Category Archives: Modern History

The Brazilian Trump



We were in Arizona on the anniversary of the Trump insurrection on January 6th.  Watching the news of the election in Brazil it really seemed like deja vu all over again.

Rumours were spreading not just faster than the truth but even faster than lies. In Brazil, on January 8, 2023 there were furious, and in some cases, violent protests after Lula defeated Bolsonaro, aptly called “the Brazilian Trump.” Like Donald Trump’s supporters, Bolsonaro’s supporters believed that the election was stolen from their boy and they were “as mad as hell and were not going to take it anymore,” to copy what was said in the movie Network.

As Mac Margolis, Washington Post commentator said, “this was carbon copy and paste Donald Trump.” This is the same thing Anne Applebaum, a columnist for The Atlantic said when she pointed out how populist political leaders around the world were learning a lot from each other. Populist leaders around the world are being encouraged by each other and the rest of us had better taken notice. As Margolis pointed out, in Brazil rumours spread quickly on social media and since they were lies, they spread at the speed of light. Truth is much slower. Margolis called it “anti-incumbent fury.” This is now happening across South America. Actually, it is happening around the world.




Although the first Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 like the second in 2022, was advertised by the Russians to be  a battle against fascism, as everyone outside of Russia understood, it is interesting how many fascists from the around the world support the Russian fascists. In 2014 The American white supremacists Richard Spencer, Matthew Heimbach, and David Duke celebrated Putin and defended his war. In fact, Russia, borrowed the Confederate battle flag as the basis for their new flag over the occupied territories in Ukraine. The Polish fascist Konrad Rekas also endorsed Putin. The European far right also demonstrated approval of Russia’s actions. Many of these supporters also expressed anti-Semitic tropes. The neo-Nazis of Greece praised Russia for fighting the international Jewish conspiracy. Hungary’s leader, Jobbik invited Dugin to Moscow while he praised Eurasia. The Italian fascist party lauded Putin’s “courageous position against the powerful gay lobby.”


In 2022 Russians were supported by Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump who both voiced sympathy or admiration for Putin.


In 2014 the array of fascists helped Putin to achieve his goal of dismembering in part Ukraine. As Timothy Snyder said,

“The schizofascist lies displaced the events in Ukraine and the experiences of Ukrainians. Under the weight of all the contradictory concepts and hallucinatory visons of spring 2014, who would see or remember the individual on the Maidan, with his or her facts and passions, his or her desire to be in history and make history.”


The lies were meant to spread confusion and they did exactly that. The lies were not expected to convince people, just create enough doubt to give them cover. That’s all fascists need. Confusion is the fertile soil of fascism.


Vladimir Putin, Alexander Dugin, & Alexander Prokhanov: Political Fiction


Alexander Prokhanov was Putin’s companion in a radio program in 2011 where Putin had cited Ivan Ilyin. Prokhanov and also Alexander Dugin enlisted the idea of Eurasia as an alternative to the despised liberal west.  Both used this idea to try to bring back Soviet fascism. Like Hitler, Prokhanov blamed international Jewry (the typical fascist scapegoat) for inventing ideas of an enslaved homeland. As Timothy Snyder said, “Like Dugin, Prokhanov openly embraced political fiction, seeking to create images that would exude meaning before people had a chance to think for themselves.” People who think for themselves are the greatest enemy of fascism.


Like Putin and Ilyin, Prokhanov found an enemy in sexual perversion.  All them of them agreed that perverts were the enemy of Christian fascists although Putin of course never called himself a fascist. He considered himself an enemy of fascism, but he was a fascist. They all argued in favour of traditional values that were opposed to liberal perversion.  A good example of this was Prokhanov’s statement after a meeting with Barack Obama, for the Russians “it was if they had all been given a black teat, and they all suck at it with lust and mammalian smacking…In the end I was humiliated by this.” Blacks of course are the other standard enemy of fascists.


