The Rise of ISIS and America’s Role


The Iraq War began with the ill-advised invasion of Iraq on March 20 2003 and ended on October 21, 2011, with United States President Obama’sfull withdrawal of all troops and trainers from Iraq. Over the eight year time span, the United States spent over 1.7 billion dollars, lost over 4,400 troops,and created a nation rebuilding project that has consumed the time, attention, and resources of both Presidents Bush and Obama. This tremendous cost of the war had been met with absolute failure. The U.S. failed to accomplish any goal established by the Bush administration pre-invasion. Not only were the WMDs supposedly under the control of Saddam Hussein never found, but after the U.S. withdrawal, Iraq has descended into sectarian chaos.

The Sunni-Shiite conflict has existed in Iraq for centuries. However, after the July 17th revolution and the establishment of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party, Anti-Shiite sentiment began to grow. The Baath party was entirely controlled by Sunni Muslims, repressing the Shiite majority with violent brutality. The Shiite Muslims, who were unable to rebel fearing harsh retaliation, continued to live under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein until the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Since the disposal of the Baath Party, the United States has attempted a costly rebuilding project, establishing General Nouri al Maliki as president of Iraq along with his predominantly Shiite Islamic Dawa Party as the official government.

However, after the withdrawal of American troops in December 2011, a renewed wave of sectarian and anti-government insurgency swept Iraq, killing thousands in 2012 alone. Even after violence from Sunni insurgents and pressure from the United States, Maliki failed to accommodate the interests of Sunnis, Kurds and other minorities. Instead, the sectarian divide has grown worse, Maliki and his allies seizing a greater share of the central government while delaying power-sharing initiatives, leading to civil war.

The negative sentiment towards Maliki’s government has allowed a terrorist organization called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to massively recruit villagers from predominantly Sunni neighborhoods and regions. With their recruitment numbers estimated to be around 4,000, the ISIS began a series of offensives against pro-Maliki forces. ISIS has already seized the city of Mosul, and recently assumed complete control of Iraq’s largest air base. Additionally, the conflict in Iraq has had a negative impact on the global community. Oil prices have risen by $4 per barrel after the ISIS seized a series of oil fields. While the rapid rate of the ISIS’s advancement on the capital is impressive, a loss of cooperation from Sunni tribal leaders could rapidly shift the fortunes of ISIS. “There are only a few thousand ISIS guys,” says Colin Kahl, a former Pentagon official who followed the Middle East. “The only way they can control territory is if they have the complicity of the Sunni tribes.”

The continued advancement of ISIS towards Baghdad has drawn international attention, mainly from the United States, who originally established General Maliki’s government.  The United States decided against intervention in Iraq, considering the controversy surrounding General Maliki’s abuse of the Sunni and Kurd minority.  However, the United States will be discussing with regional governments the potential for airstrikes, weaponry, and intensifying surveillance and intelligence in ISIS controlled regions. The United States still has over35,000 military advisors stationed in Iraq and is sending 300 more, none of whom will be used for direct military conflict. The tension between President Obama and General Maliki makes it unlikely for the pro-Maliki forces to receive any direct military aid.  Previous failure combined with the complexity of sectarian conflict makes it infeasible for the United States to directly side with General Maliki. The United States’ war against tyranny and injustice has directly fueled the current revolution.

Is it worth deposing tyrannical leaders, even if it results in countless revolutions, bloodshed, and the establishment of unstable governments? According to the United States, intervention in countries whose leaders they disapprove of is a must and remains a constant in American foreign policy. Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, supported by the U.S. even after longstanding friendship, has not succeeded in liberating Egypt. Conflict has intensified, dividing the country and leading to a coup. Instead of learning from this, the U.S. then decided to aid a revolution in Syria, even when it was clear that a significant faction of the Syrian rebellion was affiliated with Al Qaeda, contrasting with Assad’s relatively secular government. The United States expects that countries who have had centuries of tyranny are supposed to shift to democracy. This is exemplified in Iraq, where the U.S disposed of Sadam Hussein. The result was the establishment of a feeble leader like General Maliki, and a bloody revolution which potentially could give a terrorist organization complete control over a nation state such as Iraq.

Afghanistan is largely in the same delicate state. The Middle East is not ready for democracy, as the U.S. still does not understand the cultural, sectarian, and historical barriers that impede Middle Eastern countries from establishing democratic governments. The revolution of Iraq led by ISIS is a clear example of the failure of United States foreign policy in the Middle East. This is probably the first time and only time I agree with Rick Santorum when he says, “Democracy is something that comes when it is appropriate to come.”