I don’t write or talk about Colombia’s long-standing civil war against FARC much, but my familiarity with the conflict informs how I view others. And through the influence of Nazih Richani’s stellar work and as a student in Professor Marco Pinfari’s classes examining domestic conflicts, one of the first things that I learned is that civil wars generate a political economy. And it is the balance of this political economy, whether positive or negative, that helps determine the duration of a conflict.
If the political economy of a war is positive, then a military solution to crush a rebellion is futile since there is an incentive to prolong conflict.
So when I recently watched an interview on Democracy Now with Marxist journalist, author and professor Vijay Prashad, I completely agreed with his assessment that conflict must be escalated against ISIS with “boots on the ground” (this does not necessarily mean American or Western troops), but there also must be an attack on ISIS’ economic assets.
There’s four ways to accomplish this, and this is at least a starting point for you to consider President Obama: 1) reestablish territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria, in other words, don’t allow ISIS control large swaths of land so they can to build bases, e.g. Raqqa; 2) shutdown the funding stream from Gulf financiers, a daunting task but an effort must be exerted; 3) retake captured oil and gas fields; and 4) address root causes, which means you have to look at Baghdad. There has to be recognition that ISIS is very much an indirect result of misguided US foreign policy in Iraq where the US supported the most sectarian political parties in a country where identity politics had no currency. It is time to shift the orientation of American foreign policy and not support sectarianism.
Another thing that I find quite interesting is Bashar al-Assad’s willingness to buy his country’s energy supplies from ISIS. This tells me two things. First, that Assad has opted for a containment strategy rather than mounting an offensive that effectively weakens or eliminate ISIS. The reason why he chose containment is obvious: the presence of ISIS delegitimizes the Syrian revolution and allows him to appear as an ally on the so-called “War on Terror.” And second, as noted by Michael Weiss, Bashar is indirectly (or rather directly) financing the Islamic State; purchasing oil from terrorists is not exactly an effective counter-terrorism strategy.
This proves, to me at least, that a (un)comfortable impasse (to borrow the words of Richani) exists between both the Syrian state and ISIS; they choose to coexist because peace or high-intensity war impedes their ability to build up both political and economic assets. They are materially benefiting from this war system, more of a reason why – to paraphrase Weiss here – Assad is not an ally against the Islamic State, but rather a liability since he manipulated and abetted their rise (important to note here that Assad did not create ISIS). He is very much part of the problem and not the solution as he would like us to think.