Do we need a CRISIS?
You've no doubt heard by now of the latest threat to international stability. A radical group called ISIS has rapidly taken over one third of Iraq and one third of Syria.
ISIS is a coalition of known Sunni insurgent groups, including the Mujahideen Shura Council and Al Qaeda in Iraq. Saying they have a "take no prisoners" attitude is an understatement; they are ferocious fans of beheadings. The real Al Qaeda actually stopped talking to them because ISIS is too extreme even for Al Qaeda.
ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or, more precisely, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shām (al-Shām being the Levant). On Sunday, the group officially shortened its name to "the Islamic State", which sounds a lot more solid than an Egyptian goddess of love but offers a much less catchy acronym. I'll continue to use both names below.
Wars and rumors of wars
Although the group has only 6,000 fighters, it has managed to frighten more than a million people into leaving their homes. Tribal leaders — some enthusiastically, others no doubt under duress — have handed over large areas of land, including Iraq's entire border with Jordan and most of Iraq's border with Syria. Thousands of members of the Iraqi army, which the US spent $20 billion to train, have taken off their uniforms and run away, leaving behind the weapons the US had given them.
Much of this has happened just within the past month. If you've only just noticed, you're not alone. Senator Dianne Feinstein, head of the committee overseeing all of America's spy agencies, and a staunch defender of the NSA spying on everyone in the world, has only just noticed as well. She could only offer excuses when CNN reporter Candy Crowley asked her why she didn't see this coming.
Other parts of the US government are in a similar state of confusion. Secretary of State John Kerry has had to realize that ISIS is the radical part of the Syrian opposition that his critics warned him not to give American weapons to.
Barack Obama is under fire as well (metaphorically speaking) for reacting calmly and doing nothing more than sending 300 military advisers to Iraq. The advisers are there to offer intelligence that Feinstein says we don't have.
Iraq War III: The Final Battle
Meanwhile, two influential members of the Senate, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and several of their colleagues have been beating the drum to restart the Iraq War. It was a mistake, they say, to have withdrawn all American troops. They blame Barack Obama for abiding by a 2008 agreement between George W. Bush and the Iraqi government to end the occupation in 2011. They openly propose toppling the democratically elected government of Nouri al-Maliki and installing a strong leader. (Saddam Hussein, I dare to say, is not available for the job.)
McCain and Graham envision a domino effect in which Iran annexes southern Iraq, ISIS grabs Lebanon and Jordan, Israel is threatened from all sides, and the Islamic State is used as a staging ground for another 9/11.
These two gentlemen have been wrong before — mainly about everything that's happened in Iraq since 1991 — but it is not too early to panic. ISIS is not your grandfather's Al Qaeda.
The urgency of the situation will likely make for some strange bedfellows. Russia is sending Iraq 25 fighter planes, but no one in Iraq knows how to fly them. Both Democrats and Republicans are now urging the US to talk to, and possibly partner with, its adversary, Iran. Will the US, or UN, have to ally itself with the Basher (Syria's king, Bashar al-Assad) in order to prevent Syria from disappearing off the map? And might the Kurds raise the ante, agreeing to join the fight if they're given the state they've been promised for a hundred years?
If ever there were a time for a "coalition of the willing", this might be it. I can see a CRISIS forming — a Coalition to Resist the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Third time's the charm! Any volunteers?