Monday, September 1, 2014

The ‘Islamic State’ and Arab nationalist dream

FOR more than a century, Arabs have suffered the stigma of Orientalist depictions of themselves, their societies and their culture as backward and savage. As Edward Said had noted in his work of 1978, a generation of Orientalist scholars had invented, and later reproduced and perpetuated, the myth of Arab backwardness as a thin excuse for Western intervention in Arab affairs, and the colonisation of the Arab people.

By the mid-1950s, however, Arab nationalism became a force that posed a counter-hegemonic challenge to the dominance of the Western model, and Arab leaders like Gammel Nasser attempted to build a new Arab world on the basis of consensus and cooperation between Arab nation-states. The dream of Pan-Arabism was premised on the idea that Arab states could, and should, unite, pool their collective human energies and natural resources to develop themselves on their own terms with the goal of creating a different kind of non-Western modernity that would be culturally authentic and truly rational and modern at the same time. These hopes were sadly dashed by a string of military defeats, from the Suez crisis to the wars with Israel, and, in their wake, Arab unity became a pipe dream and different Arab states went along their separate paths.

Over the next half-a-century, the Arab world, despite its enormous resources and wealth, has been struggling with the challenge of modernity, and trying to maintain a sense of noble purpose and stature in global affairs; but to no avail. The rise of so many authoritarian regimes in the Arab states, coupled with their problematic love-hate relationship with the West, had created vast pools of discontent among the urban poor, the hopeless youth and the cultural-religious minorities in their midst. The net result has been a string of crises of legitimacy that almost every Arab state has had to deal with since then, plus the rise of radical politics as the most common form of oppositional resistance.

This has been the longer historical backdrop to the current goings-on in the Arab world, where, one by one, Arab regimes are tottering before the advance of the radical group Isil (now known as Islamic State). The rapid rise and spread of this movement is not due to faith or conviction or even luck, but rather the very real failures of Arab states to create workable representative democracies. In Iraq, for instance, IS’ rise can be read as an index to the failure of the Nouri al-Maliki government to bring into the fold thousands of Sunni Iraqis who felt themselves sidelined and marginalised by his divisive communitarian policies, and who no longer even believe in the state. The same can be said of Syria, where the rank-and-file of IS is made up of many people who felt themselves the subjects of state persecution and policies of marginalisation.

Today, however, as IS spreads across the Arab world, its clarion call is that of the supra-state, a Caliphate that transcends the borders of the nation-state. This is not merely a call for a return to some reconstructed, imagined past, but also an indictment of the failure of nation-building in those countries, where marginalised groups no longer feel at home and no longer regard citizenship as something of value.

True, the violence of IS is excessive and even barbaric by the standards of many, but it is also true that its members feel they have nothing to lose as they had nothing to gain in the first place. Arab nationalism did not create the happy land of equality that they had been promised, and for communities such as the Sunnis of Iraq, the Iraqi state had been turned into a foreign land for them, thanks to the divisions created by former leader Maliki. Is it any wonder that the state is no longer the political goal for the followers of IS? But the most worrying thing about the movement is that its appeal is spreading across the Arab world, signalling a loss of faith among many in the modern nation-state and the goal of Arab nationalism.

Those who claim that IS may be part of a vast arcane conspiracy to destroy the image of Islam and Muslims may not be able to prove their theory, but they may also have a point: For if a group like this can indeed undermine every state in the Arab world today and undermine the logic and purpose of nation-building, then it would be the first movement to effectively erase the legacy of Arab nationalism that began from the 1950s to the present. That would spell the end of the state as we know it in the Arab world, and would suggest that the Arabs had merely evolved from one form of tribalism to another, without ever experiencing the process of Modernity. What a sad fate for an entire generation of Arab leaders and intellectuals, and a betrayal of the Arab dream of liberation. By Farish Noor -

Closer Cooperation With Australia Would Be Wise Move for Indonesia

The intelligence Code of Conduct agreement between Indonesia and Australia was finally signed last week. It was a welcome improvement to the bilateral relations between the two neighbors, which deteriorated last year owing to a number of diplomatic incidents.

