The Congressional Hearing on the Rise of ISIS

Only a couple hours after I left D.C.’s White House North Lawn to drive home, a Congressional hearing on the rise of the ISIS began less than three kilometers away from where I was. It is only fair to comment on it here.

1. James Franklin Jeffrey of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy recognizes the threat of ISIS (which I also do), supports the White House’s decision to attempt the overthrow of Maliki (which I oppose), opposes Kurdish independence (which I support), supports greater oil revenue distribution with the Iraqi Arab Sunnis (which I also support), and supports a serious activist anti-ISIS policy (which I support, but Obama doesn’t). He fails to see that it is Turkey that is the Middle East’s rouge state, not Iran, which, aside from its occasional support for Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel and U.S. citizens, is harmless to the U.S.. Money quotes:

Importantly, our allies in the common struggle for stability—Turkey, Israel, and the Sunni Arab states— see Iran as at least an equal threat to their survival as Al Qaeda, and we must respect that to gain their essential cooperation.

As we’ve experienced, from Al Qaeda before 9/11 to Iraq since 2011, problems in the region absent decisive, heads up engagement by the US will keep getting worse to the point when, very late, and at great cost, the US will be compelled to act at far greater cost and risk than if acting earlier.

2. The retired General Jack Keane of the neocon (and very informative) Institute for the Study of War gives an occasionally flawed, but generally correct, informative, and commendable testimony. His is the testimony at this hearing closest to my own views. It is the only one of the four testimonies to not throw Maliki under the bus. Unfortunately, this testimony contains blatant falsehoods: Syrian military-ISIS conflict is not uncommon (though it is true that the Assad regime has helped Syrian militant Islamist fundamentalists) and the FSA was definitely not “the only force in Syria that fought ISIL” (Kurds? Nusra? Syrian Army?). Keane also, sadly, fails to mention the crucial role of Turkey. Money quotes:

U.S. intelligence agencies have been quite aware of this threat, this is the failure of policy makers who ignored it.

AQI was defeated in Iraq by 2009, an admission they made repeatedly in message traffic, calling off the flow of the foreign fighters.

Key policy decisions in 2009 to disengage from Iraq politically and to no longer help shape Iraq’s political future was disastrous. Particularly in light of previous success in other post conflicts; Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Bosnia Herzegovina.

Russia desires to be a key player in the Middle East and influence other actions as they are doing successfully in Syria and Iran desires Iraq to be a client state similar to Syria. Maliki has brought them in as significant international supporters to assist with operations against ISIL which only enhances Maliki’s political position due to the lack of tangible support by the US.

3. Doug Bandow of the Friedman/Koch libertarian Cato Institute makes an unconvincing case for abstinence. He comes closest to my views while the U.S. occupation of Iraq, which I then saw as stupidity on a massive scale and today accept as necessary to clean up the mess the U.S. left behind after its reckless toppling of Saddam, was still going on. He correctly points out that the ISIS has plenty of problems, is more committed to expanding in the Fertile Crescent than striking the U.S., and cannot conquer most of Iraq’s population. However, the ISIS can easily triumph over its Baathist allies if they rebel, as it already has done in Syria. Bandow also points out that U.S. intervention is a band-aid over a much larger Iraqi credibility problem. However, if the Iraqi government is unable to become credible, there’s always the well-funded Kurdish Regional Government the U.S. can rely on to defeat the ISIS in northern Iraq. Bandow’s statement that “Today ISIL is too big to simply decapitate.” raises the prospect of a civil war in the Islamic State, which, while terrible to contemplate, is quite plausible. Unfortunately, Bandow wrongly throws Maliki under the bus. He fails to understand the consequences of his two statements: “In Syria the ISIL radicals face simultaneous military challenges from the government, moderate opposition forces, and even slightly less extreme jihadists, as well as the political task of establishing a functioning government in areas under its control.” and “Turkey is a Muslim nation with significant military capabilities which borders both Iraq and Syria.”. It is Erdogan, not Maliki, who is the Middle Eastern leader most responsible for the rise of ISIS. Fortunately, Bandow makes up for his mistake by pointing out the dubious prospects for a replacement for Maliki. He also correctly points out that the Middle East is in flux and that partition should not be off the table. Bandow is only partly correct in his objection to funding Syria’s rebels: the risk is that weapons may fall into the hands of Nusra, but supporting more secular humanist forces in Syria decreases Nusra’s advantage. Likewise, weapons falling into the hands of the enemy is an inevitable risk in any violent conflict. Bandow’s statement regarding Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon “However, Washington should be burning the diplomatic wires to encourage them to take action according to their interests and abilities. The U.S. has enough challenges in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world to jump into another conflict.” is 180 degrees from the truth. It would be foolish for these states to fight the ISIS, as all of them are smaller in territory than the ISIS and have no access to the Turkish border. The U.S., however, has enough pressure to force Turkey to allow the U.S. to conduct coercive operations against the ISIS from Turkish territory. If anything, Bandow is too supportive of Iran, though he does correctly state that “the Obama administration should quietly ensure that any U.S. military involvement does not clash with actions taken by Tehran”. Though Bandow does state that “ISIL has grown most obviously out of past U.S. policy mistakes”, he fails to state that it had shrunk during and after the late 2007 surge out of past U.S. policy successes. Money quotes:

