Islamic State: Victory, responsibility and deceit
For the US-led West, the best remedy to the Islamic State lies in military victory. But it remains unclear whether Iraqi groups mean the same thing by victory as President Barack Obama. [icopyright one button toolbar]
The central fact is that Iraqi Sunnis, Shia and Kurds claim they are too weak to repel the invasion of their home territories by Islamic State warriors from Syria without support from American warplanes, materiel and treasure.
Absent that support, their soldiers simply abandoned weapons and ran. This is ridiculous because the IS has less than 15,000 fighters spread thinly over large areas of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
They captured American weapons in Mosul but far less than the high quality arms held in Baghdad and Erbil, which also have many more US-trained soldiers.
Each Iraqi group claims it cannot protect its territory without extended US involvement, including military advisors, intelligence and more weapons. All paid for by American taxpayers.
In effect, each is dumping the chief burden of its salvation onto Obama, including protection of civilians and humanitarian aid.
Iraq’s Sunnis, Kurds and Shia have abdicated responsibility for their own redemption. Instead, they are misleading Americans to believe that the terrorist Islamic State is a greater threat to the West than to them.
They are asking US taxpayers to sink yet more material and money into the cesspools that gave opportunity to the IS, including their corruption, unfair governance and sectarian political infighting.
Perversely in Washington, the arguments that rage are for or against Obama’s leadership instead of this deceit of Iraqi leaders, whether Sunni, Shia or Kurd.
Merciless medieval zealot warriors are obliterating their ancestral lifestyles and conquering their ancient homelands. Yet they demand further American sacrifice as a precondition to fighting the invader. This is deceitful.
They pretend to have suddenly forgotten how to fight without air support, whereas they always did so before the US military arrived in 2003.
They know that however precise the airstrikes, collateral causalities will occur causing civilians to hate Americans more than the IS invaders since they have no airpower. Each feuding group is trying to make the US a scapegoat for their man-made hornet’s nest in Iraq.
Against this backdrop, Obama’s caution and that of his generals makes sense because the current war is different. Unlike 2003, it is not a clear-cut fight against a dictator’s bloody tyranny. It is much murkier.
The current war is a showdown among long-standing enemies, comprising extremist and moderate Sunni militias, rival Iraqi Shia militias, Arab dislike of Kurds, and malign interference by neighbors.
Each group wants to use American power to slant the showdown in its favor. They are using the IS threat to pull the US back into a war that they are unwilling to fight together, because each wants to gain the upper hand at war’s end.
That end might be realignment of territories among Kurds, Sunni and Shia, rather than unity within the inclusive Iraqi state of Obama’s vision.
Despite some gaps, Obama’s measured approach is more rational than the new quasi invasion that some strong American voices propose. Larger intervention even without thousands of US boots will drop the peace of Iraq, Syria and the entire region squarely on the White House lap.
It will force American taxpayers and soldiers to make more sacrifices while local actors continue to feud as Americans carry the can.
For instance in Baghdad, it is far from certain that the new Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi has goals similar to the White House.
Al-Abadi might simply do to Washington what Pakistan has done for years in Afghanistan. He will take American weapons and money on pretext of fighting the Islamic State’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi but bolster his own control over Iraq’s military instead.
He may protect Iraq’s Shia regions without ever defeating the IS because that would tear up his meal ticket from the US.
In particular, he may not abandon his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki’s drive to consolidate Shia power in Iraq to secure Shia domination. He could make it lower key for a while to gain time for building his own power against future challenges from al-Maliki or other Shia leaders.