Why Territory? By Ian Klinke

Why Territory?

By Ian Klinke

Territory is increasingly presented as the only response to the world’s problems. But if territory is the answer, then what exactly is the question?


Inthe 1990s, it was common for us to hear and read about the end of territory. The Berlin Wall had fallen and the remaining pockets of real existing socialism were crumbling fast under the forces of liberal capitalism. As the European Union dissolved its internal borders, the spread of the internet seemed to further de-territorialise our lives. Two decades on, the picture seems to be a rather different one.

From the United Kingdom’s decision to retreat into the nation-state to the construction of border fences and walls in Israel, Hungary, the United States and elsewhere, the control of geographical areas seems to have returned to haunt us. Even cyberspace is now increasingly policed, both by authoritarian and more democratic states alike. Many of those who valorise a territorial world will argue that there is something inherently natural about this return of territory. Indeed, as a way of demarcating power in space, the question of territory may seem as old as mankind — but it is not.

Today, territory is commonly assumed to be a portion of the Earth’s surface, including its subsoil, airspace and adjacent waters, that is controlled by a state. Territory defines the geographical area over which a state has jurisdiction and it allows the state to filter the movement of people and goods into and out of this area. As an attempt to say “this far and no further”, territory may seem inherent to the human condition. But if territory was of natural rather than of cultural origin, we should be able to observe attempts to territorialise politics in all societies throughout history. Divided cities like Belfast, Jerusalem or Nicosia would be the rule rather than the exception. In fact, the logic of territory has its origins only in the 17th century.

“As a way of demarcating power in space, the question of territory may seem as old as mankind — but it is not.”

Rather than an answer to the question of migration, territory was originally a response to the problem of religious warfare. Indeed, it first emerged as a solution to the Thirty Years’ War, a conflict that had wiped out millions of Central Europeans between 1618 and 1648 in the name of both Protestantism and Catholicism. In order to ban such wars in the future, rulers should choose their territory’s denomination without interference from others. Those amongst the population who felt they would prefer to inhabit a territory with a different denomination to their ruler’s could simply leave. From this arose the principles of territorial sovereignty and non-intervention, which remain crucial to the functioning of contemporary world politics.

States have not always been interested in making exact maps of their territories. Feudal states, city states and empires did not govern through territory. The Romans, for instance, may have used the term ‘territory’, but it referred mainly to the land associated with a city. They did not imagine their world to be made up of territorial states. Instead of being governed by hard external borders, their empire was ruled through fuzzy boundaries. Medieval states were systems of rule that were based on inter-personal relations rather than the idea of territory. It was only in the 17th and 18th centuries that the world witnessed an explosion in cartographic activity. For in order to govern their territories, states also had to survey, calculate, and map their boundaries.

If we want to understand why so many of us have come to think of territory as a basic instinct rather than a political institution, we have to travel to the late 19th century, to a time when European colonialism was at its peak and the age of exploration had come to an end. It was in this political climate that the German zoologist-turned-geographer Friedrich Ratzel would come to write about territory as the target of a biological urge that was inherent in all species and nations. He argued that, much like caterpillars and primroses, nations were organisms that needed living space if they wanted to ensure their survival. A nation’s health could be judged only by its territory. This idea of the need for living space would develop a powerful traction in the early 20th century, as a whole range of political movements and regimes started to fetishise territory and sought to expand their living space by force.

“If we want to understand why so many of us have come to think of territory as a basic instinct rather than a political institution, we have to travel to the late 19th century.”

Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 aside, straightforward territorial conquest is comparatively rare in today’s world. And yet, borders and territorial questions still seem to structure the way in which our world works. We encounter this territorial world in border crossings, airports, and, if unlucky, in refugee camps and detention centres. In a biometric age, we even have our citizenship imprinted on our bodies — through our iris and fingerprints. And yet it is important to remember that this world of increasingly fortified borders is in fact rather new. Until WWI, it would have been possible to travel through Europe without a passport.

