What happens when you invade the wrong country for the wrong reasons, fail to stop a civil war by refusing to rebuild it properly, then start bombing neighboring countries?
If your answer is: "A complete and utter nightmare," you'd be right.
After the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000's, the Middle East has descended into a never ending bloodbath fueled by sectarian violence, religious fanaticism, and Machiavellian geopolitics by competing super powers. While there was much fanfare about the US withdrawing militarily from the region, the truth is that we are still involved, desperately trying to patch up the power vacuum created by the Bush administration's extraordinary mismanagement.
The Obama administration's 'surgical strike' drone strategy is sowing more discontent, having killed over 2400 people (with and unspecified but worrying number of civilian casualties) and riling up militants across the region. The result of the chaos created in the region has been the emergence of one of the most terrifying death cults the world has ever seen - ISIS, (the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant') or simply the 'Islamic State' (IS).
Most recently ISIS fighters were seen performing a mass execution of Egyptian christians (pictured above), adding to their already astonishing legacy of nihilistic violence that includes beheadings, burning people alive, the slaughter and torture of small children and rape. Originally a Sunni movement named 'ISI' (Islamic State of Iraq) born in Iraq in 2006, the organization consisted of merging insurgent groups dedicated to expelling US troops and creating a Caliphate in Iraq. As their ambitions (and numbers) grew, the group swept into northern Syria and changed their name to reflect their new goal in a much bigger region.
There are calls for the US to go rampaging into Iraq and northern Syria again, predictably coming from the usual cabal of gung ho neo cons addicted to perpetual war and imperial conquest. As Robert Parry notes, their agenda has little to do with ISIS itself, but further US ambitions in the region:
The neocons’ new hope has now arrived with the public outrage over ISIS’s atrocities. Yet, while pushing to get this new war going, the neocons have downplayed their “regime change” agenda, getting Obama to agree only to extend his anti-ISIS bombing campaign from Iraq into Syria. But “regime change” in Damascus has remained a top neocon priority.
In a New York Times op-ed on Aug. 29, neocon Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham avoided the “r-c” phrase couching their words about Syria’s civil war in the vague language of resolving the conflict, but clearly meaning that Assad must go.
The hawkish pair wrote that thwarting ISIS “requires an end to the [civil] conflict in Syria, and a political transition there, because the regime of President Bashar al-Assad will never be a reliable partner against ISIS; in fact, it has abetted the rise of ISIS, just as it facilitated the terrorism of ISIS’ predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq.”
Alongside the imperialist faction of the US political system, we again have supposed liberals chomping at the bit to send in the troops. Does all of this sound familiar?
This is a conundrum Americans are going to have to get their heads around: You cannot invade a country and destroy its infrastructure, fail to rebuild it properly, continue bombing it, then reinvade it again in order to fix it. While it is convenient to think that because Bush and his neocon henchmen are out of office, the US has a blank slate and can start again, but the rest of the world doesn't see it that way. We're seeing a classic case of 'blowback' - a term coined by the CIA to describe the unintended consequences of US foreign policy. Extremism does not appear out of nowhere - it is a product of extreme circumstance.
This isn't to blame the US entirely for the Middle East's predicament or to excuse vile terrorism - there is plenty of blame to go around. But it needs to be acknowledged, particularly if there is to be any sort of positive outcome in the long term. The US still has strategic interests in the Middle East due to its complex history in the region, and whichever party is in power is still obligated to protect those interests as best they can. Unfortunately, that means pissing off the people in those regions who don't see why the US should have any say over their politics or anything to do with their economies. It is a legacy of oil interdependency and neo colonialism that ultimately has not been good for anyone other than nasty dictators and Exxon Mobile.
The problem is, the situation is now so bad that every country on the planet is obligated to help stop ISIS in its tracks. It is impossible to overstate just how much of a threat ISIS is given their extraordinary rise and ever more daring acts of medieval violence. When Al Qaeda wants nothing to do with you it is fair to say there's a very, very big problem.
So what should the US do? It isn't an easy question to answer, but taking the lead on sending in the troops is probably the worst idea imaginable. While America might suffer a blow to its ego, it must work collaboratively with the international community and do everything in its power to avoid drawing attention to any action it might want to take.
ISIS is certainly a grave threat to the Middle East, but so is American stupidity. We can't stop ISIS chopping people's heads off on, but we can stop being stupid. So let's at least start with that.