There has been, regrettably, a general disposition in almost all successive Indonesian governments to overlook Australia as a partner crucial to Indonesia’s regional interests. The Suharto government certainly made no conspicuous effort to enhance relations between the two, in complete asymmetry to what his counterpart Paul Keating tried to do in the 1990s.

The rationale behind this tepid approach had a number of causes, chief of which was the not entirely accurate notion that Australia needed Indonesia more than the other way around. During the Suharto years, Indonesia was indeed a giant within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and seemed comfortable with its role and prestige.

It was also early days for Keating’s pronouncement that Australia was more part of Asia than the West. Indeed, Australia has been viewed by Jakarta more as a junior partner within the unofficial alliance of English-speaking countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand.

In many ways, it was difficult for Indonesian officials to formulate the right policy because of what they saw as ambiguity in Australia’s in-between status.

Indonesia also believed then that it was just as important, if not more important, to the US than Australia was. As a partner in the English-speaking bloc, it was taken for granted that Ausralia would side with Washington whereas Indonesian support would always depend on what the US could offer.

However, hubris aside, those circumstances of the past bear little resemblance to the present. Indonesia no longer has the same standing as it did in Southeast Asia.

The lack of a coherent foreign policy since the fall of Suharto, coupled with squabbles with our neighbours over border disputes and migrant workers issues, means that Indonesia’s both soft and hard power have undergone considerable decline within Asean.

Indonesia’s decreasing projection of regional power is also in complete symmetry with China’s burgeoning influence throughout Asia. China has also overlooked and in some cases bypassed Asean, preferring to deal with individual countries on a bilateral level rather than face the region en bloc.

China’s increasing power and confidence have also exacerbated its long-standing territorial disputes in the South China Sea with the Philippines, Vietnam and possibly Indonesia over the Natuna Seas. However, even after the Chinese navy’s showdown with Vietnam over the former’s installation of oil rigs in the South China Sea, Asean as a whole has failed to come up with unified resistance against Chinese territorial encroachment of its member states.

It would seem that individual Asean states, with perhaps the exceptions of Vietnam and the Philippines, are reluctant to mobilize against China for fear of jeopardizing their own bilateral relations with Beijing. Malaysia, for example, is China’s largest trading partner in Asean. China is also Singapore’s second-biggest trade partner. The same applies for Thailand. So in the end economic priorities may turn out to be a great stumbling block for Asean unity against China.

Thus it is essential that Indonesia broaden its network of regional allies to prevent China’s hegemony in Southeast Asia. And for this purpose, Australia is an ideal candidate and would definitely welcome Indonesian overtures.

In terms of defense, both Indonesia and Australia are middle powers. Indonesia’s ground forces are larger in number. However, the Australian Armed Forces have had more combat experience than their Indonesian counterpart. Australia’s military budget is also significantly greater than Indonesia’s. The similitude in military potency between the two countries can only be mutually beneficial as it would ensure more or less equal partnership. It would also guard against Indonesia being relegated as a junior partner, which would be the case if we were to become partners with a country of far superior military force.

Further, in light of the existing US military commitments overseas and how unpopular they are at home, Washington may well have to rely on Canberra more to represent its interests in the region.

Economically, cooperation and trade between the two nations are far from optimal. According to figures released by the Australian government, Australia ranks 10th as export destination for Indonesia. However, our export to our southern neigbor is only 2.4 percent of our total exports. In turn, our import figures from Australia stand at 2.7 percent, making Australia our 9th-biggest supplier.

As the future Joko Widodo administration promised an overhaul of our dying agricultural sector, Australia, as a major agricultural exporter, could be a valuable partner. Transfer of technology and direct investments in the sector are all possibilities that should be pursued.

Indonesia’s relationship with Australia has not exactly been smooth sailing for the past few decades. It could and should definitely be better than it is now. The next Indonesian foreign minister would indeed be remiss to continue ignoring Australia as a potential friend.

