• Lack of intelligence as well as Intelligence
• Intelligence begins at home, but should be deployed away
Given the resources available to US – and British – intelligence agencies, it seems strange that the attraction, influence, finance, and military strength, of the extremist group which calls itself Islamic State (Isis) came as such a surprise.
As Patrick Cockburn observes in his excellent new book, The Jihadis Return, “though the swiftly growing power of Isis was obvious to those who followed its fortunes, the significance of what was happening was taken on board by few foreign governments, hence the widespread shock that greeted the fall of Mosul”.
For more than a decade, the US – backed by successive British governments, to the horror of many in Whitehall, notably the Foreign Office and some MI6 officers – adopted a simplistic, easy, and entirely misguided, approach towards a most complex and unstable part of the world.
Whether it was bombing (Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan), or demonising dictators (Saddam in Iraq, Gaddafi in Libya, Assad in Syria) it was as though the US and UK governments never contemplated the extraordinary dangerous consequences of a power vacuum.
It is even more dangerous when foreigners impose a deadline on the withdrawal of their forces (Iraq and Afghanistan).
Western governments should have worked more closely, and more humbly, with Turkey, Iran, countries throughout the Middle East, and with Russia (whose leaders have been deeply concerned about radical Islamist extremism for rather longer than the west). The task is to persuade them they do have some essential common interests.
It is not too late to pick up the pieces, and attack such drivers of extremism as poverty, alienation, and sectarianism.
In the short term, humanitarian aid, supplying those fighting Isis with appropiate weapons, and dealing with Assad.