As Timothy  Snyder said,

“Prokhanov’s next move was to claim that factuality was hypocrisy: “Europe is vermin that has learned to call heinous and disgusting things beautiful.” Whatever Europeans might seem to be doing or saying, “you don’t see their faces under the mask.” In any event, Europe was dying: “The white race is perishing: gay marriages, pederasts, rule the cities, women can’t find men.”  And Europe was killing Russia: “didn’t get infected with AIDS, they deliberately infected us.”

Notice that  Russian white supremacists, like their American counterparts, try to stoke fears that the white race is perishing and needs to be saved. Just like the young American domestic terrorists in Buffalo last week who walked in to a supermarket with a gun to kill blacks and prevent blacks from replacing whites.  Fascism is similar the world over.

It seems strange that so often for fascists, a fundamental problem for them were the Jews and blacks Jews rattle the fascist cage and paid a heavy price for that in so many fascist states.


Timothy Snyder described the situation with Prokhanov this way:

“The fundamental problem, said Prokhanov in this interview (with the Izborsk) was the Jews.  “Antisemitism,” he said, is not a result of the fact that Jews have crooked noses or cannot correctly pronounce the letter ‘r.’ It is a result of the fact that Jews took over the world, and are using their power for evil.”  In a move that was typical of Russian fascists, Prokhanov deployed the symbolism of the Holocaust to describe world Jewry as a collective perpetrator and everyone else as the victims: “Jews, united humanity in order to throw humanity into the furnace of the liberal order, which is now a catastrophe.” The only defense against the international Jewish conspiracy was a Russian redeemer. Eurasianism was Russia’s messianic mission to redeem mankind. It “has to encompass the entire world.”


Prokhanov thought this would happen when Russia, Ukraine and Belarus merge. That is exactly Putin’s goal.  That is what he meant by Eurasia and Prokhanov acknowledged that Putin had declared this.

And of course, Putin saw himself as the Russian redeemer against the perversions of the west. And like so many redeemers, he brought ruin,  not paradise. Just like the young killer in Buffalo. And so many others.


Sniper Massacre and Fictitious Atrocities


On February 20, 2014, 44 Ukrainian civilians were massacred by snipers on the Maidan. Ukrainian President Yanukovych at the time agreed to leave office, as the protesters would no longer accept him and the Russians were happy to get rid of him as well. He fled his garish mansion that included records of cash payments to his advisor Paul Manafort who later resurfaced in the US as campaign manager for Donald Trump in his successful 2016 presidential election campaign. The downfall of Yanukovych provided cover for the Russians in their efforts to disintegrate the Ukrainian state. As Timothy Snyder said,

“In a few days between the sniper massacre of February 20 and the Russian invasion of February 24, shocking but fictitious reports appeared about Ukrainian atrocities in Crimea, and about refugees from the peninsula who needed urgent assistance. Russian military intelligence created fictitious personae on the internet to spread these stories. A group of paid internet trolls in St. Petersburg, known as the Internet Research Agency, was at work to confuse Ukrainian and international opinion. This was by now a signature of Russian foreign policy: the cyber campaign that would accompany a real war.”


I don’t know if they ever read Hannah Arendt, the brilliant political philosopher, but Putin’s propagandists learned what she said, namely that it was not necessary to convince people of the truth of their outrageous claims. All that was needed was that people were confused so that they did not know what to think, and this was sufficient to open the door to fascist manipulation. That insight proved invaluable in Ukraine in 2014, the UK in 2016 and most astonishingly, the US in 2016.

That is an essential insight into fascist propaganda and how it works its incredible magic. That is why the sleep of reason and decay of belief in truth is so important. As Goya said, and a I have quoted many times, it brings forth monsters. That is what we see in Ukraine today and what we saw in both the UK and US in 2016.

