Strategic Reality Check: ISIS, Space Exploration and the Plight of Iraqi Christians

Recently an article in the Christian Daily website appeared entitled, “Iraqi Christians blast U.S. Government for focusing on space exploration instead of stopping ISIS.” The article quoted an Iraqi Chaldean Catholic priest named Douglas al-Bazi, who apparently had made a trip to the United States to “raise awareness on the circumstances that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi [Catholics] are currently facing.” His overarching strategic criticism was that the United States government was acting too late against the onslaught of the Islamic State in their hometowns. How this relates to spacepower strategy is he said that “his people” decry “the fact that the United States had more time for space exploration instead of making the necessary steps to protect them from the atrocious” Islamic State. As an American strategist who just so happens to also hold a Masters from a Christian Seminary in addition to my history and strategic studies degrees, I sympathize with the situation that the Iraqi Catholics are dealing with in many parts of the territories of Iraq. However, many things in Father al-Bazi’s statement highlight concerns for me that I believe need to be addressed to provide correct context and a reality check on the three areas he combined into one argument: Defense Strategy, Spacepower, and Christianity.

First, let me say that Father al-Bazi, has been through a lot according to the details I have read about him. He is a Catholic priest in a predominately Muslim area of the world, and due to this, was captured in 2006 where he was “tortured by Islamic militants.” He was interviewed on May 11, 2016 and his commentary was interesting in the sense that much of his comments highlights an agenda beyond simply that of protection or freedom of religious expression in the war against Islamic State. For example, he states that “his people” are “losing their sense of belonging” and have “their own horrific experiences during the onslaught of ISIS.” What kind of horror are they dealing with? When I was reading this article, I must admit I was expecting to hear what I have read for months, young girls captured and made as sex slaves of ISIS leaders, beheadings, forced conversions, burning of homes, etc. All of which have and continue to happen within the occupied territories of Islamic State, but that’s not what al-Bazi chose to focus on. He continued, “They wake up in the morning with a question mark about what is going to be at the end of the day….they ask the same questions….Am I still living in the same container? Am I going to stay in the same place? Are my kids going to have a good education? If one of my family members is going to be sick, will we find someone to take care of him?” Really? ISIS is conquering whole cities and regions of nations through the sword, killing raping and pillaging and the things that Chaldean Christians are most worried about is whether or not their kids are going to have a good education or whether or not they will have access to healthcare?!!!

Then he moves on to NASA, an organization whose Administrator was sent to the Muslim world several years ago to “make Muslims feel good about themselves”, by saying that “the Iraqi Christian community feels …that when [NASA} declared that water was discovered on Mars and this news was celebrated all over the world, the Iraqi [Catholics] refugees received the space exploration news with much distaste and frustration.” Al-Bazi was quoted as saying, “My people, they [ask why]NASA can find water on Mars but they were not able to find the Islamic State [when] they were just in the middle of the desert by hundreds [with]Toyota cars everywhere. [They were]just in the middle of the desert and [the U.S.] was not able to find them by satellite. This is a disappointment. “

Let me break this down. First, lets cover the defense strategy piece regarding Islamic State. There is no question that the present “strategy” for fighting ISIS put forth by the Obama Administration is ineffective in the extreme and policy decisions made over the last seven and a half years have led to the rise of Islamic State in the first place. So I understand their frustration with the Islamic State issue being one that makes many people, not just in Iraq but elsewhere scratch their heads wondering why the United States didn’t or couldn’t do more effectively against a band of guys in Toyotas. However, that perspective that they are just a bunch of guys in Toyotas is a simplistic and inaccurate vision of reality. Islamic State is a push to restore the Caliphate and to expand until the dar-al Harrb (House of War-everyone non-Muslim) becomes part of the dar-al-Islam and is ruled by Sharia Law. The Islamic way of war and governance is a unique strategic culture that moves beyond simply shooting people or blowing up buildings. It’s a holy calling to them per their juris-theological construct. This creates a cause drawing other Muslims from all over the world to joint this push to create the equivalent of an Islamic Utopia on earth. Just dropping bombs in an attrition style tactical operation is not the way to win, but when Presidential guidance treats a war like a political problem to manage rather than an enemy to be defeated, you have what you have. A conflict that will continue on and on until something changes.

Second, al-Bazi sounds more like a Democrat candidate for Congress with what he says the plight of “his people” are. How about protecting Christians from persecution and annihilation by Islamic State? I would think that would be the chief concern of those folks in Iraq under fire by Islamic State, not gee will my kids have a good education and health care? I was also curious why he didn’t gripe about his own elected government in Baghdad or his Regional government leaders? They are responsible for the defense of their homeland, not the United States given a lack of a Status of Forces agreement over the years since the pullout of US forces from the nation. Understanding that the United States has responsibilities globally, it still concerns me that he didn’t complain about the Iraqi Armed Forces.

Thirdly, his bashing of space exploration and “finding ISIS with satellites”. He is confusing the purpose of NASA (space exploration) with that of the Intelligence Community (IC) and the Department of Defense (DoD). The United States can and does conduct multiple space operational missions across multiple Departments and agencies worldwide, including gathering of intelligence on enemy force laydown and dispersement of groups such as ISIS. We don’t have two satellites AND use them for finding water on Mars and conducting national security missions. We do much more and we share that data with friends and allies and those allies with space capabilities share their information with us per agreements. It’s been going on for years. It appeared to me to be the same old complaint of more money needs to go to healthcare, education and protection of certain people groups rather than viewing our work at NASA and the DoD/IC as what they are: beneficial for the nation and our friends and allies interested in learning and in defeating our adversaries.

So I think that while Father al-Bazi should be concerned about the safety and well being (survival) of his group in range of Islamic State occupying and armed forces, his other concerns and blames are misplaced. I think that his folks should consider taking up arms against ISIS or joining the Iraqi Armed Forces rather than just sitting around waiting to be killed. Its not NASA’s fault if they do not resist. Getting support for resistance is good, expecting people to do all the work alone at the expense of the very space applications helping our forces do what little they are allowed to by Obama’s “strategic guidance” is not helpful.



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