Conventional wisdom, steeped as it is in years of de facto political homogeneity, would have you know that the ‘War on Terror’, as that nasty man George Bush grandly called it, was either misguided, pointless or actively detrimental towards the end it was claimed to champion.
Irrespective of whether that sentiment is true or not, the way in which memories of the Bush years are invoked as a reason to stay out of the unfolding crisis in Iraq and Syria is shameful. Essentially, all one needs to say, or write, or think on the issue is that the 2003 war in Iraq was bad, and that any further intervention in the region, for any reason, would also be bad. The popularity of these views will guarantee anyone who writes them an approving audience – and a paycheque. Easy money: with no thought required.
However, if we were to put aside this popular conception of the recent history of Iraq and the region – which, by the way, is still very much disputed, and by serious and respected people – and if we were to take the current situation in these countries in its own terms, I see little reason to rule out military action to confront the scourge of ISIS.
Let us not forget basic facts about those now in possession of much of northern Iraq and eastern Syria. They are not very nice people. In fact, such sentiment is an absurd understatement. ISIS has been, and I cannot believe that this statement does not inspire in others the same horror that it does in me, formally denounced by Al-Qaeda as ‘too extreme’.
As Tom Rogan points out in The Daily Telegraph, the video which has recently emerged of ISIS’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, demonstrates that the new ‘caliphate’ is run by a fanatic. His arrogant pronouncements echo the logic of those who produce his propaganda; both insist that he is the rightful leader of the entire world’s Muslims, and that those same Muslims would do well to follow him unquestioningly.
Tragicomic delusion on this scale belies the nastiness of ISIS, and the extent of its newfound territorial control and newly acquired financial resources. According to The Guardian, a recent series of data seizures have uncovered the state of ISIS’ finances. The balance sheets do not make encouraging reading. Before the capture of Mosul and much of the north of Iraq, ISIS possessed assets roughly equating to $875 million [£515 million]. After the remarkable, barbaric advances that followed, this total has risen rapidly. Now, it is suggested, these assets may now exceed $2 billion, making ISIS the most well funded Islamist organisation in history.
A terrifying thought. But there is more, and not just in financial terms.
There is also the rather sinister notion that ISIS-controlled oil terminals have been supplying the murderous Assad regime in Syria. In doing so, it appears that the arch-terrorists, against whom President-for-life Assad must be seen to be fighting in order to win his propaganda war, are secretly engaged in powering his war machine. And this suggestion is not the result of a desperate propaganda exercise by war-hungry Neocons desperate to justify their newest pet project. Far from it. Evidence of this particular event stretches all the way back to January of this year: before the ISIS breakthrough in Iraq which occurred last month, and long before mainstream commentators were calling for the engagement of F-16s.
ISIS, it appears, is not just an agent of theocratic fascism in Iraq; it is also in the lucrative business of resourcing political fascism in other nations.
In addition to everything previously mentioned – incredibly, it can, and does, get worse – it would be reductionist as well as misanthropic to conveniently forget the most appalling aspect of the rise of ISIS in the Middle East: the violence – so much of it viciously sectarian – that characterises life in the territory of this new pseudo-state.
ISIS represents a particular sub-section of Iraq’s Sunnis – members of a religious minority who found favourable treatment under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. Under the new order of things, led by the Iran-favoured Prime Minister Maliki, some members of this group resent what they see as a dominant Shia agenda in government.
Obviously, there is a great deal more going on than that, and any sympathy for the zealots of ISIS in their claims of ill-favour must be taken with a rather major pinch of salt. After all, the favourable treatment under Saddam extended to being the beneficiaries of numerous war crimes and genocidal acts. Anyone who speaks wistfully of, or wishes to return to, that state of affairs – and that includes those who term themselves ‘anti-war’ yet wish that Saddam and his revolting sons were still in power – does not deserve to have their nasty views respected, let alone enacted.
However, opinions of this sort predominate among the terrorists and the murderers of ISIS – and they are getting away with horrors on a scale last seen before the rightful deposition of the kleptocratic Ba’ath party.
And, as I have documented elsewhere, these abominations are hardly going unreported or unrecognised. Many hours of footage – most of it produced, with disturbing professionalism, by agents of ISIS themselves – exist as a record of the atrocities committed. These videos are dramatically different to their predecessors – those grainy home movies promulgated by Osama bin Laden and the like – in two respects: quality, and activity. They are better shot, making superior use of the editor’s craft; and they demonstrate firsthand the brutal realities of ISIS’ campaign of terror.
Combining uncommon ferocity and power, the threat of ISIS cannot be overstated. Leaving the vicious agents of the new ‘caliph’ alone to execute their evil actions unmolested would be, in this fractious and febrile political climate, to abandon two nations to fascism of one kind or another. In addition, like it or not, leaving ISIS alone – and abandoning commitments to allies and diplomatic partners across the region in the process – would be tantamount to an endorsement of its evil.
The War on Terror was not a failure, and those in the West still have a long way to go to achieve its objectives. Bombing ISIS would be a start – and a good one at that.
James Snell is a Contributing Editor for The Libertarian