ISIS has grown because we sat around doing nothing to stabilise Syria


1:38 pm - June 13th 2014

by Sunny Hundal    


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A group called ISIS, which even some in the al-Qaeda leadership have disassociated themselves from, are now rapidly taking over large parts of Iraq. There is a sense of panic in the air because it obviously means more conflict in the Middle East, and more refugees trying to escape their brutal control.

But it has also sparked an odd debate here in the UK.

In the Guardian, Owen Jones writes: ‘We anti-war protesters were right: the Iraq invasion has led to bloody chaos’.

But this has been obvious for a few years now. I opposed the invasion from the start and was at most of the demonstrations against it (including the big one in Feb. 2003). Only a few deluded idiots now believe the invasion of Iraq has gone well. In fact the invasion was a disaster from day one, despite attempts by Americans to stage a few stunts to pretend it was going OK.

So that’s an old debate, while the one about ISIS is a new one.

Firstly, ISIS has grown out of the chaos in Syria, which we sat by and watched instead of working with Arab countries to end. We should have joined a military coalition with other Arab countries to bomb Assad’s military installations and weaken him – thereby driving him out into asylum in Iran or elsewhere.

I wrote about ISIS in January this year, saying: “as these groups become prominent, the fallout is being felt in surrounding countries like Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and even Pakistan”.

Sitting by and watching has made things worse. We’ve gone from 20,000 dead in Syria (“if we intervene now, we’ll make it worse”) to nearly 200,000 dead (*silence*). The ongoing chaos has helped ISIS grow and destabilised surrounding countries. And all that is about to get worse.

As I said:

Intervention in Syria is not a matter of ‘If’, but a matter of ‘When’. Do we wait until the situation spirals further out of control, and Al-Qaeda re-establish a powerful base, or go for damage limitation earlier?

Secondly, are we meant to be against countries militarily intervening in other countries? I ask because Iran is now sending troops into Iraq (without official invitation) to fight ISIS. What if those troops are used to suppress Kurds? Will people on the left raise their voice then?

Basically, we are sitting around watching the situation get worse, as many predicted. ISIS hasn’t grown because we invaded Iraq (though we definitely wrecked the country and Saddam Hussain would have been better placed to quell them)… they’ve grown because Syria was allowed to spiral out of control.

Since we have now committed to sitting around and doing nothing, the situation in the Middle East is about to get much worse.

Addendum: in case it isn’t clear, I’ve given up on the prospect of any military action now. We’re now committed to sitting around on our hands and pretending it could be worse.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Foreign affairs ,Middle East ,The Left

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Reader comments


1. flyingrodent

We should have joined a military coalition with other Arab countries to bomb Assad’s military installations and weaken him – thereby driving him out into asylum in Iran or elsewhere.

Yes, I think we can all agree that American military operations in the region have proven to be wildly successful in preventing the growth of extremism. No doubt, weakening Syria’s government and military would’ve discouraged Al Qaeda-type groups from taking up arms, just like it did in Iraq and Libya.

are we meant to be against countries militarily intervening in other countries? I ask because Iran is now sending troops into Iraq (without official invitation) to fight ISIS. What if those troops are used to suppress Kurds? Will people on the left raise their voice then?

Seriously, this is just trolling, and not very skillful trolling at that. Do you want us all to march against a country that’s sending people to fight in Iraq, while openly advocating sending people to fight in Iraq? What?

Seriously, this Oh, shame on the left for not agreeing with my plainly addled and ill-considered opinions schtick was old and tired ten years ago. Give it a rest.

Yes, I think we can all agree that American military operations in the region have proven to be wildly successful in preventing the growth of extremism.

As I’ve always advocated, it should have been a force led by Arab countries. In fact the Arab League called for one, but didn’t get any US support.

Do you want us all to march against a country that’s sending people to fight in Iraq, while openly advocating sending people to fight in Iraq? What?

Sorry, where did I say we should invade Iraq now? In fact I’ve even given up on the idea we’ll send troops to Syria now.

