Two months after the 9/11 attacks — December 15, 2001 — I wrote an essay entitled “A Foreign-Policy Primer for Children: The Fable of the Hornets.” I would like to invite you, kind reader, to read or re-read that article because it really does explain what is going on today with ISIS, the entity in Iraq and Syria that has gotten U.S. officials and so many Americans all riled up.
The article details the story of Oscar the policeman, who lived in a quiet, peaceful, harmonious, and prosperous village a long time ago.
One day Oscar went out into the woods and began poking hornets’ nests. When the hornets began stinging villagers, villagers cried out for retaliation.
At the village meeting to discuss the crisis, a young boy responded: “Maybe if Oscar stops poking hornets’ nests, the hornets will no longer attack the village.”
Well, you can imagine what effect that had on the villagers. It made them angrier than the hornets. They immediately went on the attack against the kid, calling him a traitor and suggesting that he was justifying the attacks by the hornets.
So, the villagers sent Oscar and his deputies, fully outfitted in suits of armor, into the forest to destroy the hornets’ nests, which they succeeded in doing.
But then something ominous happened. Here is what I wrote: “Later, when Oscar returned to the woods, he noticed something foreboding — dozens of new, smaller hornets’ nests were now under construction throughout the woods.”
Doesn’t that describe what happened after the 9/11 attacks? Those attacks were in response to what the U.S. government had been doing in the Middle East prior to the 9/11 attacks — the Persian Gulf intervention, the intentional destruction of Iraq’s water and sewage treatment plants, the deadly sanctions against Iraq, the U.S. government’s pronouncement, through its UN ambassador, that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions was worth it, the stationing of U.S. troops near Islamic holy lands, the unconditional financial and military support to the Israeli government, the deadly no-fly zones over Iraq, and the partnerships with brutal Middle Eastern dictators.
So, what did the U.S. government do after the 9/11 terrorists retaliated? They went to Afghanistan and Iraq to destroy all the hornets’ nests, including Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and Saddam Hussein, in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks.
And what did they end up with?
The ended up with ongoing, never-ending chaos, conflict, crisis, and war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a never-ending list of new enemies in Yemen and Pakistan who are targeted for assassination, a dilemma in Syria on which side to bomb, and now ISIS, which has gotten everyone all riled up.
Now, consider this article from the August 27, 2014, issue of the New York Times. It’s about the military skills being wielded by warriors within ISIS. Take a wild guess where those warriors came from. This excerpt from the article says it all:
At the top the organization is the self-declared leader of all Muslims, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a radical chief executive officer of sorts, who handpicked many of his deputies from among the men he met while a prisoner in American custody at the Camp Bucca detention center a decade ago.
He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army.
They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Mr. Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group’s military council.
The pedigree of its leadership, outlined by an Iraqi who has seen documents seized by the Iraqi military, as well as by American intelligence officials, helps explain its battlefield successes: Its leaders augmented traditional military skill with terrorist techniques refined through years of fighting American troops, while also having deep local knowledge and contacts. ISIS is in effect a hybrid of terrorists and an army.
What should the United States do now in response to ISIS and all the other crises, conflicts, and chaos in the Middle East, much of which is rooted in U.S. empire and interventionism?
It should do what I wrote in “The Fable of the Hornets” thirteen years ago:
But under pressure from the villagers, the village council voted to end the war on the hornets and ordered Oscar to stop poking their nests and to limit himself to protecting the village from thieves and marauders.
After a time, a remarkable thing happened: the hornets stopped attacking the village, and they never again returned. And so it was that the village in that faraway land once again became happy and prosperous, filled with industrious and fun-loving people who lived happily ever after.