Chelsea Manning’s Column on Responding to ISIS Counterbalances Hysteria Among Pundits and Politicians
Chelsea Manning wrote a column for The Guardian on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and President Barack Obama’s strategy for dealing with the group. The level-headedness of the column sharply contrasted with the statements of several pundits and politicians, who have been whipping up hysteria among Americans.
For those unfamiliar, Manning is a soldier who provided WikiLeaks with around a half million classified documents which exposed details of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, including war crimes like torture and summary executions. She is currently serving a 35-year prison sentence at Fort Leavenworth after being convicted of Espionage Act violations and other offenses on July 30, 2013.
Manning wrote, “Based on my experience as an all-source analyst in Iraq during the organization’s relative infancy, ISIS cannot be defeated by bombs and bullets – even as the fight is taken to Syria, even if it is conducted by non-Western forces with air support.”
She went on to basically argue that US intervention would make the brewing conflict worse.
“Attacking Isis directly, by air strikes or special operations forces, is a very tempting option available to policymakers, with immediate (but not always good) results. Unfortunately, when the west fights fire with fire, we feed into a cycle of outrage, recruitment, organizing and even more fighting that goes back decades,” she argued.
Manning cautioned against “direct action” or military operations, suggesting that back in 2009 and 2010 the group had “attacked civilians in suicide and car bombings in downtown Baghdad.” Because American and Iraqi forces did not or were unable to respond, their “barbarity and brutality” worked against them. However, when there was a response, ISIS ended up using their attacks to win support from the Sunni minority by claiming it was a “justified response to an occupying government” run by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia leader.
She proposed the following strategy: counter the narrative in online ISIS recruitment videos, set clear, temporary borders in the region publicly to contain ISIS, establish an international moratorium on the payment of ransom for hostages and let ISIS succeed in setting up a failed “state.” Over time, she maintained, ISIS will prove itself “unpopular and unable to govern.”
I believe that Isis will not be able to sustain itself on rapid growth alone, and will begin to fracture internally. The organization will begin to disintegrate into several smaller, uncoordinated entities – ultimately failing in their objective of creating a strong state.
But the world just needs to be disciplined enough to let the Isis fire die out on its own, intervening carefully and avoiding the cyclic trap of “mission creep”. This is certainly a lot to ask for. But Isis is wielding a sharp, heavy and very deadly double-edged sword. Now just wait for them to fall on it.
In a media climate where statements about us all getting killed if military action is not escalated immediately, her sober assessment informed by experience in the military was eminently reasonable.
Her column was published the same day as a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on ISIS, where multiple senators were essentially goading Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Patrick Dempsey to provide worst case scenarios if ISIS was not attacked with US military force so they could be sure they approved and encouraged the use of all military force necessary.
Later in the hearing, Hagel provided an answer to the question about worst case scenarios that could occur. Jordan could “go down as the country we know it today.” Saudi Arabia oil could be threatened. Oil in the Middle East could be threatened. Lebaon could face a threat. Libya could face more “trouble.” There could be impact to the world economy. A confrontation with Iran could be triggered.
No doubt, Dempsey added, ISIS “would use WMDs” if they got their hands on them.
Senators like Senators Jeff Sessions and Ted Cruz demanded US special forces go on missions with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, despite the fact that Dempsey kept repeatedly stating that this was not something he thought was necessary.
The risk of mission creep is so significant that there needs to be voices in the media, who are opposed to more war and who express healthy skepticism about the strategy.
Now, a few side notes about media coverage of the column by Manning:
(1) Dan LaMothe, a national security writer for the Washington Post wrote a less than enlightening and informative post on Manning’s column. He called her an “unlikely pundit”—even though she wrote a similar column commenting on Iraq and the US military for the New York Times a few months ago.
LaMothe fixated on the fact that the highest rank she ever had in the military was private first class—so why are we listening to what she has to say?
He also seemed to take issue with the fact that The Guardian had given Manning a platform but not explained that she is a convicted criminal.
…The piece says only that the writer, who joined the Army as a man known as Bradley Manning, was “in Fort Leavenworth,” and does not mention her conviction or passing of military secrets. In a separate piece, the Guardian reports Tuesday that “Manning wrote the Guardian article in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she is in military custody.”…
LaMothe seems to have missed the fact that Guardian journalist Ed Pilkington described her as “the US army soldier who worked as an intelligence analyst in Iraq before being arrested for passing state secrets to WikiLeaks” in the news report on her column.
This is all emblematic of the apathy, indifference and sanctimony, which journalists like LaMothe usually have for people like Manning. It’s perhaps impressive that he even bothered to actually take a break from reporting on the latest weapons system the military is using to write about and quote what she had written. And, notably, he has had nothing to say about pro-war pundits with connections to defense contractors, who are appearing on television without disclosing their ties.
(2) The Guardian published its own news report on the column from Manning that it also published. It was published under the headline, “Chelsea Manning breaks silence to criticize Obama’s ISIS strategy.” The only problem is that there has been no “silence.”
Manning has the Chelsea Manning Support Network and has spoken out in the past year since her conviction multiple times. She did so on August 22 when criticizing he military for still refusing to provide her access to the gender-related healthcare she deserves. She spoke out in the June column in the New York Times (referenced earlier in this post).
Then, CNN also tried to inaccurately sensationalize her column:
— Kevin Gosztola (@kgosztola) June 15, 2014
Yes, it is a great scoop—so to speak—to obtain a column from Manning that can be published. However, what she says in each column is newsworthy on its own because what she did was a clear act of conscience. News organizations don’t have to deceive the public into believing she is “breaking” some kind of silence to convince them that what she writes is worth reading.
Sketch by Alicia Neal and from the Chelsea Manning Support Network