Two American journalists were beheaded, so President Obama took to the Cross Hall of the White House to declare that the US would ’degrade and destroy’ ISIL. ISIS. IS. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the ‘caliph’ of DAASH (Dulat al-Islam fi al-Iraq wal-Sham), so that‘s what we‘ll call them. Google it.
Daash are despicable. They’ve beheaded journalists and aid workers. They’ve enslaved hundreds (at least) of women and sold them into slavery/forced marriages. They’ve shot rows of blindfolded, kneeling men in it the back of their heads, filling mass graves along their way. They kill Christians, they kill Yazidi, they kill Shia. Their message is: convert, or die.
So, what do they want, how did we get here, and what should we do? Luckily, I have answers.
First, we need to know what Daash wants – they’re aim is to unite under a single political border, all majority-Muslim areas of the world, to be ruled by their religious leader.
To that end, they want to bait the West into more war on the ground in more Arab countries, in an effort to unite the Muslim world against the West in a world-wide religious holy war.
What makes them think that this is a reasonable goal to be attained?
The Prophet Muhammad ruled the first Islamic caliphate (state led by religious leader) for 10 years before dying in 632. They were of course in need of a successor (caliph). Some (Shia) wanted a blood-line caliph (Ali, cousin/son-in-law), while others (Sunni) believed that the Prophet had personally appointed his close companion, Abu Bakr. Hence the Sunnia-Shia divide.
By 750, the caliphate grew to include basically the entire Middle East – as far as modern-day Pakistan to the east; Syria, Iraq, much of Turkey to the north; and all of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman to the south – and west to include the entire southern coast of the Mediterranean (Egypt, Libya, Algeria…), even Spain.
What got us to this point?
Well, it goes back to the post-WWI, Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916. Westerners (Britain and France specifically) ignored all religious, ethnic, and tribal borders – and scratched out their own Middle Eastern borders, likely (kidding) on the back of a napkin over a cup of Starbucks…
Of course, this only served to push local tensions to the fore. By 1949, the US had little choice (…) but to force regime change in Syria. A few years later, Iran’s democratically elected leader was ousted via coup d’etat, again pushed by the US (CIA specifically, and admittedly).
The Iraq-Iran War began in 1980. President Reagan decided that Saddam Hussein was the more preferable/moderate option, so he had Iraq removed from the ’State Sponsors of Terrorism’ list, and sent Rumsfeld over to shake Saddam’s hand and reaffirm US intelligence and material support for Iraq. In the process, Reagan illegally traded weapons to Iran in exchange for hostages (Iran Contra).
The month the Iraq-Iran cease-fire was signed (Aug ‘88), our main man Saddam turned the chemical weapons he had used to defeat the Iranians, toward ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq. Two years later, he invaded Kuwait. At that point, we realized that the guy we thought was cool so we helped him, wasn’t so cool so we had to drop some bombs on his head.
While the Iraq-Iran War was being waged, Russia was fighting jihadis in Afghanistan (1979-1989). You know – enemy of your enemy. So, we (US) launched Operation Cyclone, and armed the Mujahideen. It worked in the short-term, Russia was bled financially, which led Gorbachev to seek the end of the Cold War with the US. Success!
Nineteen Saudi hijackers, plotted out in Germany. So of course, President George W. Bush lied (well, Halliburton gave Cheney a $34 million exit bonus quid, so he lied to Dubya), and we went to decade-plus wars in both Iraq & Afghanistan (whilst Halliburton made a $40 billion quo). Not Saudi Arabia, where the attackers were actually from, but Iraq & Afghanistan. Bin Ladin? Bin Ladin was Saudi, was funded by Saudis, and was captured in Afghanistan by JSOC via Seal Team Six. Not by declared war or 100k boots-on-the-ground, but by intelligence and special forces.
Our main man from the 1980’s, Saddam, wound up being decapitated by way of hanging at the hands of his own people. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died in the process of deposing him. Eventually, Iraqis decided it was time for us to leave, so they refused to allow our military personnel legal amnesty for their actions. Dubya had little choice, and agreed to pull out. Obama was elected, and had little choice but to follow through with Dubya’s forcedwithdrawal. Luckily, we spent 7 years training and arming Iraqi gov’t forces…
Our new main man in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, took over in 2006. His predecessor, Saddam, was Sunni, and ruled with an iron fist. Al-Maliki is Shia, and when forming his gov’t, chose not to include Sunni representation, but to simply turn the tables. The entire country was torn asunder. And we were the instigators.
The most vile of these groups has apparently turned out to be Daash, excommunicated from al-Qaeda, the previous ‘worst guys on the planet‘ . How have Daash risen above the rest, at least in the minds of the West? (I’ll take this time to note Boko Haram.)