It is similarly vital not to forget that the territorial border remains only one way in which power is exerted over populations through space. There are others. Indeed, the prevention of motion by barbed wire in the 20th century was always accompanied by attempts to channel motion in particular directions. Much of this was — and continues to be — done through the built environment. Think of the forces unleashed by the Autobahn, or the invisible hand that lures us into the temples of consumer capitalism on a Sunday. Territory is never the only game in town. It has to coexist with other perhaps more consensual forms of control.

Territory is also hardly the smoothest form of power. Everyone who has tried to change the behaviour of a child or even a pet by assigning them a territory will know of the resistance that this can provoke. If we look at the responses of European states to the current refugee crisis, the problem soon becomes apparent. Barbed wire, the attempt to control migration by piercing human flesh, is not only imperfect (for the human body will eventually find a way around it), but it is also a powerful symbol of oppression; we only have to think of the iconic barbed wire fences of Auschwitz or Amnesty International’s logo. During the Cold War, the anti-nuclear movement often congregated precisely around NATO’s razor-wired military bases from which a nuclear war was to be waged on the world. So when states put up fences and walls today, this always also exposes the fundamental violence at the heart of the modern state.

Territory can also be an obstacle in other ways. It can limit what can be said and done. It is difficult, for instance, to wage a war without having a territorial state as an enemy. When the United States and its allies first embarked on the war against the shady forces of international terrorism in 2001, they saw themselves forced to find a territorial state that could be targeted by the Anglo-American war machine — Afghanistan.

The relationship between terror and territory is a crucial one in other ways, too. Think of the recent mass killings that have been carried out by young men — and they are nearly all men — in places like Brussels, Paris, Orlando and Berlin. Even before the blood has dried, there will be speculation about the perpetrator’s nationality. If he holds a passport from a predominantly Muslim nation or was born in such a nation, then the act is usually declared a terrorist act, no matter how weak his religiosity or his links to terrorist networks. The man may drink and have girlfriends, but he will be branded a terrorist. His motives will be assumed to be public and thus political.

If, however, he is from Western Europe — like the Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who killed 150 in 2015 by downing his plane in the French Alps — then the motive is usually assumed to be private and we will hear about his psychology rather than his politics. If it is terror, then we can see all kinds of exceptional measures brought into force, from detention without trial to the bombing of Islamic State in Syria, as carried out by France after the Paris attacks. If it is “simply” a mass killing, then nothing much happens at all. One of the key differences is the passport.

“This vision of a world in which your passport defines your politics is of course a dangerous one — but it is also one that will likely provoke opposition.”

As xenophobic and nationalist movements and politicians are increasingly swept into power in the global North, we increasingly hear that territory is the solution to our problems. But if territory is the answer, then what precisely is the question? In the early 21st century, the question is perhaps not so much ‘migration’ or ‘identity’, as it is often claimed, but the failures of Western liberalism with its fantasy of a borderless globe of free trade and commerce. Financial deregulation, privatisation, and globalisation have created a world that radiates a sense of insecurity amongst the majority of the population. Since the global financial crisis of 2008, it has become increasingly clear that prosperity and financial security are no longer attainable for large segments of the population, even in developed economies. If we add to this the threat of climate change, then we can even say that the belief in ‘progress’, a notion that has stood at the heart of ‘The West’ since the Enlightenment, itself has been shattered. Suddenly it makes more sense why the timeless truths of a territorial world seem so appealing to many.

If we accept that the recent rise of the new right in the United States and Europe is not so much a response to the so-called refugee crisis, but, much like the rise of fascism in the 1930s, an answer to this fundamental disillusionment and insecurity, then we can see much more clearly that territory is in fact a trick. It tricks us into believing that there is a way to collapse our planetary complexities back into a world of parcelled-up territories. This is nothing less than the fantasy of creating a world in which there are only people who identify with the territorial state, people who desire and fear the same things. This vision of a world in which your passport defines your politics is of course a dangerous one — but it is also one that will likely provoke opposition.


This is an extract from Weapons of Reason’s fourth issue: Power, available to order now.