Ukraine had Oligarchs Too


After the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Ukraine was far from a perfect democracy, but it was much better than Russia. Unlike Russia power changed hands democratically. Unlike Russia before the financial crisis of 2008 The European Union was seen by Ukrainians as a cure for the corruption that prevented social advancement and economic reforms to make income distribution more equitable. Ukraine’s leader at the time, Viktor Yanukovych, promoted the idea of a European future for the Ukraine even as his policies made that more unlikely.


As Timothy Snyder said, “Yanukovych’s career demonstrated the difference between Ukrainian oligarchical pluralism and Russian kleptocratic centralism.” He ran for the presidency of Ukraine in 2004 and won the election by virtue of voting manipulation. Russia supported him and declared him the victor. Yet there were 3 week’s of protests in Kyiv that were called the Maidan in 2013 as a result of Yanukovych reneging on his promise to bring Ukraine into the European Union. As Snyder said, “This was an important moment in Ukrainian history; it confirmed democracy as a succession principle. So long as the rule of law functioned at the height of politics, there was always hope that it might one day extend to everyday life.” As Timothy Snyder said in an interview with Ezra Klein in the New York Times, “So the Ukrainians think of Maidan as a moment where they were together and they resisted and they won.” As Snyder said in The Road to Unfreedom,


“After he lost the election, Yanukovych hired the American political consultant Paul Manafort, who later became famous for working on Donald Trump’s campaign. Manafort tried to improve Yanukovych’s image. Manafort used the same technique in the Ukraine that he later used with Donald Trump. He emphasized cultural differences. As Snyder said, “In the United States, this means playing to the grievances of whites even though they were a majority whose members held almost all the wealth; in Ukraine it meant exaggerating the difficulties of people who spoke Russian, even though it was a major language of politics and economics of the country, and the first language of those who controlled the country’s resources. Like Manafort’s next client, Donald Trump, Yanukovych rose to power on a campaign of cultural grievance mixed with the hope that an oligarch might defend the people against oligarchy.”



In other words, this populist approach was exactly how Trump persuaded a large part of the American working class that what they needed against the elites was an elite business man who would look out for their interests. It was just as absurd in the US as it was in Ukraine. And in both places the strategy worked.

Yanukovych’s strategy worked just as the same as it did for Trump.. Yanukovych used his time in power to concentrate wealth in his own hands. He used Russian practices for his own advantage and stopped rotating oligarchs as had been done in Ukraine. As Snyder said, “His dentist son became one of the richest men in Ukraine.”

Although there was certainly corruption in Ukrainian politics at least, as Snyder said,

“Whatever the flaws of the Ukrainian political system, Ukrainians after 1991 had come to take for granted that political disputes would be settled without violence…In a country that has seen more violence in the twentieth century than any other, the civic peace of the twenty-first was a proud achievement.


That was why the police attack on protesters in the Maidan came as such a shock to Ukrainians. When their children were beaten by police the Ukrainian people came to their support because they were bothered by the violence initiated by Yanukovych. All of this was in support of Ukrainians siding with Europe rather than Asia as Putin wanted. After the fact, Yanukovych legalized his use of force against the students and criminalized the action of the protesters. Copying Russian measures laws banned public gatherings, freedom of expression, and undefined “extremism” which ultimately meant anyone Yanukovych did not like. Russians helped him to do this.

At the end of 2013 Russian forces invaded Ukraine to rescue their puppet Yanukovych. Ukraine had many of the things Russia did, but it was not the same.

Ukraine had at least a rudimentary democracy. And that is important. From that beginning it grew.



Many of us have not paid much attention to Ukraine until this year. That is a mistake. Ukraine is important. And very interesting.

Europe is well known around the world for colonizing countries for its own benefit. When I was young, I actually believed they did that to spread civilization to the world. That seems almost unimaginably naive now.

