Painful as it is to watch black clad Sunni extremists marauding their way through Mosul — a city that Americans died defending — we should all be required to take a dose of the images and the poor Iraqi refugees fleeing for their lives.
The fall of Mosul to these armed, dangerous thugs and their nihilistic, anti-modern ideology serves as a monument to the US’ folly in Iraq and the flawed assumptions and false optimism that led us into the quagmire. The very jihadist terrorists that once flocked to Iraq to spill American blood have apparently routed the Army built by the United States.
Those on the far right of the US’ own politics leading the chants for more war with Iran, Russia or whatever international “bad guy” adversary they can conjure up should take note of the unintended consequences of starting wars in far off places where they (and we) do not understand the political fissures bubbling just below the surface of these societies.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) and its militia driving around in Toyotas cannot conquer Iraq, but they can certainly split apart what’s left of the country and create another vast area of violence and chaos that will see much of the former Sykes-Picot mandate territories become havens for terrorists and jihadists. Indeed, photographs surfaced yesterday purportedly showing ISIS fighters bulldozing a berm dividing Iraq and Syria.
Onto the strategic blunder of the US invasion of Iraq, however, has been layered yet another and perhaps even more serious blunder by America’s erstwhile allies in Riyadh and other Gulf States. As the US rightfully resisted pressure to intervene in the Syrian civil war, these countries have poured weapons and money into the fray that have in no small measure helped create the forces of darkness now spreading like a cancer across the Middle East’s landscape.
Where once there was a fleeting vision exemplified by Egypt’s Tahrir Square protests of a region with pluralistic democracies working out their differences at the ballot box, we now see the triumph of the forces of counter-revolution engineered by the mukhabarat states and their security services.
We’ve seen a version of this movie before, as the Saudis in particular chose to export their fundamentalist religious ideology overseas to spawn violent resistance groups around the globe.
The West chose to join forces with Saudi Arabia in Afghanistan in the 1980s because the alliance suited its purposes. Today we are left with the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and a host of other malign groups taking up arms in support of Islamic extremist political objectives. Soon these groups will be settling scores with another Western-created army and regime in Kabul.
Therein lies the broader strategic blunder of America’s regional allies, the Sunni mukhabarat states. The war has come home to the Middle East, just as Bin Laden and Sayyid Qutb foresaw. Their strategic objective was always a war against the near enemy — the corrupt regimes that had been created in the aftermath of colonial occupation.