Tuesday, December 1, 2015

ISIS Is Probably Here To Stay

Or so opines Eliot Cohen, writing at The American Interest. In his article, "The Middle East as It Will Be," Cohen's article is an attempt to intuit the near-term future of the Middle-East: specifically, Mesopotamia (formerly known as Syria and Iraq). He concludes that Iraq and Syria, for all intents and purposes, have ceased to exist; and ISIS will hang on into the foreseeable future. Cohen's reasoning is as follows:

  1. Defeating ISIS will require a major commitment of troops. 
  2. Absent a major terrorist attack against it, the United States is not going to lead a coalition of ground forces into the region to drive ISIS out of its lairs, particularly Mosul, a city of 2.5 million, which (using the U.S. methods of warfare), would require surrounding the city, evacuation of the residents, and then house-to-house searches and fighting to kill or capture the ISIS fighters.
  3. Without direct U.S. involvement, Iraqi troops and Sunni tribesman will not be able to take down ISIS--there will be no reprisal of the "surge" which was so successful against Al Qaeda.
  4. Russia could bomb Mosul into rubble, much as it did with Grozny in Chechnya, and install a puppet government, but Cohen doesn't think that Russia will expend the time and effort to do so. I agree: Russia's primary concern is securing its Mediterranean port, and a few airbases, which doesn't require stabilizing all of Syria.
The consequence is that, notwithstanding small gains or losses of territory along the periphery, ISIS will continue to occupy territory in Iraq and Syria, and spread. In fact, the failure of an international coalition to wipe it out will merely help ISIS to spread. "The appeal of its cruelty, religious purity, and apocalyptic faith will not be diminished. Indeed, just the reverse, the longer it appears to stand up to the unholy coalition of the United States, Europe, Russia, the Persians, and the Shi’a."

Cohen also believes that Assad will never regain more than a portion of Syria, and that any major bump in support for Assad would be matched by contributions from the Gulf states to Assad's opponents. On this point, Cohen observes: 
It is a lesson in the relative unimportance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to compare the vituperative fear and hatred that many Sunni Arabs have for the Persian Shi’a with their equally sincere but distinctly feebler loathing of the Jews. Furthermore, in light of the breakdown in Russo-Turkish relations, and the presence of an increasingly arbitrary and dictatorial Islamist at the head of the Turkish government, Ankara may well ramp up support for the insurgents, including the Islamic State. For these reasons and more, the would-be Talleyrands who think that tacit American support for Russo-Iranian hegemony over this region in the name of stability is either desirable or possible had better think again. That kind of devil’s deal would simply brew even more violence, as even our current President seems to recognize. 
Cohen concludes:
The upshot, then, will be large-scale mayhem across an increasingly large area, which will in turn breed more mayhem. We are in the early or, at best, early-middle stages of a vicious cycle of violence. Consider only the refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. What sorts of experiences have the teenagers in those camps had? What future can they expect? How many murders, maimings, and rapes might they wish to avenge? What sorts of experiences have the teenagers in those camps had? What future can they expect? How many murders, maimings, and rapes might they wish to avenge? In those camps lie a well-nigh infinite pool of recruits for the jihadi cause, and they will make their way into the fight. To be sure, there will be some islands of stability in the Middle East. The Israelis will deter direct attacks, and will help the Druze carve out communal enclaves under their aegis. The Kurdish quasi-state will become ever more real, and the United States will quietly recognize that fact by arming it to the teeth. Jordan may hang on, although the Hashemite King may have to fight, yet again, for his monarchy’s existence. 
What we cannot predict are the sparks that could ignite other fires. A second Russo-Turkish incident—an S-400 missile taking down a Turkish F-16, another Russian jet shot down, raids on Russian or Turkish bases coming from areas controlled by the other sides’ clients—may not bring a shooting war, exactly, but it could lead to a much deadlier proxy war than we have seen thus far. Should Turkey then invoke Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty, and Russia choose to demonstrate the West’s vulnerabilities on other fronts, the winds of the Syrian war could blow as far away as the Baltic states. A more immediate matter: the refugee flow to Europe may be slowed but will not stop unless the unwieldy and befuddled European Union slams the gates shut. If it does, that may be one of the developments that helps end the EU as we know it. If it does not, the rise of seriously nasty rightwing parties in the European core may bring it to a different kind of end.


  1. Nuke 'em all, and let Allah (not to be confused with God) sort 'em out!

    1. If the United States was an evil empire, that would be an option; but, since we are not....


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