It’s wrong to think the Islamic State is dead
On Oct. 9, David Ignatius of The Washington Post wrote “By acquiescing to Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria, President Trump has opened the door to what could become a genuine nightmare for the United States and its allies, the revival of a most deadly terrorist organization that called itself the Islamic State.
Before addressing the potential consequences of the decision President Trump made by giving Turkey’s Erdogan a license to roll into Northern Syria, while our troops are still there. let me , first, put something in perspective. What has life been like for Syrians?
In short: a non-stop savagely cruel nightmare. Since the start of the war, more than 465,000 Syrians have been killed, 1 million more have been injured, scores of brutally tortured, and 12 million — more than half the country’s population — have been forced to flee their homes. More than 5.5 million have moved abroad and registered as refugees.
Lest we forget that the Syrian Kurds have stood alongside the United States in its effort to vanquish the IS, in the process securing control over a vast area of Syria they hoped would form the nucleus of an autonomous Kurdish region. Something they have been promised many times, only to receive naked betrayals.
The unexpected announcement by President Trump that he will draw down the U.S. military presence in Syria to make way for Turkish troops was greeted by the Kurds as a grotesque betrayal of the trust.
The fact that Kurds and Arabs formed a united front is not a minor detail since the Kurds and Arabs are not exactly friends. Simultaneously, Erdogan considers a portion of the Kurds (PPK) as a terrorist organization opposing his drastic “Islamization” of Turkey. In fact, this point is worth a lot of attention. In a few simple words: Erdogan’s party is bent on making Turkey Islamic again while the PPK Kurds are secular fighting an Islamization of Turkey.
The most glaring shock is that our president, in one phone call, managed to undo what we have done and have been doing since the end of WWII. Since then, only three core interests have shaped U.S. Middle East policy: 1- ensuring the free flow of energy resources from the region, 2- helping to maintain Israeli security, and 3- making sure no state or group of states can challenge American power in a way that would put the other two interests at risk. In other words, aside from the strategic, historical, moral, and political reasons for the “special” U.S.-Israel relationship, oil is the reason why the United States is in the Middle East at all. Perhaps this fact alone should raise our wisdom and convince us that fossil sources of energy are “bad.” However, during a phone call our president gave the Turkish president (one with extremely ambitious regional goals) a card blanch to do as he wishes.
The real tragedy here is that calculating predictions in that pesky region (the Middle East) is the epitome of 8-dimensional chess. It’s admittedly very hard to envision how the United States could effectively promote a new, international burden-sharing system in the Middle East that includes Europeans, Chinese, and Russians in the absence of skillful leadership in the White House. But that is precisely what it is going to take to prevent another attack and further calamity in the Middle East.
One mistake we would be wise not to make is dozing off in the fallacy that “oh, it’s just Sunnis and Shiites at it again. The war in Syria is no longer a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis, and it also was never an episode of the Arab Spring. Adding to all these seemingly insurmountable complexities is the complexity of arguing counterfactuals.
But exploring “how we got here” is not that, for we know how. It is true and wise to be alert as we watch how Russia would react as it observes “other actors.” Never underestimate the Russian’s keen interest in Syria. Nor that of Iran.
Perhaps more importantly now, is not to lull ourselves into a deep coma as we dream that the IS is totally dead. It did lose a lot of territories, and its recruitment efforts have been stymied, but dead it is not. Some estimate IS fighters still in Syria to be around 11,000.
Imagine you are a Kurd, which in the eyes and minds of the Syrians regime you are an infidel.
Editor’s note: Mohey Mowafy is a retired Northern Michigan University professor who resides in Marquette.