphate in Iraq– by despatching American ground troops to undertake a military surge similar to the successful one which was undertaken in 2007 against al-Qaeda– would fatally undermine the capacity of either Donald Trump or Senator Cruz to pursue a successful Lasch strategy against Hillary Clinton. Furthermore, the committing of US ground troops to Iraq would undermine the presidential candidacies of Donald Trump and Senator Cruz by exposing their neo-isolationism.

An undermining of either or both the Trump and Cruz presidential candidacies would bolster the chances of neo-conservative candidates such as Senator Rubio winning the GOP presidential nomination. There may be Democratic Party strategists who would prefer either Trump or Cruz to win the Republican Party nomination– based on the premise that the political mainstream is alienated– thereby increasing the chances of Hillary Clinton winning the presidency.

However, the political dynamics will be too fluid if IS still has a viable Caliphate at the time of the November 2016 vote. The risk of either Trump or Cruz winning the presidency that that risk is such should not even be taken. For this utilitarian reason– and for the principled and pragmatic reasons of preventing the (re) emergence of (neo-) fascism in Europe, American troops should be despatched to Iraq to expeditiously defeat IS in the same way similar to the victory that the military surge of 2007 achieved victory over al-Qaeda.