To the extent that the organization establishes effective control over a territory, which remains problematic, it will have less incentive to strike the U.S., since doing so would, as with the Taliban in Afghanistan, risk its geopolitical gains. The group continues to pose a serious challenge, and one which could morph into something different and more menacing over time. But today Washington has an opportunity for a considered, restrained, and measured response.

Iraq’s most serious problem today is that the state lacks credibility and will, and the military lacks leadership and commitment. These America cannot provide.

Moreover, appearing to reflexively back Baghdad risks foreclosing potential solutions, including some form of federalism or even partition. The Iraqi Humpty Dumpty has fallen off of the wall. The Kurds are moving toward a vote over independence. The willingness of mainstream Sunnis to back ISIL demonstrates the depth of their alienation from Baghdad. The collapse of the Iraqi military suggests that the national government is unlikely to quickly reassert its authority. The U.S. and other interested parties, including Jordan, Israel, Turkey, and Iran should be talking informally and quietly about options to defuse the potential sectarian explosion. While Washington could help advance such an approach, no plan will succeed without support of regional states and local peoples. All options should be in play.

Washington’s reluctance to countenance Tehran’s involvement in Iraq is understandable but irrelevant. Hussein’s loss always was going to be Iran’s gain, the Bush administration’s intentions notwithstanding. There is nothing Washington can do to change that today. The more America is willing to tie itself to the Maliki government the less the latter might need to rely on Iran, but the impact likely would be marginal. The overwhelming religious, cultural, personal, economic, and geopolitical ties would remain. The U.S. always will be a distant and alien power.

America’s role should remain advisory, at most, but it would be best to ensure no inadvertent complications. The crisis in Iraq has placed a greater premium on improving relations with Iran—and especially resolving the nuclear issue, if possible.

4. Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy comes closest to Obama’s views, but refuses to mention the crucial role of Turkey (if ISIS is equivalent to Viet Minh, Turkey is equivalent to North Vietnam and the U.S. is equivalent to the U.S.S.R.). He points out that direct U.S. intervention in Iraq would simply lead to more ISIS recruitment, but I say that this is a good thing! The more ISIS jihadis killed this time, the fewer the Iraqi government has to kill later. His testimony is mostly perceptive and quite frank. He does understand that “The road to liberating Iraq passes through Syria.”. He supports Obama’s half-billion dollar package to aid Syrian rebels, which I dismiss as duplicitous, and way too much and too late. Money quotes:

Thus, the U.S. should allow Prime Minister Maliki to twist in the wind as long as he is not willing to work to achieve a cross-sectarian coalition government, while quietly pushing for an alternative to him who would be willing to work on that basis. It should, however, hold out the prospect of expedited weapons deliveries, and even U.S. drone and air strikes against IS positions in Sunni-only areas in the north as an incentive.