Johannes Nugroho is a writer from Surabaya.


Mending Indonesia-Australia relations will help keep terror risk at bay

Last week Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her counterpart, Indonesia’s Marty Natalegawa, flew to Bali to sign a Code of Conduct between Indonesia and Australia that will bring to an end the strained relations between the two countries caused by Australia’s alleged spying on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife.

The agreement will also see the upgrading of intelligence sharing, policing and anti-terrorism cooperation. It also comes at a time when plans are underway to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the first Bali bombings in October.

While most tourists visiting the holiday island would have given little thought to the significance of the signing of this agreement, the implications are significant for all travelers to Bali and the region amidst concerns of an increasing terrorist threat.

This year has seen the approval for the release of over 100 convicted Bali-bombing terrorists and their “helpers” from Indonesian jails. But even more worrying, the recent events in Iraq and Syria have seen increasing numbers of young Indonesians answering the call to create what the emerging and extremely violent jihadist “army” IS (Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) call a caliphate; a demand for all Muslims to help establish a pan-Islamic state.

Bring these events together at a time where many young Australians are visiting Bali for the first time, and disturbingly, attitudes towards holidaying in our “paradise island” have softened to a point whereby most Australians don’t even think about security issues any more.

Within Indonesia, the Iraq-based IS followers have many political and religious leaders deeply concerned. Already our government has warned of the threat to mainland Australia from returning Australian passport holders who have been fighting in the Middle East.

But the threat from Indonesians returning from Iraq and Syria as hardened terrorists is perhaps an even greater threat.

It is estimated that at least 100-150 Indonesians are now actively engaged with IS in Iraq and Syria.

Simultaneously, the radical Islamic cleric, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, has sent a rallying call to his “true believers” from a jail cell in Java (where he is serving a 17-year jail sentence for his involvement in both Bali bombings) to join in the caliphate in the Middle East; and the world.

The expansion of IS in the region, and in Indonesia may, we hope, falter due to the extent of the shocking murder and mutilation of thousands of Christians and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East by IS followers.

And the positive news for the region is that the vast majority of Muslims in both Indonesia and Australia are vigorously opposed to IS and their use of Islam to inflict appalling crimes on innocent people of all religions.

Recently, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) decreed a fatwa (a religious order) against IS, and over 3,000 followers of Ba’asyir’s Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) have quit the organization over the actions of IS and their followers.

In Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has already moved to soften his government’s plan to amend race-hate laws in order to “clear the air” with Muslim leaders whose support Abbott needs in stopping the spread and attraction of IS amongst young Australian Muslim men.

But to ensure Bali remains immune from another terrorist attack similar to that which devastated the lives of so many Australians and Indonesians in 2002 and 2005, both countries will have to work together to address this potentially dangerous expansion of IS in our region.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Indonesia’s National Police (Polri) have an outstanding joint record in dealing with terror-related activities.

Polri used the sophisticated skills of our AFP to bring to justice most of the Bali bombers. And ironically, Australia’s spying agencies probably have played a key role in providing the Indonesian authorities with information about terrorist activities.

Indonesia’s incoming president, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, will be sworn in during October, and he has a good record of dealing with complex and sensitive matters including terrorist activities, having been the mayor of the central Java city of Surakarta. Jokowi knows that an extremist organization such as IS, who has committed brutal acts against fellow Muslims, could present a potential threat to Indonesia’s stability.

Jokowi also knows that the biggest “weapon” Indonesia has in defeating the IS activities within Indonesia, is its successful democracy, economic growth and religious tolerance.. Notwithstanding this, he will still be keen to maintain and develop close anti-terrorist links between Jakarta and Canberra.

Mutual cooperation following the restoration of the bilateral relationship between Australia and Indonesia, and in the early days of the Jokowi presidency, over terrorism issues could also provide the catalyst for broader and closer business and government relationships between our two countries, despite the new president predicted to be very domestically focused.

