Vengeance as Policy

By Mike Appleton, Weekend Contributor

“Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

-Herman Melville, Moby Dick

The response to the grotesquely brutal murder of Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh on February 3 was intense and swift. Within hours after the Islamic State released its obscene video, Jordan hanged two al-Qaeda prisoners. Thousands of Jordanian citizens marched through the streets of Amman in a demonstration joined by Queen Rania. The young pilot’s father, Safi al-Kaseasbeh, demanded “revenge, severe revenge for the blood of Muath.” Tribal elders, who only recently were arguing that Jordan should withdraw from the U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, now called for retribution in the name of “Muath the Martyr.” By the following day, Jordanian F-16s were bombing ISIS targets in Syria.

The conservative media in this country promptly labeled King Abdullah II a hero. On Fox & Friends, Elisabeth Hasselbeck praised him for “stepping up with strong leadership and clarity, ” adding, “What is our president doing?” Even Charles Barkley weighed in, publicly expressing his wish that President Obama were more like the Jordanian king.

Please excuse me if I refrain from joining the fawning multitudes.

The truth is that neither Jordan’s response nor the widespread outrage voiced across the Arab world will change anything. It will not produce new initiatives. It will not result in a coalition of Islamic nations sending ground troops into Syria and Iraq.

What we are witnessing is a momentary paroxysm of religious rage expressed in the language of retribution. Typical were the remarks of Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, who described ISIS as “satanic” and insisted that its adherents should be “killed, crucified” or “have their limbs amputated.” The unfortunate lieutenant has been proclaimed a martyr in an ephemeral and undefined cause.

Appeals to blood lust and retaliatory executions may momentarily satisfy the emotional needs of angry mobs, but they have no lasting significance. Revenge is reason unhinged. Vengeance as a policy is unlikely to produce long-term solutions. The recent killings of Japanese journalists did not provoke similar outpourings of rage. Nor have the beheadings of numerous aid workers and non-Muslim foreign nationals. Jordan remains a fertile ground for ISIS recruiters. As recently as 2005, 57% of Jordanians polled by Pew agreed with the view that suicide bombings of innocent civilians are justified “to defend Islam from its enemies,” a figure which dropped dramatically only after the bombings of three hotels in Amman in November of that year.

While debate will continue over the role of the invasion of Iraq in the unraveling of the Middle East, it ought to be abundantly clear that the elimination of ISIS and its supporters is an ideological problem. It will not be solved by U.S. airstrikes and drone warfare or tit-for-tat atrocities or Clint Eastwood wannabes. It will require instead that tribal and ethnic loyalties be subordinated to national interests. It will require that leaders in the Middle East abandon the religious schizophrenia that characterizes their public rhetoric: the condemnation of extremism and the simultaneous condemnation of western attacks on extremists as an assault on Islam.

Most importantly, it will require that reason and cooperative effort replace the politics of vengeance. Ahab may have sworn his hatred with vehement eloquence, but only the whale survived.

Sources: Aki Peritz, “What Jordan Knows About Psyching Out ISIS,” The Daily Beast (Feb. 20, 2015); Tom Finn, “Calls for revenge in Jordan as nation mourns slain pilot,” Middle East Eye (Feb. 13, 2015); Richard Wike, “Widespread concerns about extremism in Muslim nations, and little support for it,” Pew Research Center (Feb. 5, 2015); Mark Thompson, “The Power of Vengeance,” Time (Feb. 5, 2015); ” ‘Crucify them!’ Muslim leaders condemn ISIS execution of Jordanian pilot,” (Feb. 4, 2015); Jim Michaels and Jane Onyanga-Omara, “Pilot killing triggers backlash throughout Middle East,” USA Today (Feb. 4, 2015).

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays of art are solely their decision and responsibility.

43 thoughts on “Vengeance as Policy”

  1. Vengeance masquerading as a genuine legal measure is very dangerous and sets very wrong precedence in the country. Instead of people crying of blood, they must have held peaceful marches asking for justice and bring perpetrators behind bars. I think the reason behind such a behavior in Jordon is absence of democratic traditions and still tribal beliefs reign supreme.

  2. Appleton: Where were you in 1939? Your logic would have saved tens, hundreds of thousands of American, British, French, Dutch lives. We could have used reason and cooperation to defeat the Nazis and Fascists.