Illustrations by Koivo

Palestine: “There’s No Conflict, There’s An Illegal Occupation”

Interview With Dr. Asem Khalil

palestine-onu

Professor Doctor Asem Khalil, Ph.D. in Constitutional and International Law, Associate Professor of Law of Birzeit University, West Bank, speaks of ways to consolidate the Palestine State, and definitely end Israeli crimes against humanity in the Palestinian territories.

Edu Montesanti: Dear Professor Doctor Asem Khalil, thank you so very much for granting this interview. How do you evaluate the meeting between President Donald Trump and Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 15? “I’m looking at two-State and one-state” formulations, President Trump said during a White House news conference with Mr. Netanyahu. “I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one”. Your view, please.

Dr. Asem Khalil: The Palestinians always called for a One State; as a compromise they accepted to enter a peace process where two state solution is envisaged as a way to get peace. If by one state, we mean equal rights for all citizens,

I don’t see why Palestinians would reject that – if they were first to ask for it and accepted only as a compromise the call for two state solution where most of historic Palestine will be part of the now state of Israel.

I think the answer given by Trump wasn’t thought through enough, and I don’t think Israel would go for a one State where one person one vote anyway.

Edu Montesanti: Why cannot Israel and the Palestinians decide alone the question? Why do Palestinians need a third party to get an agreement?

Dr. Asem Khalil: Palestinians are under occupation. It is not their own responsibility to negotiate with the occupier; for sure, it is not part of any negotiation whether to maintain or end occupation – negotiation may be on the modalities on how to do that only.

So far, Palestinians are in a weak position. They are requested to chose pacific means to reach liberation and end occupation, while at the same time, they are asked to negotiate directly with an occupier who continues to confiscate land day on day out.

It is the responsibility of the international community to put an end to one of the last occupations in the world. It is the responsibility of all community of states to make sure that rights of Palestinians – which are erga omnes – are respected.

Edu Montesanti: The United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 voted on December 23 last year, condemning the Israeli settlements as a flagrant violation of international law and a major impediment to the achievement of a two-state solution, changes nothing on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians. UN member States “agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council”, according to the UN Charter. Human rights and the international community also condemns the Israeli settlements and military attacks against Palestinians. Journalist Daoud Kuttab observed in Al-Jazeera in February, in the article US and Israel join forces to bury Palestinian statehood: “Ever since the 1967 occupation, the United Nations Security Council has repeatedly expressed the illegality of the occupation, as in the preamble of Resolution 242 ‘emphasizing inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’.” Why does nothing change year by year, massacre after massacre?

Dr. Asem Khalil: Change doesn’t come by UN resolutions. There are few cases like the one of Israel where the UN and the Security Council in particular showed how incompetent they are in dealing with Israel’s violations of Palestinians’ rights on their land and their right to self-determination.

Palestinian leadership, nonetheless, still think that such resolutions are important. They help maintain clear what is just and what is not.

What is acceptable and what is not. Changes in international relations and power relations between states may help in the future bring the change that is needed. Although it may be too late by then.

Edu Montesanti: What are the crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians?

Dr. Asem Khalil: There are various massacres that were committed by Israel against Palestinians surrounding the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 – causing and contributing to forced displacement and refugeehood of thousands of people.

Many other massacres were committed afterwards, either directly or indirectly. Bombings directed towards civilian areas and facilities continued in recent years when attacking Gaza.

Edu Montesanti: How is life in Gaza and in the West Bank?

Dr. Asem Khalil: Gaza is being qualified as a big prison – unqualified for human living because of lack of necessary civilian infrastructures and lack of jobs.

Most West Bank populated cities are living under Palestinian Authority rule – which coordinates with Israel in security and civil matters too.

Edu Montesanti: Professor Avi Shlaim observed days ago, in Al-Jazeera: “Sadly, the Palestinians are handicapped by weak leadership and by the internal rivalry between Fatah and Hamas.” Your view on the internal politics in Palestine, please, Professor Doctor Khalil.

Dr. Asem Khalil: He is right. This is part of the problem and why stagnation is in place. It is part of the story though.