In the meantime, for tourists heading off to Bali, the good news is that Bali is a far safer place than in 2002 when 202 people lost their lives in one terrible night.

But the rise of IS, and the attraction of young Indonesian and Australian men to fight for the “caliphate”, should be a wake-up call for us all, while the need for closer relations between Australia and Indonesia’s new president will be even more critical.

Ross Taylor is the president of the Perth-based Indonesia Institute (Inc)


Securing Pakistan’s democracy?

The two-week-old political crisis in Pakistan took a sharp new turn over the past few days as the military leader, General Raheel Sharif, positioned to mediate the stand-off between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and opposition demonstrators on the streets of Islamabad, led by cleric Mohammed Tahir-ul-Qadri and his ally cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. Whether Prime Minister Sharif or Tahir-ul-Qadri and Khan initiated the move to military mediation and how the military has played into the development of the crisis itself are questions that are at this stage difficult to determine. But senior politicians and constitutional experts have denounced it as a national disgrace that reflects badly on the commitment to genuine democracy across the political spectrum.

It’s little more than a year since Prime Minister Sharif was swept to victory in the first democratic change of government in the country’s history.

This success, despite a violent campaign by religious extremists to derail the election, saw a 60 per cent voter turnout and a result that reflected disenchantment with the ousted Pakistan People’s Party and its corruption and poor economic management, within the framework of the growing strength of the courts and constitutional process.

Sharif, a self-made billionaire in the steel industry, promised a more market-oriented and less regulated economy than that of Pakistan under President Asif Ali Zardari, as well as the prospect of a pick-up in economic growth. But judged on his previous stint in power, it was unwise to expect any marked diminution in corruption or ‘money politics’ from Sharif, or restraint in the victor-takes-all approach to political conduct. Far from providing good governance, security of life and property and basic necessities, Prime Minister Sharif and his political and blood brother Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of the most populous state of Punjab, have focused on high visibility projects and overseen the descent of the economy into the inflation and electricity shortages which characterised the previous Zardari regime, although capital flows have risen and inflation fallen somewhat. Broken commitments on releasing former general Pervez Musharraf and public condemnation of the former army chief by Sharif’s allies have also incensed the rank and file of the army.

Two things triggered the present crisis. Imram Khan’s belief that there was widespread vote-rigging in the 2013 elections, explains Sajjad Ashraf, led to him to call for an audit of four constituencies where his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party lost. Instead, Sharif offered an audit of four constituencies where PTI candidates won’. Fearing a meltdown in his Muslim League, Sharif stonewalled, leading Khan to up the ante with the campaign for Sharif’s resignation.

Tahir-ul-Qadri’s joining the campaign, Ashraf goes on, was triggered by the ‘attack on his Lahore offices by the Punjab Police killing 14 and injuring 90 on 14 June. For over two months the Pakistan Awami Tehrik’s attempt to get the case registered against the 23 accused — which includes the Sharif brothers and several of their henchmen — has been thwarted despite a court order…Qadri seeks justice for the victims among other demands for the cleansing of the political system’.

As Syed Mahmud Ali points out in this week’s lead ‘Pakistan’s history has been marked by turbulence, as elected politicians vie with permanent bureaucracies — uniformed and civilian — for power and influence. Abysmal governance, rigged elections, violent protests, military coups and separatist insurgencies have plagued national progress. Although democracy has been a useful framework for both governance and power transfers (even by military rulers), popular consent and aspirations have shaped policy only marginally’.

Ali argues that the outpouring of frustration at the base of the present impasse is symbolic of Pakistan’s political systemic dysfunction. The state remains divided along myriad fissures, and the construction of a coherent, overarching national identity is a national task that is still far from complete. Punjab’s overbearing political, military, demographic and economic dominance is not mediated by political power-sharing among the stakeholders, a condition that, in 1971, saw East Pakistan’s secession and the formation of the state of Bangladesh. The non-Punjabi provinces are yet to be ‘tamed’ within the state.