What is not commented on as much is Europe colonizing other parts of Europe–colonizing itself in other words.  In no part of Europe was this more significant than Ukraine. First, the Soviet Union under Stalin colonized Ukraine. That was Stalin’s attempt to make Ukraine and Soviet Union one. It was a shot gun wedding.  After that there was the attempt by Nazi Germany to colonize Ukraine. Again this was another bloody union. Neither of these imperial powers used seduction—only brute force. When this also failed, Russia quickly stepped in to fill the void. It would do what Germany was not able to do for long.  As Yale Historian Timothy Snyder who is an expert on Ukraine,  said  in his book The Road to UnfreedomNo other land attracted as much attention within Europe. This reveals the rule: European history turns on colonization and decolonization.” That is why Snyder in another book referred to this area, that included Ukraine, as “the Bloodlands.”  He named an earlier book after that. That  is what Putin is trying to do again.  He wants to join the ranks of Stalin and Hitler.

Everyone wanted the bread basket of Europe. That was and is Ukraine. That is still true. Joseph Stalin realized that Soviet Russia unlike other European countries had no overseas possessions such as India, North America, or South America. He did not think that was fair. It really wasn’t fair for any country to possess other countries, but that was not relevant. Every European country thought it had the God-given right to exploit other countries. As a result, Soviet Russia had no alternative but to exploit its hinterland. Since Germany had no hinterland left, it exploited what it could. Here are some astonishing numbers that Snyder drew to our attention:


“Ukraine was therefore to yield its agricultural bounty to Soviet central planners in the First Five-Year Plan of 1928-1933. State control of agriculture killed between three and four million inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine by starvation. Adolf Hitler saw Ukraine as the fertile territory that would transform Germany into a world power. Control of its black earth was his aim.  As a result of the German occupation that began in 1941, more than three million more inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine were killed, including about 1.6 million Jews murdered by Germany and local policemen and militias. In addition to those losses, some three million more inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine died in combat as Red Army soldiers. Taken together, some ten million people were killed in a decade as a result of two rival colonizations of the same Ukrainian territory.”


Think about that. Let those numbers sink in. And I learned none of this in High School. How ignorant could I be?  Answer: very ignorant. For good reason, Snyder has called these lands “Bloodlands.”

In the western Ukraine the western districts which had been part of Poland before World War II, Ukrainian nationalists resisted the imposition of Soviet rule over them. Hundreds of thousands of those Ukrainian resisters were deported to the concentration camps called the Gulag. More bloodshed again.

Many of those prisoners were still alive when Stalin died in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev succeeded Stalin. In the 1960s and 1970s Ukrainian communists joined their Russian communist comrades and together ruled the largest country in the world. According to Snyder, Russian communists never denied that Ukraine was a nation, they just thought Ukraine would be better off under Russian rule. That is what colonists always believe. They are exploiting the colonized for their own good.

In 1991 the failed coup against Gorbachev opened the way for Boris Yeltsin, the new Russian ruler, to lead Russia out of the Soviet Union. At the same time, Ukrainian communists agreed with Ukrainian oppositionists that Ukraine should also leave the Soviet Union. As Snyder said, “In a referendum, 92% of the inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine, including a majority in every Ukrainian region, voted for independence.”

These are the people that Putin says are tyrannized by Neo-Nazi Ukrainian leaders into forcing Ukrainians to stay separate from Russia. Many Russian agree with Putin.  According to Gwynne Dyer, writing in the Winnipeg Free Press,

“In a telephone survey of Russians three weeks ago by Lord Ashworth Polls 76% said they supported the “special military operation” in Ukraine, 81 % said it was necessary to protect Russian security, and 85% had a favorable view of Vladimir Putin. The numbers are untrustworthy of course; would you always tell the truth to a stranger ringing up out of the blue and asking dangerous questions? It was also striking that a majority of the youngest group (18-24 years old) actually opposed the war, so there’s some hope if you want it. But a clear majority of Russians strongly back the invasion of Ukraine.”


It seems unbelievable that so many Russians would support their leader. It shows the power of lies. It shows what happens when powerful countries fight over weaker ones. Blood land is created.

