Sunday, October 26, 2014

Benjamin Herscovitch: What is the right standard for success in Iraq and Syria?


In 1954, then United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld remarked: 'The UN was not created to bring us to heaven, but in order to save us from hell.'

Hammarskjöld's point was that in the often messy and brutal world of international affairs, the standard of success is not perfect peace and security but whether war and genocide can be minimised.

Despite ongoing strife in Iraq and Syria and sustained Islamic State combat strength, Hammarskjöld's lesson should chasten critics of the US-led campaign of air strikes.

IS has not given up its fight to seize the Kurdish-controlled city of Kobane, IS-linked terror attacks are multiplying even in the Iraqi government stronghold of Baghdad, and nimble IS units can easily evade air strikes by fleeing into urban areas.

It would nevertheless be a massive misjudgement to conclude that the international intervention is failing.

US President Barack Obama last month pitched expanded air strikes across Iraq and Syria in typically grandiose terms. The proclaimed aim was to 'degrade and ultimately destroy' IS and 'hunt down' its fighters 'wherever they are.'

Obama's forceful rhetoric notwithstanding, the mission's immediate goals were actually much more modest: to frustrate IS' genocidal ambitions and stall its advance in western Iraq and eastern Syria.

These more limited objectives have already been achieved. Attempted mass atrocities against religious and ethnic minorities have been thwarted and IS has been unable to significantly expand on spectacular territorial gains made in June.

Of course, even if the coalition campaign of air strikes was able to pull off a heroic feat and totally neutralise IS forces in a matter of mere months, Syria would still be mired in civil war, the Kurds would still be unhappy partners in the fragmented Iraqi federation, and Iraq would still be racked by sectarian divisions and periodic intercommunal violence.

But it would be unreasonable to expect even the best planned and most honourably intentioned international intervention to fully free Iraq and Syria from internal troubles.

In fact, as Hammarskjöld would have recognised, if international intervention in Iraq and Syria only saves these countries from the hell of a total IS takeover, the mission will have been a resounding success.


Dr Benjamin Herscovitch is a Beijing-based Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.

1 comment:

paul scott said...

Bejamin,
I think I see what are you are saying. Lets go for rhetoric and limited success.
Lets bomb every building in Syria, where the ISIS were last month, send out newspaper reports for CNN; and some Iraq oil fields, yes lets bomb oil fields, and if we get a few misses where some terrorists are hiding and that’s a limited success. And lets give the less terrible terrorists big weapons so that we can re-ignite another war in the future .
America is indebted for 18 trillion dollars, $45, 000 for every rnan woman and child; New Zealand is at $15,000 for each person.
While the West is poofing around with the weakling UN and Security Council a , China is planning the silk road, and conquest of Asia, and the south China sea.through to the horn of Africa, and beyond .
Maybe we should educate these terrorists do you think Benjamin, some people say we should educate them, send money there.