And thanks to its rapid success, IS was transformed overnight from perhaps the richest terrorist group in the world, to one of the poorest (de facto) states in the world.

IS’s defeat of the ISF was also a major setback for Iran. And IS’s rise threatens the so-called ‘axis of resistance,’ from the Levant to Iran, as IS is active in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and its recent victories might inspire violent Salafists already active in Iran.11 This is yet another reason, barring any major change in policy by Baghdad, not to move too quickly to lavish military support on the Iraqi government, as it is worth letting Tehran consider how its own policies have contributed to the current state of affairs there.

In conclusion: Michael Eisenstadt has spoken. The ISIS is staying. Thousands of antiquities in its territory are doomed to be either sold or destroyed.

A Few Weekly Conclusions About Syria

It’s been a good week for U.S.-Russian relations and for the Syrian regime. My August 27 prediction that there would be no direct U.S. attack on Syria and my estimation that Obama isn’t a War Hawk are continuing to bear fruit. Obama continues to believe that Assad and his regime will eventually fall, although the U.S. will not directly lead to the present Syrian regime’s collapse. (Update on December 4, 2013: since about October, I no longer think that Obama thinks that the Assad regime will eventually fall.) In the end, Obama gave time for a U.N. report on chemical weapons use in the Ghouta and for negotiations between Russia and the U.S. to be concluded before a vote on the Senate authorization of force bill, thus undermining the first half and the end of his address. An agreement on Syrian chemical weapons was reached by the Russian and U.S governments (see here for agreement). Even Kerry has been humbled by the Russian proposal. By far the least expected event of the week was Syria’s agreement to give up its chemical weapons to the U.N. in exchange for a direct U.S. attack on Syria being taken off the table. Apparently, Assad was honest in his statement that he would do anything to prevent another crazy war in his recent interview to Charlie Rose. For some reason, the intelligence surrounding the August 21 Ghouta Sarin attack is not being directly presented by the Obama administration, but only summarized. The “Government Assessment” was also, for some reason, released by the White House, not the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The tactics, targets, and strategic implications of a hypothetical U.S. strike on Syria have also not been disclosed by the Obama administration except in the broadest possible sense (“And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike. The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use.”). Obama’s public reasoning (probably not his private reasoning) appears to be:

First, we shall attack the following categories of regime installations in Syria: [???], [???], and [???], such as the [???] in Damascus, Assad’s [???] in [location name goes here], the [name of installation goes here] near the village of [???], and the [???] in [location name goes here] with Tomahawk missiles for a couple days in order to accomplish these immediate tactical goals on the ground: [???], [???] and [???]. The successful fulfillment of these tactical goals on the ground will have strategic implications for the Assad regime such as a reduction in its ability to use chemical weapons, [???], and [???], thus sending the broader messages to Assad that [???], that [???], and that the Obama administration will accomplish [tactical goals [???], [???], and [???]] in the case of [event in Syria goes here]. The following changes to Assad regime policy shall thus be effected by the U.S. actions rather clearly described above: Assad shall refrain from at least some possible future chemical attacks planned by him and may possibly expect further U.S. strikes (or worse) in the case of future chemical weapons use by his regime, [???], and [???]. The above-mentioned U.S. actions will probably not significantly weaken the Syrian government, and certainly will not lead to increasing U.S. action culminating in the fall of the Assad regime.

Or, shorter:
1. Strike something or other in Syria!
2. ???
3. Get Assad to renounce using chemical weapons!
(Or “Profit“. That could work, too.)
I strongly doubted that anyone could be stupid enough to think this way. This is why I made my August 27 prediction. The Syrian rebel lobby in the West continues to maintain a thinly veiled hawkish stance, though not as hawkish a stance as it used to be. The Senate bill was apparently written by War Hawks; the bill incorrectly states that the President has the goal of Assad leaving power (even though this is an Obama administration talking point, actions speak louder than words) and that the U.S. has the goal of achieving a democratic government in Syria. The Syrian regime had, surprisingly, captured Ariha near Idlib on September 3, 2013, signaling its attempt to take most of Idlib province, especially the strategic town of Maarat al-Numan on the M5 highway, possibly to open a supply line to Aleppo.

