Thursday, June 18, 2015

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S ROLE IN THE RISE AND GROWTH OF ISIS

By Ronald T. Fox


OBAMA and Maliki
Maliki and Obama: A Green Light?
Claims that President Obama facilitated the ascent of the Islamic State have come from both right- and left-wings.  The right blames him for being late in recognizing the ISIS threat and excessively cautious in responding to it; liberal mainstream criticism has focused on his failure to constrain Maliki's repression of Sunnis.  Some observers to the left of the mainstream dismiss accusations that the President has been too cautious and instead claim he has actually pursued an interventionist agenda similar to the one promulgated by neoconservatives and liberal war-hawks during the Bush years.  This agenda, they say, has played into ISIS' hands.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

THE ROLE OF ISIS LEADERS AND FIGHTERS IN ITS RISE AND GROWTH

By Ronald T. Fox


ISIS Fighters in Tank
ISIS Fighters Celebrating

While a number of blame-games have fingered wealthy Sunni patrons in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and the Persian Gulf monarchies for providing the financial and military wherewithal that enabled ISIS to flourish, most do not give enough credit to Islamic State leaders and fighters themselves for the organization's rise and the striking success of their political maneuvering and military operations. To be sure, they exploited a window of opportunity opened by Bush and Obama blunders, as well as opportunities which arose in Syria, but their persuasion skills, strategic savvy, fighting ability, and resilience have been extraordinary and must be seen as an essential factor in understanding how well they were able to exploit their opportunities.

THE ROLE OF IRAQI PRIME MINISTER NOURI AL-MALIKI IN THE RISE AND GROWTH OF ISIS

By Ronald Fox


Maliki Public enemy

Nouri al-Maliki became prime minister in 2005. After assuming power, despite promises of democratic governance, he launched a campaign to eliminate potential Sunni threats to his regime. This translated into reducing the presence of former Ba’athist Party members and Sunnis from influential government positions and the military. Maliki moved cautiously at first, but his purges picked up in 2011 after American troops left Iraq and he no longer felt constrained by the U.S. presence.

Tariq al Hashimi
Tarig Al-Hashimi
When he purged his vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi, the highest-ranking Sunni in his government (on a trumped-up charge about a planned coup), and President Obama blinked (more on this in a later post), Maliki felt free to escalate attacks against Sunnis. What followed was a brutal repression of Sunnis he considered potential threats, and in his paranoid mindset, the list was expansive. Thousands of Sunnis were arrested and jailed, many without charges. Several simply disappeared. Shiite militias took violence to new heights; blood flowed in the streets. Tribesmen of the Sunni Awakening were even targeted. These were people who had helped defeat al-Qaeda years earlier.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

THE BLAME GAME: ASSIGNING RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE RISE AND GROWTH OF THE ISLAMIC STATE

By Ronald T. Fox


ISIS Fighters Celebrating
No matter how you slice, dice, or spin it, the U.S. war on terror in the wider Middle East has been an unmitigated disaster, arguably amounting to one of the greatest disasters of our time. The region is far less stable and America is far less free and secure than we were when Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, and Muammar Gaddafi sat on his thrown in Libya.  And, the people we were intent on liberating from tyranny have enjoyed little of our cherished freedom and democracy.  Now the group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL) is currently posing our most serious threat in the region, far more than our previous bogeyman, al Qaeda. Like a famished pacman, ISIS is gobbling up cities and towns in Iraq and Syria. Who or what is responsible for its rise, military success and expansion?

Fingers of blame for the rise and success of the Islamic State point in many directions. Neoconservative Republicans and military hawks blame Obama for leaving an insufficient American military presence in Iraq when the U.S. pulled out in 2011 and being too tardy and timid in responding to the ISIS threat. Democrats tend to emphasize the Bush Administration’s stream of blunders as paving the way for radical Jihadi extremists.  Travelers on the far left blame the neocon interventionist agenda and Obama for continuing it. Military leaders harp on the Iraqi army’s incompetence and lack of will to fight. Some analysts point to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s anti-Sunni repression as a key factor. The Islamic State's exceptional recruiting, persuasion, and fighting skills, facilitated by financial and weapons support from Sunni sympathizers in the Middle East region,  most importantly Saudi Arabia, have also been cited as key reasons for ISIS' ascent. Still others maintain that Shiite militias and weapons sent to Iraq by Iran were mainly responsible for the ISIS insurgency.  

I've been trying to make sense of the blame game for some time, not an easy task given the aversion to facts that underlies many opinions on the subject of the Islamic State.  To help sort out my thoughts, I've written an essay that looks at the main accusations leveled in the ISIS blame game. To spare Phronesis readers a long single post, the essay will be divided into five separate parts.  The first (below) will touch on the alleged responsibilities of the Bush Administration and the Iraqi Army. The second will address the claimed culpability of Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, and the third the role of ISIS itself.  President Obama's suspected responsibility will be the focus of the fourth post.  The fifth and final post, admittedly from a non-expert perspective, will attempt to make sense of it all.