From the earliest states to the Islamic State


There has been some controversy over whether ISIS, or the Islamic State, is truly a state. Even according to the standard definition of “territorial monopoly of force” (which I think is too restrictive anyway), it would be difficult at this point to justify not calling it a state, if something of a ragtag one.

And its rise as a state in the crucible of war in Iraq and Syria is a fairly typical one. For just as, in the words of Randolph Bourne, “war is the health of the state,” war is also the birth of the state.

This is not only true of states born amid already state-dominated societies, but also of the emergence of primordial states. This was exhaustively detailed by the great sociologist Franz Oppenheimer in his classic work The State (1908). He explained how land states in the Old World virtually always emerged out of war and conquest: specifically the conquest of nomadic herdsmen over settled peasants. The conquerors graduate from shortsighted wanton ravaging to prudentially-curbed extraction. They then evolve from alien tribute demanders to domestic tax collectors, and become progressively entangled with their subjects as a ruling class.

The great classical liberal philosopher Herbert Spencer also pointed to war as the crucible of the primitive state. In his The Man Versus the State (1884), he wrote:

“Be it or be it not true that Man is shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin, it is unquestionably true that Government is begotten of aggression and by aggression.”

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I hold no brief for State Department spokesperson Marie Harf, who spends most of her time shilling for her bosses’ catastrophic policies in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, and beyond. But it bodes ill for our prospects of peace that the most sensible thing I’ve ever heard her say is the one thing that has put her in possibly career-ending hot water.

On MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, she had the following exchange with the host:

MARIE HARF, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: I think there are a few stages here, right now we are trying to take their leaders and their fighters off the battlefield in Iraq & Syria, that is where they really flourish.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Are we killing enough of them?

MARIE HARF: We’re killing a lot of them. And we’re going to keep killing more of them. So are the Egyptians and Jordanians, they’re in this fight with us. We can not win this war by killing them. We can not kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium and longer term to go after the root causes that lead people to join these groups, whether it is lack of opportunity for jobs—

First of all, here is what is problematic about her statement. For one thing, she ignores the deepest of the “root causes,” which is US intervention itself: especially, George W. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, which fertilized the east of the Fertile Crescent with blood and chaos, yielding a blooming Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) as its harvest.
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After a week here in FMC Lexington Satellite camp, a federal prison in Kentucky, I started catching up on national and international news via back issues of USA Today available in the prison library, and an “In Brief” item, on p. 2A of the Jan. 30 weekend edition, caught my eye. It briefly described a protest in Washington, D.C., in which members of the antiwar group “Code Pink” interrupted a U.S. Senate Armed Services budget hearing chaired by Senator John McCain. The protesters approached a witness table where Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright and George Schulz were seated. One of their signs called Henry Kissinger a war criminal. “McCain,” the article continued, “blurted out, ‘Get out of here, you low-life scum.'”

At mail call, a week ago, I received Richard Clarke’s novel, The Sting of the Drone, (May 2014, St. Martin’s Press), about characters involved in developing and launching drone attacks. I’m in prison for protesting drone warfare, so a kind friend ordered it for me. The author, a former “National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism,” worked for 30 years inside the U.S. government but seems to have greater respect than some within government for concerned people outside of it. He seems also to feel some respect for people outside our borders.

He develops, I think, a fair-minded approach toward evaluating drone warfare given his acceptance that wars and assassinations are sometimes necessary. (I don’t share that premise). Several characters in the novel, including members of a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, criticize drone warfare, noting that in spite of high level, expensive reconnaissance, drone attacks still kill civilians, alienating people the U.S. ostensibly wants to turn away from terrorism.

Elsewhere in the plot, U.S. citizens face acute questions after they themselves witness remote control attacks on colleagues. Standing outside a Las Vegas home engulfed in flames, and frustrated by his inability to protect or save a colleague and his family, one main character ruefully identifies with people experiencing the same rage and grief, in faraway lands like Afghanistan and Pakistan, when they are struck by Predator drones that he operates every day. U.S. characters courageously grapple with more nuanced answers to questions such as, “Who are the terrorists?” and “Who are the murderers?” As the plot accelerates toward a potential terrorist attack against railway systems in U.S. cities, with growing suspicion that the attacks are planned for Christmas Day, Clarke builds awareness that those who launch cyber-attacks and drone attacks, no matter which side claims their loyalty, passionately believe their attacks will protect people on their own side.

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In his speech this week to his anti-extremism conclave in Washington, President Obama declared that “former extremists have the opportunity to speak out, speak the truth about terrorist groups, and oftentimes they can be powerful messengers in debunking these terrorist ideologies.”

But what about former victims of government extremism speaking out?

Maher Arar is a Canadian who was kidnapped at John F. Kennedy Airport in 2002 and renditioned to Syria, where he was tortured at the behest of the U.S. government. I mentioned his case in a 2007 American Conservative article optimistically titled, “Will Torture Bring Down Bush?”:

But the evidence of CIA “torture taxis” secretly racing around the globe carrying gagged, sedated detainees to some of the most brutal regimes in the world proved too much for Bush to deny. He revised his defense in April 2005: “We operate within the law and we send people to countries where they say they are not going to torture people.” But then why would the U.S. go to the trouble of kidnapping people—Canadian Maher Arar, who was grabbed at JFK Airport and renditioned to Syria or Australian Mamduh Habib, seized in Pakistan and flown to Egypt, for instance—and turning them over to governments the U.S. has long denounced for using torture?

I also blogged about his case in 2010, “Obama Administration: Don’t Question Sincerity of Torturers” –

The Supreme Court disgraced itself on Monday by torpedoing the appeal of Maher Arar, the Canadian who was kidnapped at John F. Kennedy International Airport and sent by the U.S. government to Syria for torturing.

The Canadian government has publicly apologized to Arar for providing false information to the U.S. government about Arar’s suspicious connections. The U.S. government has refused to admit it did anything wrong in shipping Arar to the Middle East to be tortured at U.S. behest.

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Tuesday on Fox Radio News’ “The Alan Colmes Show,” Alan spoke with Antiwar.com founder Eric Garris about President Obama asking Congress for the authorization for the use of military force to take on ISIS.

Garris has urged citizens to call their representatives to oppose this use of force, and explained to Alan why the Obama administration are only trying to scare people into supporting war. They also discussed why such a move would only unify ISIS and al-Qaeda against the United States because we will be seen as a common enemy.

Listen to the interview here:

Ron Paul revealed Thursday that he is preparing for publication a new book he has written about war. Paul made the revelation at the conclusion of a wide-ranging foreign policy interview on the Scott Horton Show.

The former United States House of Representative member and presidential candidate discloses in the interview that his new book concerns the issue of war and is “written from a personal viewpoint.” Paul says the book addresses his experience as a child during World War II and the question “How did I become so antiwar?”

The new book, the name of which Paul did not disclose in the interview, will be Paul’s first book-length examination of the war issue — an issue on which Paul has focused through decades of political and educational activities. Paul has continued this focus after retiring from the House of Representatives. In 2013 Paul founded the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, where he serves as chairman.

Paul is the author of several books including best-sellers The Revolution: A Manifesto, End the Fed, and Liberty Defined. Paul’s 2007 book A Foreign Policy of Freedom is a collection of his foreign policy speeches and writings from the previous 30 years.

Paul did not provide an expected publication date in the interview.

Listen to the complete interview here.

Reposted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.