As the murderous, terrorist Islamic State continues to threaten Iraq, the region and potentially the United States, it is vitally important that we examine how this problem arose. Any actions we take today must be informed by what we’ve already done in the past, and how effective our actions have been.
Shooting first and asking questions later has never been a good foreign policy. The past year has been a perfect example.
In September President Obama and many in Washington were eager for a U.S. intervention in Syria to assist the rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad’s government. Arguing against military strikes, I wrote that “Bashar Assad is clearly not an American ally. But does his ouster encourage stability in the Middle East, or would his ouster actually encourage instability?”
The administration’s goal has been to degrade Assad’s power, forcing him to negotiate with the rebels. But degrading Assad’s military capacity also degrades his ability to fend off the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Assad’s government recently bombed the self-proclaimed capital of ISIS in Raqqa, Syria.
To interventionists like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we would caution that arming the Islamic rebels in Syria created a haven for the Islamic State. We are lucky Mrs. Clinton didn’t get her way and the Obama administration did not bring about regime change in Syria. That new regime might well be ISIS.
This is not to say the U.S. should ally with Assad. But we should recognize how regime change in Syria could have helped and emboldened the Islamic State, and recognize that those now calling for war against ISIS are still calling for arms to factions allied with ISIS in the Syrian civil war. We should realize that the interventionists are calling for Islamic rebels to win in Syria and for the same Islamic rebels to lose in Iraq. While no one in the West supports Assad, replacing him with ISIS would be a disaster.
Our Middle Eastern policy is unhinged, flailing about to see who to act against next, with little thought to the consequences. This is not a foreign policy.