We’re basically committed to sitting on the sidelines and watching all this unfold out in horror while some lefties are sitting smug about how they were right all along ten years ago.

3. flyingrodent

…it should have been a force led by Arab countries.

I’m not convinced this highly hypothetical not-American force would’ve fooled the Jihadists and we’ve already seen this week how much enthusiasm Arab armies have for fighting against people who shoot back, but let’s grant it for the sake of argument.

So, an Arab army attacks Syria, overthrows its government and degrades its military, thus creating the kind of vaccuum of authority that groups like ISIS exploit. Still not seeing a massive difference here, let alone one big enough to justify the Big Waggy Finger of Tut-Tut.

We’re basically committed to sitting on the sidelines and watching all this unfold out in horror while some lefties are sitting smug about how they were right all along ten years ago.

It never ceases to amaze me that people attach so much importance to what a bunch of powerless leftist twats say on Twitter. Oh no, they are smug about how they were right! Shame! Infamy!

It’s about the least important thing in the world.

4. douglas clark

We all supported plucky little Kuwait. That was back in 1991.

I discussed what I thought of as Gulf War 2 with an American who seemed cogniscant of US Policy. There was no Gulf War 2, which Sunny refers to, there was only a continuation of hostilities, the interegnum was just that, a period of re-grouping. Change of generation for a POTUS from George the First to George the Second, no more.

I have been dragged all over the shop by other people, more intelligent than I, into firstly marching against Blair, and I’ll stick to the convention that it really was Gulf War 2, no matter my American friend.

But also into the deep abyss of the Euston Manifesto, where the West only does ‘good’ in the world and we must support democracy and turn the whole human race into consumers of Western ‘culture’. The latter half of that sentence is whispered, not spoken aloud, but who could deny the magnificence of democratic principles. Only those that break them, as I later discovered that lying to your electorate is a prerequisite of democratic principles.

I recall a cold day, so probably around Feb 2003, when I marched with a heck of a lot of others to the SECC, where Blair was addressing his Scottish contingent.

What none, or, few of us knew, was that Mr Blair had helicoptered out of the SECC, even before we arrived. As I recall, it was a peaceful demonstration though the State provided numerous, or, innumerable polis to make sure it stayed that way.

Anyway, T Blair get’s off Scot free, and Iraq is descending into chaos, again.

Who is doing that to that country?

I think we ought to learn from our mistakes.

If the US want’s to test out it’s newest toys for killing wedding parties, if the US want’s to see Iraq as it’s vassal, then what is our interest in any of this?

Personal disgust at the issues that the IKWRO raise are not supported by using drones to collateraly kill them. Perhaps making sure that the Kurds can defend themselves would be enough?

…it should have been a force led by Arab countries.

Which particular Arab countries? The ones with a well supplied military I would guess. So that would be primarily Saudi. I wonder where a large amount of ISIS’s financial support comes from? Saudi also houses popular clerics that regularly call for what amounts to the ethnic cleansing of Syria. This supposed just invasion would have piled even more misery onto an already suffering country.

“What none, or, few of us knew, was that Mr Blair had helicoptered out of the SECC…”

To engineers, helicopters are extraordinary devices. Engineers know that helicopters work but they are not convinced about the science. Adventurers and idiots travel by helicopter; conservative engineers do not.

7. Dave Weeden

Srsly?

ISIS has grown out of the chaos in Syria, which we sat by and watched instead of working with Arab countries to end. We should have joined a military coalition with other Arab countries to bomb Assad’s military installations and weaken him

Isn’t this patronising, and even racist? “We should have joined a military coalition with other Arab countries to bomb” I’m going to assume – against the evidence – that you understand English. “a military coalition with other Arab countries” never mind the “other,” than would be just pedantry. Was there said coalition to join? AFAIK, no. So what is the point of this vacuous, posturing sentence?

You do realise that Assad’s enemies are our enemies now? We are at war with ISIS, we have always been at war with ISIS.

Since we have now committed to sitting around and doing nothing, the situation in the Middle East is about to get much worse.

Again, isn’t this racist? Can’t the poor liddle A-rabs do without wise Western advice? Oh, that’s right, they’re brown and can’t think for themselves.

8. Dick Gregory

Assad isn’t ISIS’ enemy.They don’t attack him, he has left them safe in their stronghold of Raqaa. What has been racist is the lumping together of those trying to fight Assad with the extremist who collaborate with him.
“So, an Arab army attacks Syria, overthrows its government and degrades its military, thus creating the kind of vaccuum of authority that groups like ISIS exploit.”
It’s the lack of support for those overthrowing Assad that has created the vacuum, this is almost as stupid as Flying Rodent’s assertion recently that the only intervention seriously proposed was to bomb Damascus to pieces, when that was the only form of intervention everyone was opposed to>
Good for Sunny. I think arming the FSA with the manpads they need to stop the barrel bombs would still be an effective intervention whoever did it, but I much prefer Sunny to those who slander the Syrian revolution as a sectarian proxy conflict run by Washington, again seen by many as a racist denial of Syrian people’s agency.

9. douglas clark

I am saying this from “first principles”, rather than from an entrenched position, but I am no longer interested in being a lap-dog to the USA.

I think we have to arm the Kurds to the extent they need to protect themselves. I am not really surprised that ISIS has support.

I think the Middle East and perhaps the rest of the world, is going to hell on a handcart.

“George Bush, your boys have, err…avoided….a hell of a beating”

To paraphrase a tad.

_____________________________

Charlieman,

Scientists said bumblebees couldn’t fly, aerodynamically speaking. Bee’s and helicopters are part of a set that mechanics were wrong about. It is a pity, is it not, that drones can fly?

10. douglas clark

Dick,

This is quite interesting.

You say:

It’s the lack of support for those overthrowing Assad that has created the vacuum, this is almost as stupid as Flying Rodent’s assertion recently that the only intervention seriously proposed was to bomb Damascus to pieces, when that was the only form of intervention everyone was opposed to…

Let’s have a link. I’d have thought the Winged Crusader would have been more, err.., circumspect than that, else he was making a satirical point.

11. Just Visiting

> We should have joined a military coalition with other Arab countries …

If there had even been such a coalition – why did they just not proceed without UK help?

There was no such coalition.
No unified Arab position at all.
Sure some Arab countries pumped money into Syria to arm various sides: but mostly on both sides of the fight!

There may have been some Arab countries willing to take a token part in some formal military intervention: so long as some other country does the heavy lifting.

And hey it’s a win-win if that ‘other country’ is the USA, as if it goes wrong they can all go back to blaming the ‘great Satan’ for everything!

Douglas Clark -Sorry about the delay getting back to you. Here’s the link:
‘Notice though that the only “intervention” that was seriously proposed was this – basically, hurling a bunch of cruise missiles at Damascus like some kind of expensive, more professional Hamas halal picnic day-out or something.’
[http://flyingrodent.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/a-pre-emptive-strike.html]

13. flyingrodent

‘Notice though that the only “intervention” that was seriously proposed was this – basically, hurling a bunch of cruise missiles at Damascus like some kind of expensive, more professional Hamas halal picnic day-out or something.’

That actually was the proposal, Dick. You can stick the word “targeted” or “surgical” in front of it, if you want to make it sound less ludicrous.

Which is why it got voted down in Parliament – if you can’t explain what your policy proposal will achieve or how it will achieve it, it should get voted down. That’s kind of what Parliament is supposed to do.

“That actually was the proposal, Dick.”
That’s just not true. Cameron and Obama deliberately avoided setting out what action would be taken, enabling tossers like you to claim that they were proposing random bombing, and get them off the hook of taking any action whatsoever. They couldn’t explain how they would achieve their policy proposal because they didn’t make one. And we can see the result of the Americans preventing the FSA from getting the arms it needed to fight Assad and ISIS, and you and your buddies have shifted to the bollocks that the West is supporting ISIS. It is utterly ludicrous, and denies Syrians any agency in determining their future.

15. EdificationOfTheIgnorant

`As I’ve always advocated, it should have been a force led by Arab countries.”

