A Western viewpoint (courtesy of Aubrey Bailey): “Some of our friends support our enemies, and some of our enemies are our friends, and some of our enemies are fighting against our other enemies whom we want to lose, but we don’t want our enemies who are fighting our enemies to win. If the people we want to defeat are defeated they might be replaced by people we like even less. And all this was started by us, the West, invading a country to drive out terrorists who weren’t actually there until we went to drive them out.”
Those are the conundrums that President Barack Obama and his Western and Arab allies are facing in trying to defeat ISIS.
Well, if the saying that “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” is an Arab one then the West has its: “When you are in a hole stop digging”.
The hole digging has been going on since President Jimmy Carter, persuaded by his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, provided sophisticated armaments to the Mujaheddin fighting the invading Soviet army in Afghanistan back in the 1980s. Not surprisingly the arms of the Mujaheddin fell into the hands of the resurgent Taliban which protected Al Qaeda.
The American-led war in Afghanistan, spilling over into Pakistan, has helped radicalize thousands of young people, in particular unemployed men. (Some of us have been preaching for more than 40 years about the need to implement workable policies for defeating Third World unemployment through land reform and developing peasant agriculture.)
These young militants have not only fought in the insurgency in Kashmir they have migrated to fight with the extreme militants fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. There they have learnt more of their trade by using the guns provided by the West and its Arab allies. Now their struggle has spilled over into Iraq where the US deposed the Sunni leader, the cruel dictator Saddam Hussein, who kept a lid on Sunni radicalism (and, let’s admit, gave the people economic and social security).
ISIS has created an Islamic “caliphate”, underpinned with help from disillusioned Iraqi Sunnis who have been alienated by the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad that the US left behind after a self-defeating military intervention.
Obama said on Sunday the US had “underestimated” the danger of ISIS. Now Obama and his allies are going full steam ahead to destroy ISIS before it attempts to take over the Middle East.
This division between Sunnis and Shias has been going on since the early years after the death of Muhammad. Nevertheless, it is not too late to repair the damage.
Wiser Sunni-led governments in the Middle East -- Jordan, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia (whose rich have sometimes financed privately Al Qaeda and ISIS) -- realize that a perpetual Sunni-Shia war is threatening the whole Middle East. (Unfortunately their wisdom does not extend to making peace with Shia Iran.) They have signed up for Obama’s war.
But why are the US and its NATO allies going to war? Every time the West has got militarily involved in this part of the world -- Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, it has backfired, radicalizing more people, creating more enemies not less. Deep down Obama knows this. A couple of months ago he said he had begun to think that the West’s means of involvement in the Libyan civil war three years ago was perhaps a mistake now he sees the country in chaos. It was partly this thinking that pulled him back at the last minute from bombing the Assad regime of Syria.
There are other ways apart from war to cut ISIS down to size -- sanctions that make sure that its funding is cut off and its leaders cannot travel or use banks, and the defensive deployment of Iraqi troops to protect the revenue-giving oil wells and Iraq’s heavy armaments. (Don’t ask the Iraqi army to go on the offensive -- it is incapable of that.)
At the same time the West needs to continue with its so far successful efforts to stymie terrorist activity back home. There hasn’t been a major terrorist outrage in the West since 9/11, the bus bombing in London in 2005 and the train bombing in Madrid in 2006. As for new moves it should cancel the passports of those jihadists resident in the West who have gone to fight. Stateless, no country in the world would give them entry. They would pay the price of never seeing their families again.
Russia and Iran would support this. Get them onside. Encircle ISIS and squeeze. Encourage the towns they occupy to empty out and their inhabitants to head for refuge in Turkey and Iran. Then deny ISIS food, cut off their water and electricity.
The West must learn to be clever, not to bomb. That will only make a bad situation worse.