Against this backdrop, Ali argues, ‘Nawaz Sharif’s landslide victory in May 2013 did nothing to resolve the fundamental malaise afflicting Pakistan’.

Civilian governments have in recent times sought to weaken the army’s role in critical areas of foreign policy and security. Though some say that the army is behind the current unrest, the generals do not seem intent on taking over a direct administrative role. But if the political protagonists cannot be brought to resolve their differences through processes that show respect for democratic process, the military was unlikely to watch from the sidelines.

As Ashraf says, ‘democracy is not just numbers — it is about accountability, transparency, effectiveness and justice in governance, all of which are strikingly absent from Sharif’s agenda’.

That is why Ali sees these protests as far more important than their forerunners. They could, he concludes, ‘represent the arrival of a perfect storm’, with young people comprising half the population, women increasingly engaged in political activism, rising unemployment and deep economic vulnerability.

An awesome responsibility now falls upon the Pakistani military in midwifing the birth of a non-martial, non-corrupt, democratic political culture, since that is what is critical to confidence in investing both domestic and foreign money in the nation’s future and breaking with a ‘tradition of violent agitation and rough justice, interrupted only by corrupt passivity’.

Peter Drysdale is Editor of the East Asia Forum.



In the “Desert Shield” Gulf War of 1990, George Bush Senior stopped at the border after chasing the cowardly Iraqis out of Kuwait. He resisted the hawks’ demands that he march on Baghdad, but George Junior had other ideas and in a knee jerk rage in 2003 he decided on an Iraqi regime change. That decision which resulted in his “Mission Completed” farce is the reason for the current Iraq chaos.

Doves are against all wars but a world without wars is the impossible dream only Greens dream. We were born with a war chromosome that drives an insatiable will to win... that’s how we have progressed in everything from sport to commerce. 

Wise old owls are needed now the world is in turmoil but owls are a threatened species now the chips are down.

There are two very different theatres of war being conducted right now for the first time via internet propaganda. People simply don’t trust mainstream media any longer, newspapers are as good as finished and television networks and commentators have pigeonholed themselves into Left/Right dogma.

Three dangerous people are now in charge, Putin, Poroshenko and Obama, and it’s a perilous ternary of self interest that could easily have disastrous outcomes if the wrong button is pushed.

Let’s take Putin first. No-one has asked why he has marshalled his forces in the south east of Ukraine yet it’s obvious he is taking the most direct route to the annexed jewel of Crimea that he needs a land corridor to. 

It is currently isolated and Poroshenko is determined to keep it that way because he, with Europe’s accord, intends to reclaim Crimea... and Putin knows it.

"This is probably the most dangerous situation in Europe since the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968," said a NATO official. "Realistically, we have to assume the Crimea is in Russian hands. The challenge now is to deter Russia from taking over the Russian-speaking east of Ukraine." 

But it’s not really about Russian speaking Ukrainians in the rural east, it’s all about the Crimea and if the Crimea now belongs to Russia why shouldn’t Putin seek to prevent Ukraine regaining it?

There is no road linking Russia with the Crimea, the only road is from Ukraine, so what the hell does the West expect Putin to do? Ask nicely if he can access his own territory?

Putin told Obama during a 90 minute phone call that, “Russia reserved the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers in Ukraine and to protect its Black Sea fleet in the Crimea”. Obama warned if he persisted, “there would be costs”, meaning puerile sanctions.

Obama can’t have it both ways, either he admits the Crimea is Russian and convinces Poroshenko to allow Putin land access or he agrees to Ukraine reclaiming it. The latter option is World War III.

Obama’s hawkish attitude to Russia is not reflected in Iraq. He has a political reason not to have troops there, yet if ever US troops were needed, and with immediate UN approval, it’s right now. 

Australia and Canada are leaving the US in their wake with native common sense. It’s pointless trying to assist the Iraqis, they are mired in Islamic clans and will join whoever gains the ascendancy.