The full picture is an Israeli occupation which separated Gaza from West Bank and maintained legal and political fragmentation since then; it is also in the way Oslo separated de facto the two areas and maintained a status quo where Palestinians are not dealt with by Israeli occupation – and contrary to the wordings of Oslo – as one political community and West Bank and Gaza Strip were not in reality considered or dealt with as one political entity.

Edu Montesanti: What could we expect from Arab leaders from now on?

Dr. Asem Khalil: We don’t have much expectations. We think the Arab region is now busy with their own problems.

They are now seeing the Palestinian issue as marginal and secondary. This is very problematic now.

Edu Montesanti: How do you see the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement?

Dr. Asem Khalil: The BDS movement can be the way ahead for peaceful resistance to occupation and apartheid in Palestine. Israel is aware of the historical precedence of South Africa and the boycott movement that ended up at the end in delegitimizing the apartheid regime in South Africa, and contributed to the entry of a new era there.

We hope similar thing happens now – not delegitimizing the state of Israel, but the apartheid regime in place.

Edu Montesanti: What is the solution to the conflict, Professor Doctor Asem Khalil?

Dr. Asem Khalil: There is no conflict. There is an occupation that needs to come to an end; a colonization project that needs to be aborted; an apartheid regime that needs to be dismantled; justice and equality to be restored.

If and when this is done, no need to think of mechanisms to end a conflict because it wouldn’t exist.

To Trump:How many innocent people should be killed before you #StopArmingSaudi ?

#ForgottenWarInYemen, shame on world’s so called “humanitarian activists” #Yemen is bleeding #StopArmingSaudis

 

President Trump has changed nothing for the good of America…(cont.)

The FBI’s Secret Rules

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President Trump has inherited a vast domestic intelligence agency with extraordinary secret powers. A cache of documents offers a rare window into the FBI’s quiet expansion since 9/11.

terrorists-won

Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide

The rulebook governing all FBI agents’ activities, in unredacted form for the first time. This is the 2011 edition, which remains the baseline document today, although the FBI recently released some updates from 2013.

SEE DOCUMENT

Hidden Loopholes Allow FBI Agents to Infiltrate Political and Religious Groups

Cora Currier
Beneath the FBI’s redaction marks are exceptions to rules on “undisclosed participation.”

National Security Letters Demand Data Companies Aren’t Obligated to Provide

Jenna McLaughlin, and Cora Currier
Internal documents suggest the FBI uses the secret orders to pursue sensitive customer data like internet browsing records.

Despite Anti-Profiling Rules, the FBI Uses Race and Religion When Deciding Who to Target

Cora Currier
The bureau still claims considerable latitude to use race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion in deciding which people and communities to investigate.

In Secret Battle, Surveillance Court Reined in FBI Use of Information Obtained From Phone Calls

Jenna McLaughlin

Secret Rules Make It Pretty Easy for the FBI to Spy on Journalists

Cora Currier
Rules governing the use of national security letters allow the FBI to obtain information about journalists’ calls without going to a judge or informing the targeted news organization.

Annotation Sets

  • Bureau Hid Doubts About Reliability of Stingray Evidence Behind Redaction Marks


  • CIA and NSA Dossiers Are Available to the FBI in the Absence of Any Crime, Raising Privacy Questions


  • FBI Spy Planes Must Abide Rules When Looking Into Homes


  • On Campus, the FBI Sometimes Operates Outside Restrictions


  • To Probe the Digital Defenses of Targets, the FBI Turns To a Special Program


Confidential Human Source Policy Guide

Detailed rules for how the FBI handles informants. Classified secret. This unreleased September 2015 document is a major expansion and update of a manual from 2007 on the same topic.

SEE DOCUMENT

The FBI Gives Itself Lots of Rope to Pull in Informants

Trevor Aaronson
Agents have the authority to aggressively investigate anyone they believe could be a valuable source for the bureau.

When Informants Are No Longer Useful, the FBI Can Help Deport Them

Trevor Aaronson
The FBI coordinates with immigration authorities to locate informants who are no longer of value to the bureau.

