Is there a reason why the world seems paralysed by Islamic State (IS)? Their seizure, in the last week alone, of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria, has drawn the world’s attention to the flood of tens of thousands of refugees which have followed the former, and the risk of the total annihilation of one of the most treasured historical gems that is likely to follow the latter. But aside from the hand-wringing where is the urgency to turn these advances around?
The White House has been briefing all week that IS is on the retreat. That may or may not be how it looks from Pennsylvania Avenue but it is not what it looks like in Syria or Iraq right now. Amazingly enough President Obama this week gave a speech to the graduating class of the Coast Guard Academy in which he said the following:
“This brings me to the challenge I want to focus on today — one where our Coast Guardsmen are already on the front lines, and that, perhaps more than any other, will shape your entire careers — and that’s the urgent need to combat and adapt to climate change.”
He went on to say:
“Around the world, climate change increases the risk of instability and conflict. Rising seas are already swallowing low-lying lands, from Bangladesh to Pacific islands, forcing people from their homes. Caribbean islands and Central American coasts are vulnerable, as well. Globally, we could see a rise in climate change refugees.”
Now it may very well be that in the very long term water shortages and all sorts of other factors may cause populations to move around the world, as they have moved for millennia. But there is something deeply perverse about worrying about a far-off problem for which there is little if no precedent so far while failing to address or deal with a problem that is going on right now. The people fleeing Palmyra and Ramadi are not hypothetical far-off victims of nature. They are real people fleeing right now in real time.
Of course American drones from thousands of feet up are currently carrying out intermittent attacks on IS to slow their progress. But it is perfectly plain that this campaign is failing to achieve what must be its objectives – not just the slowing-down but the smashing of IS. Of course America is worried about this as all its allies are. But the response to a real and growing problem in the Middle East cannot be low-level operations and hand-wringing. The US, Britain and any international community worthy of the name should be working out today how to end a group which not only wrecks the remains of several civilisations, but stands against everything that civilisation as a whole must stand for.
FROM THE DIRECTOR’S DESK
Within our extensive events programme at The Henry Jackson Society, we sometimes host a discussion with a visiting speaker that is not only informative and revelatory, but which can also have an immediate policy impact as opposed to a more general contribution to knowledge on a subject. Such was the case this week with the visit of Itamar Marcus, the Director of Palestinian Media Watch (PMW).
Since 1996, PMW has chronicled the state of affairs within the Palestinian territories, assessing whether publicly declared statements are being followed through, or if in fact the language of peace often heard in the West is being contradicted by actions contrary to that goal on the ground. Many times, the organisation has discovered that Palestinian media promotes a message of hate rather than peace. Even worse, it sometimes uncovers that messaging like this is promoted by central government authorities that are formally signed up to peace process goals.
In a particularly egregious case unveiled to us this week by Mr Marcus, it would appear that UK – and other Western – taxpayers are helping to facilitate this state of affairs by funding aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) that is then funnelled to pay salaries to Palestinian prisoners convicted of terrorist offences.
The payment of such salaries is an established fact – when pressure was put on the PA by aid donor countries last year, it responded by saying that prisoner salaries would henceforth be paid by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) from non-aid donor money. Except that they are not, for as Marcus showed us, it turns out that the same money is still being used to support convicted terrorists, and that it is being paid directly by the PA itself. Nor is the PA shy about stating this publicly on PA media, as a selection of quotations can testify.
Why the PA is giving money to terrorists who have caused death and mayhem for Israeli civilians – when it does not pay salaries to other criminals – is one question, and goes to the heart of the issue of Palestinian incitement being a factor in the failed peace process. Why our aid money should be used for this purpose is quite another.
You do not need to be a friend of Israel to recognise that there is something disturbing about this state of affairs. A friend of Palestine can also see that this is not the kind of Palestinian state structure that can be supported. British MPs will be raising this with the government in the coming weeks. Let us hope for the sake of peace in the region that they at least succeed in preventing our taxpayers’ money from being misappropriated in such a disgraceful way.
Dr Alan Mendoza is Executive Director of The Henry Jackson Society
Follow Alan on Twitter: @AlanMendoza