Making a State By Iron and Blood
August 20, 2015 8:09 AM   Subscribe

 
Betteridge's Law even applies to nonbinary questions, whodathunkit?

To elaborate a little, the Islamic State would have to actually become a functioning state first, and Brooks at most hand-waves it a bit with inapt references to the French Revolution. Right now it's the Islamic Tea Party, because it's easier and more fun to burn than to build.
posted by chimaera at 8:14 AM on August 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


There's a good potential argument here, but the article tends to downplay the effective evidence -- the US alliance with Saudi Arabia, which uses beheading as a form of capital punishment and so forth -- in favor of poorly constructed arguments. Like, an argument that relies on treating contemporary Germany as a contiguous political entity with Nazi Germany or modern France as simply and easily contiguous with the Reign of Terror does not make me confident that the author knows how to analyze political entities or national identities, let alone negotiate the differences between and within them.
posted by kewb at 8:16 AM on August 20, 2015 [32 favorites]


In other news, don't close the tab and try to reload the page again. You get only one chance before FP paywalls you.
posted by chimaera at 8:17 AM on August 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Who says the Islamic State won’t be a U.S. ally someday?

Um, I do. ISIS has alienated everybody in the region with their extremism. The Saudis hate them. The Egyptians hate them. The Iranians really hate them. All three countries are astronomically better armed and better funded. ISIS has only lasted this long because they moved into a power vacuum of one country's civil war and another's incredibly weak government. They can't outfight the Kurds, for Christ's sake. ISIS is like the Ebola of states, a quick and dramatic flare up soon to followed by an equally quick die-off.

This is a stupid article.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:18 AM on August 20, 2015 [27 favorites]


This article is beyond disingenuous.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:20 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is a stupid article.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:18 AM on August 20 [1 favorite +] [!]


Eponysterical!
posted by Fizz at 8:27 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree with a lot of the criticisms so far, I just thought the article raised an interesting point or possible outcome - if the Islamic State can hold on for long enough it may gain some form of de-facto legitimacy forcing neighbors and others to deal with it directly.
posted by rosswald at 8:31 AM on August 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


If it just made that point, I think no one would disagree. If the Islamic State is around long enough, other nations will be forced to deal with it.

What people are pushing back against is the idea that there is no difference between predecessor political entities which eventually became today's US allies doing terrible things decades or centuries ago, and ISIS doing terrible things today.

If ISIS underwent the kind of wholesale political transformation that changed Nazi Germany into the Germany of today, then sure. But ISIS as it exists now is not comparable.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:40 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Any de facto legitimacy it acquires would depend on behaving more like a state and less like a mob. The issue isn't just gross human rights violations within the ISIS "jurisdiction" - China routinely violates human rights, for example, but the PRC is treated as a state - but the total absence of agreed borders and or of any other policy beyond "we'll kill you all!!!" The analogy is to Nazi Germany after 1939, not Nazi Germany in 1933-38. There's no room for co-existence with ISIS in its current form because their expansionist totalitarian ideology prevents them from wanting co-existence with any of us.
posted by Aravis76 at 8:40 AM on August 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


if the Islamic State can hold on for long enough it may gain some form of de-facto legitimacy forcing neighbors and others to deal with it directly.

In other words, if the "Islamic State" can become something other than what it presently is, then other states might choose to deal with it as something other than it presently is.

It's "If my aunt had wheels she'd be a buggy" school of foreign policy, but you can't argue with that logic.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:42 AM on August 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


We do not have an alliance with Nazi Germany. We have an alliance with the federal parliamentary republic that supplanted it.
posted by maxsparber at 8:44 AM on August 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


Right, the US has a history free of both slavery and genocide.

I can imagine that ISIS could change to a functioning modern state (for whatever that means) and that the US and other countries will have a relationship with it in the future, but . . . so what?
posted by jeather at 8:46 AM on August 20, 2015


Nonsense.

British Empire U.K.
The Third Reich Federal Republic of Germany
posted by MrJM at 8:48 AM on August 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


omg guys we're allies with the visigoths
posted by gwint at 9:00 AM on August 20, 2015 [33 favorites]


This article made me dumber for having read it.
posted by eriko at 9:04 AM on August 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


This election cycle would be so much more interesting if Trump were ranting about the Eagle Clan and the People of the Bear.
posted by idiopath at 9:05 AM on August 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


Someday we'll be allies with them, then dick them over like we do the Kurds and everyone else.
posted by gucci mane at 9:06 AM on August 20, 2015


Seems like this was written only to offend the Germans, Turks, US, French, etc...