George Orwell once said if you want a vision of the future imagine a boot stomping a human face forever.



The Rise of authoritarians


It was shocking to some that in the 2010s, America and Europe saw the rise of authoritarian political leaders and the serious decay of democracy.  Many of us never believed this was possible. The Russians gave up on Europe and turned instead to Ukraine. The Brexit referendum seemed like a trip into madness, but was really another case of the people asking for and getting a wrecking ball for a leader. The Americans did the same thing in 2016 when Trump was elected. When the establishment is no long trusted, the masses turn to anyone who promises to blow things up.


Russian oligarchs took advantage of the vacuum of reason and good government along with the weakness of democratic institutions, When the establishment is no long trusted, the masses turn to anyone who promises to blow things up.

to pillage their county and deposit the spoils of what were once public enterprises under communism that were sold,  into offshore bank accounts, shell companies, and engineered dark deals. It seemed that capitalism was eating its young.


After a brief flirtation with democracy, that basically ended soon after Boris Yeltsin  selected Vladimir Putin as the next leader, to succeed him, Russia went from Communism direct to predatory capitalism of the most extreme sort.


Surprising to many, political practices that found favor in the Russian oligarchic state found fertile ground in the United States and Britain. The politics of inevitability had presumed  that influence would travel from the west to the east, but reality turned the tables. We learned from Putin not the other way around. Timothy Snyder explained it this way, in his book The Road to Unfreedom:


Concepts and practices moved from east to west. An example is the word “fake,” as in “fake news.”  This sounds like an American invention, and Donald Trump claimed it, as his own, but the term was used in Russia and Ukraine long before it began it’s career in the United States. It meant creating a fictional text that posed as a piece of journalism, both to spread confusion about a particular event and to discredit journalism as such. Eternity politicians first spread fake news themselves, then claimed that all news is fake, and finally that only their spectacles are real.


Again, to many (like me) this was a shocking event. Some attributed the appearance of fake news in the west as a surprising and completely unanticipated development, but that only proves how blind the political elites were in the United States. No one foresaw the rise of fascism. That is what the politics of eternity, as Snyder called it, is all about.


This is what happens when all trust in institutions is lost.

Bedlam follows. Just what authoritarians like to take advantage of.

Inequality Breeds Contempt


I want to continue talking about Snyder’s idea of “the politics of inevitability” just a little bit more.

One of my readers pointed out that this theory that was employed by people in the west as well as the east is really a version of determinism.  And the problem with determinism is that even if  events are determined it is extremely difficult to predict the future.


What the Americans thought was their own inevitable dominance after that collapse of the Soviet Empire turned out to be one more dangerous illusion. The road to heaven turned out to be more complicated than that. In fact, the road to heaven turned out to be a road to unfreedom. Inevitability turned out to be a churlish illusion. As Timothy Snyder said,


“The American politics of inevitability, like all such stories, resisted facts. The fates of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus after 1991 showed well enough that the fall of one system did not create a blank slate on which nature generated markets and markets generated rights. Iraq in 2003 might have confirmed this lesson, had the initiators of America’s illegal war reflected upon its disastrous consequences. The financial crisis of 2008 and the deregulation of campaign contributions in the United States magnified the influence of the wealthy and reduced that of voters. As economic inequality grew, time horizons shrank, and fewer Americans believed that the future held a better version of the present. Lacking a functional state that assured basic social goods taken for granted elsewhere—education, pensions, health care, transport, parental leave, vacations—Americans could be overwhelmed by each day, and lose a sense of the future.”


The decline of America was set in motion. Nothing was inevitable except the crushing power of wealth.

