War on Kurdistan : (top) Kurdish fighters escort the Governor of Kirkuk (in flak jacket) into the newly captured city (bottom) men of ISIS march furiously
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Major events are taking place in the Middle East, at its heart — what as kids we were taught to call “the Fertile Crescent” — and they would affect the US hugely even if we were not as a nation involved : which we are.
From Gaza to Jerusalem, and from the Lebanon border to Damascus,and from northern Syria to the gates of Baghdad, and from Sinjar Mountain to Erbil in Kurdistan, armies formal and informal are killing each other. Some of these armies are raping women, beheading men, committing atrocities beyond description, almost beyond belief.
Our own interests are in harm’s way here. Our friends the Israelis and the Kurds are at risk ; the one hounded by world anti-Semitism and hurt by Hamas rockets, the other attacked fiercely along a 650 mile border by an army of Orcs forged in the evil crucible of Assad’s Syria.
We could not stand aside even if we want to; and fortunately our President has not wanted to. He, as our leader, has responded forcefully and, for the Kurds, decisively.
Less sure is the outcome of Israel’s fight with Hamas, a seemingly endless yin and yang of war and truce, truce and war.
These commitments call our nation to action that we can deliver. Less sure is the question, what does it all portend ? At times the peoples of the Fertile Crescent seem determined to exterminate one another and take pleasure in doing that. Under the rubrics of delusional ideologies they commit actual atrocities almost without realizing it, so frenzied are they by anger and vitriol.
Then there’s Iran. Its leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has a twitter account, but what he discusses in his tweets seems a distraction. He talks of bombs dropped at Hiroshima and accuses us, but while he talks that up, his negotiators are working out along term deal on Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Khamenei tweets a lot about the plight of Gaza, in which his armies have no part and where Hamas, once his proxy, is a proxy no longer. meanwhile, he says nothing about ISIS, whose recent advances gravely threaten Iran’s borders and have brought war to iran’s friends, the Shi’ites and the Kurds. About ISIS, whose ferocity cannot leave Khamenei unconcerned, he tweets not a word.
Ayatollah Khamenei : a shrewd leader. follow his moves, not his words
As i see it, with Khamenei, one attends the events he does NOT tweet about. You have to follow his moves, rather; and they have been sure : his best soldiers have organized the defense of Baghdad. He, like us, has pressured Prime Minister al-Maliki to quit; and he, like us, is befriending the Kurds.
He will never say it, but his moves right now parallel ours. And I sense that he is glad to make moves under the cover of big bad Uncle Sam.
But nothing about Iran’s moves rises to the level of an agreement; we have to sus Iran’s intentions out, and that means that uncertainty is written into a large part of our Middle east policy.
It matters, because Iran has backed some of the actors whose atrocities have boiled the Fertile Crescent’s peoples and because nations far closer to us than iran gravely distrust Iran and are making their own policy decisions incorporating that deep distrust.
Of course distrust is not limited, in the Middle East, to the motives of Iran. hardly anyone in the Middle East trusts anybody else. it it hard to steer the ship of any state, much less ours, across a sea of distrust. Most people don’t want anything to do with people one can’;t trust; Americans are no exception. but we cannot simply walk away from Middle East distrust. the fires of war in that region can envelop the entire world if someone doesn’t try to tamp them down.
This is what our policy seeks to do; yet even as we try to cool the fires of war, there are wars that we cannot ignore and cannot cool down. the war of ISIS against the Kurds is one such. It cannot be put off, cannot be smiled away; it is at our front door now.
It is at our door in part because the Iraq government cannot get out of its own way. Nori al-Maliki, who began well, has become a selfish stump in the ground, and pushing him out, as now seems assured, is a decent beginning, hopefully, in making Iraq an actual nation rather than the three sided anarchy it has become under Maliki’;s misleadership.
Some want to call all this anarchy — atrocity and distrust — a fruit of Islam. I reject that. Islam has often been a religion of great progress; of science; of invention. The problem lies not with Islam but with some of the people who profess to be Islamic. Crimes are nor committed by religions but by people. No religion has executed Yazidis or persecuted Chaldean Christians; people are doing that.
improverished Yazidis stick on Mount Sinjar carry their dead
The ordinary people of the Middle East have lived side by side without hate since time immemorial. today’s fires of hate are not inevitable, not permanent. Eventually they will retreat; and that will be the work, mostly, of the Middle East peoples themselves. All that we can do is to support our proven friends — Kurds and Israelis, most Lebanese, Jordanians, Saudis,and Egyptians, Kuwaitis and UAE citizens, steadily and strongly so that they can relax a little, counting on us to keep them somewhat from harm. that’s the rub : whoever feels that he is more or less safe from harm puts away some of his fear, of his hate, of his need to kill and destroy.
As for the brutality that is ISIS, we must never forget that it was forged by the torture and killing brought upon Sunni Syrians by Bashir Assad and his butchers. The Sunnis oF ISIS were not born killers, rapists, beheaders of harmless Yazidis, persecutors of Christians. They were made all that by the evil work of Bashir Assad. I suspect that if you, like many men of ISIS, had seen your brothers hung from ceiling hooks and tortured for days, your sisters gang raped, your father hanged and beheaded — as has happened to tens of thousands of Syrian Sunnis — you’d likely seek violent revenge madly too.
The Syrian civil war has been a monstrous disaster for the Middle East and a huge problem for our own nation, globally committed. The fighting between Israel and Hamas pales by comparison. Israel and Hamas do not wage war to the death. They fight, then truce. Hamas is irksome, and it pursues a dead end anti-Israel policy, but it is not consumed by ferocity. The fighters in Assad’s Syria are consumed, indeed have no choice but to be consumed, lest they themselves be slaughtered.
War on Israel : soldiers of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) enter Gaza
Meanwhile, though there is practically nothing we can do — or should try — to end the Syrian civil war, its ripple effects through the Middle East can bring about a better day if we seize the opportunities : solid friendship with the Kurds, support for Israel, a quiet understanding with iran, co-operation with the new Egypt — and rescue of maybe 100,000 Yazidis, whose fate has caught the attention of the world and focused a world of anger on ISIS. These are not small advances. A coherent foreign policy is achievable here — if we understand our limitations as well as advantage our opportunities.
—- Mike Freedberg / here and Sphere