The Kurdish peshmergas (meaning those who confront death) will bravely fight to the death for their northern homelands and can be trusted with the weapons Australia is already dropping. They even withstood Saddam Hussein and his Sunni gas weapons. Given armoury they will be more than a match for the craven ISIL.

The peshmerga have never really been tested since a US led invasion toppled Saddam in 2003. While the Shias and Sunnis engaged in wholesale sectarian slaughter, Kurdistan remained free from the bloodshed, possessing mostly AK-47 rifles which proved little help after the Iraqi army surrendered their US tanks, anti-aircraft weapons and machine guns to ISIL. 

Air strikes are a waste of time without troops on the ground relaying coordinates. One 400lb bomb for each suspected ute is an exercise in futility. (ISIL have already swapped their utes for sedans.) The free world is praying for Obama to act so they too can commit troops but Obama is busy in a bunker somewhere.

ISIL believes it has God’s approval to steal murder and rape and Obama must take the lead in proving them wrong. There is no time to lose and for every minute he equivocates the threat increases exponentially. 

Islamic communities that have infested the West are excited and emboldened by ISIL’s apparent successes and they are clambering to assist.

Obama says he doesn’t yet have a strategy when there is clearly only one strategy available, ground troops supported by air strikes. 

Of the three most dangerous people in charge of these two incendiary war zones, Obama is the most frightening,.. watch: 


Why we need the Middle East to help fight Islamic State

We've found the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It's taken a decade and they're not the ones we were told to expect. But these ones are real.

The evidence of the WMDs advertised by the Bush, Blair and Howard regimes in 2003 was so elusive as to be invisible. The evidence this time is so overwhelming as to be irrepressible.

As Tony Abbott told the Parliament on Monday: "Many Australians, understandably, will shrink from reaching out to this conflict on the other side of the world, but this conflict is reaching out to us."

According to Australia's spy agencies, some 60 Australians have taken up arms to join ISIS. They are supported by about 100 more who still live in Australia. But the bigger, grander struggle is a contest between barbarism and civilisation.


It's essential that the struggle is joined, and Australia is right to join it. Australia is right to join the humanitarian relief effort to help those under siege. Under US leadership, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy are also active.

And Australia is right to join the military effort to stop the barbarians who claim to represent an Islamic State. So far it is helping arm the Kurds and other "non-ISIS" forces.

But this is going to be much bigger, more complex and more dangerous than any Australian official has even begun to articulate.

The genocide and war in Bosnia in 1992-95 was "a problem from purgatory," says the US special envoy to that crisis, Chris Hill, whereas the fight in Iraq and Syria today is "the problem from hell". The Iraq crisis is another with which Hill is intimate; he was the US ambassador to Iraq in 2009-10.

Why is it so diabolical?

The first problem: Australia and allies have just stepped into a raging, ancient sectarian war. It's a civil war between the two main churches of Islam, the Shiite and the Sunni. And we have taken sides.

The ISIS fighters are partly a product of Sunni rage and frustration. And it was a rage and frustration set off by the US-British-Australian invasion in 2003:  "We didn't understand in 2003 the extreme antipathy of the Sunni Arabs to a Shiite government in Iraq.

"When you flip a country from being Sunni-led for several centuries to being [Shiite-led],  don't be surprised when the Sunnis don't accept it."

It didn't have to be that way after the invasion. But the US-endorsed prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, ran a vengeful sectarian government that persecuted the Sunni population.

It was part of Hill's job to try to persuade him otherwise: "The number of times I had to go to Maliki to ask him to pay off the Sunni militias – he always told me 'the cheque's in the mail.'" Hill didn't warm to him: "To know Maliki is to dislike him."

"So when the US left, the Sunnis decided it was time to put Iraq in its rightful order."

Sunni rage and frustration didn't merely flow spontaneously from Sunni streets and villages. It was fed and fuelled by wealthy groups in the region's Sunni powerhouse, Saudi Arabia. As Hill puts it: "The [Islamic State] movement got started with financial flows from NGOs in Saudi Arabia."