Americans don’t believe this even though they so powerfully demonstrate it. Inequality breeds contempt. First inequality ushers in resentment, then contempt. First, the lowly feel resentment about their “betters” and then they feel contempt for themselves for failing to live up to their own ideals. They see themselves as losers. Their self-respect is curdled by envy.  It had happened earlier to African Americans enslaved for centuries until many of them lost their ability to love even themselves as shown in the novels of James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. We need a writer of equal power to tell us the truth of what happened after 2008. Instead, we have too many people who don’t want to look at the truth of modern North American society and prefer the contentment of looking at comfortable myths.

Such a situation is ripe for the demagogue.  America got exactly that. It got Donald Trump to make America (and of course Americans) great again. What a wonderful illusion. All they had to do was keep out the undesirables and have faith in their new leader. He could do it. And astonishingly, millions of Americans believed him, without any evidence that he could do it. They believed it because they wanted it so much to be true.

The same thing happened in Russia. They got Putin. He promised Russians that the Soviet Empire could be revived.  He would do that in Ukraine. So far he has just brought ruin without empire.  In Russia, as in the United States, some people achieved enormous wealth while ordinary people were left to suck socks. And that created huge problems in both countries.

Old Men should not fan the flames of War


First, we should all realize in the democratic west that Ukraine deserves to be supported as it suffers the onslaught of a villainous bully. If the Ukraine wants to fight for freedom, we should support that.

We should remember what Putin has done so far: The Russians under Putin in 2008 invaded Georgia and the Bush Administration did nothing but complain. He invaded Crimea in 2014 and the west under Obama’s leadership again did nothing. Then Putin started a war in the eastern Ukraine that killed 13,000 people again we did nothing. Now he has invaded all of the Ukraine. Is it time to do something? All of this reminds us, as many have already mentioned , of Hitler. Do we want to go there again?

I am not a warmonger. I think the history of warfare does not fill me with confidence that it ever makes sense, though I don’t rule it out absolutely either.  I think we have an awful capacity to screw up wars so that people die. Especially young people and poor people.  Old men, like me, in particular should not fan the flames of war. Yet we must do something effective to stand up to fascist bullies. Trying to appease the bullies  has never worked well.


I think we should be smart enough to marshal our allies and right thinking peoples together to effectively lock out the Russian leadership from their ill got gains. Countries are incredibly tied together in modern economies. We must do all that we can to cut the thugs off from their corruptly accumulated wealth and starve the leaders into submission.

We must also deal with the war on truth. In many ways it is as terrible as the  war on the ground. We need to collectively stem the tide of Russian lies.

I just think we are smart enough to do this. I am not so sure that we are smart enough to go to war without causing more harm than we prevent.

Iraq: The Chief Legacy of War is Savagery

As a result of my conversation with my American friend where he suggested the current foe, Iran, should obliterated, I have been thinking a lot about what succession war would look like. It is not obvious.

The Second War in Iraq started in 2003 and in 2017 Donald Trump bragged about how the Americans had defeated ISIS in Iraq. Of course he neglected to mention how most of the heavy lifting in that battle was done by the Kurds. Those were the same Kurds he shamelessly abandoned in 2019.

Originally that war was started to remove Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction with which he could not be trusted. Only the US and their friends can be trusted with such weapons. Later, when none of such weapons were found, the purpose of the war switched to defeating ISIS who had rushed into the country to fill the void left by Hussein.

But there is more to this story than victory. Ben Taub wrote a very interesting article for the New Yorker on what has happened in Iraq since ISIS had been defeated (more or less) in 2017.

To begin with, we must remember that the Iraqi government was installed by the Americans after they defeated Saddam Hussein and his army during the second Iraq War. Ever since then the US has been engaged in nation building in Iraq with pretty meager success. They have trained the military and police, since they did not want to keep Saddam Hussein’s Baathist security forces around for fear they would revive Saddam’s government. So really the Americans now own those security forces and the problems they have created. The US can’t really say it is not responsible and wipe its hands of the matter.

