Ron Radosh

Diplomacy Ad Absurdum: Recognizing ISIS

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Recently, the argument that “diplomacy always is a better option than war” reached new heights of reductio ad absurdum in an op-ed which appeared in the British newspaper, The Independent. The writer, Vadim Nikitim, begins his column by noting that ISIS has produced a “24-page statecraft blueprint,” a document that serves as its legal case for establishing a “caliphate.”
Mr. Nikitim is upset because the West continues “to deny this reality.” On the contrary, the West clearly acknowledges that ISIS functions as a state in the territory it has captured, but does not believe it should be given legitimacy. But Nikitim argues that:

Only by recognising and treating Isis as a bona fide state can we hope to understand its workings and motivations and, ultimately, contain its murderous advance across the region.

That is to say, Nikitim advocates formal recognition of ISIS as a state. He uses, as an analogy, the recognition of the Soviet Union by Great Britain in 1922 and the United States in 1933. Here is the reason why he thinks this form of diplomacy is the best way to defeat ISIS.

History shows that diplomatic recognition of extremist governments can make them more likely to moderate their behaviour. While pariahs are able to behave with impunity, when brought within the international system, they become subject to constraints.

His key example is what he claims took place after the Western powers recognized Joe Stalin’s Soviet Union. At the Gatestone Institute’s website, Douglas Murray gives us some reasons that contradict his argument. What Nikitim proves, Murray notes, is that he has succeeded only in “demonstrating that there is no better way to get the present wrong than by getting the past wrong.”

The truth is that recognition often does not work to moderate or constrain a rogue regime, but only allows it to continue its dangerous agenda; opposition to it disintegrates as diplomats decide that the use of force or the threat to do so only gets in the way of diplomacy.

In the case of the Soviet Union, U.S. recognition did not stop Stalin from risking the entire Western Alliance’s diplomatic status by entering into the Nazi-Soviet Pact— this non-aggression pact went into effect on August 23, 1939, and did not end until the German invasion of Russia on June 22, 1941. It didn’t stop Stalin’s decision to send his spies into both Britain and the United States, and to recruit Western Communists to aid the NKVD and the GRU in their espionage work against the Western powers, even during the war years of the military alliance. It also didn’t prevent Stalin from deciding at the war’s end to wage a Cold War, and to try to force all of Europe to become part of the Soviet empire.

Sticking to the Soviet example, Nikitim argues that the Soviet Union showed “greater pragmatism and accommodation with its neighbors” after recognition. How could it not do otherwise, given that once the Germans invaded, it needed the economic support and military supplies given by the West, who now shared a common enemy? And of course, recognition did nothing to stop Stalin’s purge trials, where competitors were tried in kangaroo courts, then tortured and finally put to death. Nor, as I previously mentioned, did Stalin drop his post-war ambition or put an end to espionage against his own allies.

Nikitim’s analogy between ISIS and the Soviet Union completely falls apart when he implies that although the contest between the free world and the Soviet Union did not end with the start of the Cold War, the USSR was a “predictable and rational opponent,” which knew “the rules of the game and could be counted to stick to them.” Any sane observer understands that the analogy between a state power that became an “evil empire” — to use Ronald Reagan’s term — that wanted to avoid nuclear war, and ISIS — a social movement composed of zealots who subscribe to a radical interpretation of Islam, and which has proved its beliefs with public beheadings and the burning of human beings — is inaccurate. ISIS is simply not going to emulate the Soviets in producing what Nikitim calls “the longest period of peace and stability between the great powers.” (Nikitim also fails to mention the many bloody proxy wars fought during the Cold War era.)

In the United States, President Obama is making a similar argument to justify his diplomatic opening to Cuba. The evidence so far has not supported his belief that the Communist state would moderate. U.S. tourism has skyrocketed, and for all practical purposes, the ban on travel to Cuba has ended. The result is a rapid increase in political repression, as arrests of dissidents have increased, and those openly calling for political democracy are finding themselves subject to complete daily surveillance, and are unable to live a normal life, let alone carry on with their outlawed political activities. One brave would-be protestor was even beaten and dragged away by the secret police in front of the pope during his recent visit to Cuba.

Many supporters of the nuclear deal with Iran also argued that once put into effect, Iran too would moderate, and one would find the nation opening up. The Ayatollah Khamenei has made it clear in recent statements that the deal — beneficial to Iran — would not end the regime’s complete opposition to the Western infidel nations, nor would it mean an end to repression at home against opponents and enemies of their brand of Islam. Gays are regularly hung or pushed off rooftops, women are stoned to death, and Iranian-American journalists are arrested without fair or open trials — Iran remains oblivious to the calls for freedom.

Nikitim believes that only by accepting and recognizing ISIS as a legitimate state entity will “the West hope to gain a credible means to moderate and constrain its further advance.” Hence, he concludes, “it is time to forge a long peace with militant Islam.”

Perhaps Mr. Nikitim might first inquire as to whether ISIS wants a “long peace” with the West. For a starter, I suggest he travel to ISIS territory to make an inquiry. Somehow, I don’t think he’d be returning soon to Britain.