Better the devil you know?

Mr. [William] McCants [director of the Project on U.S. Relations With the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution in Washington} said this was an underlying theme in his forthcoming book, “The ISIS Apocalypse,” to be published in September. “You’d like to say that treating people well and good governance go hand in hand,” he said, “but it’s not the case.” “ISIS Transforming Into Functioning State That Uses Terror as Tool,” Tim Arango, New York Times, 21 July 2015 (registration required)

This statement is almost correct, and well within what one might say but then like to edit later for clarity. A more accurate way to put it might be:  “You’d like to say that treating people well — as we would define “well” here in the West — and good governance go hand in hand, but it’s not the case.”

For example, here are a couple of quotes from that same article:

Under the Islamic State, [Ahmed, the owner of an antiques shop who recently fled to Raqqa to avoid airstrikes in outlying areas] said, life can be brutal, but at least it seems more stable for those who can avoid crossing the group’s leaders. “Here they are implementing God’s regulations,” he said. “The killer is killed. The adulterer is stoned. The thief’s hands are cut.”

“You can travel from Raqqa to Mosul and no one will dare to stop you even if you carry $1 million,” said Bilal, who lives in Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, and insisted out of fear on being identified only by his first name. “No one would dare to take even one dollar.”

As Boyd always insisted, you don’t have to be perfect at things like governance, just better than the alternatives.

It’s also important when you play the game of grand strategy, where goals include “Pump up our resolve, drain away adversary resolve, and attract the uncommitted,” to understand what might actually attract the uncommitted. It’s impossible for outsiders to do well, but at the very least, don’t commit the neocon mistake of assuming that everybody shares the same goals and values that we do.

[Again, go take a look at Chuck Spinney’s page on Grand Strategy.]

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2 thoughts on “Better the devil you know?

  1. “… to understand what might actually attract the uncommitted.”
    From the position of an outsider, do you consider the shop owner as the uncommitted or an outsider? I mean, he does seem to or at least wants to be outside the observations of IS, but he has to be totally committed to remain in the position he occupies.
    So to the committed you have to first offer security. To the outsider you need to offer a position.
    That is way before we get to something as important as goals and values.

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