When U.S.-led forces toppled the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein, much of the West heaved a deep sigh of relief. Even those who had bitterly opposed the American intervention generally agreed that the world was a better place after that vicious tyrant was deposed.
Eleven years later, much of Iraq, as well as neighboring Syria, are now under the control of a self-proclaimed caliphate that arguably poses a far greater threat to civilized society than did Saddam’s government.
The CIA estimates that the well-organized and brutal Sunni terror group, once known as al-Qaida in Iraq, already has access to up to 31,000 fighters and is a powerful magnet drawing in Muslim extremists from all over the world. Its resources are said to exceed that of any other terrorist group in history, as it rakes in more than $3 million a day from oil smuggling, human trafficking, theft and extortion.
After months of inaction and playing down the threat posed by this terror group, the free world is shifting gears. Ironically, the Obama administration was voted into office on a platform of withdrawing forces from Iraq; now it is leading the call for military intervention.
But although there is broad agreement that something needs to be done — nearly 40 countries have agreed in principal to fight this fearsome terror group — there is little consensus on details.
Even the name of this enemy is a matter of debate. Different translations for the name of the al-Qaida splinter group have emerged since the early days of its existence. Arab governments refer to it by the Arabic acronym for its full original name, Daesh — short for Dawlat al-Islamiyah f’al-Iraq w Belaad al-Sham. Al-Sham can be translated as either the Levant, Syria, or Damascus.
Many media outlets call it the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The Obama administration and the British Foreign Office still call it the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. (Levant pertains to all countries bordering on the eastern Mediterranean, from Greece to Egypt.) Adding to the confusion is the fact that the terror group itself announced in July that it had shortened its name to “Islamic State,” drawing repudiations from Islamic leaders.
But how to refer to this scourge of evil is the least of the problems the West is facing.
While the idea that an “enemy of my enemy is my ally” was never an ironclad rule in world affairs, it has proven to be all but irrelevant in the current crisis.
Much to its credit, the Obama administration rejected a call by France to invite Iran — which shares a 900-mile border with Iraq and is a bitter enemy of ISIS — to the conference in Paris on Monday of potential coalition partners. As Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out, Tehran itself is also “a state sponsor of terror” and would hardly be an acceptable partner in this anti-terror effort.
The United States also rejected working with the Assad government, which ISIS is trying to topple. In his address to the nation last week, President Obama called it a “regime that terrorizes its people; a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost.” Instead, the administration seeks to aid the poorly organized pro-Western rebels who are battling both Assad and ISIS.
A third key element in any attempt to fight ISIS is Turkey, a member of NATO that shares a border with both Iraq and Syria. Turkey, knowing that any battle against ISIS would inevitably include aiding the Kurds inside Iraq, is wary of strengthening its rebellious Kurdish minority. In addition, ISIS is currently holding dozens of Turkish hostages, including diplomats.
Turkey, once a dependable ally, is so far refusing to allow NATO to use its bases or territories to launch air attacks. It even declined to sign a U.S.-brokered statement by Middle Eastern countries last week repudiating ISIS and pledging to fight it.
Even among the committed coalition partners, there are serious differences as to whether airstrikes should be limited to Iraq — as France prefers — or, according to the current American viewpoint, should be expanded into Syria.
To top it all off, it seems almost certain that defeating ISIS would require ground troops, and President Obama has vowed that America will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.
The White House says it will find allies willing to send combat forces, but hasn’t given any indication who they would be or when they would agree to do so.
There is no doubt that these forces of malevolence are a real threat to civilized society, nor is there any doubt that the road ahead is filled with ambiguity and uncertainty.
We pray that the leaders of the Western governments are granted the wisdom to take the correct steps to eliminate this evil, and that their efforts won’t inadvertently bolster other enemies of mankind. Our prayers are also with the American airmen as they fly over enemy airspace, that they may be successful in their missions and return safely to their bases.