What made Dwight Eisenhower a great leader is not so much his presidency. What made him great was how he balanced all the different interests on the Allied Forces in World War II. But he was just doing a job — a job that many politicians asked him to do. It is hard to get people who nominally want to work together to actually work together, but it is far harder to get people to be willing to even try to work together. Maybe it was just a question of desperation — the fascists in Europe were a huge threat. Throughout my life, I’ve never seen anything like it. If I were to sum up the foreign policy of the United States for my entire life, I could do it in one word: stupid.
This brings us to the problem we now face with ISIS. One thing I really don’t like about the coverage of ISIS is that it is exactly the same as the coverage of any group we don’t like: ISIS is evil and must be destroyed. I’m not saying that they aren’t. But that is hardly helpful in understanding how we might eliminate them as a threat. The main thing that is reported about the group is that they are “worse than al-Qaeda!” It has been widely noted that they are so bad that even al-Qaeda thinks they are too violent. But that isn’t even true. It’s more a political rift in the extremist Islamic world.
One thing I remember being pounded with when I was a kid was that the Soviet Union wanted to “take over the world!” The same thing is said about ISIS. Yet that not only isn’t true, it isn’t realistic. I’m sure in a fantasy sense it is true. It’s like me wanting to be a billionaire: it would be great, but I have far too many other problems I have to deal with to focus on such dreams. This is Dr No thinking. From all reports, ISIS is far too involved with securing their gains than taking over new territory. That’s one of the frightening things about ISIS: they are extremists, but they are smart — they aren’t just capturing territory for its own sake so they can be destroyed like Napoleon at Waterloo.
Last week, Zuri Linetsky wrote a fabulous article over at The American Prospect, ISIL, Iraq and Syria: Why Military Action Won’t Do The Trick. If I were King of America, I would require it read on every television channel and in every classroom in the nation. Because it explains better than any other single source what is going on in Syria and Iraq right now. And it turns out, what is going on is exactly the same thing that has gone on over and over again for the last 35 years. It is just that America is a very slow learner.
Linetsky provided a history of the rise of the Afghan Taliban and compared it with the rise of ISIS. And guess what: there really is no difference. In both cases, these extremist groups rose up in the vacuum of a failed state. Of course, that isn’t the way that we look at it here in the United States. Here ISIS is presented as a kind of virus. And that might be fine if we combined it with a weak immune system that allows the virus to take hold. What was that weak immune system? An Iraqi government that oppressed the Sunni minority when it could bother to acknowledge it at all.
I forget where I heard it, but someone said or wrote that even if we could just magically eliminate ISIS, it would do no good. There are issues in Iraq that would still be there and would only lead to another group like ISIS. (Of course, we would all be told it was “even worse” than ISIS!) Linetsky’s idea is that we get Iran to help the Shi’a not have a failed government and Saudi Arabia to give the Sunnis political support so that their needs are met without turning to dangerous groups like ISIS.
Of course, we don’t talk to Iran. We can’t talk to Iran because of something that happened four decades ago. This is despite the fact that Iran is one of the best and most stable countries in the region. They could be a great partner in the region and they could have been for at least two decades. But instead, our foreign policy seems like it was developed by a clique of high school jocks. I’m not saying that Iran is wonderful, but if a country as terrible as Saudi Arabia is our ally, I don’t see any problem with making nice with Iran.
What’s more, we managed to work with the Soviet Union under Stalin during World War II. What good is our continued anti-Iran hissy fit? It makes no sense whatsoever. And it raises an important question: just how big a threat do we claim ISIS is? It’s been pitched as existential. So was Saddam Hussein. Both of these claims are ridiculous. But if we aren’t willy to finally grow up about our relationship with Iran, then I want the US to stop the bombing in Syria and Iraq, remove everyone from those countries, abandon all aid to Iraq. Because it means we don’t care at all about them and we don’t see them as important to our interests.