  3. True, Booger, but Jordan also knows that to confront ISIS might be a losing proposition.
    As I said above, Saudi Arabia and the US are making Jordan take a stand against IS, but Jordan would rather thread lightly against this beast. These Middle east nations are being exposed as rather fragile lately, and Jordan, which was shaken by the remous of the arab spring, knows it first hand.
    It, however, could not have ignored the murder of its pilot, that was the perfect occasion to show some bravado against IS, and to also sway that sector of its population off its flirting with IS.

  4. Jordan’s reaction to the tragic death of one of its own reminds me of a true story. My parents once rented a store, which was located on the second floor of an old, two-story building. For months they complained to the landlord that water was leaking in from the ceiling, and for months the landlord, whose business occupied the first floor of the building, basically ignored them. Like the country of Jordan, until something actually affected him PERSONALLY, the landlord was happy to go about his daily life and do nothing about a problem did not appear to impact him. One day, however, as the landlord was sitting at his desk, located on the first floor, and having a nice hot bowl of soup, a piece of plaster from the ceiling fell into his soup. The water damage had now permeated the floor above, resulting in the falling plaster below.

    A new roof was put on the building the next day. Jordan’s sudden resolve to crush ISIS is the result of one of thing: the plaster had to fall into its bowl of soup.

  5. In order to know ISIS, one must know its origins and what sustains it ideologically, religiously:
    Ibn Saud’s clan, seizing on Abd al-Wahhab’s doctrine, now could do what they always did, which was raiding neighboring villages and robbing them of their possessions. Only now they were doing it not within the ambit of Arab tradition, but rather under the banner of jihad. Ibn Saud and Abd al-Wahhab also reintroduced the idea of martyrdom in the name of jihad, as it granted those martyred immediate entry into paradise.

  6. MY take is that we spend way to much time on what “who” dictates than we do on “what” is sane. Has anyone here listened to former Senator Jim Webb lately? How dare he bolt from the pack of “who” to the concept of “what?”

  7. Mike A. always does good work, in the sense of his arguments being sound and reasoned; tempered by study and the patience that flows from this.

    That said, what Mespo said directly above rings true also. Of course, we could always nuke the world if we can’t sleep at night — but that seems rather extreme.

  8. Good work, Mike A. Lost in all of this is the history that you suffer a tragedy of ineptness called 9-11, a wacked out President and his wacked out conservative corporatists invade the wrong country for fun and profit under false pretenses, devastate a society and cause mass unemployment that fosters a recruiting ground for your enemy who caused the tragedy in the first place and then complain that liberals are the cause of your woe. Like I said, good folks these Redicucans.

  9. Well done, Mike
    It is a complex issue, and as you say, and despite what Fox News claims, will not be solved by more bombing or western powers stepping up their presence in or attacks on the middle east.
    There are a few pints we always keep in mind when dealing with the Middle East, extremist groups , ISIS.

    1- Origin/Cause
    Where does ISIS come from? Obviously it did not materialize out of thin air fully formed and ready to take over the area. It was provided with support, material and moral, funding and armament. The obvious suspects are Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in order to counter Iran and Hezbollah’s influence. The necessary suspects are the US and Israel, also in the pursuit of curbing the increasing influence of Iran in the region (enabled much effectively by the invasion of Iraq, which was Sunni and an enemy of Iran.)
    Knowing that point goes a long way towards figuring out any solution. How can the problem be solved outside of the responsibility of those who created it?
    Jordan is being bullied, by Saudi Arabia and the US into being a front in the war against ISIS, knowing full well it will be the first casualty.

    2- Expression of the problem:
    ISIS is no longer controllable by any of its fathers. It is a self-fulfilled force now, with a structure, political, religious and financial that enables it to keep propelling itself. It has land, money, weapons and ability to spread into many directions as it wishes.
    Part of its aim is to drag the western powers down into the pit, and use any collateral damage as recruiting tool. Furthermore, the land it controls is vast, it is obviously strong tactically, as learned from other groups’ mistakes, and will be a strong adversary than we think.
    Additionally, it has established a network that allows it to sell the oil it takes over all the way to Europe.

