Isn’t insanity doing the same thing?
To many in Britain, myself included, the conflicts of the Middle East appear to be a living allegory of the phrase ‘history will repeat itself’ and once again we find ourselves on the brink of yet more calamity. Fresh from the shifting sands of the Arab spring, the group known as ISIS (also known as IS or ISIL) have carved out that which all other Islamist groups that came before could only dream of, a genuine caliphate circa 10th century that currently occupies large parts of Iraq and Syria and the responding rhetoric from both Britain and the West once again cries war.
ISIS, a truly crude bunch, are currently under way to dragging the territories they control back to the dark ages, with the help of equipment they have liberated from the 200,000 strong, US equipment bearing, already defeated Iraqi army and from the groups we presume they spawned from in Syria. This raises the first of three points that I will make in this article, making the case against not only bombing ISIS, but returning to the region altogether.
Firstly, who actually are the enemy? I do not for one second, even with some of the most sophisticated intelligence gathering apparatus on the planet, believe that the West have any idea who ISIS actually are, or where they truly came from. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is thought that ISIS is comprised of groups that, following a more militant Islamist ideology, broke away from the FSA rebel army fighting against the Assad government in Syria or that they are an Al-Qaida outcast group deemed ‘too extreme’ even by their standards or both. Now in responding to this threat, it has already been established that the West will fight ISIS, and has already begun to do so with air strikes possibly leading to a broadening air campaign. It has also been established that there will be no ‘boots on the ground’ from Western forces (yet), but it has also been established that ISIS cannot be bombed out of existence, and it is also clear that those states currently fighting ISIS are losing, thus the calls came and are now extremely loud to arm the ‘moderate’ rebels in Syria, that is arm with more sophisticated weapons, anti-tank and anti-air for example that have not yet been sent. Now before leaping down this dangerous path I would pose one big question and that is not, where did ISIS come from, but rather where did all these moderate Syrian rebels go, do they actually exist? My guess, is that they didn’t. When the conflict in Syria began almost 4 years ago, at the beginning of the Arab spring, the Syrian rebels, like those in Libya and Egypt and elsewhere, had genuine democratic wishes and concerns, pretty much what the entire uprising was about. However, once it appeared that the authoritarian regimes wouldn’t simply lie down and be defeated something about these rebellions changed. Whilst some rebels, like in Libya, were granted much needed outside help, in the form of NATO air-strikes to level the playing field against their government opposition, others were not. What began to happen (in fact this occurred in Libya also) was that these ‘moderate’ rebels began to vanish, to be replaced by what we see today, far more hard line, far better equipped, more extremist Islamic motivated fighters. My point being that the West had no idea what these moderate rebels really wanted, they heard the cry of freedom and democracy, immediately picked a side in the conflicts of the Arab Spring, and we have been watching the moderates be replaced by extremists ever since. This is an extremely dangerous route to go down, especially when it is well documented that combatants involved in these conflict (pick any from Libya to Afghanistan) have zero qualms about switching sides when it suits them, what quality of commitment does that give the current FSA rebels? Now of course these are just a few ideas, but even this brief mention about the true nature and identity of these rebel groups must lead you to question who are they, and what do they really want, none of which the West really know. A quick look at the so called moderates in other Arab nations I have mentioned, that also saw heavy fighting in the Arab spring, might give you a quick insight into what to expect if they are supported.
Secondly, why must the West once again take the lead and what will they achieve? Or to question this another way, what are the Iraqis, Turks, Kurds, Saudis or any of the other Middle Eastern states doing about ISIS? My guess is very little. We have the Turks bombing the Kurds, an Iraqi government that is as incompetent as its Army, the Saudis and Omanis suspected of actively supporting Sunni extremist groups across the region, the moderate rebels fighting each other and yet with these problems prevalent, the West is once again looking to commit arms, aid and potentially troops to the region in a vain attempt to bring about what exactly? Is it to retain the pre-Arab Spring status quo? Is it just to defeat ISIS? My point is, is that groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al shabaab in Africa or whoever rose because of a long history of weakness in the Arab world, the petty in fighting between Tehran and Riyadh, the unresolved Palestinian crisis, the inability of Middle Eastern leaders to compromise on any issue be it foreign or domestic, as the current level of civil unrest throughout the region shows. To solve the current crisis of ISIS it must, as always, start with the states that are directly threatened by ISIS to take a far, far stronger approach (and no, dedicating a few symbolic sorties or two does not cut it) to fighting the group, and form a serious coalition against them, put simply the West must allow them to fight their own battles, literally. Where Britain stands on this issue is nothing short of a shambles. With the promises of support to the moderate rebel groups early in the conflict let down, the murder of British citizens Alan Henning and David Haines fuelling public anger and the threat of returning Jihadist Britain has jumped into a situation that has quickly spiralled out of control and no one in political or military circles quite knows how to act. No real commitment, no real plan, and no real long term strategy, not only does this show Britain to be a no better member in the current coalition than those mentioned above, but importantly let’s Britain down in eyes of the US as an unreliable partner. This current crisis will test, and has already done so, the mindset of British leaders, whether they have learned anything from the last two decades and just as importantly, whether they have the bravery to say no to further intervention in the face of domestic and foreign pressures that all wish Britain to say otherwise.
Finally, why is the West doing exactly what ISIS wants them to do? How did Al-Qaida and other Islamist groups gain so much support in the past and spread across the region in the first place? It was the creation of an us vs them, sunni vs shia, West vs Islam ideology, to open the rifts of society and exploit them, and the West as we saw, played into this strategy perfectly with their own imperfect strategy. A lot of bombs later, and a lot of people killed we now have a full blown Islamist problem across the Middle East, large parts of Africa and the threat of ‘home grown’ terrorist also. ISIS wants to carry on this tradition, to draw the West back into the region once more, to force their hand. Look at the televised beheading’s that ISIS use to spread their message they are meant to get people worried, they are meant to get people angry and to seek action, to turn to their elected officials and demand they act (a recent Sky News poll ran at 81% of British participants in favour of action) and will use the symbolism of the 2003 Iraq invasion as a perfect comparison of what is to come. And this is exactly what ISIS want. If the current conflict escalates and boots are put on the ground, I will predict that ISIS’ ranks will swell with recruits from both home and abroad (as if they already aren’t), and the worry of terrorism at home will become a much more real threat than the current media hype. And once again the West and Britain will be stuck in yet another Middle East quagmire from which there will be no easy exit. Insanity, Albert Einstein once said, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, how right he was.