How the FBI Conceals Its Payments to Confidential Sources

Trevor Aaronson
A classified policy guide creates opportunities for agents to disguise payments as reimbursements or offer informants a cut of seized assets.

Annotation Sets

  • How the FBI Recruits and Handles Its Army of Informants


Counterterrorism Policy Guide

Excerpts from a guide for agents working on counterterrorism cases, which functions as a supplement to the FBI’s main rulebook, the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. Classified secret. Not previously released. Dates to April 2015.

SEE DOCUMENT

Undercover FBI Agents Swarm the Internet Seeking Contact With Terrorists

Cora Currier
The FBI’s online activities are so pervasive that the bureau sometimes finds itself investigating its own people.

Based on a Vague Tip, the Feds Can Surveil Anyone

Cora Currier
Low-level “assessments” allow the FBI to follow people with planes, examine travel records, and run subjects’ names through the CIA and NSA.

The FBI Has Quietly Investigated White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement

Alice Speri
Bureau policies have been crafted to take into account the active presence of domestic extremists in U.S. police departments.

Annotation Sets

  • Disruptions: How the FBI Handles People Without Bringing Them To Court


Confidential Human Source Assessing Aid

A document bearing the seal of the FBI’s Anchorage field office that gives tips for agents cultivating informants. It is classified secret, and dates from 2011.

SEE DOCUMENT

DIOG Profiling Rules 2016

A 2016 update to the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide’s policy on profiling by race, gender, and other factors.

SEE DOCUMENT

Guidance on Guardian Assessments 2013

A 2013 unclassified communique from the FBI’s counterterrorism division explaining the database checks and other steps to be taken as part of low-level investigations.

SEE DOCUMENT

National Security Letters Redacted

An unclassified internal FBI document explaining the rules for national security letters, orders that the bureau uses to obtain certain information without a warrant. The document is undated but contains references to another document from November 2015.

SEE DOCUMENT

This Week at Trump’s Zionist Owned U.S. State Dept: March 17, 2017

Trump is the Now Officially the New Obama Succubent in his 1st 100 days

 

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Missed key foreign policy coverage over the last week? We’ve got you covered. Each week, DipNote will recap the latest U.S. Department of State highlights covering a wide range of global issues, events, and initiatives in one easy to read post.

Here are the highlights from This Week at State:

Secretary Tillerson Makes First Visit to the East Asia and Pacific Region

Secretary Tillerson Addresses Reporters at Joint Press Conference With South Korean Foreign Minister Yun in Seoul. (State Department Photo)

On March 17, Secretary Tillerson traveled to the Republic of Korea for meetings with senior officials to discuss bilateral and multilateral issues, including the United States’ continued “ironclad” support of the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance and the growing threat presented by Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). While in Seoul, the Secretary held meetings with the acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn and Foreign Minister Yun.

“The U.S. commitment to our allies is unwavering. In the face of North Korea’s grave and escalating global threat, it is important for me to consult with our friends, and chart a path that secures the peace. Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended. We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security, and economic measures. All options are on the table. North Korea must understand that the only path to a secure, economically-prosperous future is to abandon its development of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other weapons of mass destruction.” — Secretary of State Tillerson, Seoul, Korea March 17, 2017

The day prior, Secretary Tillerson traveled to Tokyo, Japan. While in Japan, the Secretary underscored the Administration’s commitment to broaden U.S. economic and security interests in the Asia-Pacific region and reaffirmed the importance of cooperation within the U.S.-Japan alliance during discussions with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo.

Secretary Tillerson travels to Beijing on March 18 for the final leg of his Asia trip. Follow the State Department on Twitter and Facebook and visit www.state.gov for more information.

The United States Reaffirmed Commitment to a Sovereign Ukraine

On the third anniversary of Russia’s Crimean “Referendum,” the United States reaffirmed its commitment to a sovereign and whole Ukraine.