Taub described how a trial of Iraqi terrorists proceeded in 2018. After ISIS was largely defeated the Iraqis went on a rampage of revenge.  Taub saw dozens of suspected  terrorists who were crammed into a jail cell. Several of them had not yet seen a lawyer yet but were already dressed for execution.

Taub described the trial of one of those suspected terrorists this way:

“In terrorism cases, lawyers are usually denied access to their clients until the hearing begins. Shortly after ten o’clock, three judges in long black robes shuffled into Courtroom 2 and sat at the bench. Suhail Abdullah Sahar, a bald, middle-aged man with a thin, jowly face, sat in the center. There were twenty-one cases on his docket that day, sixteen related to terrorism. He quietly read out a name; a security officer shouted it down the hall to one of his colleagues, who shouted it to the guard, who shouted it into the cell. Out came a young man named Ahmed. A security officer led him to a wooden cage in the middle of the courtroom. Judge Sahar accused him of having joined ISIS in Qayyarah, a small town south of Mosul.

“Sir, I swear, I have never been to Qayyarah,” Ahmed said.

Sahar was skeptical. “I have a written confession here, with your thumbprint on it,” he said.

“Sir, I swear, I gave my thumbprint on a blank paper,” Ahmed replied. “And I was tortured by the security services.” Sahar listed Ahmed’s supposed jihadi associates; Ahmed denied knowing any of them.

“Enough evidence,” the prosecutor said. “I ask for a guilty verdict.”

Ahmed had no lawyer, and so Sahar called upon an elderly state attorney named Hussein, who was seated in the gallery, to spontaneously craft a defense. Hussein walked over to a lectern, repeated from memory what Ahmed had said, and, without requesting his release, concluded with a plea for “mercy in his sentencing.”

Ahmed wept as he was led out of the room. His trial had lasted four and a half minutes.”

And we should remember that the usual sentence for terrorist cases is death.

The second trial Taub observed lasted 8 minutes while the lawyers in the room yawned, cracked jokes, or closed their eyes. The Defendant said he was charged by mistake because his name was similar to that of someone in ISIS.

The trial of the third Defendant was a 23 year old from a village near Mosul who was charged with being a member of ISIS and again claimed it was a case of mistaken identity.

2 of these accused men had lawyer, which according to Taub was a good sign that they were innocent, since lawyers rarely wanted to represent guilty people because often after doing that the lawyers would be charged with being members of ISIS.  “As the lawyer spoke, the judges tended to administrative tasks. The trial was over in nine minutes. “I hate ISIS—they blew up my house!” the suspect shouted, in tears, as he was led out of court.”

In each case the prosecutor said: “Enough evidence—I ask for a guilty verdict.” It was the only phrase he uttered in court that morning. He did not have to do any more to get convictions from the judges even though many Defendants explained how they had been tortured into giving confessions.

One accused man had waited 4 years for his trial and then had a 3-minute trial during which time the judge paid no attention to his case. As Taub said,

 “The Islamic State has been mostly destroyed on the battlefield, but the war is far from over. Air strikes cannot kill an idea, and so it has fallen to Iraq’s fractured security, intelligence, and justice systems to try to finish the task. But, insofar as there is a strategy, it seems almost perfectly crafted to bring about the opposite of its intent. American and Iraqi military officials spent years planning the campaign to rid Iraq of ISIS, as if the absence of the jihadis would automatically lead Iraq toward the bright democratic future that George W. Bush’s Administration had envisaged when U.S. forces invaded the country, in 2003. But ISIS has always derived much of its dangerous appeal from the corruption and cruelty of the Iraqi state.”

As if this is not bad enough, we must remember that by far most of the young men and boys who were convicted of ISIS never made it to trial. They were disposed of without trials!