NBC: Congress scheduled to cast first Syria vote on Wednesday

First anniversary of the 2012 Benghazi attack. Twelfth anniversary of the 9/11/01 attacks. Bashar al-Assad’s 48th birthday. And, just as I suspected, the day when Congress casts its first vote on whether to attack Syria. This is an especially funny/tragic coincidence. Fortunately, the Republican-dominated House doesn’t seem to be likely to approve of the attack.
UPDATE: Vote delayed some days.

An Honest Map Series of Changes In Political Control of Palestine

complete12
Behold, in place of a dishonest map series, an honest one! Be sure to spread it on the Twitters, Websites, and Facebooks, and make it viral!

Why did I pick the years 1946, 1965, 1975, and 2012?
Mid-1946 was a time in which Jordan had already been granted independence by the British, yet the British Mandate for Palestine had not yet expired, British troops in Egypt were still not solely confined to the Suez Canal zone, and the U.N. partition plan for Palestine had still not been created. The map for this year was created to underline the fact that in the years immediately prior to the creation of the State of Israel, Palestine was occupied by the British, not ruled by the natives.
1965 was after the All-Palestine Government had been dissolved by Egypt and after the dissolution of the United Arab Republic, but before the 1967 war.
1975 was chosen to completely avoid depicting the Lebanese Civil War and to accurately show the Israeli gains in the 1967 war and the 1973 ceasefire lines in the Golan Heights.
2012 was the most recent year that had fully gone by at the time this map series was created.

I full well understand my labels are made up of a confusing mix of proper adjectives and proper nouns. Deal with it.

“Occupied” indicates a military presence, but not formal annexation. As the West Bank was formally annexed by Jordan, even though its annexation had little international recognition, I am still marking the West Bank in the second map in Light Green, rather than Dark Green.

I had two difficult decisions to make regarding the coloring of this map: whether or not to color the Sinai Peninsula in red in the first map and whether or not to add a separate color for non-Israeli areas governed by Israeli law. If you consider my decisions incorrect, argue against them in the comments.

Ooh, Looky Here-A Useful and Usable Map of Every Site Surveyed By Israel in the West Bank

The actual map is available on its own here. The sourcebook is not fully reliable.

Right here. Of course, Price is much, much less a ‘pseudo-archaeologist’ than those who are typically called as such. As the good Israel Finkelstein states,

Let the truth be known: Most of the looting in the West Bank (as well as in Israel!) has been carried out by Palestinians. In addition, the viewer should remember that since the 1993 Oslo agreement about 50% of the West Bank has been administered by the Palestinian Authority. If looting there continues, it is being done under Palestinian rule.

Nobody claims the James Ossuary itself is “fraudulent” except the truly ignorant. The misconceptions that “Actual discoveries in the region rarely make headlines. [utterly untrue]” and “Cultural strata in Israel and Palestine lack the lavish treasures and mystique associated with the power centers of the ancient world [also utterly untrue], such as Egypt or Mesopotamia.” is also stated in the article. The wise Alex Joffe and Ron Hendel have added their correct opinions to the Disqus comments. I responded to he-who-must-not-be-named in the comments by sheer accident-I did not read his name!

Madâin Sâlih Becomes First Saudi World Heritage Site

Right here. Notice the mention of the 1972 antiquities law noted on the sign on the fence protecting Jebel Maqla (sometimes incorrectly called Jebel al-Lawz) in the UNESCO description of Madâin Sâlih. I mention this law on AJaL in Section 5 under the subsection “Saudi Fence”. Numerous photographs of the tombs of Madain Salih may be found on Google Earth when checking the Panoramio feature. Madain Salih is the same as Hegra, just to the North of Biblical Dedan/modern al-Ula. Hegra was integrated into the Roman Empire after the creation of the Roman province of Arabia Petraea, as shown by a Latin inscription found at the site.

