In my free time I’ve been trying to understand the complexities involved in the Syrain civil war and its spillover to Iraq. Which isn’t an easy task. With nearly every new piece of information unearthed leading to even more questions than I had before. My motivations for doing so are more political in nature since the presidential election cycle is starting once again, and one need be informed, or at least a best guess from available information, as to which rhetoric on foreign policy is based in reality and which on fantasy.

Here is my overall assessment of the situation so far:

  • In all likelihood, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the destabilized in the region in at least two ways:
    1. Removal of Saddam Hussain left a power vacuum in a culture that doesn’t quite understand the meaning of compromise and mutual sacrifice for the general welfare and the real need, security wise, for political cohesion. Healthy functioning democracies do not appear overnight, and I doubt that it’s something that can be “gifted.” Even in the US when the rebellion against Britain was generally cohesive, it still took nearly two decades for the post-revolution political dust to settle and for the US to form a cohesive political unit.
    2. Deliberate attempts by the West to destabilize other dubious regimes in the region by encouraging liberal uprisings. I am not being judgmental here. I can’t say whether it was the wrong or right thing to do. It’s better than invading an occupying for decades until these societies learn how to be democratic. And if successful, the resulting democracies might be more cherished if they have to fight for it themselves because they understand first hand the alternative of chaos and loss involved with disorder, providing impetus to compromise to settle disagreements. The drawback is that revolutions are messy and frequently fail the original intent resulting in a worse situation than the previous one (Iran, ISIS). My criticism isn’t intent. But I wonder what happened to Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom of “one war at a time,” hot or cold.
  • The Obama Administration frustrated and complicated the entire Middle East strategy put into place by the Bush Administration that included broader destabilization of the region with no alternatives.
    1. What is perceived by me, at least, as the near immediate stand-down in the “war on terror” when the Obama Administration came to power failed to comprehend the ramifications of stopping the strategic wheels that had already been set in motion, wheels that counted on a continued military presence of Iraq as a success factor. And now, the administration is halfheartedly trying to play catch up to the developments it either couldn’t stop or were allowed to careen out of control.
    2. It abandoned the Iraqis before they were politically cohesive, leaving a failed state.
    3. There was no US military presence in Iraq to help cope with the destabilization of Syria, and the administration ignored developments there: the development of ISIS in particular.

I am not an advocate for being involved in world politics. I’d rather not. But that is and has been a de facto purely academic debate in this country for almost a century. The only thing any us of can do, because we’re not talking about a blank slate, whether we should become involved, is deal with the hand we’re dealt. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t support the invasion of Iraq. But that egg has done been broken and we bear some responsibility for the problem by starting destabilization efforts that we didn’t finish.

So what is the Obama Administration doing, other than not a whole lot? We have the train-and-equip effort which is helping in the northern area of Syria with the Kurds and allied rebel groups.

But of course that success has revealed more failure as it’s been discovered that ISIS was using Tel Abyad, a border crossing between Syria and Turkey that has convenient access to Al-Raqqa, as a major supply and illicit trade route unmolested by Turkish authorities. The administration is quick to denigrate the Iraqis. But what about NATO-member Turkey allowing the free flow of weapons and supplies to ISIS through Tel Abyad? Allied airstrikes blow up ISIS cannons? No problem. Turkey is there to get them more.

I understand that the Turkish government has a longstanding conflict with certain elements of the Kurdish population, and I don’t intend to diminish those concerns. But I seriously question whether allowing the arming and equipping ISIS through its territory to commit atrocities against them is an acceptable way to deal with that conflict. As an aside, it’s interesting that the various global human rights committees are very interested in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but this issue with Turkey allowing the equipment of ISIS as a proxy to exterminate the Kurds in Syria appears to go unnoticed. There is something very wrong there.

I’ve gone into a bit more detail here than I intended to with this post. This is an illustration of how complicated the Syrian conflict is with each detail opening up more rabbit holes to explore. I have been working on this for a few weeks and still do not know how deep any of them go. But I do have some general observations that I am ready to share.

One of is that most of the territory within Syria that is controlled by ISIS was generally taken from other rebel groups. ISIS has, until recently, avoided confrontation with the SAA and NDF (government forces). Exceptions to this are Deir ez-Zoir, Al Hasakah and Palmyra regions. Which says something about the lack of reinforcement of general rebel factions in the early stages of the conflict.

Whether we choose to believe it or not, the ISIS organization is deeply devout and relies heavily on the Quran to replicate the conquests and subsequent organization of society within conquered territory, in a strict form of interpretation. They are genuine throwbacks from the medieval Middle East, and seriously believe in what they are doing. It explains their inclination toward violence on their own people and penchant for war as the caliphate is obligated toward evangelic expansion, with the use of violence as necessary. In fact nearly everything devout Muslims do has some root in religious obligation. And the phenomenon of foreign fighters pouring into areas where a caliphate has been established is from the obligation to be where the caliphate imposes Sharia and live under it in support of the caliphate and the faith. The caliphate needs to control territory to exist, and expands through the religions obligations of all Muslims who control territory to pledge that control to the caliphate. It is an immediate threat to the political order of the entire Muslim world with the possibility of real violent threat to the West and elsewhere if left to itself. It cannot be ignored and probably cannot be contained.

To be clear, I do not advocate this, support it nor sympathize with it. I simply wished to understand it. And now that I do understand it, I can begin to understand how profound developments involving this organization really are. These are not just some guys with backward beliefs wearing turbans hiding out in the outback of the Middle East that have a relatively short reach. We will have to deal with this, probably militarily one way or another because the only way to defeat this kind of abhorrent ideology that is backed by military force is to confront it and defeat it. Just do it, and don’t stop until its vanquished and stuffed in the grave of history’s lies.