Medical science has helped many cancer patients extend their lives. Further, it’s inching towards cures. Military science has been far less effective in fighting religious cancers, such as ISIS—the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (aka ISIL, the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant). The United States might take that into account as Iraq faces dismemberment.
We toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. Then Iraq disintegrated thanks to a virtually nonexistent post-war plan for rebuilding a shattered country. A troop surge in 2007 brought bubbling hot spots down to a simmer but never extinguished the fire. Fuel and matches remained abundant. We withdrew in 2011. Now the lid has blown. Again.
Let’s get real. And that includes you, Dick Cheney! We can’t remake the Middle East. The cancer of Islamism—Islamic fundamentalism as distinct from Islam—has eaten away at the region since the Sunni-Shiite split in the Seventh Century following the death of Muhammad. We can retard its spread in some places, but a cure will come only from within. Whether it will be found in this century remains to be seen.
Is the cancer metaphor overblown? While all peoples praise peace, justice and freedom, Islamists and many others in the Muslim world define these principles differently. Peace means planting your boot on the neck of your enemy. And you always have enemies. Justice equates with revenge rather than ending the conditions that contribute to hostilities. Freedom, in terms of the caliphate, entails living as you believe God dictates—and dictating the same conditions to everyone you overrun. In The Clash of Civilizations (1996), Samuel Huntington posited that different civilizations/cultures possess different values and goals. Some are malignant. He was right.
What now? Use may be made of American air power in Iraq. But American boots—aside from Special Forces advisors and small, covert special operations units—will not hit the ground. We could stay there for a hundred years, and the same religious and tribal hatreds would remain while we slowly bled ourselves. So we won’t try to cure the cancer of Islamism. We’ll attempt to contain it. This will involve a web of complex, often unsavory, political relationships to stabilize the disease’s periphery.
Turkey will work with Kurdistan. (They’ve been coming to terms for a while.) The vicious Assad regime in Syria will receive more support from Iran, the rebels little from us. The U.S. and Iran will engage, although how remains unclear. We’ll try to drag Saudi Arabia to the table, although the Saudis hate Iraq’s Shiite, Maliki-run government—which we’ll try to change. We’ll quietly prop up Egypt’s military-run government and continue working with Jordan’s King Hussein. We’ll stand by Israel as a counterweight to Shiite Islamist ambitions in Lebanon—again while working with Hezbollah’s patron Iran. Hopefully, Mid-East first aid will stop the bleeding then prompt ISIS to cannibalize itself.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” goes a well-known Arab saying. Many enemies may accommodate each other until this crisis ends. But once ISIS is dealt with, allies joined under duress will turn on each other yet again.
The blog will take two weeks off. Look for the next post on July 11.
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