Hope for the best, pre-empt the worst in Middle East

The dangers behind Washington's Iraq strategy and its insistence it's winning against ISIL.

    Hope for the best, pre-empt the worst in Middle East
    Iraqi prime minister, former prime minister of France and US deputy national security adviser at a meeting in Paris [Getty]

    Every time one assumes that the Middle East is bound to bounce back once it hits rock bottom, it goes from one rock bottom to another, as in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, etc.

    And every time one thinks superpowers are bound to learn from their fatal failures and change course to avoid more of the same short-sighted strategies that lead to more of the same failures, they double down instead.

    And every time one thinks one has heard it all and there's absolutely nothing that could be said that might be surprising, one is faced with US Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken speaking at this week's Paris gathering of the 24-member coalition against ISIL.

    We are "winning", he said. The strategy is "working" against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, "politically and militarily".  Therefore, the US is going to double its efforts; it will send more arms to the Iran-supported Haider al-Abbadi government and launch more air strikes.

    Iraqi PM asks for more support in fight against ISIL

    It's not clear to me why exactly the Obama administration won't admit the obvious: Despite the global campaign against it, ISIL is fortifying, strengthening, and expanding. 

    Is it public posturing? Or, worse, is it self-deception?

    Mesopotamia burning

    Iraq and Syria stand out for the horrors, destruction and death inflicted by their own regimes or due to foreign intervention. It's no coincidence that the two neighbours are today major importers and exporters of bloody extremism.

    The regimes' repression - bloody and sectarian - has created the conditions that nurture, motivate and strengthen extremist groups like ISIL, and pave the way towards uniting the two into one bloody and protracted "civil war" in the whole of Mesopotamia.

    Like the worst among the hundreds of "civil wars" over the last century, this has devolved into a brutal, merciless, and religious war with frightening long-term repercussions.

    And like the more protracted among civil wars, this has taken roots so deep that it's going to be impossible to stop it in the near or intermediate future.

    ISIL is benefiting from the break-up of fragile states, the breakdown of their bankrupt regimes, and the implosion of their societies.


    Mounting demonisation and dehumanisation justifies using any and all types of violence along the lines of "either with us or against us". Just as claims of sacredness justify doing anything and everything along the lines of "the end justifies the means".

    In the process, the moral fabric of these ancient civilisations is being destroyed along with their ancient heritage. Anything goes, everything is permissible and nothing is shocking.

    Region on the brink

    It's telling that the day Blinken and his coalition partners boasted of their strategic success, ISIL was busy bombing various military targets in Anbar, attacking Aleppo in Syria, and taking over the Libyan city of Sirt.

    ISIL is benefiting from the break-up of fragile states, the breakdown of their bankrupt regimes, and the implosion of their societies.

    ISIL has also benefited from violence becoming the new norm in the Middle East. After millions of casualties, the toll is rising exponentially as countless more meet similar fate, alas.

    And most noticeably, ISIL has benefited from Washington's past blunders and present failures in Iraq (and Syria, etc) Does the Obama administration really think that missiles and mullah-supported-militias will defeat ISIL - when, in fact, they are its raison d'etre that keeps it alive and agitated?

    If the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and its control of vast territories in the east of Syria and west of Iraq was shocking, it should have come as no surprise.

    ISIL expands and exports

    Once it eclipsed al-Qaeda and established itself as the new caliphate with a fixed address at the cradle of the world's civilisation, ISIL became the new magnate for religious extremism.

    Iraqi prime minister, French foreign affairs minister, and US deputy secretary of state with ministers and members of the anti-ISIL coalition in Paris [AP]

    And in no time, ISIL began to expand its dominion and cultivate new loyalties across the world and accept new allegiances from various extremists groups in Asia and Africa, including those who once vowed allegiance to al-Qaeda.

    It's no doubt puzzling to see how a violent group modelled on 7th century Islamic tradition, garnered such support from even the most unlikely places like Belgium and Tunisia and spread its brand to faraway lands like Libya and Nigeria.

    But that doesn't mean, as Blinken contends, that ISIL "stands for nothing and depends on people who will fall for anything".

    In a region of instability, uncertainty and chaos, ISIL is unmistakably steadfast and clear. It espouses clarity of doctrine (terribly violent jihad), mission (fighting infidels, heretics, and apostates), and clarity of goal (establishment of the caliphate throughout the Muslim world).

    On the other hand, its enemies are divided and they lack such clarity of vision and mission, including the United States.

    Collateral damage

    For all these reasons, I don't share the Obama administration's optimism. In these dark times, optimism entails a large dose of myopia, naivete or cynicism.

    And I can't see how more bombings or arming sectarian forces helps, that's unless Washington is OK with sacrificing Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIL. That's not only criminal; it's idiotic. (As a wise man once said, it's insane to repeat the same thing over and over again expecting different results.)

    Washington, Moscow, and their allies must realise that a longer bloodier conflict in Mesopotamia will have major blowback and grave global implications. And they must truly embrace political solution as the way forward.

    I stress all of that because Iraqis and Syrians, like countless others before them, will prove incapable of ending their civil wars without credible outside mediation.

    Paradoxically, it's those irresponsible powers that have long messed about with Iraq and Syria that will prove indispensable to bring about national reconciliation - adding insult to injury.

    Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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