It’s becoming more apparent by the hour that ISIS is transforming its liberated zone into a new Islamic state. A US military intervention will be the major factor in unifying the insurgency into its new identity and overcoming serious internal factional divides with Al Qaeda and other jihadists.
US intervention also makes it even more likely, not less, that a victorious ISIS will see the US as their main enemy, for our support of the bloody regimes in Damascus and Baghdad.
What started as a vicious circle has begun its downward spiral.
We’ve seen this before, in South Vietnam, where proposals for a provisional, face-saving power-sharing arrangement in the South were rejected because of a superpower belief that our bombs and advisers could protect an unpopular client forever. There was a time when the NLF and North Vietnam would have accepted a coalition in the South, at least temporarily, because they knew there would be problems in “swallowing” a region that was significantly different in its development. But when President Richard Nixon remained stubborn in order to avoid appearing weak, the collapse came swiftly. Today we cannot take back the territories claimed by ISIS and the Kurds, and we can only wonder if the Shiite Baghdad regime will implode from within, Humpty-Dumpty style. Does anyone in DC understand the Kenny Rogers formula: know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em? Its folding time.
No one should underestimate the excitement among Sunni Muslims at the opportunity to finally destroy the borders inflicted on the Middle East by the secret British-French Sikes Picot agreement following World War I. This is not only a sectarian war, but also one with deep anti-Western, anti-imperialist roots. Its religious dynamic stems from the fact that the US and the West were opposed to secular Arab nationalism, for Cold War reasons.
American officials, media, and the public need to ask very soberly what interests are served now by propping up corrupt and unreformable regimes in Iraq and Syria, since the outcome will be a rising tide of insurgent hatred towards the US. The oil will be for sale in any scenario, though perhaps at higher prices. A security interest? As Senator George McGovern observed in the final days of South Vietnam, “Those who provoke the bee hive need to be ready for the sting.”
And why should the US link with Iran to defend the Shiites, except for temporary stability in the case that the Sunni insurgents overrun Samarra, Baghdad, and southern Iraq? Ultimately we have no “side” in this war. The Crusades are over. Iran privately may want the US to pound ISIS with air strikes, or concur in the replacement of al-Maliki in Baghdad, but only because those US steps are in Iran’s interest, and Assad’s.
With the winds of war now at gale levels, it seems impossible politically for a US president to survive accusations of “isolationism” and “losing” Iraq. There is only one accusation that is worse, however, which is to “lose” Iraq again, to become Gulliver in the land of Lilliputians. That’s what happened in South Vietnam when one US administration after another lied or dissembled to put American soldiers in harm’s way to prevent the defeat of our client. This is a South Vietnam moment. If blame is to be allotted, Mr. President, blame al-Maliki, blame Bush, blame the neo-conservative intelligencia, and avoid the Rabbit Hole.