Iraq is in chaos. Its second largest city has fallen to ISIS, the radical Islamic group that calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Where ISIS will go next remains unclear, but the outlines of a new Afghanistan, dominated by an ultra-violent, virulently anti-western terrorist group and composed of big chunks of what used to be Syria and Iraq are frighteningly clear. In the chaos there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty, and we cannot pretend to be able to see the future with anything approaching perfect clarity. There are some things we just don't know.
And, some things we do.
1. Yes, it really does matter that we cut lose hardened jihadists and put them back on the battlefield.
Part of the public discussion of the release of the five Taliban leaders that were exchanged for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl centered on the likelihood that the freed jihadists would return to their fight against the West. Would they really take up arms again? Would they still have the stomach for the fight? Wouldn't we be able to 'monitor' them and keep them under some sort of 'surveillance'? Did it really matter for American national security that these guys were back on the battlefield?
Take a look at Mosul. If you have the stomach for it, surf the web and pull up the videos ISIS posts of public crucifixions of its enemies. Check out this list of edicts ISIS has imposed in the newly conquered areas of Iraq.
- Women are told they should not go outside unless necessary, because their place is to provide stability at home.
- They must wear full, wide Islamic dress
- Stealing or looting will result in the amputation of limbs
- Criminals can be crucified (this law quotes a verse from the Quran)
- Muslims must participate in group prayers at mosques 'on time'
- Muslims will be well-treated, unless they are allied with oppressors
- Drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes are banned
- Rival political or armed groups are also banned
- Police and military officers will be given the chance to repent
- Apostasy is punishable by death and carrying flags, except those of the Islamic state, is not allowed
- Graves and shrines are forbidden, and will be destroyed.
The leader of ISIS is a guy who calls himself Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. We took him off the battlefield in 2006 in Iraq and held him for four years. Then, in our frantic rush to vacate the place and bring our troops home, regardless of the implications or the terms, we put him back on the street. Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing in terror from the consequences of that decision.
2. Iran is the big winner in this disaster.
The Iranians are already poised to emerge from the war in Syria and the chaos in the surrounding region having greatly expanded their reach and their power. The disintegration of Iraq and the rise of ISIS have only added fuel to that process. There is one simple reason. They are there.
While we dither and do nothing of consequence, the Iranians are committing troops and weapons. While our President scolds the regime in Baghdad, lectures Maliki on the necessity to build a functioning democracy and ponders, seemingly endlessly, the possibility of doing something, of some type, at an undefined future date, the Iranians are moving.
How this conflict with ISIS will shake out is unclear. A permanent terrorist state may come out of the chaos. A Shia coalition, supported and headed by Iran, may crush it and re-impose Iraqi government control. Some sort of stalemate in a netherworld in between may result. In any event, the Iranians will emerge more powerful, more influential and more entrenched. Our fumbling, incoherent, hesitant foreign policy, in which we seem always to be waiting for someone else to take the lead and pick a direction, has lead to this, an emboldened, resurgent Iranian republic.
3. The Middle East is fast approaching all out civil war.
The only thing that the psychopaths in ISIS hate more than Christians and Jews are apostates. Shia. In their twisted minds there is a special place in hell for those who claim to be Muslims but who fail to follow the 'correct' teachings of the prophet. There are no rules in a true war of religion. When God is on your side, and your enemies represent pure evil, you show no mercy.
From Lebanon to Syria to Iraq, across Afghanistan and into Pakistan, a chasm is opening. Pure, ugly, religious hatred is threatening to consume entire nations. What has emerged already is horrific enough but nothing as compared to what may be ahead of us. Consider what happens when Iran, champion of the Shia cause, takes the final step and arms itself with nuclear weapons. Consider what happens when the Saudis take the inevitable next step and buy themselves a ready made nuclear arsenal from Pakistan. The hate that today means mosque bombings and beheadings may in the not so different future mean the obliteration of entire cities.
4. Some of this is our fault.
We are not the world's policeman. It is not our job to run around the planet solving everyone else's problems. It is most certainly not our duty to send the men and women of our armed forces by the hundreds of thousands into nation after nation trying to impose stability and order.
It is our obligation, if for no other reason than because of the impact on our own national security, to utilize our national power to influence and direct events that threaten to impact us negatively and to have a major negative impact on the security of the planet.
Iraqi Shiite tribe members
June 13, 2014: Iraqi Shiite tribal martial artists deploy using their weapons while chanting slogans from the Al Qaeda-inspired Islamic Condition of Iraq and also the Levant (ISIS), to assist the military, which defends the main city in Baghdad’s Sadr City, Iraq. | Photo: Associated Press | Link | Iraq, Violence, Evacuate, Weapons, War, Terrorism, Gun,
Taking a look at the situation inside Syria and making the wise decision to avoid placing American combat troops on the ground is one thing. Watching a nation in the heart of the Middle East descend into chaos is another. Standing to one side, whining about the difficulty of the decisions that need to be made and doing nothing, as the forces of darkness, in both their Al Qaida and Hezbollah forms, grow stronger and begin to devour everything around them is borderline madness. A sucking vortex is forming in the very heart of an already unstable and critical region, and the world's most powerful nation is reduced to suggesting that it might reposition some naval assets and think about bombing something, somewhere.
When in command, command. When you are the world's only remaining superpower, act like it. You don't have to march around the planet invading every nation that you think might someday pose a threat. You do have to do something other than watch in horror, wring your hands and wish things weren't so hard.
These are some of the things we know. Whether our President has the capacity or willingness to learn, we do not. Whether he can or will take any action of any consequence, we do not. How bad this will all get, how many more people have to die, how long it is before the flames that are now burning will begin to lap at our door, we do not.
But, we will find out. Maybe sooner than we wish.