There is a great deal of confusion and fear in the Obama Administration about the recent crisis in Iraq and even more so about ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).
Perhaps, this is why not too long ago they were seriously considering arming the opposition to Bashar Assad, Syria’s dictator, which consisted of a significant number of ISIS fighters.
Initially, the George W. Bush Administration believed that a Shia-controlled Iraq, because the Iraqi Shia are Arabs, would not come under Tehran’s influence, since the Iranians are not Arabs and speak Farsi.
The Obama Administration followed the same thinking and stuck their head in the sand, pulled out U.S. troops and placed their faith in a Shiite regime ruling Baghdad.
It did not dawn on the American President that when he set a date for pulling troops out of Iraq, and later out of Afghanistan, that he was giving America’s enemies a timeline when to begin their offensives.
Obama’s confidence in his Middle East policy was further enhanced when U.S. Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden – everyone wrongly assumed that al-Qaeda was finished.
Yet, all of Obama’s policies and beliefs have proven either incorrect or misguided. Iran dominates the Shiite regime in Baghdad, giving the Iraqi Shiites a false sense of security to the degree that they sought revenge and generally mistreated the large Sunni minority in Iraq.
The threat of Muslim terrorism did not decrease after bin Laden’s death, but instead increased significantly. Eight hundred people died as a result of terrorist attacks in Baghdad this year but they were not reported in U.S. media because they were not Americans or Europeans.
In fact, the removal of bin Laden opened up the terrorist floodgates and a series of new actors have taken the leadership of Sunni Muslim terrorism.
Bin Laden and al-Baghdadi of ISIS, the new bin Laden, are symptoms of a much greater problem – the inherent need by some Muslims to reestablish the unity of Islamic communities and Islamic way of life imagined under Mohamed and the caliphate of the Ottoman sultans.
Millions follow this outmoded and archaic interpretation of Islam because of poverty, fear and desperation. In the Sunni cities, towns, and villages of Iraq, the hapless residents have traded Shiite abuse and occasional brutality for the instant brutality and savagery of ISIS.
For the lucky few to avoid this fate their new masters are Sunni tribesman, ex-Saddam Hussein officers and other odd groupings of opponents of the Shia Iraqi regime.
The future of the Obama Doctrine in the Middle East is nothing less than a geopolitical disaster for the United States. Under the best of circumstances, parts of Iraq and Syria will become the new caliphate of ISIS that will then plan much greater terrorist acts against those in the region, Europe and the U.S.; it has no other raison d’etre than terror and death.
Compounding this nightmarish outcome is that other new countries will emerge in place of Iraq. A Kurdish state (practically already in existence) could be the West’s only stable and willing ally and a new Shiite state will effectively be under constant threat from ISIS and require the indefinite US military support.
A sovereign Kurdish state, however, will be at odds with Turkey, due to its large Kurdish minority, and this will lead to an on and off again guerrilla warfare along the two states’ border.
A greater Shiite presence in the region will also force Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to support covertly (as some do now) ISIS in order to counter Iranian expansion. The fact that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are American allies only serves to make a complicated scenario even more byzantine.
President Obama and his advisors – one can only assume dim-witted advisors – were either blind to the forces of history and religion that have created unbridgeable chasms in the world of the Middle East, or chose to be ignorant that religion and history trump language and ethnicity in a region where national identity is a thin reed.
The Obama Administration, despite constant rejection from Muslims and the increasing number of alienated American Muslims (some converts) turning to terrorist acts against their own country, continues to placate and simultaneously mistreat Muslims around the world.
America’s allies, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states, abuse their fellow citizens who are Christians. American and European politicians and those who are adherents of political correctness are in favor of dozens of mosques sprouting up in Europe and North America, but do not lift a finger to speak on behalf of the Orthodox Church struggling to survive against Turkish intolerance. Saint Sophia, the holiest church for millions of Orthodox Christians has been made into a museum, which Ankara just may turn into a mosque.
What would happen if any Western country converted a mosque into a museum or a church? Because the issues in the Middle East are history and religion, American administrations do not have the respect of the region’s Muslims not only because of how the West treated them in the past, but because they do not venture to support the religions of the West in the Middle East. In the end, it is always about religion and history in the Middle East.
(Andre Gerolymatos is Director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver)