ISIS and Reproach
By Bryan Caplan
When historians write the history of ISIS, they will probably treat it as part of the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But they should also closely connect it to the Arab Spring. Without the Arab Spring, an internecine civil war would not have broken out in Syria; and without such a civil war in Syria, ISIS wouldn’t have had half a country in which to incubate.
But will historians connect the dots? For the Iraq War connection, historians’ leftist sympathies are probably strong enough to overpower the natural human reluctance to cry over spilled blood. For the Arab Spring, however, historians’ dominant ideology actually reinforces their aversion to reproach. Googling “Arab Spring disaster” continues to return very few pertinent high-status hits. There is one op-ed in the New York Times, but its “disaster” isn’t the Arab Spring, but ISIS itself.
Google’s top hit (sans quotes) remains Daniel Greenfield‘s decidedly non-mainstream 2013 piece in Frontpage Mag. While I reject Greenfield’s hawkish worldview, he is right to reproach Arab Spring boosters like Thomas Friedman for their failure to reproach themselves. These two Greenfield passages have been lodged in my head since I first read them about a year ago:
“The term ‘Arab Spring’ has to be retired. There is nothing springlike
going on,” Friedman says. “It’s best we now speak of the ‘Arab Decade’
or the ‘Arab Quarter Century.'”
Why not the Arab millennium or the Arab trillion years. Like the guy
who keeps predicting the world will end, it’s safest to set your dates
as far as possible. And 10-25 years later, no one will remember what
Friedman predicted let alone that he even existed.
When your predictions don’t succeed, just postpone them as far as
possible. The people who promised us a positive transformation are now
promising us a Thirty Years War.
Friedman’s argument is that of the man who sets a house on fire because
it’s in bad shape. Well you can’t blame him. It was a bad house. Now
it’s a pile of burning rubble.
It is tempting to say that mainstream historians would be open to Greenfield’s points if he made his points with civility. But I doubt it. The fruitfulness of “dredging up the past” is hard enough to swallow without a side dish of crow.
P.S. Please point out any solid counter-examples in the comments.