Friday, December 4, 2015


ISIS has emerged in the last few years as the most dangerous enemy facing  major Western powers, as well as being a threat to Muslim nations and peoples not willing to submit to its tyrannical domination in pursuit of creating an extremist, radical Islamist caliphate in the Middle East.  Its rapid rise has astounded the West, its military leadership drawn from elements of Saddam Hussein's Baathist Sunni army, which was disbanded by the US occupying forces when they took over Iraq in 2003.  These military careerist were turned loose without employment, were increasingly joined by other disaffected Sunnis in Iraq who were alienated by the Shiite government that the US had installed, merged with radical Sunni rebel forces in Syria fighting the Alawite Shia government of Bashar Assad, joined by other anti-western, extremist Islamic youth who might have otherwise been attracted to the now deflated al Qaeda movement, and became a major military and financial force when they were able to capture large supplies of US military weaponry, as well as oil producing areas, that the US-trained Iraqi army was unable to defend.

 ISIS's hatred of the West seems to know no bounds, and similarly shows no mercy on other Muslims who resist its overtures. It has, in effect, declared war on Western nations, especially those with any history of involvement in the Middle East, and on Muslim nations and peoples that dare stand in its way.  Its prime strategies  are to advance and conquer  areas of the Middle East, and now even  in Africa, where its reach extends, and to spread terror and fear within Western nations beyond its immediate reach through vicious attacks.  The nations of the West, the Middle East, and much of the world, have no alternative but to respond in force.

Facing such a sworn and prime enemy, a rare opportunity exists for all involved nations to join together in a broad, cooperative coalition, including even those that are not typically inclined to join together and have various issues that tend to keep them apart.  If the major forces having reason to oppose ISIS, namely Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Kurds, and other Middle Eastern, Muslim nations and sects, were providing troops on the ground; and  the US, French, Russia, the UK, and Germany were providing air support,  ground advisors, and military coordination, their power, through all working together and coordinating their efforts,  would be overwhelming.  The dynamics of multi-power politics, unfortunately, are preventing this from happening.

 A major obstacle is the US insistence that the removal of Assad in Syria continues as a co-priority of our policies, so we are continuing to support rebel groups other than ISIS fighting Assad, while at the same time launching attacks on ISIS in Syria. This puts us in opposition to the position of Russia, which is supporting Assad, has a legal military presence in Syria at the invitation of Assad, and adds to Assad's military strength, which is already the major ground force fighting ISIS in Syria.  Turkey's motivation to fight ISIS is diminished by its ongoing conflict with Kurdish populations.  Iran is desirous of fighting ISIS and has forces on the ground in Iraq, but its diplomatic battles with the US make any real coordination in their mutual efforts problematic.  The Iraqi forces are weak, appropriately reluctant to accept US boots on the ground in their land, as the majority of local populations are not only against a repetition of that, but also aware the presence of western ground forces are a major recruiting attraction for ISIS, and in keeping with ISIS's strategic plan .  And on it goes, a region so racked with a long history of western interference, and with deep sectarian and political divisions,  having difficulty uniting temporarily to defeat a common enemy.

 Since much of this immediate crisis, the rise of ISIS, was created through misdirected Western involvement,  Western nations should be a major factor in its resolution, even without  ground forces to engage ISIS in land combat. Middle Eastern nations have the most at stake with the rise of ISIS, it is necessary that they provide the ground troops to regain and hold land ISIS has overtaken.  Only local populations can hold and maintain peace on that land over time. The West cannot successfully do that, and if it tries, it diminishes the motivation of regional nations and peoples from fully engaging in that battle.   The West must, however, provide the coordination, facilitation, and air support necessary to ensure success. This is where current US policy is failing to demonstrate responsible leadership by encouraging formation of a full international coalition.

 As the major instigator of the ISIS crisis, and the nation with the most military power in the region, the primary coordination role should reside with the US, and it has resisted this role, with its priority on replacing Assad in Syria, along with its antipathy towards Russia, the major apparent reasons.  The French government, after the ISIS attack on Paris, has made it very clear, the immediate priority is on defeating ISIS, other considerations are secondary. They are in consultation with Russia to push for a broader coalition. Russia also is clear, its been attacked, it has large Muslim populations and restive adjacent peoples, extremists elements must be defeated, established governments maintained when threatened by extremists. Regime change and nation building by the West has failed elsewhere, why would Syria be any different.

 US policy remains, unfortunately, highly conflicted, and is frustratingly, potentially tragically, inviting conflict among the nations that should be working together against ISIS. When Russia made the decisive move to actively enter the fray in Syria, seemingly outmaneuvering the months of equivocation and hesitancy of US policy, the US response was far from welcoming a new, major force into the battle against ISIS.  Instead, a reference was made suggesting that our coalition was much better than that of Russia and Syria. Hardly words to lay the ground work needed for two nations, who have many reasons to better learn, through experience, how to work together for a beneficial common purpose, to begin that process.

 Is it too late to reverse the process, to model more cooperative efforts in a cause that desperately needs it and in a region that has long suffered from its absence?  One certainly hopes not, but the prospects are not encouraging.  The US would need to alter its stance, and provide more creative leadership. The most vocal voices in the US are currently reactive, conservative, fear-dominated.  When threat and fear are paramount in the  political thinking of leadership, it has a very constrictive effect on the vision inherent in policies.  The call for change would have to be loud and clear, and arise from citizen involvement in pushing for more enlightened policies. It is tragic when opportunities for cooperation on tasks  as vital as the defeat of ISIS, and potentially life-saving as the avoidance of major warfare, are not fully acted upon and carried out to fruition.