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The Agony of Victory

The Arab world's painful devolution continues, illustrated today by two stories. The first comes from Libya:

What makes the many militias in Libya so difficult to eliminate or control is the fact that many of them are led by Islamic conservatives who use the threat of exposing misbehavior by politicians (use of alcohol, prostitutes or anything considered “un-Islamic”) to bully the government into leaving the militia alone. Thus militias led by guys who do not misbehave (according to the Koran) are difficult to control. Fortunately many militias are led by men who talk the talk but do not walk the walk and are vulnerable. At the same time Islamic radical politicians have a lot of popular support because many Libyans believe devout politicians are the best chance to deal with the corruption that cripples the government and the economy. Unfortunately this is a case of “hope springs eternal” because the track record of pious politicians in Moslem countries shows that these fellows have a short shelf live and eventually, often quite quickly succumb to the temptations of easy money and sinful pleasures.

Lethal blackmail within lethal blackmail, to paraphrase Frank Herbert who knew a thing or two about desert cultures. Libya had been held together by a strongman strong enough to eliminate, co-opt, or buy off rival strongmen. I'm trying to think of a successful centralized Arab state where this wasn't the case, but I'm coming up blank.

The real devolution however is revealed in our second story, this one out of Syria:

An estimated 11,000 foreign fighters have been mobilized in Syria, according to a just-published study by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (PDF). More than a quarter of those combatants are from Western countries, mostly from Britain, France, Germany, Sweden and Belgium. Australians, Canadians and U.S. citizen also have joined the ranks.

But judging by our complacency, you would be forgiven for not knowing this. Partly, that’s because some on the left in Britain and elsewhere have been busy downplaying the conflict or romanticizing it as something akin to the international brigades during the Spanish Civil War that attracted George Orwell and other idealists. But unlike Orwell in the 1930s, these fighters on their way to Syria are not traveling to fight against fascists. Many are young Western Muslims rushing to join a fascist group that is too extreme even for al-Qaeda: the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Members have been known to behead even fellow fighters. And it’s not much consolation that the more “moderate” volunteers are joining, Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the official Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

The problem is metastasizing rapidly.

I would imagine so, regarding that last point.

There are two safe assumptions we can make now about Syria. The first is that Bashar Assad will remain in power, unless perhaps unless Hillary Clinton runs against him in the June election. The second is that Assad might prove unable -- or perhaps even unwilling -- to bring the eastern part of Syria fully back under central control.

Put yourself in his shoes for a moment.

The West wants you gone, but is also frightened of all those foreign Islamists still fighting in the desert provinces. Those Islamists are are ruthless and experienced, but you have a professional army. When the Western countries offer you money and goodies, you send your civil war-hardened veterans into ISIS-held areas. When the West threatens you, or refuses to give up the goods, you pull your forces back.

The first keeps virulent Islamists trapped in Syria, or dead. The second leaves them free to attack western targets. And just like the Palestinian "refugee" problem, Syria gains a timeless source of blackmail against the West.

So the Syrian Civil War never quite ends, and a breeding ground for the world's most dangerous terrorists never quite goes away.

I'm only mostly joking when I say we should just take off and nuke the site from orbit -- it's the only way to be sure.