    3- Solution
    Only a combination of things will solve the ISIS problem.
    Funding: all the sources of funding must be stopped, starting with the rich Arabs supporters and cutting off the resource stream ISiS gets by selling off the oil from the fields it takes over.
    Military: Airstrikes alone won’t defeat ISIS. rather, it will cause much collateral damage that will reinforce ISIS ideologically. It will require ground troops, many of them, but that also is a fraught proposition, that will reveal itself more problematic militarily than even Iraq and Afghanistan, and even more so ideologically.
    Coalition: gathering all the nations threatened under one banner, as it is being tried right now, to fight ISIS on their own. The longer that takes however, the longer those nations themselves are opening themselves to current ideological rifts in the midst of their own populations to widen themselves up, threatening their own governments.

    It is however the nature of the beast, Israel created Hamas, only to spend the next decades fighting it. The CIA created Al Qaeda, only to spend the next decades fighting it. The CIA, the Mossad, the Saudis, created ISIS and will spend the next decades fighting it.

    1. po –

      The CIA, the Mossad, the Saudis, created ISIS and will spend the next decades fighting it.

      Could you source this, please?

  10. Moby Dick is the name of a bartender at the marina here where the dogpac lives.
    I agree with Aridog in his above comment. We need European and Arab boots on the ground in the middle east.

  11. Our nuclear deterrence failed because it only deters the Despots we actually do it to. Threats and warnings are weakness in action.

    1. Darrel C. Carlson – MAD worked and since the fall of the Soviet Union we have retargeted most of warheads.

  12. I noticed two interviews of the Egyptian Defense Minister on both Fox and Al Jazeera America, my recent first choice odd coupling for MSM news coverage….with others following. BTW…Al Jazerra America covers far more world affairs than any MSM outlet.

    The interview was as straightforward as could be, on both channels,…he did NOT ask for troops, frankly said they were not required…he said they have the troops, especially if combined with other Arab states, but need only for Logistical and Ordnance support…e.g., they can fight if provisioned. As a former soldier I found him refreshing…and proposing to do exactly what we criticize others ion the ME for not doing. A little impediment exists of course, the sanctions on Egypt, post the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as on Libya. Perhaps we, as in our administration, need to remove out heads from out butts now and then and listen. The man was frank and not begging.

    Let’s cut the crap, and the blather about boots on the ground (which we no longer have nearly the capability for anyway … e.g it is a silly argument) and sponsor those who will shed their own blood with our arsenal support.

    Call me crazy….I’m used to it.

  13. “We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analyzing possible causes (jobs perhaps ?), by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will.

    Neville Chamberlain

    Sometimes you are just plainly facing evil. That is the case here and it must be resisted.

    How is the question.

    The Atlantic piece mentioned above is long but good. Rushing off with say the 82nd is probably not a good idea and may very well play into their hands but the President’s recent rhetoric is not helpful either.

    Hopefully the Muslims themselves will put boots on the ground in a substantial way and we can support in full financially and militarily and they can eliminate this extreme form of Islam themselves.

    If they don’t we may be forced to directly confront ourselves at some point in the future. I hope this does not become necessary but if necessary we should not shrink from it. This kind of evil does not just whither away. It is either destroyed or it destroys.

  14. It is time for the Muslims in the ME to take hold of the situation and oppose ISIS if they really believe they are wrong. Jordon is angry that one of their own was killed but they had no such rage when ISIS brutally murdered others. It’s tribal and it’s sectarian. There is no place in this chaos for the US. We need to stay out of it.

  15. Obama did exactly what the American majority demanded. He got out of Iraq. Iraq asked the US to leave. Now that the situation is chaos Obama is doing exactly the right thing, stopping the thugs and allowing Iraq and others time to build up a force to wax the thugs. That is what it necessary, Iraq fighting its own battles, not the US. Granted the US caused the chaos but the consensus of opinion was and still is that the US should play a support role. The US and Great Britain should bear the responsibility of supporting Iraq without getting involved as before.

    The king of Jordan is no different than the rest of the bums that run their own country in that area. They talk the talk but can’t get off of their prayer rugs and take a stand for fear they will tick somebody off, until one of their pilots gets burned alive. The main question that seems to get lost in all the finger pointing at Obama is where are the hundreds of jet fighters the US sold to all these rich fu@*s.

    The area is inhabited by backward peoples. You can take the Moslem out of the Medieval but you can’t take the Medieval out of the Moslem.

    The latest ISIS atrocity – releasing a video of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot being burned alive – prompted substantial discussion yesterday about this particular form of savagery. It is thus worth noting that deliberately burning people to death is achievable – and deliberately achieved – in all sorts of other ways:

Comments are closed.