by Dish Staff
Obama’s remarks express a sense of proportion missing from alarmist claims that ISIS is on the verge of taking over Iraq or establishing an Islamic Caliphate. Contrary to these absurd warnings, ISIS is, as the President noted, engaged in a “regional power struggle” one in which its support is capped by its Sunni sectarian nature, which limits its maximum appeal to the 20% of Iraqis who are Sunni. Furthermore, Obama is correct to note that ISIS is far less of a direct threat to the United States than it is to Iran, Damascus, and Riyadh, and by extension Moscow. All have a much greater strategic interest in preventing a collapse of the Iraqi state, and all will therefore intervene directly to prevent such an eventuality, provided the United States does not do it for them. That said, if the United States is willing to pay the financial and military burden of stopping ISIS, Tehran and Moscow will be overjoyed, though that pleasure will not stop them from attempting to extract a political payment for allowing the US to do their own work for them. Obama appears determined to ensure that the US will not be left alone for the bill for what is in reality a geopolitical public service for the region.
Jack Shafer chastises most of his colleagues in the American press for taking Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s war rhetoric as gospel and accordingly overhyping that threat:
Brookings Institution scholar F. Gregory Gause III assesses the Islamic State without panic in a Aug. 25 piece, nullifying Hagel’s scary “beyond and everything” pronouncement. He describes the Islamic State as the beneficiary of the “new Middle East cold war.” As existing state authorities in the region have lost control of their borders, proved unable to provide services (and protection) to their populations, and failed forge a common political identity, the Islamic State has risen.
But this rise does not necessarily make Islamic State strong and fearful as much as it showcases the relative weaknesses of the Syrian and Iraq governments. For all its ferocity, the Islamic State has acquired no regional or great power ally, Gause continues, no open patrons. It depends almost exclusively on banditry and protection rackets for its survival. The group’s great skill so far has been in uniting almost the entire world against it, making potential allies of nations that can’t stand each other, such as the United States and Iran. This knack for uniting countries that have “parallel, if not identical interests,” Gause predicts, will probably do the Islamic State in. Enemies exist, of course. But boogeymen don’t. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just trying to sell you something.
But John Gray takes the Islamic State’s global ambitions more seriously. And either way, he argues, we created this mess, so it’s up to us to clean it up:
So what is Isis essentially – violent millenarian cult, totalitarian state, terrorist network or criminal cartel? The answer is that it is none of these and all of them. Far from being a reversion to anything in the past, Isis is something new – a modern version of barbarism that has emerged in states that have been shattered by western intervention. But its influence is unlikely to be confined to Syria and Iraq. Isis is already attracting support from the Taliban in Pakistan, and there are reports that a caliphate has been declared by Boko Haram in a town in northeast Nigeria. In time – if only to confirm its superiority over al-Qaida – Isis will surely turn its attentions more directly to the west.
It would be easy to take the view that having blundered so disastrously, and so often, the west should withdraw from any further involvement and let events take their course. But having helped bring this monster into the world, the west cannot now turn its back. In ethical terms such a stance would be little short of obscene.