The right-wing in our nation pushed hard for the US to act in Syria. We had Senator McCain calling for the US to invade, Donald Rumsfeld criticizing a failure to supply the Syrian rebels, along with a host of other criticism. In response, the president took a more modest approach of meeting their demands halfway, and expanded a Bush-era CIA program supplying the Syrian rebel opposition. Organized under the Free Syria Army (FSA), this coalition of groups was dedicated to ousting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. However, many of these groups have now left the FSA and joined with the Isis Caliphate, taking with them the CIA backed training, and equipment, which the US so helpfully provided.
Last year, reports came out that the US had been secretly supplying and training the Syrian rebels using training facilities in Turkey and Jordan as early as 2008. The US, through direct aid or through allied front organizations, sent millions to strengthen the organization which became the FSA in their fight against the Assad regime in Syria. While at the time some worried that the training would be used by the Muslim Brotherhood, major reports missed ISIS, which grew in plain sight. Even worse, we continued to supply the FSA long after the ties with what is now the Isis Caliphate came to light. When the FSA helped found the Syrian Military Council earlier this year, neoconservative think tank “Institute for the Study of War,” made the case that this was the key needed for stability, and that the US should supply this organization immediately, claiming that,
The SMC differs from previous efforts to unify the military opposition because more groups and support networks are included. It could prove to be a more sustainable organization than its predecessors.
A month later, the institute, having shifted its position 180 degrees, claimed that Isis was preparing to strike at the heart of Iraq almost immediately, only to then have Isis follow a policy of demolishing the Syrian government’s forces, capturing, converting or eliminating other rebel groups in Syria, and is now attempting an invasion of Lebanon. They have rapidly turned around, using captured weapons to resupply. Only now, over a month after their anticipated attack-by period, that the Isis Caliphate is turning its attentions to Baghdad.
The ties between the CIA and the militants now part of the Isis Caliphate have begun circulating a new thought in the region, that the United States actually created Isis intentionally as a way to destroy the governments in the region in an effort to seize control of the region. They even used Hillary Clinton’s recent criticism of President Obama’s Syrian policy to reinforce this. Unfortunately, such rumors make addressing the issue at hand even more difficult to deal with as people come to believe that all is going according to plan – that Isis is but a tool to restore US power and influence across the Middle East. Some have pointed to the language Obama has used and interpreted that it gives Isis permission to conqueror Northern Iraq and Syria, so long as they leave Kurdistan alone.
Already the pressure within Iraq is at a tipping point, with the besieged city of Baghdad collapsing into chaos after yesterdays attack by Isis, even while the government plays fiddle while they argue over succession of Prime Minister Maliki. The US is now eyeing possible ground troops, not for repelling the Caliphate, but for extracting refugees, in a move eerily reminiscent of the Fall of Saigon.
The same thinking which first stated that the Syrian rebels were a strong unified force, and then that Isis would throw it self deep into a strike at Baghdad immediately, now are proclaiming that the Caliphate is weak and will inevitably collapse. Advisors are pushing for anything, even going so far as to demand that the US support Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the man who killed his own people with chemical weapons last year. And, in all honesty, such a move would be moot regardless, as Assad has already begun preparing himself for the complete collapse of his government, only securing two small sections plus the transport lines to allow his escape. Syria is now a fight between Isis and the remaining FSA forces.
And, to induce more concern, there is a rising belief that the Saudi Arabian Islamic sect of Wahhabism may turn on the ruling family and join Isis. There has been a long brewing crisis within Saudi Arabia that the Saudi royal family might be too corrupt. The Saudi occupation of Bahrain certainly is not helping the situation. Isis now proclaims that they more true to the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the 18th century Islamic teacher who, in partnership with Muhammad bin Saud, founded the first Saudi nation, the Emirate of Diriyah. That Isis was so heavily influenced by Wahhabism is due to the Saudi Arabia’s own funding of Isis, in the belief that it could help serve as a counter to expanding Iranian influence within Iraq. That it split with the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, only helps to reinforce the ‘folk hero’ status of Isis in some areas of the world, much to the annoyance of Al Qaeda’s leadership. To further solidify this view, Isis has engaged in the destruction of shrines and forced conversion of the Yazidis, while many other Wahhabist groups only serve rhetoric over action. As a result of its own gross miscalculation, Saudi Arabia is now preparing for what it views is an inevitable invasion by the Isis Caliphate.
The United States is facing the reality of a no-win scenario. Arming the Syrian rebels helps Isis when men and units switch sides. Arming the Iraqi’s only gives Isis more material. Engaging with any group presents us as opportunistic imperialists, possibly who engineered this whole situation to begin with. Backing dictators like Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad earns us no favors. Any arms or training we send will be turned against us in the fluid loyalties of the region. Todays allies become tomorrows enemies. Troops on the ground only reinforces the image of the US as an imperialist power. There is no solution in which the United States can ‘win’ here.
The entire Middle East region has effectively imploded, caused by the United States sudden removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Rather than an internal process, much like what happened in Egypt which forced the removal of Hosni Mubarak, the Bush administration thought they could step in, and force change down the barrel of a gun. Iraq’s destabilization enabled the rise of fundamentalist movements that Saddam had kept at bay, which eventually merged in to what we today call the Isis Caliphate. Their proximity to Syria meant that they could exploit the populist uprising within Syria in late 2011 to train, recruit, and exploit. It should be no surprise that while the Syrian civil war began with rebels in the western areas, like Horn, in short order the rebel strongholds were in areas near to Iraq.
The only solution will have to come out of the Middle East itself, quite possibly the United States partnering with Iran to make sure the situation is stable. Indeed, it appears that some cooperation is happening right now, with reports of Iranian troops already operating within Iraq. In combination with US led air strikes against Isis targets, it is hoped that this may bring the pressure off of the government in Baghdad to develop a new strategy in dealing with the Caliphate. Only time will tell if the Isis Caliphate is forced into retreat, or if it is destined to continue its rapid growth in territory and power.
Without the US supplied training and weapons, Isis would never have progressed as far as they have. Now they stand poised to plunge the entire Middle East into a war which will have global ramifications. The United States created this mess, like so many before, and at this point there is no way to close Pandora’s box. The best we can do is hope to contain it, and save as many people as possible.
But hey, our Senators do look good when posing with the leaders of Isis for photo shoots.