| Ander Nieuws week 38 / Midden-Oosten 2014 |
Where is Obama's exit strategy?

September 11, 2014
Tom Hayden
The military crisis in Iraq is not due to President Barack Obama's "premature" withdrawal or shortsightedness by the anti-war movement. Rather, it's a direct consequence of the US abandoning the Sunnis of Iraq to a sectarian, oppressive Shiite regime in Baghdad funded and armed by the US. The Baghdad regime built by the Bush and Obama administrations is an ally of Iran and a mortal enemy of the Sunnis who previously were the privileged class under Saddam Hussein. It's no accident that the Shiites would take revenge against the Sunnis. The only question is why we maintained the illusions of "pluralism" and "democracy" while the ethnic cleansing of the Sunni population went on under our gaze.
The disenfranchisement of the Sunnis led to the sweeping military counter-attack by ISIS and elements of the former Baath Party. ISIS cannot be stopped by the Shiites, even with US air power, nor are they likely to be stopped by tinkering with Baghdad politics and rhetoric about "inclusion." Only a grant of virtual autonomy to the Sunnis, similar to the autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan, will provide for the representation, security, and power sharing of that Sunnis need in a new confederate state.
ISIS grew from the US-funded prisons in Anbar Province, just as its predecessor, Al Qaeda, arose in the same desert region before. There is a key difference between the Sunnis who seek an autonomous role in a new Iraq and those who wish for a Caliphate in which all borders disappear. Those who want to preserve an Iraqi national state must pay attention to this fundamental ideological difference among the Sunnis and make substantial concessions as rapidly as possible. Otherwise the future is one of a sectarian civil war in which the American people have no interest.
The ISIS offensive is also made possible by Syria's becoming a vast rear base for the insurgency in Iraq. That rear base is made possible by years of Sunni resistance to the minority Alawite regime in Damascus. While calling for the end of the Assad tyranny, the US has not been willing to risk helping in its overthrow. As a result, ISIS has gained power in Syria in a factional proxy war with other anti-Assad elements supported by the West. The demise of Assad might divide the ranks of the insurgency between those who demand a change in the Syrian state and those who wish to impose a Caliphate without borders, erasing Syria and Iraq in the process.
Too much commentary has been spent on the violent threat suddenly posed by ISIS and virtually none on the question of how to confront ISIS at its core political weakness: its rise to preposterous claims of being the new center of the entire Muslim world. That claim is rejected by millions of Sunnis in multiple states, and will lead to internal differences, which will weaken ISIS from within.
The reason that ISIS wants the Americans and the West to bomb and invade their territory is because they know that foreign aggression is the surest way to unite all Sunnis.
So what should Obama be asked to consider?
First, seek Congressional authorization and the widest possible policy debate. Do not go it alone.
Second, state over and over that there is no military solution.
Third, understand that drone attacks will be far more visible than they have been in the inaccessible tribal regions of Afghanistan, where they have been deeply controversial. Limit the scope and purpose of any aerial attacks, and accept a short timetable consistent with the War Powers Resolution.
Fourth, any "boots on the ground" should be Sunni and supported across the Arab world. If that coalition is unwilling, US policy will crater.
Fifth, oppose the "slippery slope" by checking the steady escalation of American Special Forces, intelligence teams and advisers.
Sixth, enforce the US Leahy law that bars any assistance to foreign military units who violate human rights norms. That means a full cleansing of the Shiite Special Forces, army and police units.
Seventh, refuse to support the Baghdad regime unless its sectarian policies are fully eliminated.
Eighth, conduct aggressive diplomacy at the United Nations, especially including contacts with Iran and Russia.
Above all, remember that the US purpose in Iraq was to "disrupt, degrade and derail" Al Qaeda, and after killing thousands of people, the network not only exists but has spread far across the Middle East and North Africa. That's what happens when underlying causes are dismissed as if they don't exist.
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