Ben Taub reported this way:

“Thousands of men and boys have been convicted of ISIS affiliation, and hundreds have been hanged. But, according to the senior intelligence official, these cases represent only a small fraction of the total number of detainees. “A few of the suspects are sent to court, but only to maintain the illusion that we have a justice system,” he said. (emphasis added)

 From 2014 to 2017, ISIS controlled about half of Syria and 1/3rd of Iraq. This territory was about the size of Great Britain. Millions of people lived inside this territory. Some of ISIS’s military leaders were former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime. They combined a police state with what Taub called “the certainty of Jihadism.” He describe the situation in Iraq this way:

“The group blew up mosques and ancient archaeological sites, and pursued a campaign of ethnic cleansing through mass murder and sexual slavery. It conscripted local bureaucrats, doctors, and teachers, often on pain of death, and devoted enormous effort to radicalizing a generation of children and inuring them to violence, suffering, and loss. At the height of its success, in 2014, there was a real possibility that ISIS would capture Baghdad, and the Iraqi state would collapse. Now, more than a year after ISIS lost Mosul—its largest source of legitimacy, wealth, and power—hundreds of thousands of civilians are suffering at the hands of their liberators. Anyone with a perceived connection to ISIS, however tenuous or unclear, is being killed or cast out of society.’

 Nothing is more dangerous than such incinerating certainties. Iraqi forces, supported and trained by America, were laying waste to what was left in Iraq. As Taub said,

 “Not long ago, I met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official who is deeply involved in counterterrorism operations. For three hours, over tea and cigarettes, he described systematic criminality within the security forces, detailing patterns of battlefield executions, murders in detention centers, and coverups organized by the state. He spoke as a witness, but also as a participant; although he is in a position to have stopped certain abuses, by intervening he would have risked incurring accusations that he is sympathetic to the group he has sought to destroy.

He believes that the Iraqi government’s response is as much a tactical blunder as it is a moral one; it plays directly into the jihadis’ narrative—that Sunnis, who make up a minority of the Iraqi population, cannot live safely under a government dominated by Shiites. “The reaction is one of vengeance—it is not well thought out,” he told me. “We rarely abide by the law.”

It is noteworthy that the conviction rate in Iraq is 98%.  I wonder how that compares with the regime of Saddam Hussein. I suspect the similarities are overwhelming.  The real problem, according to Taub is that “We’re deleting thousands of families from Iraqi society,” the official told me. “This is not just revenge on ISIS. This is revenge on Sunnis.”

This is the regime that Bush and Cheney thought would encourage all of the Middle East to jump on board the democracy train. This is the regime the Americans have spent billions (if not trillions) to uphold.  As Taub told the story:

“Nine years ago, two C.I.A. officers walked into an Iraqi prison and saw a hallway filled with hooded men, about to be executed for supposed affiliation with Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group that gave birth to ISIS. “We were hammering A.Q.I., but the Iraqi government was just rounding up Sunnis,” one of the C.I.A. officers recalled. “And, for a moment, it worked.” But, instead of releasing the innocents, the Iraqi government sentenced them to death. “So, of course, they came back,” the officer said, of Al Qaeda in Iraq. “What do you expect? You literally killed their dads.”

 Now the people of Iraq are in the unenviable position of deciding who is better: ISIS or the Iraqi government?  It does not matter that the Americans have spent billions supporting the current Iraqi regime. Ben Taub has a significant warning for the rest of us:

 “Iraq is now entering one of the most delicate moments in its recent history. To the extent that ISIS functioned as a state, it was entirely predatory. But, by having lost on the battlefield rather than being toppled by its own depravity, the caliphate lives on as a fantasy of Islamic justice and governance which is measured against the corrupt reality of the Iraqi state. What is at stake, in this post-conflict period, is whether the Iraqi government can win over the segment of the population for whom ISIS seemed a viable alternative.

Of course none of this should surprise. This has happened around the world over and over again. The Americans back one side of a dispute, support them with equipment, training, and money and then discover, much to their surprise, that these “good guys” are just as bad as the regime they were to replace.   And again, much to their surprise the people they were saving were not very grateful. All too often this is what “success” in war looks like.