Disaster in the Middle East: Opening a Pandora’s box in Iraq


WASHINGTON, June 14, 2014 — The United States is considering stepping up arms shipments, possible air strikes, and possible drone strikes on behalf of the Al-Maliki government in Baghdad, to prevent it from falling to a seemingly irresistible advance of armed units of ISIS — the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

ISIS is an extremist, Sharia-law-imposing Sunni movement that has operated violently in both western Iraq and eastern and northern Syria for some time. They wish to establish a totalitarian Sunni Islamic state in both Syria and Iraq, and therefore bitterly oppose the Shia-dominated government of President Nouri Al-Maliki and the government of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.

Even the established al-Qaeda organization considers their methods, including mass executions of infidels and non-believers, to be extreme in an area of the world where extremism is normal.

Ironically, the government in Baghdad that the Obama Administration supports is also closely allied to the Shia mullahs in Iran. Iran has already offered Al-Maliki its support against ISIS, creating a distinct probability that any increased American involvement will be allied to Iran’s involvement.

But the situation is even more bizarre. In Syria, ISIS is the leading terrorist rebel group hoping to topple President Assad, and thus is working for the same overall goal that the Obama administration and neoconservatives John McCain and Lindsey Graham are pushing. Although McCain and other Syrian war-hawks deny it, at least some of the American support funneled to the non-existent “moderates” in the Syrian opposition to Assad has ended up in the hands of ISIS.

Add to this witch’s brew that the autonomous Iraqi area of Kurdistan in the northeast of the country is practically an independent state, and that this fracturing of Iraq may well compel the Kurds to formally declare independence. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds who also long for independence live right across the Turkish-Kurdistan border in Turkey, and Turkey’s government has been bellicose in denouncing “Kurdish separatism.” They will oppose by every means available any attempt to create a greater Kurdistan.

“Powder keg” is too mild an expression to describe this situation.

Anything the United States attempts to do, any action Washington might initiate, is fraught with immense danger and compounded complications. While it is difficult to see how any action by the U.S. would be productive now, recent events make abundantly clear how wrongheaded American foreign policy has been since the fall of Communism, and just how instrumental our government has been in creating this perilous environment.

Leading members of America’s foreign policy establishment and media elites exhibited almost unrestrained euphoria at the end of the Communist threat. The new era heralded, they boasted, a “uni-polar world,” where just one super-power remained. Charles Krauthammer and other neoconservative talking heads claimed that in a uni-polar world, the United States had a duty to spread liberal democracy and equality around the globe.

It was a message that George H. W. Bush took to heart when he launched a limited invasion of Iraq in 1991 against Saddam Hussein, who had previously been our staunch ally against the Shia mullahs in Iran. Saddam’s forces had fought a desultory frontier war against the Iranians for nearly a decade. Remember Ronald Reagan’s pithy comment: “It is better to have your enemies fighting each other, than fighting you.”

But that wisdom was lost. The election of Bill Clinton brought no discernible change in globalist emphasis; the American experience in building “democracy” in Bosnia and Serbia resulted in the creation of an Islamic Republic of Kosovo, wrenched violently out of the heart of the Christian Serbian homeland, plus thousands of civilians dead. Pundits accepted this experiment in nation-building because the United States was behind it. Never mind the history, traditions, and integrity of Serbia.  Like the old Hanes advertisement claimed, “it is democracy only when we say it is democracy.”

The administration of George W. Bush was dominated by neoconservative ideologues whose goal was the imposition of American-style liberal democracy and egalitarianism in every benighted, tradition-bound, religiously-reactionary state in the world, especially in the Middle East. Never mind that those countries had no historical experience in democracy. Never mind that such efforts would further provoke and stir the anger and extremism of Islam. Never mind that the only reason that such extremism had not broken loose previously in states like Iraq, Egypt, Syria, and Libya was because strongman dictators  ruled those states with a iron hand, suppressing Islamic extremism and terror, while maintaining the peace.

Mubarak, Saddam, Assad, even Gaddafi kept a lid on things, permitting, ironically, certain elements of Western culture to exist in their countries. Saddam’s foreign minister Tariq al-Aziz was a Christian, and under Saddam’s more secular rule, women could attend Iraqi universities; there was even a symphony orchestra established in Baghdad.

Of course, the intervention in Iraq we now know was based on outright falsehoods and faulty information. Saddam was removed, and his professional army structure destroyed. Former administrators and seasoned bureaucrats who had served his regime were summarily fired, some prosecuted for “crimes.” In their place very soon came members of the Shia groups, allied with Iran, that had been securely restrained under Saddam.

But American-style “liberal democracy” was going to change all that. The result was a staunchly Shia-dominated government that got rid of the remaining Sunni bureaucrats and army professionals.

We now see the result of that effort. While the Maliki government in Baghdad must bear a large responsibility for what is happening, the American government and foreign policy establishment under Bush and Obama must also bear some blame for what we now see occurring.

How many billions of dollars went into reconstructing Iraq? How many billions into training an Iraqi army that has thrown away its weapons and uniforms, and leaves behind state-of-the-art American tanks and armaments for ISIS to use? Why did 4,500 young American servicemen have to die for this? Will the neoconservative talking heads and Defense Department policy wonks take any responsibility? Will Bush admit that his policy of “nation-building” was not only a mistake, but in the long run, a cause of an immense humanitarian disaster, unlike anything we have seen since World War II?

Rather than admit these errors, they more likely will double down and simply say that just a few billion dollars more, plus a few thousand more American lives, would have made a difference.

There is blood on their hands, just as it is on the hands of those directly committing the violence.

There is now no good course open to the United States. Pandora’s Box has been opened, and there is no sure way to close it. Perhaps in the past we might have called upon a mythic El Cid (a.k.a. Charlton Heston) to lead a crusade against the Islamic Horde that threatens to sweep away the old order in the Middle East, but the present decadent ideology of the West is in no way capable of that; we can’t (or won’t) even control our own borders at home.

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Boyd Cathey
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.