Not that atrocities didn't happen, but seems disingenuous to make these comparisons from today
posted by glaucon at 9:07 AM on August 20, 2015


"If my aunt had wheels she'd be a buggy." Not necessarily. It takes more than wheels to become a buggy. And you can obtain wheels and become a train, or a skateboard. Some dangerous thinking here.
posted by jetsetsc at 9:23 AM on August 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


You're being needlessly fussy. Skateboards and trains are both sorts of buggies.
posted by maxsparber at 9:30 AM on August 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Even idiot schlock writers have to meet deadlines sometimes. Turns out, despite her very impressive credentials, Rosa Brooks is more concerned with "Publish or Perish" than "Construct a Meaningful Argument."
posted by IAmBroom at 9:31 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


We're all having this discussion as if the US isn't already the Saudi Royal Family's biggest ally.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:46 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Saudi Arabia is an incredibly oppressive and unpleasant regime, in human rights terms, but it isn't ISIS. You can tell by the fact that the Saudis haven't invaded neighbouring countries and turned millions of people into refugees and by the absence of a Saudi state policy in favour of global war. (Typo fixed)
posted by Aravis76 at 9:50 AM on August 20, 2015


Surprised to see so much pushback against this article. I felt it was an interesting and well-reasoned take that says less about ISIS per se than about troubling our attitudes towards history and the legitimation of violence. I think a lot of people could use exposure to Brooks' points.
posted by threeants at 10:00 AM on August 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think the central point is good: They are very unlikely to be motivated by pure slaughter because they are not D&D demons. If they are able to get to the next stage, all of this will be swept under the rug, and their history will not be an outlier among stable states.
posted by ignignokt at 10:05 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think there is a good point that extreme violence NOW does not exclude legitimization LATER. It would have been nice if the author had talked about what between "now" and "later" for her examples (France, Turkey, etc) that led them to legitimacy and how that might look for ISIS.

But we didn't get that so here we are.
posted by Tevin at 10:07 AM on August 20, 2015


The idea that the USA might have refused to ally with Britain because Britain had been involved in the slave trade is a gem.
posted by Segundus at 10:08 AM on August 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


> because they are not D&D demons.

Though, not to derail, I find A LOT of people (not even the fundamentalist type I would expect) are relegating ISIS to "monster" status and are unwilling to grant them humanity. They are humans who do monstrous, horrible things. Still human though.
posted by Tevin at 10:09 AM on August 20, 2015




But an alliance with modern Germany doesn't involve a legitimation of violence -- quite the opposite, the modern German order is built on repudiation of the deeds and values of the Nazi regime. The article just mashes too many things together to make the fundamentally banal point that International relations are not a game of White Hats v Black Hats. It would be much more interesting, and less frankly offensive, to ask what kind of violence delegitimatises a state in the eyes of other states: Iran's current transitional moment is more interesting from this perspective than ISIS who are less a state than a movement. But the article doesn't ask the right question and the examples are very badly-chosen.
posted by Aravis76 at 10:16 AM on August 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


It’s probably wise to assume that the leadership of the Islamic State understands the pitiless lessons of history.

What? No. The IS is a rejection of the very concept of a state. They believe that even acknowledging that other states exist is a sin punishable by death. They despise countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia way worse than they do the US. They think the fucking TALIBAN are sellouts. I don't get it, this seems to have no actionable point. ISIS is like what would happen if 400 Ted Cruz's got a hold of the US government--there would soon be just a gaping hole in the earth where everything governmental stood. Then, sure, someone not-hardline-delusional could build something there, and someone could make an alliance with that, but not with the hole. I mean I've read exactly 1 article about what ISIS actually believes and I feel like I should be giving this piece a condescending pat on the head and sending it to its room without any supper. Maybe I'm missing something.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:23 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Like, an argument that relies on treating contemporary Germany as a contiguous political entity with Nazi Germany or modern France as simply and easily contiguous with the Reign of Terror does not make me confident that the author knows how to analyze political entities

I will go further and say this article makes me fear for the State Department. Like, not even joking. If this is the sort of horseshit idea that professional civil servants in the State Department have, that is a very bad thing.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:37 AM on August 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I find A LOT of people (not even the fundamentalist type I would expect) are relegating ISIS to "monster" status and are unwilling to grant them humanity. They are humans who do monstrous, horrible things. Still human though.

After reading this, I honestly don't have a problem with the ISIS=monster equivalency. I would stop for a hurt dog in the road, but not for the so-called men of ISIS. At this time they have chosen to remove themselves from humanity and are in fact waging war upon it, and should be treated accordingly.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:37 AM on August 20, 2015


OK, you can say that but it doesn't mean it's true. They are still human. This horrible, awful, nearly-inconceivable violence is the legacy of humanity whether you want to own it or not.
posted by Tevin at 10:41 AM on August 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


There are many recognized regimes which have fewer indicia of functional state leadership than ISIS in its core region, already.