This is central to understanding why it's wrong to think that the US-led coalition can simply drop bombs on Islamic State (formerly known as ISIL or ISIS) and consider the problem solved.

For the West to attack Islamic State, a Sunni-based movement, in defence of a Shiite-led government, in Baghdad, is fraught with unintended consequences.

It could inflame the very schism that is at the centre of this problem. And that could further agitate the Muslim communities in Australia, Indonesia and elsewhere.

Hill's suggestion?  "I would start with the Saudis and the Sunni Arab world." It's vital to bring the key Middle East nations to the effort to get at the nub of the problem without merely inflaming it. It helps that Maliki is now gone. His successor, al-Abadi, has yet to prove himself capable of uniting Iraqis.

If mere bombs were enough to pacify and stabilise a country, there would not be a problem in Iraq today. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, says he will travel to the Middle East next week in search of support from regional governments for the broader effort.

In short, lethal force is necessary but insufficient.

The second problem: To whom does the Western coalition lend force? The Kurdish Peshmerga, certainly. Western governments speak of moderate forces. But who else? "Who are these elusive moderates we're giving arms to, and how do we know they'll still be moderate next week?" Hill poses, a question without a convincing answer.

This leads to the third problem, or what Chris Hill calls "the real issue", ultimately, "we will have bombed ISIS out of Iraq and it will cross the border back into Syria. Then what?"

Barack Obama long ago declared that the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria had to surrender power; Assad has fought like a tiger ever since to hold it. Some 200,000 people have died.

How does the West deal with Assad? His great-power sponsor, Russia, is busy invading Ukraine. The West is trying to restrain him. It is in no position to ask for his help in Syria.

As Obama himself admitted last week, the US has no strategy for this inevitability. It needs to develop one with the major powers of the region. That will be much harder than dropping bombs.

"You have the same problem" that the US and the West has suffered before, warns Hill: "Arrogance. You can't take a 1000-year-old problem and try and solve it in a few months."

Peter Hartcher is the international editor.

End Attacks on Freedom of Expression in Papua

Papuan student protestors shout slogans during a rally in Surabaya

Jakarta. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has demanded an end to what it calls the Indonesian security forces’ attacks on freedom of the expression in Papua, following the arrest and torture last month of two students for allegedly painting pro-independence graffiti.

“Recent attacks highlight the repressive environment faced by political activists and journalists in the area and the ongoing impunity for human rights violations by security forces there,” London-based Amnesty said in a statement on Saturday.

It cited the arrests of Robert Yelemaken, 16, and Oni Wea, a 21-year-old university student, for painting graffiti that included calls for an independence referendum for Papua. (Amnesty itself makes clear that it takes no position on the matter of Papuan independence.)

Robert and Oni, said to be activists for the West Papua National Committee, or KNPB, which espouses greater autonomy for the region, were arrested in Manokwari district on Aug. 8 “and allegedly tortured or ill-treated” by police, Amnesty said.

“They were hit on the head and face with a rifle butt and kicked by the police. Both were forced to roll in a drain filled with dirty water and to drink paint. They were then taken to the Manokwari district police station where the beatings allegedly continued,” the organization said.

Robert was released 10 days later, but Oni remains in custody and has been charged with incitement under the Criminal Code, for which he could face up to six years in prison if convicted.

“The attacks on freedom of expression must end, and all prisoners of conscience — those, like university student Oni Wea, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression — must be immediately and unconditionally released,” Amnesty said.

The group also cited the arrests on Aug. 6 of French journalists Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat for alleged immigration violations.

The were reportedly making a documentary on the separatist movement, and remain in detention.

“Their arrests highlight the ongoing restrictions faced by international journalists, human rights organizations and other observers to access the provinces of Papua and West Papua,” Amnesty said.

It added that it had “long called for free and unimpeded access to the Papuan region for international journalists and human rights organizations and welcomed pledges by President-elect Joko Widodo in June 2014 that he would open up the region if elected.” Jakarta Globe