UPDATE: One of the Foreign Affairs writers has responded to this article, and I’ve responded in kind below.
Imagine the following headlines during World War Two:
December 1941: “If you talk about Pearl Harbor, you’re aiding Japanese imperialism.”
December 1944: “If you talk about the German encirclement of Bastogne, you’re aiding the Nazis.”
August 1940: “If you talk about the Italian conquest of British Somaliland, you’re aiding fascism.”
For most today, these statements would seem silly. During that time, they would have been taken for a case of insanity.
But this sort of headline is what we were treated to in Foreign Affairs this week in response to the conquest of Ramadi in Iraq last week by the Islamic State in an article, “Don’t Aid ISIS,” by Bridget Moreng and Nathaniel Barr.
— Foreign Affairs (@ForeignAffairs) June 2, 2015
Their argument is that if you recognize the ISIS conquest of Ramadi and talk about its possible implications, you’re aiding ISIS propaganda efforts:
Alarmist analyses of Ramadi aren’t just wrong, they’re dangerous. By inaccurately interpreting the takeover as an indication that ISIS is on the rise, commentators are playing directly into the group’s narrative […]
This dynamic has been a problem for some time. In November 2014, multiple leading news outlets reported that ISIS had taken over the Libyan city of Derna, when in reality, ISIS was only one group in a patchwork of militant organizations operating in the city. And this time around, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour quoted a former CENTCOM advisor saying that 6,000 Iraqi forces had fallen to just 150 ISIS fighters in Ramadi. This claim is almost certainly untrue, as ISIS is unlikely to have sent only 150 fighters to wrest control of a major urban city. This is the type of exaggerated analysis that plays into ISIS’ hands by portraying it as a super-human fighting force.
ISIS has even incorporated Western analysts’ comments into its own propaganda: its monthly English-language magazine Dabiq dedicates a section—entitled “In the Words of the Enemy”—to quoting Western government officials and analysts who have warned of ISIS’ growing strength.
Analysts should remember that their assessments of ISIS’ capabilities resonate far beyond the Beltway and the national media. Misinterpretations of battlefield developments and exaggerations of the jihadists’ strength complicate U.S. efforts to fight them in the arena of public opinion, and by extension, on the battlefield.
There seems to be several things happening here.
With respect to their claims about the number of ISIS fighters in Ramadi, you have their naked assertion of what they think ISIS would do versus a statement by a former CENTCOM adviser to a news organization. Had Moreng and Barr responded with “ISIS mobilized X elements from city Y to Ramadi,” then their dismissal of the CNN report would have more merit. As it is, they’re engaged in little more than wishful thinking. Is their denial of the claim sufficient to dismiss the report altogether? Clearly not. An account with actual reality-based reporting in the Wall Street Journal is leagues more substantive.
Then you have their claim that talking about the victory in Ramadi actually aids ISIS propaganda efforts. Are we really to believe that thousands are flocking to the cause of the Islamic State because of a republished Rick Santorum quote in the back pages of the ISIS Dabiq magazine?
It seems I’m not the only one to look askance at their claim:
We see this absurd argument now employed by members of the foreign policy establishment on a regular basis.
Earlier this week I noted here at PJ Media the escalating terror campaign by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, including documented acts of terrorism by Brotherhood members during 2014. And yet in January you had two of the foreign policy elite write in the pages of the Washington Post that if you declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, that would cause them to become one.
Let me suggest what will in fact aid ISIS: shouting down honest and informed analysis about their successes and their implications.
Fortunately, there are still a few adults left in the foreign policy establishment who are willing to have a frank and candid conversation about the recent gains by the Islamic State, notwithstanding Ms. Moreng and Mr. Barr’s objection:
— Jeff Stein (@SpyTalker) May 28, 2015
Let’s not forget that back in March, as I noted here at PJ Media, Foreign Affairs was floating yet another stupid MEME OF THE WEEK: Accepting ‘Moderate’ Al-Qaeda.
What these continued episodes indicate is that there is a dangerous and pervasive moral sickness in the U.S. foreign policy establishment that enables analysts to embrace reckless policies without consequence. And as I’ve noted here repeatedly over the years, the adoption of these reckless policies by both Democrats and Republicans alike has wrought catastrophic consequences across the globe, imperiling our own national security.
Tragically, the more reckless the ideas the more attention they receive from the foreign policy establishment at the expense or more sober and sane analysis. That, too, is aiding ISIS and America’s enemies.
UPDATE: One of the writers, Bridget Moreng, and one of her Valens Global LLC colleagues, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, are apparently butthurt over my calling this out. They took to mocking on Twitter this morning:
Note that she and Barr wrote that if you say the ISIS conquest of Ramadi as a sign that ISIS is one the rise, you’re not only wrong and an alarmist – but you’re dangerous and aiding ISIS!
That’s not #readingcomprehensionforthewin, that’s exactly what they said (screeenshot from their article on the Foreign Affairs website lest they accuse me of doing something dodgy):
Had they said that the interpretation of the Ramadi takeover as a sign of an ISIS rise was wrong and left it there, I might disagree but there would be nothing to take issue with. That’s just analysis.
But they didn’t leave it there.
Remember, the title of the article is, “Don’t Aid ISIS”!
As she and Mr. Barr unmistakably said, if you see the Ramadi takeover as a sign of an ISIS rise, you’re not only wrong, but you’re dangerous and unwittingly aiding the most dangerous terrorist organization in recent memory.
That’s an incredibly serious charge. And I would add, an incredibly dangerous one at that.
Especially since, as I noted, some pretty credible experts who were well into their careers two years ago when Ms. Moreng graduated with her Bachelor’s degree are publicly expressing their concern about the ISIS takeover of Ramadi and it’s potential implications.
For example, former CIA Deputy Director Bill McLaughlin envisioned scenarios where ISIS could actually win. Is he too a dangerous alarmist who is aiding ISIS, because he seems to go well beyond ISIS being on the rise after Ramadi?
Recall that the section of Ms. Moreng and Mr. Barr’s article identifying the complicity of those concerned about ISIS’ takeover of Ramadi is under the sub-head, “SILENCE THE ALARM.”
So, yes Daveed, she is in effect running around telling people, “Shut up! SHUT UP!!”
That might be conventional wisdom at Valens Global LLC and the rest of the DC foreign policy “smart set,” but it’s not serious analysis. And it deserves to be called out.