“The United States does not recognize Russia’s “referendum” of March 16, 2014, nor its attempted annexation of Crimea and continued violation of international law. We once again reaffirm our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity…Crimea is a part of Ukraine. The United States again condemns the Russian occupation of Crimea and calls for its immediate end. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine.” — Press Statement by State Department Acting Spokesperson Mark Toner

Ambassador Nikki Haley Addresses the 61st Commission on the Status of Women

U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, delivered remarks during the 61st UN Commission on the Status of Women, an annual two-week session that brings together more than 40 UN member government representatives and civil society to discuss ways to improve the lives of women around the globe. The theme of this year’s session was “Women in the Changing World of Work.” In her remarks, Ambassador Haley shared her mother’s story and emphasized the importance of ensuring fair, equal opportunities for women and girls around the world.

And now, a look ahead to what is happening next week at State:

Secretary Tillerson to Host Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Ministerial

On March 22, Secretary Tillerson will host the foreign ministers and senior leaders of the Global Coalition working to defeat ISIS. This meeting will take place at the Department of State in Washington D.C., and will be the first meeting of the full Coalition, now at 68 members, since December 2014.

The ministerial will include a detailed discussion of priorities for the Coalition’s multiple lines of effort, including military, foreign terrorist fighters, counterterrorist financing, counter-messaging, and stabilization of liberated areas, to increase the momentum of the campaign. Additionally, Ministers will discuss the ongoing humanitarian crises in Iraq and Syria that are affecting the region.

Follow the State Department on Twitter and Facebook for additional information and updates.

Catch up on previous This Week at State blogs on DipNote and Medium.com.


This entry originally appeared on DipNote, the U.S. State Department’s Official blog.

What if the U.S. Invaded Syria and Nobody Noticed? The media should be covering this more

U.S. forces in Iraq, March 7

While everyone was paying attention to the latest crazy Trump story, United States Marines deployed to Syria.

Did you hear about that? If you didn’t, it’s not your fault. The news has been all Trump all the time.

  • He can read a speech!
  • He accused the former president of illegal wiretaps with no evidence!
  • Travel ban 2.0!
  • His Attorney General falsely denied contact with the Russians despite not being asked about it!
  • He pretended not to know his first National Security Adviser did work for Turkey!

But constant ridiculousness is the new normal, and it’s going to be that way for a while. The media needs adjust so it can do its job, drawing attention to important events. Not Trump said, not Trump tweeted, but thing happened.

On March 9, hundreds of Marines arrived in Syria to operate heavy artillery in support of local forces assaulting ISIS’ capital of Raqqa.

At some level, this isn’t a big deal. The Marines will fire from distance, which means they won’t be advancing into prepared defenses, booby traps, or ambushes. The risk they’ll sustain casualties is low.

And American forces were already there. Not these Marines, but others, performing a similar role in Iraq, helping the attack on Mosul. By the end of 2016, the mission Barack Obama sold with “no boots on the ground” involved about 5,000 American ground troops. Most advise Iraqi forces or guide U.S. airstrikes. But advising sometimes requires embedding with combat forces, and they’ve sustained casualties.

Source: United States Department of Defense

With the deployment to Syria, the American ground force engaging ISIS is now closer to 6,000. It’s part of the same fight, and they’re doing something Marines were already doing, just in a different location. It’s not a dramatic change.

But it’s not an insignificant change either, and we should be paying attention.

Many Americans fighting in Iraq and Syria are Special Operations Forces, which fall into a gray area between regular troops and clandestine operatives. Under the 1973 War Powers Act, which is still in force, military deployments require congressional authorization after 90 days. CIA operations do not.

A few days ago, the United States also deployed 100 Army Rangers to Manbij, a small Syrian city about 50 miles northeast of Aleppo and 25 miles south of the Turkish border. It’s more overt than most Special Operations missions, because their goal is to get between Syria (and their Russian backers), Turkey, and the American-supported force attacking Raqqa further east.

For better or worse, the United States has given the executive complete discretion about deploying Special Operations Forces. But the Marines are a branch of the regular military.

