The President implied, that political reform in Iraq is the key to significant U.S. support. That would be the political reform that years of Iraqi politics have not delivered. One must give the President credit for, at least, the attempt at artful dissembling. Upon our departure from Iraq and the consequent abandonment of the ability to influence events in real time, Prime Minister al Malaki engaged in revenge behaviors intent on punishing and denigrated those who once punished his sect, the Shia, under Saddam Hussein; same game, different players. The President and the national security bureaucracy knew this. Discontent with al Malaki has been expressed by a variety of commentators. It wasn’t a secret. ISIS, as well, has been well reported in open source media. The ongoing sectarian terrorism in Iraq, also well reported; frightful, consistent and targeted, Sunni or Shia.
The President’s demand for political reform is no more than an excuse to limit involvement, regardless of what the security implications may be and they may be considerable. The Middle East has been, for the West, a place where you were forced to a choice amongst the lesser of evils. This equation was, in hind sight, nearly guaranteed by the post WWII partition. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Iran and Iraq at one time or another provided choices with no guarantee of positive outcomes: only less worse outcomes or the ability to buy time. This administration appears to be incapable of recognizing that reality. There are no perfect solutions in the current day Middle East. One faces the potentiality that it may never have been the case and most certainly will not be the case in the immediate future.
In responses to Iraq’s call for help, the responses are telling. Iran, in essence said, “we’ll send two battalions of the al Quda force.” We said, “well, maybe, if you get on the PC bandwagon, immediately stop doing what your entire political infrastructure is built on, throw you’re political allies under the bus and then we might think about helping you out.”
Personally I don’t like any of it, I believe foreign policy should be based on values; we are, however, where we are. This administration can’t or won’t recognize the realities. In Egypt el-Sisi is a better bad choice than Morsi. The Saudis are a better bad choice than militants, although they helped create them; al Malaki is a better bad choice than Iran or ISIS as is Assad in Syria. Arab strongmen have meant, in recent history, more not less stability. Harsh, central authority seems to work to our advantage in the Middle East more often than not. Were there bad guys in power; yes! The fact is there are mostly bad guys and in the vast majority your choices are limited to bad guys; you know, like Congress.
When you pile strategic mistake upon strategic mistake across administrations and in some cases decades it’s a supreme challenge to change course. Inertia must be overcome before change has a prayer. ISIS represents a new point of inertia and they are the baldest of the bad guys!
The correct answer would have been to hit ISIS within twenty four hours of crossing the Syrian border. No notifications, no permissions. To control radical Salafists you must deliver a message that cannot escape proper interpretation. Think in terms of BOOM! Think in terms of forcing folks to decide if this is really worth it? Islam does justify retreat; in the long run it’s cheaper to motivate that behavior early and often. We survived the Cold War because no one wanted to pay the price for overt aggression.
The President is both right and wrong; there does have to be political reform in Iraq, however, the very presence of U.S. pressure applied publicly by the President will generate the reverse effect and will serve to solidify current behaviors if for no other reason than to push back against the U.S.; that’s a big deal in the region. We will also push Iraq further into the Iranian sphere of influence. Iran said; “we’ll send two battalions”, we said “stop oppressing the people who are on their way to kill you.” Simple question really: If Iranian influence extends throughout Iraq it puts Iran on Jordan’s border a stones throw from Israel, it also puts them on the border of the much hated Saudis. That would be a strategic disaster.
You can rely on the expectation that Islamists learn from their mistakes. They will operate on two strategic points of analysis. One, the U.S. will likely not get involved immediately or aggressively no matter manner of atrocity we engage in; they’ll “think” about it. Two, we don’t give them months to stage a massive Army, we move hard and fast. We don’t prepare to overwhelm the U.S. we plan to overwhelm the Saudi’s or the Jordanians; we acquire territory, we recruit the faithful, we rob the banks, we kill the opposition. ISIS is about “real” organized terrorism on the ground, were I in Iraq I’d be good and truly terrorized by ISIS, so would us all!
This is the next evolution of the war on terrorism come to fruition in Syria, throughout Africa and now Iraq. Regardless of who’s to blame the realities are the realities. This is the second front. The secret cell is one front, organized armies are the second. Terrorism refuses to recognize the norms of International Law, such as it is. Terrorism refuses to recognize International norms or borders. They are not a party to treaties and do not fit the modern definitions of War.
It is time to wake up to the fact that to effectively fight those tactics you must adopt some of them!