This Land Is Mine-A Few Comments

Since any comments I will make on the viral (and non-copyrighted) video “This Land is Mine” by cartoonist Nina Paley will most assuredly be buried in the comments section, I have decided it would be appropriate to post my remarks on it here.

Firstly, while there was direct confrontation between the Egyptian and Assyrian Empires (in 701 BC), the Egyptian Empire had practically no control over Canaan throughout almost all of the 11th and 9th-8th centuries BC-this was mostly a period of either local control (unmentioned in the video) or vassalage to the Kingdom of Damascus (under Hazael and Ben-Hadad), which is curiously also not mentioned in the video. Secondly, Josiah did not free himself from Assyrian vassalage-Assyria transferred the territory between Lebo-Hamath and the Brook of Egypt to Psamtik I of Egypt in 623 BC, in the same year that Sin Shar-Ishkun captured Uruk from the Babylonians and the ‘Book of the Law’ was found in Jerusalem. Thirdly, while it is safe to say that the transition between Babylonian and Persian rule in Palestine was relatively peaceful, it is not fair to show the Babylonians-Persians atop of the heap of bodies for such a short period of time as the video did. Fourthly, could not the Star of David of Josiah have been scrapped in favor of the rosette? I also like the parallel, whether intentional or unintentional, between the heap of bodies and the stereotypical Palestinian tell, as the heap of bodies ceases to exist in the video after the Roman conquest, as it is in the Helleno-Roman period the tells of Palestine (e.g. Hazor, Megiddo, Shechem) tend to be abandoned in favor of cities in the valley.

Humorous Image of the Day


-Har-dee-har-har! Obviously, this comes by way of the Safi/Gath blog, whose contributors are clearly overburdened with pictures of Philistine pottery they wish to get off their chest, especially after Netanyahu’s infamous bomb presentation. “LPDW” is “Late Philistine Decorated Ware” Monochrome is c. 1130-c. 1050 BC, Bichrome is c. 1070-c. 1020 BC, Debased Bichrome is Late Iron I and LPDW is Iron IIa.

Jim West Gets Mentioned by the BBC, Israel Finkelstein Publishes Some Articles Online

I’m telling you, folks, if you wish to be kept up to speed in the world of archaeology as it relates to the Bible, create a Google alert for yourself on Israel Finkelstein. Today (word coming from Jim West), Israel Finkelstein has published some papers of his online.

The first, on Amarna Shechem, is from 2005, and thus, fairly recent, utilizing the petrographic examination of the Amarna letters done by Goren. It analyzes the rise of the Omrides as interpreted by the rise of an earlier Shechem-area based polity, that of Shechem under Labayu. It was superseded by Finkelstein’s paper on Saul being the “Last Labayu”. The only disagreeable remark I can find in there is the mention of Dor being definitely Israelite in the 8th C BC (on page 183), ignoring the possibility it might have been Phoenician.

The second, on the campaign of Shoshenq I, is outdated (my video is up-to date), describing Shoshenq I as attempting to destroy, rather than encourage, the Masos-Nahas copper network. It is also a useful example of Finkelstein In Transition on his opinions on which stratum at Megiddo corresponds to Shoshenq I’s Megiddo. In this paper, he views “Early IrIIa” Masos II as partially contemporary with “Late Iron I” Megiddo VIA. Finkelstein also presents his “Shoshenq destroyed Saulide Gibeon” hypothesis he more clearly presents in “Last Labayu”.

The third, on “The Archaeology of the Days of Manasseh“, is a Finkelstein classic. He points out the decline of the Judahite population from over 120,000 in c. 705 BC to under 70,000 in c. 605 BC, the utter lack of full recovery in the Shephelah, and the rise in population in the Negev, Hill Country, Benjamin, and Wilderness. He also points out the Arabian trade and Ekron IC as factors in the recovery of Judah under Manasseh. He does not accept there is any good evidence for a Manassite revival of the Shephelah.

In other news, Jim West, biblioblogger extraordinaire, has been mentioned by the BBC.