From ethnically cleansing Christians to beheading journalists and reviving crucifixion as a form of corporal punishment, there is no disputing the barbarism of ISIS or Islamic State. Their savagery is so over-the-top it provides a convenient alibi for the endless war in the Middle East sought by neoconservatives.
It is no coincidence that the same voices calling for further U.S. engagement in Iraq were the most vocal in their support for the 2003 invasion. Dick Cheney, John McCain, and Robert Kagan, for example, believe military force should be used to solve the problem they exacerbated with military force in 2003.
These neocons sought a pretext to weaken the Iran-allied government of Nouri al-Maliki and ISIS provided them with that opportunity. Now they can intervene in Iraq and beyond under the guise of “humanitarian intervention.” No fabricated weapons of mass destruction are necessary.
They don’t currently occupy the White House, but the neocons used their considerable influence in Congress to push for a more forceful approach to Iraq. Now they want to do the same in Syria.
With the recent expansion of the war into Syria, U.S. President Barack Obama has opened another front in a never-ending war, writes Reuters columnist Jack Shafer.
The current intervention in Iraq and Syria is “a wild-card war” where “allies and enemies seem arbitrary and ever-shifting,” Shafer writes. Last year’s bitter enemy, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, becomes this year’s reluctant ally.
Dropping bombs on Syria without coordinating with President Assad is a quagmire in waiting. The US declared war on Assad’s strongest opponents, but is paradoxically still committed to his overthrow. Who exactly do they want in charge of Syria?
Obama openly concedes this intervention will last beyond his presidency, just as Bush Jr.’s Iraq war continued past his. This is not an impressive legacy for the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
This war will not end soon, nor is it likely to end well for the Iraqi and Syrian people.
The question is not whether ISIS is a problem (it obviously is), but how to deal with it most effectively without strengthening the movement.
So, as Lenin would say, “what is to be done?”
One alternative approach, taken by Turkish President Recep Erdogan, is disengaged neutrality. Since Turkey has dedicated so many resources to Assad’s overthrow, Erdogan is reluctant to weaken the armed opposition, however vile and extremist.
Erdogan also wants to avoid Turkey becoming Pakistan to Syria’s Afghanistan. Before and during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan served as a base for Islamist rebels fighting the secular government in Kabul.
Erdogan should have considered this prospect before allowing Syrian rebels to set up base in Turkey.
If he believes the Syrian crisis can be solved by empowering the Islamist opposition and waiting for it to overthrow Assad, he is mistaken.
As of Sept. 30, this cautious approach has failed. There are now reports of Turkey contributing to the US-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.
The overlapping crises in the Levant are largely the result of Saudi and Iranian machinations. Broadly speaking, Saudi Arabia supported Islamist rebels to counter Iranian influence on the Assad and Maliki governments.
If we are serious about bringing peace and stability to ISIS-occupied territory, The Nation’s editorial board says we must work toward Saudi-Iranian rapprochement. This seems to me the most effective means of dealing with ISIS.
“A Saudi-Iranian accord could vastly ease the crises in Syria and Iraq, nudging the leaders in Damascus and Baghdad toward a more open, accommodating stance,” they write. Turkey could play a mediating role, given its shared ties with Riyadh and Tehran.
When dealing with an organization as sinister as ISIS, we must guard against becoming the violent extremists we set out to destroy.
Perhaps it’s time to think beyond military solutions to the various problems in the Middle East.