Additionally, while some Marines already operate in Iraq, the Iraqi government gave them permission. The Syrian government has not. Embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, flush from his victory over non-ISIS rebels in Aleppo, called the American forces “invaders.”

The deployment is an escalation, another in a long line of escalations following the first deployments in mid-2014. The Obama administration claimed legal authority under the post-9/11 Authorization of Military Force (AUMF), because it applies to the people responsible for the September 11th attacks and “associated forces,” which arguably includes ISIS.

The Trump administration presumably claims the same authority. I have to say “presumably” because they haven’t discussed it with the American people.

Placing the current anti-ISIS campaign under the 2001 AUMF is a stretch. But Congress abdicated responsibility, refusing to pass new authorization. If they vote for a new AUMF and things go bad, it would be a political liability, like the vote to invade Iraq. But if they authorize it and it goes well, the president will get the credit, not individual members of Congress.

The result is repeated escalations without clear legal authority. Given the thousands of Americans already deployed in Iraq and Syria, the public probably does not have a problem adding 400 Marines and 100 Army Rangers per se. But polling shows Americans split on sending ground troops — which is why Obama repeatedly promised not to put boots on the ground.

Source: CNN/ORC

Those numbers are from late 2015, and they’re the most recent I could find (another indication Trump and the election sucked up all attention, to the detriment of important issues). Approval increased after the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015, but it’s unclear if it’s still above 50%.

Either way, it’s safe to assume the public has mixed feelings about sending ground troops to Syria, with many wary of further escalations. At the very least, Congress and the media need to lead a public discussion about what we’re willing to commit to this fight.

The Strategy Problem

Sending the Marines makes sense from a military perspective. Raqqa and Mosul are ISIS’ two main cities. Without them, its claim to an Islamic State collapses. American-backed Iraqi forces have already captured eastern Mosul and are currently assaulting the ISIS-held western part. However, the local forces set to attack Raqqa — a combination of Syrian Kurds and Arabs — are less capable than the Iraqi Armed Forces. To take the city, they’ll need American help.

But taking Raqqa is only the first step. As I previously wrote, the problem is holding it.

Support from local Sunni Arabs helps explain why ISIS successfully took so much territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014. Both Assad and former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki governed as Shia sectarians. (Assad is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shia Islam, and both governments are friendly with Iran). The Sunni Arabs situated between Damascus and Baghdad felt oppressed, and many accepted ISIS — which adheres to a fundamentalist version of Sunni Islam — as a less bad alternative.

If the post-ISIS government in Raqqa lacks popular support, it will foment another Sunni Arab insurgency. Someone has to hold the territory, and do it in a way that provides security without alienating the people.

There’s no indication Syrian Sunni Arabs have the capacity to control the city. And if the Kurds try to do it, Turkey might attack.

Assad believes the territory is rightfully his, and will probably try to take it. If he ends up controlling Raqqa, he’ll oppress local Sunnis, especially since he holds Syria’s Sunni majority responsible for the country’s civil war. Should Assad’s forces advance, would the Americans get in their way? That might require fighting the Syrian military, and risks war with Russia.

Alternatively, if the United States can manage this diplomatically, and keep Syria, Russia, and Turkey out of it, there won’t be anyone with the capacity to provide post-ISIS security. The U.S. would have to assist local forces, and train them so they can eventually handle it themselves.

That sounds an awful lot like the occupation of Iraq. The scale would be smaller, but it would still take a long commitment. American forces would sustain casualties, and the effort could still fail.

While the American people may be okay with this latest escalation, and don’t seem to mind the legal issues of doing so under a stretched 2001 AUMF, they probably oppose a long occupation.

This latest escalation could easily lead to another. And another. Vietnam began with advisers and repeatedly escalated, and while I doubt the fight against ISIS ends up anywhere near that big a commitment, the public should still be talking about it. President Trump has not discussed his intentions in Syria with the American people, and the media should be demanding answers.

Instead, everyone’s fixated on So You Think You Can President, the world’s biggest reality show, while the country heads down an uncertain path, with no end in sight.