I bet the region will ultimately prefer co-existing with it as the government of Sunni-majority districts of Syria and Iraq to the alternatives that could force its dissolution: large scale conventional occupation of most of Syria by the Turks, non-Turk NATO forces, or the Iranians. The conventional occupation that could do the job and be tolerable, by a coalition of Sunni-majority states, doesn't seem ever likely to come about.

The bigger question is whether ISIS, itself, will ever mature to the point that co-existence will be something that it will agree to, or it will ultimately force the issue and compel the land-force occupation that now would seem to be so unacceptable.
posted by MattD at 10:43 AM on August 20, 2015


I find A LOT of people (not even the fundamentalist type I would expect) are relegating ISIS to "monster" status and are unwilling to grant them humanity.

If there is one thing history has shown us, it is that there is no reason to assume that "human" is somehow distinct and easily separated from "monster."
posted by maxsparber at 10:54 AM on August 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


OK, you can say that but it doesn't mean it's true. They are still human.

Humans can be monsters. Sometimes there's nothing terribly redeeming about being human.

I think people rightly criticize the article for various holes in the arguments. However, I do think there is something to say for the broad strokes. If ISIS is allowed to persist, I would expect them to eventually moderate their point of view. At that point, political expediency means that they will acquire allies. This scenario exists in the realm of possibility. I mean, even North Korea has friends.

But I really don't think we should let them get there. I was always opposed to the invasion of Iraq, and somewhat ambivalent to our (US) invasion of Afghanistan. But I wouldn't have any problem with an international coalition of armies stomping ISIS into dust. They are incredibly disruptive to the world order, and I could just as easily see them starting WW3 as maturing into a slightly less heinous regime.

But after the dust settles, we have to address the underlying problems that caused it to come into being, or it will just happen again.
posted by Edgewise at 11:00 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's all moot because of oil anyways.
posted by srboisvert at 11:02 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Surprised to see so much pushback against this article. I felt it was an interesting and well-reasoned take that says less about ISIS per se than about troubling our attitudes towards history and the legitimation of violence. I think a lot of people could use exposure to Brooks' points.

It would be easier to accept any of the article's later points about modern views of history and the legitimization of violence if it didn't make a complete mess of the means by which state violence has been legitimized or not --
History assures us that the commission of mass atrocities is no bar to future success. During the “reign of terror” that followed the French Revolution, France’s revolutionary government publicly beheaded an estimated 30,000-40,000 people — all in the name of liberté, égalité, and fraternité....It doesn’t make for pleasant reading, but it was all so long ago. Today, France is a significant European power and major U.S. ally.
France in 1793 and France today -- those aren't the same people. That's not the same state. This is basically a category error; it's projecting modern understandings of the state onto the past and then calling them equivalent because of a shared name, which is bizarre in that the article later does talk about the changing meanings of statehood today -- it meant different things in the past, too.

The reign of terror was, in fact, such a bar to future success for the people heading it up that it coined a new term to describe what happened. The idea that radical revolution might be followed by (relatively) restrained conservative entrenchment is so old that to propose it here is...not very revolutionary.

And, of course, in between the Reign of Terror and today you also have Napoleon, and you have a series of wars that killed people on a scale several orders of magnitude larger than the French Revolution itself. That an entirely different French state would later be on friendly terms with entirely different European states -- many of which didn't exist as independent entities back then -- would be small consolation to anyone living in the early 1800s.

When people talk about responding to ISIS, that's that kind of parallel they may have in mind -- not that a ISIS successor state might be legitimized in the public eye, not that a future American state might be friendly towards it, but rather, what would the process be to get to that point? How and why would that happen? What would the humanitarian cost be to get there? Those are far more interesting questions, and, unfortunately, far hard to answer.
posted by cjelli at 11:03 AM on August 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


There are many recognized regimes which have fewer indicia of functional state leadership than ISIS in its core region, already.

This. ISIS is collecting taxes, conscripting people into an army, issuing permits for fishing in rivers, etc. etc. etc. It only doesn't look like a state since it's 1) new 2) ostentatiously brutal 3) has overlapping territory with existing states. But none of these have ever been absolute criteria of preventing a state from entering the international system.

France in 1793 and France today -- those aren't the same people.

The France of today is a continuous socio-cultural entity since even before the French Revolution. The modern French state draws its Republican legacy from the French Revolution. It's the Fifth Republic, the First of which came out of the blood and iron of the French Revolution.

We're all having this discussion as if the US isn't already the Saudi Royal Family's biggest ally.

That, or that the US has tolerated, nay, directed and partially orchestrated some of these horrible historical episodes by members of the international state system. Indonesia's massacre of half a million "communists" comes to mind as just one example.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 11:11 AM on August 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


> Humans can be monsters. Sometimes there's nothing terribly redeeming about being human.

