Monday, June 8, 2015


What are the primary factors behind the rise of ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria)? I'm sure many of you have often asked this question, especially since we're talking about a region in the world that many in the U.S. simply don't understand. 

So, for example, while many like to believe that ISIS is a product of President Obama pulling our troops out of Iraq the reality is that it was President Bush who signed the Status of Force Agreement that mandated we pull out of Iraq when we did (at end of 2011). 

Then there are those who ignore that ISIS was initially made up of post-Saddam al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) forces and former Baathist military men under Saddam Hussein. The former military men under Saddam Hussein were unceremoniously removed from their positions by America's caliphate in Iraq, Paul Bremer, without providing them with any employment options. Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made things worse because he did nothing when his Shia-led police and military began committing atrocities against Sunnis in Iraq, which helped the Sunni-led ISIS recruit new fighters. 

In spite of AQI and Baathist military men having similar interests - political power - their ideological and strategic differences would eventually result in a split between the two groups. AQI would disavow the Baathist-led ISIS in 2014, in part because ISIS became, of all things, too brutal in their tactics.

But these "roots of ISIS" explanations miss the larger issue. 

Simply put, we have ISIS because we invaded Iraq.

We are now dealing with ISIS because we naively believed we could make the Middle East more stable if we invaded Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein - the one person who kept a lid on the religious extremists in the region. 

Collateral political damage in the U.S. includes a political psychosis built around how President Bush lied about Saddam Hussein's role in 9/11, and then confused Americans about Saddam's nuclear capabilities. The fact that such a large segment of our society downplays or willfully ignores these developments as we try to understand the roots of ISIS suggests a good number of Americans have lost contact with political reality. 

Today, with ISIS creeping closer to the Iranian border, we have the Iranian government developing closer ties with the Iraqi government as they work to defeat ISIS.

The fact that both governments are dominated by Shias helps to explain why Iraq's Shia militias often take their orders from Iran. If we're going to be more realistic about the situation we need to admit that "the Iranians are running the show" when it comes to fighting ISIS in Iraq. 

What this means that the U.S. and Iran are tacitly cooperating in Iraq.

But let's not lose sight of the larger issue here: The United States invaded and destabilized a region that didn't need any more destabilizing. Without the invasion of Iraq there is no ISIS.

Then we have this nugget. As newly declassified documents obtained by Judicial Watch reveal, over time we have deliberately supported the rise of ISIS as a way of overthrowing Syrian president Assad.

When we decided to arm and train "vetted" groups who were fighting Syrian strongman Bashar Assad we also began supporting elements of ISIS because they were opposed to Assad. The CIA even airlifted arms to "Syrian rebels" to help the cause in spite of a CIA report - requested by President Obama - that shows it "rarely works" when we covertly arm and train rebel groups (as an aside, the one time arming rebels "worked" was when we funded the mujaheddin against the Soviets in Afghanistan ... and we all know what happened to those guys). 

The point here is both the short sighted policies and foreign policy bluster of the previous administrations helped create the disaster in the Middle East we now see. Throw in the fact that our intelligence agencies blew it on 9/11 because of petty turf disputes and bureaucratic practices that border on incompetency, and it's easier to see why we not only helped create ISIS but how we created a generational mess that our grand children will be dealing with (again). 

Here's one more thing to think about. If it weren't for the fact that the CIA in 1953 overthrew a democratically elected secularist government in Iran - led by Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh - we never would have had the Shah of Iran put in power. As a reminder, the Shah ran such a corrupt and brutal regime that he was eventually overthrown by the radicalized Mullahs in 1979, which facilitated the Iranian hostage crisis

When the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power his radicalized politics scared not only the U.S. but the Saudis and other regimes in the Middle East. They didn't want radical Islamists on their doorsteps. 

Our policy response at the time was to arm and support the one guy in the region we could effectively use against the Iranians, Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein and Donald Rumsfeld, 1983
So, by all means, let's support ISIS ... or Iraq as they fight ISIS ... or Iran as they support Iraq ... or who ever will help us fight the bad guy of the day.

What could go wrong?

- Mark

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