February 9, 2015


The Rise of Islamic State review - the story of Isis : Patrick Cockburn's intelligent account of the rise of Isis - and the uselessness of the west - makes depressing reading (Jason Burke, 9 February 2015, The Guardian)

Amid the many books published on the current conflicts reshaping the Middle East, few are as informative or perceptive as The Rise of Islamic State.

The roots of the IS lie in the surge of violent Islamic activism in the Middle East of the 1980s and the effects of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, which brought a young Jordanian street thug known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to Afghanistan in 1989. He was too late to join the war but returned to his native land to plan attacks there. Jailed, al-Zarqawi was released in time to return to Afghanistan to create his own group, Tawhid wal-Jihad. His opportunity came with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent uprising. Al-Zarqawi established himself as leader of the most brutal fringe of the insurgency. He was killed in 2006 as the sectarian civil war he had worked to foment intensified. If over the next four years the Islamic State in Iraq, as the group called itself, suffered under pressure from the US, it was able to regroup once the foreign troops had left. Under its new leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISI launched new campaigns.

The 2011 revolt in Syria, and that country's rapid disintegration into civil war, provided a new opportunity. Working with al-Qaida central, the ISI set up a new militant group in the neighbouring country. However, lines of command were never clear. Al-Baghdadi thought the new organisation was under his authority. Its commanders, and the al-Qaida command, thought differently. The result was an acrimonious split, al-Baghdadi sending forces to take over substantial portions of eastern Syria, while appropriating large chunks of a resurgent Iraqi Sunni insurgency against a Shia chauvinist government in Baghdad. By summer last year, al-Baghdadi was ready for a big push. He launched a successful attack on Mosul, Iraq's troubled second city, and then declared himself caliph, temporal and spiritual ruler of the world's Muslims.

So why, if people like Cockburn could see what was happening, did western security officials, analysts and editors miss it? Probably because, as The Rise of Islamic State explains, western policymakers have shown little but wishful thinking and inconsistency in dealing with the conflict in Syria or the supposed peace in Iraq for several years. Of all the many mistakes Cockburn says were made by both the rebels and their foreign backers since 2011, it was the belief that President Assad was going to be swiftly defeated that was the most serious. 

...rather than occupying Iraq.

OBAMA : THE VOX CONVERSATION (Matthew Yglesias, Vox)

Matthew Yglesias

In the Middle East, where we're still very much engaged despite the draw-down from Iraq, the Clinton administration had a policy they called Dual Containment of Iraq and Iran. The Bush administration had an idea about preventative war and about rollback and democracy promotion. Under your administration, the country is still very involved in that region, but I don't think we have as clear a sense of what is the sort of strategic goal of that engagement.

Barack Obama

Well, partly it's because of the nature of what's happened in the Middle East. I came in with some very clear theories about what my goals were going to be. We were going to end the war in Iraq. We were going to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, trying diplomacy first. We were going to try to promote increased economic development in the Muslim countries to deal with this demographic bulge that was coming into play. We were going to promote Palestinian and Israeli peace talks. So, there were all kinds of theories.

And then the Arab Spring happened. I don't recall all the wise men in Washington anticipating this. And so this has been this huge, tumultuous change and shift, and so we've had to adapt, even as it's happening in real time, to some huge changes in these societies. But if you look at the basic goals that I've set: making sure that we are maintaining pressure on terrorist organizations so that they have a limited capacity to carry out large-scale attacks on the West. Increasing our partnering and cooperation with countries to deal with that terrorist threat. Continuing to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And using the tool of sanctions to see if we can get a diplomatic breakthrough there. And continuing to try to move the Israeli-Palestinian relationship into a better place, while at the same time helping the region as a whole integrate itself more effectively into the world economy so that there's more opportunity. Those basic goals still hold true.

But what people rightly have been concerned about [is] that the forces of disorder -- sectarianism, most tragically in Syria, but lingering elements of that in Iraq as well, the incapacity of Israelis and Palestinians to get together, and the continued erosion of basic state functions in places like Yemen, mean that there's more to worry about there than there might have been under the old order. We're kind of going through a passage that is hard and difficult, but we're managing it in a way to make sure that Americans are safe and that our interests are secured. And if we can make progress in restoring a functioning, multi-sectarian Iraqi government, and we're able to get a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran, then we have the basis, I think, for a movement towards greater stability.

But this is going to be a generational challenge in the Muslim world and the Middle East that not only the United States but everybody's going to have to deal with. And we're going to have to have some humility in recognizing that we don't have the option of simply invading every country where disorder breaks out. And that to some degree, the people of these countries are going to have to, you know, find their own way. And we can help them but we can't do it for them.

Strange, the Arab Spring was exactly what W said would come of the WoT.  We just weren't nimble enough to accept election results, nor forceful enough to remove the remaining oppressive regimes.

Posted by at February 9, 2015 6:52 PM

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