Grim is not quite the word for the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Catastrophe and calamity are closer to the truth.
Walter Russell Mead offers one of the best analyses of the policy failure that gave us ISIS.
Clearly, the responsibility lies with the Obama team. President Obama promised not to make the same mistakes as the Bush administration. In being elected he bought the Middle East.
And yet, Mead notes, Republicans who had a less-than-stellar record on Iraq should not use the current debacle to shout about how they were right all along.
Wanting to cover for Obama, media enablers are inducing Americans to blind themselves to the nature of the threat posed by ISIS. The danger reflects badly on their favorite president, so, why not cover it up?
After six years in office pursuing strategies he believed would tame the terror threat and doing his best to reassure the American people that the terror situation was under control, with the “remnants” of al-Qaeda skittering into the shadows like roaches when the exterminator arrives, Obama now confronts the most powerful and hostile jihadi movement of modern times, a movement that dances on the graveyard of his hopes.
The media has been complicit by stifling debate by deflecting blame from Obama on to Dick Cheney and the neocons.
… few in the mainstream press seem interested in tracing the full and ugly course of the six years of continual failure that dog the footsteps of the hapless Obama team in a region the White House claimed to understand. Nothing important has gone right for the small and tightly knit team that runs American Middle East policy. Most administrations have one failure in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking; this administration has two, both distinctly more ignominious and damaging than average. The opening to the Middle East, once heralded by this administration as transformative, has long vanished; no one even talks about the President’s speeches in Cairo and Istanbul anymore, unless regional cynics are looking for punch lines for bitter jokes. The support for the “transition to democracy” in Egypt ended on as humiliating a note as the “red line” kerfuffle in Syria. The spectacular example of advancing human rights by leading from behind in Libya led to an unmitigated disaster from which not only Libya but much of north and west Africa still suffers today.
Rarely has an administration so trumpeted its superior wisdom and strategic smarts; rarely has any American administration experienced so much ignominious failure, or had its ignorance and miscalculation so brutally exposed. No one, ever, will call this administration’s Middle East policies to date either competent or wise—though the usual press acolytes will continue to do what they can to spread a forgiving haze over the strategic collapse of everything this White House has attempted, as they talk about George W. Bush at every chance they get.
The Obama policy failures have now produced “the most powerful and dangerous group” of terrorists we have seen:
Now, from the ruins of the Obama Administration’s Middle East strategy, the most powerful and dangerous group of religious fanatics in modern history has emerged in the heart of the Middle East. The rise of ISIS is a strategic defeat of the first magnitude for the United States and its allies (as well as countries like Russia and even China). It is a perfect storm of bad policy intersecting with troubled times to create the gravest threat to U.S. and world stability since the end of the Cold War.
Going forward, we should, Mead continues, watch for two things:
For the immediate future, there are two things to watch. First, does ISIS’s momentum carry it forward when it reaches the Shia districts of Iraq? The militias and parade groups currently marching around Baghdad and thumping their chests may not be very effective in the field, and it is not yet clear whether the Iraqi Army will fight any better on Shia home turf than it did in the north and the west. The Sunni crushed the Shia in Iraq for decades and there is no law of nature that says they can’t do it again—if they are willing to be brutal enough.
Second will be the question of whether ISIS, having overrun a goodly portion of Iraq can actually govern.
Looking to the future, the news is very, very bad:
ISIS is much richer, much bigger, much better organized and much better positioned to launch attacks in the U.S. and Europe than any of its predecessors. For now, the organization appears to be focused on its local wars, where it certainly has plenty to do. But we’ve consistently underestimated the group’s capabilities, strategic intelligence, innovative planning methods, and drive to prevail. It would be most unwise to assume that a jihadi terror organization 2.0 like ISIS, richer than Osama bin Laden and better supplied with arms and supporters, is incapable of thinking one or two steps ahead. And there’s the reality that hotheads all over the world will be inspired by its success to try a little murder and mayhem on their own.
You recall that our more squeamish friends insisted that the best recruiting tool that terrorism had was bad behavior, from burning sacred books to producing blasphemous movies to torturing terrorists.
ISIS has proved them wrong. It’s best recruiting tool is success.... success that is grounded in American weakness and presidential incompetence.