If you’ve spent years immersed in the study of all things Middle East, with Islam and radicalism as the dominant central themes, then you’ve had yourself a few fevered dreams. The Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL) is that fevered dream, now imposed on waking consciousness.
Experts snickered at the very idea of a modern Caliphate. While the odds were long and the pathway nebulous, the odds have been overwhelmed by the reality on the ground in Syria and Iraq. The reports of ISIS brutality have been with us for months, as has the video proof: rape, beheadings, mass graves, crucifixion, and roadside assignations. Christians, religious minorities, and Shia have all come under the whip of ISIS violence. For those non-believers the terror has been horrific. It makes our Wild West look like the Champs-Élysées on a spring afternoon.
ISIS is a reprise of early Islamic history: expansionist, Imperialistic, brutal and in many ways Fascist. The demand for conversion to Islam or death and Jizya (tax on non-believers) is well entrenched in Islamic history and theology. It explains the nearly incomprehensibly successful expansion of Islamic rule in the decades following the death of the Prophet Mohammed. While it was the Nazis who famously made Jews wear identifying symbols, that idea started with Islam 1,300 years ago.
CIA Director John Brennan and Saudi-funded experts such as John Esposito claim Jihad is an exercise in “self-improvement.” For peaceful Muslims that may be the case. However, the reality is that ISIS represents the true face of Jihad as defined by a vast majority of the Muslim clerical class in the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan, and here at home.
The Arab League, as is their wont, unleashed a strenuous rhetorical attack but no more. There are no Arab armies on the move to confront ISIS and there won’t be. There are no humanitarian aid commitments from the Arab League and there won’t be. Many members of the Arab League maintain sympathies with ISIS ideology. They may diverge on tactics, but the Saudis in particular have spent billions promoting fundamentalist, radical institutions and education. Rest assured, ISIS has the Saudis in mind as the keepers of the Holy Places, and despite the Saudis’ radical history, they’re not radical enough for ISIS.
The administration has finally taken a first halting first step toward addressing the humanitarian crisis faced by Christians and Yazidis. The level of commitment remains in question based on the President’s less than full-throated authorization of aid and defensive military engagement. While we have generated our first strikes on ISIS artillery fired at Erbil, the public remains unaware of the rules of engagement (ROE) beyond the protection of American personnel by way of air strikes. Based on what we know of the ROE applied in Afghanistan and in the later stages of the Iraq conflict by the Obama administration, this question has bigger implications, and is interconnected with what our overall objective is. Perhaps the idea is to deliver humanitarian aid to that mountain top for as long as ISIS sits at the foot of that mountain. That could be a long time. Or ISIS could decide to put an end to the situation with their trademark brutality.
There will be no rally by the amorphous “International Community” beyond token humanitarian aid, if even that. American leadership and influence have been eroded beyond repair by the current administration. As the current crisis explodes, the administration is still calling for political cohesion in Baghdad; translation: “Get rid of al-Maliki or we’re not providing significant support.” Yesterday Marie Harf at the State Department echoed the theme: “The Iraqis also have to stand up, they have to pull themselves together.” Baghdad politics is of small consolation to those facing death for nothing other than their millennia-old religious beliefs. By the time Baghdad “pulls itself together” they could all be dead. By the time Baghdad “gets itself together,” Baghdad could be submerged under 12 feet of water from a destroyed Mosul Dam.
Baghdad is not “together” because the moderating influence America played there, both militarily and diplomatically, was thrown away at the altar of misguided, ideologically driven policy with no bracing sense of predictable consequence.
No one has a desire for significant American boots on the ground. If that is to be avoided the Kurds must be armed immediately. They will be the boots on the ground. Time to make good on our promise of support for the Kurds, independent of the political calculations centered on Baghdad and the balance of power between Sunni and Shia. We have two friends in the Middle East: the Israelis and the Kurds. Both are willing to fight. The Kurds are facing a violent Jihadist army, replete with American equipment and technology. The ROE should include decapitation of the ISIS fighting force or we will be left with just one friend in the Middle East. The rest will be dead.