Well, Daash are good at social media. They’ve adopted some Capone or Pablo-esque tactics – they publicly do nice things for folks in order to curry local favor, and to distract from their blatant abhorrence and brutality.
Meanwhile in Syria, ongoing civil war has seen the deaths of hundreds of thousands, as President Bashar al-Assad has unleashed chemical weapons on his own people (sound familiar?). Just one year ago, Obama was calling for the ouster of Assad, and calling on Congress to let him drop some good-ole American freedom-bombs on Assad’s head. Congress said no, so we worked with Russia, and confiscated/disposed of Assad’s chemical weapons cache.
As per usual, US success in the Middle East could only be short-lived. Given the power vacuum in Iraq, and the rise of rebels in Syria, numerous militant/rebel groups have risen like phoenix from the ashes.
Most importantly, they’ve taken oil fields. Ah yes, Texas tea. Daash is making $2-3m/day off of stolen oil. Given Daash’ income, they can afford to pay tens of thousands of mercenaries to join their cause. And of course, winning breeds band-wagon support (there‘ve been reports of ‘Islam for Dummies‘ being shipped by Amazon to Daash recruits en route). Daash’ social media aptitude also includes video of beheadings and mass killings.
These public displays of brutality have dissuaded the Iraqi (Shia) gov’t forces – which, again, the US spent 7 years training and arming – from risking their literal necks to defend Sunni territory in Iraq. Thus, Iraqi gov’t forces have simply dropped their (made in the US) equipment and tucked tail, rather than defend people they don‘t particularly care for.
Here inlies one of our bigger problems – Iraq is really three countries in one.
Ethnic Kurds are the majority in northern/northeastern Iraq, bordering Turkey and Iran. Shia are the majority in eastern Iraq, along the Iranian border and south to the Persian Gulf. Sunni control the majority of Iraq, including the entire western and southern regions.
Biggest problem with a three-state solution? Iraq is largely land-locked, with a scant 36 mile coastline along the Persian Gulf. This renders control of the sister oil terminals of Al Basrah & Khor al-Amaya a matter of great import. The Kurds would certainly be land-locked, and the Sunni & Shia could conceivably fight ad infinitum over control over the all-important port cities. Sunni and Shia have never been in agreement, and aren’t likely to be. But as they say – you can disagree without being disagreeable.
So how can there be peace?
We can be certain of a few things: the US/West dropping freedom-bombs on Middle Eastern heads, and the US/West placing our thumbs on the scales where political rule is concerned, does not produce desired results. We overthrow democratically elected rulers, it turns out poorly. We defend brutal dictators, it turns out poorly. We prop up strong-men, it turns out poorly. We arm the rebels, it turns out poorly. We assist the supposed moderates, it turns out poorly.
We need to stop.
Since we have a lot to do with the current situation, it could be argued that we cannot simply wash our hands of it. And of course, the world is dependant upon their oil. The solution to that problem is the same as before, we need to stop. Unfortunately, moving away from oil-guzzling autos and single-use plastics, and toward renewables & advanced energy storage/portability are not exactly short-term propositions.
Moreover, Daash itself is a symptom. Daash could be wiped off the face of the planet, but another worst of the worst would simply take it’s place. Employment is low, poverty is high, and foreigners have been occupying their land for over a decade.
So what do we do now?
There is a possible ‘wash our hands’ solution. Daash could have their own Islamic State (apart from Kurdistan and say, Shiastan or what-have-you). Just because Daash is good at beheadings and social media, does not mean that they are capable of governing. Governing requires roads and schools and assisting the poor, elderly, & disabled. Daash forbids soccer and music, movies and dancing – all are distractions from faith. If allowed to govern, Daash would collapse under their own weight.
Of course, there is still the matter of the 40-odd journalists/aide workers held by Daash. Personally, I don’t think 40 hostages demand a full-fledged war. But simply wishing that the Kurdish Pershmerga, the Free Syrian Army, and the Iraqi gov’t forces are capable of taking back Mosul, Tikrit, Fallujah, Raqqa, et al does not make it so.
So how do we get them back? By currying support among Arab nations.
Daash has a hit list. It includes Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, the UAE. We need Egypt, whom we give $1.5b/year in aid, to step up. We need Qatar, with their vast wealth (natural gas), to stop funding terrorists and get on the right side here. Same goes for Kuwait. Most importantly, we need our A#1 ally, Saudi Arabia, to get right. Not only have they funded extremists, possibly including Daash specifically, but the Saudi gov’t beheaded 31 people in August alone! (Cut to Rick Perry sighing with envy…)
Arab states must figure out how to stand up for themselves. If they require air-support, let them (plural, not just Iraq) ask for it explicitly before we go jumping in head-first to yet another perfectly avoidable, decade-plus debacle that we cannot afford.