Because Arab armies have a great record in winning wars?

16. flyingrodent

Cameron and Obama deliberately avoided setting out what action would be taken…

“President Obama is considering military action against Syria that is intended to “deter and degrade” President Bashar al-Assad’s government’s ability to launch chemical weapons, but is not aimed at ousting Mr. Assad from power or forcing him to the negotiating table, administration officials said Tuesday. A wide range of officials characterized the action under consideration as “limited,” perhaps lasting no more than one or two days”.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/28/world/middleeast/obama-syria-strike.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

And there’s plenty more where this came from, all of it going on at some length about cruise missile strikes and so on. Like I say, feel free to put “targeted” in front of this talk of bombings rather than “purposeless”, but the net effect is the US blarting off a lot of missiles at Damascus in order to express its disapproval of the Assads’ chemical weapons use.

Now, let’s stop and think for a bit here. If these bombings had proceeded, would Assad now be out of power? Would ISIS have crumbled away and the rump of the Syrian revolution triumphed?

Or, you know, would we just have spunked away a lot of missiles and killed a lot of people to no significant effect?

And if the answer is “It would’ve achieved very little”, then what’s with all the complaints?

we can see the result of the Americans preventing the FSA from getting the arms it needed to fight Assad and ISIS, and you and your buddies have shifted to the bollocks that the West is supporting ISIS. It is utterly ludicrous, and denies Syrians any agency in determining their future.

This is a new one – the common use of “Oh you are denying (x) people agency” is as an excuse to say that Iraq’s current shitty status is the result of Iraqis’ behaviour, with e.g. the 2003 invasion as merely a mishap or an understandable error. As in, “You are denying the Iraqis agency by saying that the invasion and occupation resulted in catastrophe”.

Now, you appear to be using it to claim that not hurling cash and weapons at the weakest faction in a multi-polar civil war is some kind of awful human rights violation. It’s certainly a new one on me, and perhaps on others.

I have to agree with Flying Rodent and others that interventions that would stabilise Syria have never been proposed. What has been proposed has either been so vague as to be meaningless or actions that have a high risk of destabilising the region. In March 2013 I was at a conference marking the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and the UK ambassador to UK was saying that “the bodies are piling up in Syria and we have to do something”. Others there (mainly UK and Iraqi academics) tried to get him to say what was being proposed, and he said that we should send guns to the moderate opposition. After a lot more questioning he said that his line of reasoning was that the moderate opposition would overthrow Assad and beat off the jihadis and the war would end. It was pointed out to him that there were a large number of dubious assumptions in this line of reasoning, and the risks of making things worse by running guns into a war zone were very high.

Stabilising Syria would require an extremely large multi-national force. I have never heard this proposed. My experience with discussing humanitarian interventions with decision-makers leads me to think that it would be almost impossible to persuade western military establishments to be involved in such a stabilisation exercise.

“…. and you and your buddies have shifted to the bollocks that the West is supporting ISIS …”

The problem is that it has been clear for more than two years that the Syrian opposition is fragmented and that extremist elements are militarily dominant. Yet western policy hasn’t adapted to the clear risks that this posed, and stayed stuck in “Assad must go” mode. Western governments appeared to believe (based on intelligence estimates) that Assad’s regime was about to fall long after it should have been clear that it was quite resilient. During that time extremist elements of the opposition grew in strength.

Is this another intelligence mistake? Or were there other factors that led to the blinkers about the risks posed by Sunni extremist groups?

I don’t understand why this is about the UK? I’m sure no one in Tonga is sitting there going “this is all our fault!”

It’s a far away country that is none of our business.

20. ManonClaphamOmnibus

19. Quite agree but ever since the British marched in ,in 1914, business was exactly what is was about.
Trouble is ,when you artificially partition land across religious borders and then attempt to enforce this through the use of dictators and force,there comes the time when the natives become restless. Sad about the oil but hey weve got fracking now (plus Tony’s sterling efforts to forge oil links in the ever so democratic ‘Stans’)
Sit back and enjoy!


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