That is my point. It doesn't help to pretend like these humans are uknowable because of what they have done. It's not that I think the "good" in me reflects some potentially-redemptive "good" in them but that the "monstrosity" in them exists in all of humanity, even in me. We who do not do these things are not special.

I'm so tired of seeing the monstrous angle used as a way to prove how exceptional "we" are compared to "them."
posted by Tevin at 11:34 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


because they are not D&D demons.

Of course not. D&D demons are chaotic evil and thus would not seek to create the order of a state. I'd say ISIS is more like D&D devils, who are lawful evil.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:53 AM on August 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Indonesia's massacre of half a million "communists" comes to mind as just one example.

I had not known about this until I saw the documentary The Act Of Killing last year. Fascinating movie if you haven't seen it.
posted by theorique at 11:56 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Or maybe anti-paladin?
posted by Tevin at 11:57 AM on August 20, 2015


Well, we went to full, declared war against Britain and Germany. And won. I suppose if the same situation were to occur with ISIS, that would make diplomatic scenarios more likely.
posted by TDavis at 12:08 PM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm so tired of seeing the monstrous angle used as a way to prove how exceptional "we" are compared to "them."

I don't think we're exceptional, and I'm not using the term to excuse the criminal actions of the U.S. government and some of its representatives and military in the region. I just feel that with their actions, ISIS has placed themselves outside of the category of what I consider "human". It's similar to how I view individuals such as Breivik.
posted by longdaysjourney at 12:40 PM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Saudi Arabia is an incredibly oppressive and unpleasant regime, in human rights terms, but it isn't ISIS. You can tell by the fact that the Saudis haven't invaded neighbouring countries and turned millions of people into refugees and by the absence of a Saudi state policy in favour of global war. (Typo fixed)

Yeah, about that.
posted by xqwzts at 1:20 PM on August 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yes, maybe the binary I drew between ISIS and Saudi Arabia was too simplistic. I still think there's a real qualitative difference because ISIS seems to function primarily as an invading army and only secondarily as a state, if that makes sense. I keep going back to the Nazi comparison; the desire to swallow the entire region, and to flat-out conquer and possess, seems to me to belong more to ISIS than to other nation states, including the ones that treat people very badly a lot of the time.
posted by Aravis76 at 2:02 PM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had not known about this until I saw the documentary The Act Of Killing last year. Fascinating movie if you haven't seen it.

and the followup THE LOOK OF SILENCE which is an astounding film in its own right. /derail
posted by oog at 2:57 PM on August 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


[History assures us that the commission of mass atrocities is no bar to future success. During the “reign of terror” that followed the French Revolution, France’s revolutionary government publicly beheaded an estimated 30,000-40,000 people — all in the name of liberté, égalité, and fraternité....It doesn’t make for pleasant reading, but it was all so long ago. Today, France is a significant European power and major...]

The 30 or 40 thousand was just in Paris alone.
Gee wiz, didn't this writer know that we had ties to revolutionary France... at the time. We recognized France but soured a bit when the Terror hit. There was also some hostilities in 1798.

And didn't this writer know we had a Defacto diplomatic relationship with the Khmer Roughe?
posted by clavdivs at 7:58 PM on August 20, 2015


3000 to 4000 in Paris rather, roughly 40 a day.
posted by clavdivs at 8:43 PM on August 20, 2015


Germany perpetrated the greatest genocide in human history.

(anti-Godwin's law disclaimer: The Nazis were scum and deserved to be purged with fire. These remarks are not intended to reduce or mitigate their moral bankruptcy and deserved extermination.)

My fellow US citizens, as descendants of the perpetrators of the African slave trade and following 100 years of apartheid, and descendants/prime beneficiaries of the ethnic cleansing of the Native American nations we certainly have a vested interest in ensuring bygones be bygones.

However, I'm not sure I agree with the police work of the above statement there, Lou. Maybe consider:

+ China's Great Leap Forward, where it's still technically the same government? Of course, that just proves the point, as we do love those iPhones and I'm sorry about your 20-40 million dead but hey that iPhone is shiny and has an app so I can post my outrage about the utter moral bankruptcy of baiting and shooting a protected lion.

+ Or...European occupation of North and South America? Those Native American nations didn't give themselves smallpox and burn down their own homes, you know. That was hard murdery and rapey work.

+ Or Stalin's purges - it was often said that Stalin in his private ethnic cleansings prime killed more people before breakfast than the Nazis killed all day.

"Spielberg or it didn't happen" is no way to look at history, son.
posted by lon_star at 10:01 PM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Act of Killing / The Look of Silence really deserves an FPP of its own
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 6:54 AM on August 21, 2015


clavdivs: Do you still hold a grudge against the residents of Tripoli for burning those peaceful merchant ships in 30 BCE?

And why exactly is 18th-c France relevant to ISIS, again?
posted by IAmBroom at 9:15 PM on August 27, 2015


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