Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam.
Obama is betting the last of his foreign policy cred on beating ISIS by fixing Syria through a peace process that brings together Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and just about everybody who is anybody in the international terrorism and regime change racket to fight the ISIS war that he doesn’t want to fight.
There’s just one little problem. Nobody on the guest list wants to fix Syria. They want to control it.
The reason that ISIS exists is the same reason that Syria can’t be fixed. ISIS didn’t get so big because Muslims are angry about our foreign policy. It got huge because Sunni Muslims hate Shiite Muslims.
Al Qaeda in Iraq didn’t become popular because it killed American soldiers, but because it suicide bombed Iraqi Shiites. It really took off once there was a civil war underway between Syrian Shiites and Sunni Islamists.
Osama bin Laden wanted Al Qaeda in Iraq to focus on Americans, not Shiites. Zarqawi knew better. Al Qaeda’s base in Iraq was a Sunni population that hated their Shiite and Kurdish neighbors even more than they hated the American soldiers trying to keep the peace between them. By massacring Shiites, Al Qaeda in Iraq stopped being another franchise of a goofy Saudi rich kid making snuff videos for Qatar’s fake Al Jazeera news network and instead became the protectors of the Sunni minority.
That’s why Osama bin Laden died in a room full of old cassette tapes and porn while the Caliph of ISIS has carved out his own country. ISIS was built by men who understood that Osama’s vision of a global Muslim Ummah pitted against the West was too remote to appeal to the Arab on the street. Instead it offered the local Sunni in Iraq or Syria the opportunity to steal from his Christian neighbors, take Kurdish girls as sex slaves and slap around some arrogant Shiites. Is it any wonder that ISIS is a hit?
Obama set up this mess by pulling out of Iraq and letting Iran and its Shiite puppets have their way with the country, while at the same time backing Sunni Islamist takeovers in the Arab Spring. He couldn’t have made a worse mess if he had deliberately set out to burn down the Middle East. But like Osama, Obama saw Muslims idealistically as a collective group united by their grievances against the West.
Muslims hate the West, but they’re also torn apart by tribal and ethnic rivalries with a thick gloppy layer of Islam on top. And it’s those rivalries that make Syria and Iraq and much of the region so explosive.
Al Qaeda wanted to rally Muslims by attacking Americans globally. ISIS rallies Muslims by building a Caliphate locally that exploits existing fracture lines of ethnicity, tribe and religion. It’s not a new idea. The entire Syrian Civil War happened because the Saudis, the Turks, the Qataris, the Russians, the Iranians and the rest of the long horrible list have been exploiting these same divisions and rivalries.
Obama’s peace process has no chance of working because they don’t want to fix the very divide and conquer element that gives them power over Syria. And even if they wanted to fix it, they couldn’t.
This is a region where government jobs are a family business and meritocracy is an alien concept. Everything works outward from smaller to larger family and kin groups. Government is either tyranny or a temporary power sharing arrangement between rivals; often it’s sizable doses of both.
Democracy just means that the majority oppresses the minority. The judiciary is another part of the power sharing arrangement. All politics is a tribal conflict by other means. The Sunni-Shiite split adds another layer of opposition and a violent fracture point that can turn a country into a civil war.
The Middle East’s great game is finding the fracture points in another country and exploiting them. That’s what Syria did to Iraq and Lebanon. Then the Saudis, Iranians and Turks did it to the Syrians. And then someone else, maybe even a reassembled Syria, will do it right back to them.
The so-called Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just most of these same countries doing to Israel what they do to each other on a regular basis, find an angry minority, arm and train them, and grin at the carnage.
It’s not about human rights or justice. It’s about destabilizing your neighbors by exploiting their internal divisions. It’s how Islam achieved its original conquests by pitting Christians against each other.
Russia wants to put Syria back together again, but it also wants it vulnerable and in need of Moscow’s help. Iran feeds the chaos to control Syria’s Shiites and set off civil wars around the region. The Saudis, Qataris and the Turks want Obama to put the Muslim Brotherhood and various Islamists in power.
Obama wants the problem to go away because ISIS is making him look bad. But all the other players care even less about ISIS than he does. Russia did not get into Syria because of ISIS. Since then the terror group has become a major nuisance and Putin isn’t likely to forget or forgive, but neither is he going to spend too much time and money fighting a non-aligned terror group. ISIS is not a threat to Russia. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar however are a threat to Russian interests and fighting their militias comes first.
The state sponsors of Sunni terror find ISIS more irritating because the Caliphate’s major objective is to crush rival Jihadist groups funded by Sunni countries and force them to submit to the Caliph. ISIS doesn’t want to be another Saudi or Qatari terrorist puppet. It wants to be its own terror state and subsume them all. But it’s exploiting the Saudi and Qatari popularization of Islamic terrorism to do so.
The Sunni states see Iran as much more of a threat than ISIS. If their various Islamist militias lose, ISIS is their backup plan. And while they may put on a show, they won’t fight too hard against it. They may still need ISIS. Iran and Assad likewise see ISIS as a useful way to entangle their Sunni enemies in infighting.
And so, despite all the posturing, fighting ISIS is not actually a priority for anyone.
The Russians have put on a good show, but it’s more about boosting arms sales through pointless displays of advanced weaponry than about destroying ISIS. Putin’s bombing campaign is the equivalent of one of his staged pictures hunting zebras or diving underwater to spear sharks. Obama is no slacker at staging photoshoots either. His bombing campaign is also a show, but it’s an even more hollow display.
And there’s no realistic endgame to any of it.
Syria’s problems are built in. The only thing that would help is fundamentally redrawing the maps of the region along ethnic and religious lines. But while everyone is eager to impose a two-state solution on Israel, no one talks about two-stating Syria or three-stating Iraq. And so it isn’t going to get any better.
ISIS is smarter and more practical than Al Qaeda. That makes it more dangerous in the long run. It’s not thinking about terrorist attacks in Europe or America just in order to kill us, but to build the beginnings of Islamic states in the West by creating local terror networks that pledge allegiance to it.
Obama isn’t completely wrong when he says that ISIS wants to divide us. But what he refuses to admit is that we didn’t create those divisions. Islam did. If Sunni and Shiite Muslims can’t live together after over a thousand years, what are the odds that they will learn to coexist with us within the next decade?
What about the next hundred years? Because if this miracle doesn’t happen, we will be the next Syria.
We didn’t create Muslim xenophobia. We didn’t invent the tribalism and the intolerance that are tearing Syria apart. And we can’t make them go away by blaming ourselves or pretending that they aren’t there.
If we all converted to Islam tomorrow, we would have even more terrorist attacks. Syrians are massacring each other over differences in theology because Islam has a long history of settling theological disputes with violence. ISIS is a symptom of the problems inherent to Islam.
Obama speaks of defeating ISIS by fixing the root causes of the conflict. But the root cause of the conflict isn’t poverty, unemployment or Global Warming. It’s Islam. Unless Obama has more luck bringing Shiites and Sunnis together than Osama did, he can’t fix Syria. All he can do is find more ways to make it worse.