A belligerent ISIS is not a US crisis

Armstrong Williams | 9/4/2014, 11:47 a.m.
In the wake of the televised beheading of American journalist Tim Foley, there have been urgent calls in the media ...
Armstrong Williams

In the wake of the televised beheading of American journalist Tim Foley, there have been urgent calls in the media for an intensified U.S. military response to the Islamic State group (ISIS or ISIL) responsible for Foley’s gruesome murder and a host of other barbaric atrocities across northern Iraq and Syria. There is also understandably some alarm because ISIS has racked up a string of tactical victories in the Sunni-dominated regions of Iraq, culminating with the taking of Mosul’s hydroelectric dam.

The principle complaint among the armchair quarterbacks is that the U.S. failed to neutralize the growing threat of Islamic extremism in Syria that has spilled over into neighboring Iraq. But let’s step back for a moment and consider the situation in Syria a year ago. The U.S. publically supported the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the implementation of free democratic elections in a country that has long been ruled by a multigenerational socialist monarchy. The Obama administration became especially alarmed after reports that Syria’s alleged stockpile of chemical weapons was being used to exterminate large groups of civilians in anti-Assad controlled regions of Syria. Calls were made for the U.S. to supply arms to the anti-Assad forces and tip the scales against what was essentially a stalemate in the country’s civil war.

However, the U.S. was wary of arming the anti-Assad forces for several reasons. First, remember that the Assad regime, like Saddam Hussein’s in Iraq and Murbarak’s in Egypt, had been a long-time strategic partner of the U.S. Many of the alleged atrocities and strong‑arm tactics they employed over the previous decades were done with the tacit acceptance of the U.S. And so the rebel forces were as likely in many cases to be anti-American as they were anti-Assad. Our experiences in Iraq and Egypt were quite illuminating of that fact.

In Iraq after the invasion, Sunni tribes aligned with al-Qaeda against U.S. forces, leading to a protracted and bloody war that lasted almost a decade. In Egypt, elections in the wake of Mubarak’s ouster installed an Islamic fundamentalist government, the Muslim Brotherhood, which quickly aligned with the terrorist group Hamas and other extremist groups to wreak havoc in the region.

What would have been the outcome had the U.S. decided to arm Syrian anti-Assad forces? Well, there’s no need to conjecture, because they were instead secretly armed by the Saudis, who viewed the Assad regime as a regional rival. In fact, the Saudis were so upset about the United States’ refusal to arm Syrian rebels that they made a big public stink about it, even rejecting a coveted two-year appointment to the U.N. Security Council in protest. But those very fighters, and the weapons and tactical support they have been provided, are now responsible for the atrocities in Iraq being committed against ethnic Kurds, Yazidis and Iraqi Christians.

But the story does not end there. It begs credulity that in Iraq, an ISIL force of less than 5,000 fighters managed to overrun a significant swath of the country in a little under a month. Upon closer inspection, it became apparent that they had not won any significant battles against the Iraqi military. Instead, the U.S.-trained and -armed Iraqi army commanders in the Sunni regions of Northern Iraq simply abandoned their posts, leaving all of their U.S.-supplied weapons behind for the ISIS forces to pick up and use.