by Henry Precht
A bunch of fanatic radicals is on the verge of inflicting grievous damage on the traditional states of the Middle East. Only sensible, but also radical changes in American policy can hope to arrest their advance. The first business is to understand what can’t be changed, what bits of history can’t be rewritten:
- The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) cannot be caused to disappear. Its seizure of Mosul and other Iraqi and Syrian towns appears to be supported at least partially by their Sunni populations who bitterly resent their nation’s non-Sunni leaders. Their like has succeeded before in Vietnam and Afghanistan.
- President Bashar al-Assad’s hands are stained with too much blood of his countrymen. He must go, albeit with a measure of grace permitted in his exit. Elements of his regime might be combined with secular oppositionists in a new setup.
- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also must stand aside. He, like other rulers (Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi) who were previously denied office, was too greedy and refused to share power with his competitors. Another Shia grandee willing to join with acceptable Sunni elders must replace him.
- The Kurdish occupation of Erbil should be ignored — especially if Peshmerga troops are to be helpful against ISIS.
Next we turn to changes that are essential if the ISIS uprising is to be managed:
- Washington must realize that it has been backing the wrong side in the Syrian civil war. We mistakenly thought that the moderate, free market democrats opposed to Assad could bring him down. They simply couldn’t compete and were outclassed by ISIS and like-minded Islamic extremists. Not so long before the strife began, Washington quietly applauded Assad’s struggle against al-Qaeda. As distasteful a dictator as he might be, he and we were brought together by a common enemy. Using an international front with Russia and others, the US ought to let it be known that Damascus deserves help in the fight against ISIS before a replacement government can be set up.
- Taking an even bigger bite of crow meat, the US should acknowledge Iran’s importance in bottling up ISIS with units of its armed forces. To secure further cooperation, Obama and Co. should accept a reasonable nuclear deal with Rouhani rather than insisting on deal-destroying, but unnecessary, terms favored by Israel.
- Egypt might also be enlisted in this effort.
- Saudi Arabia, which has supported Sunni fanatics against Shia across the region, should be told that such behavior is inconsistent with a close defense relationship. The same message should be delivered to other Gulf regimes and intended as well for their ISIS-funding private citizens.
- Turkey and Jordan must be led to see that their borders with Syria need to be closed to the movement of fighters and their armaments. Otherwise they could be future ISIS targets.
- Iraq and Syria should be strongly encouraged to move to a decentralized, federal system of government. Funds for humanitarian relief and reconstruction must be mobilized with cash coming from the Arabian Peninsula.
- Israel and its friends in Congress would be briefed on plans in general, but not allowed to impede them.
An alternative US-led plan to defeat or contain ISIS would involve supplying arms to the Iraqi forces (which have been proved to be in no shape to employ them) or mounting drone attacks and other surgical strikes — with the same probable results as seen on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. If US planes or troops are used against ISIS, their retaliation against American targets can be expected.
The guiding principle for America in this crisis ought to be to stay out and to remain as far back as possible, leaving the heavy lifting to those regional states — however previously repugnant — to do the needful.
This article was first published by LobeLog.
Photo: President Barack Obama convenes an Oval Office meeting with his national security team to discuss the situation in Iraq, June 13, 2014. Credit: White House/Pete Souza
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