In the movie Trading Places, Eddie Murphy’s character, Billy Ray Valentine, says, “You know, it occurs to me that the best way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or Admiral James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Commander, to know that if ISIS didn’t have money or weapons they would not be successful for very long. So it behooves us all, especially our leaders, to ask who funds ISIS, where their weapons come from, and to cut off their resources – to turn them into “poor people,” so to speak. Besides, those who fund terrorism are no less terrorists than those brandishing the swords.
We hear daily about the military successes of ISIS, our targeted airstrikes, and what our President is willing and not willing to do to defeat them. (Such willingness to tell the enemy what plays you won’t run doesn’t seem to me to be the best military strategy. It may be good political strategy, but in football you don’t tell your opponent you’ll never throw a forward pass.) So the lack of information about the economics of ISIS’s funding is puzzling, but let’s hope there is a strategy. If we have the capability of listening in to everyone’s phone conversation and read every email and Facebook post, surely we know the sources of ISIS’s funding and weaponry and are doing something about it.
Despite the administration’s silence on this facet of the war on ISIS, we do know some things. Most articles estimate that ISIS earns $1 to $3 million a day from oil sales — oil coming from lands and refineries they have seized in Iraq and Syria, which is purchased by black market brokers primarily in Turkey. Let us hope no U.S. company, American citizen or ally is participating in these purchases. If they are, let’s hope the administration is putting an immediate stop to it. If the administration won’t do that, I believe we should be told why not.
Another source of money is the sale of antiquities by ISIS after they raid and loot churches and museums in seized territories. I did a lot of research on looting and the sale of stolen antiquities for my novel, When Men Betray. It’s an industry of about $3 billion a year, with a lot of money finding its way into the hands of terrorists and a lot of art finding its way into the homes of Americans and Europeans. That’s right: art collectors and museums who buy stolen antiquities indirectly fund torture and murder. Again, let’s hope the administration is being aggressive with purchasers of stolen art for the sake of the stolen art, but also for the humans who are the ultimate victims of such an outrageous enterprise.
Speaking of outrageous, apparently another major source of ISIS’s funding is the sale of women and children captured in Iraq and Syria. I am not sure what is worse: ISIS selling women and children as sex slaves or the people buying them. The world community should have no stomach for this behavior, and if anyone who buys a human comes into the jurisdiction of the U.S., justice should be swift and certain.
Groups monitoring sources of ISIS’s weaponry report that much of their stash was also acquired by seizing territory, thereby seizing arms supplied by the U.S. to, for example, the Iraqi government and Syrian rebels. Once again, we learn that weapons supplied to allies can easily fall into the hands of our enemies. When will we learn not to be a source of “tools of terror?” The purpose of a bomb is to explode. The purpose of military weapons is to be fired and kill or maim. Until we quit treating weapons as a commodity of profit, we will always have terrorists and and mad men using them for evil.
We can’t undo past mistakes. If it were my call, I would say that U.S. weapons should only be in the hands of U.S. soldiers, but I know that is not realistic, given the vise grip the military-industrial complex has on political decisions in this country.
But if this administration intends to be transparent about our military plans for ISIS, then perhaps we need the same transparency about our economic war plans as well. At minimum, if U.S. corporations are buying “black market’ oil from ISIS’s brokers, let Americans know so that we can stop buying their gas and dump their stock. If other countries or individuals are arming ISIS, let Americans know so that we can stop doing business with those countries. If other countries are turning a blind eye to the sale of antiquities or human beings, let Americans know so that we can boycott products from those countries and encourage U.S. companies to take their business elsewhere.
I don’t need to know our plans to defeat ISIS and believe it might be a better strategy not to know. But I think it would be advisable for our leadership to acknowledge that we are waging war on ISIS economically as well as militarily, and to treat those who support ISIS by buying oil, weapons, stolen art, and women and children just as we will treat ISIS.
Please, Obama Administration, don’t let us find out years from now that oil interests, large corporations and wealthy individuals prevented us from fighting an economic war against ISIS because it may hurt their profits, or because our country has a double standard for terrorists. Wage war on the foot soldiers — but take a pass on the “rich people.”