In order to create a semblance of objectivity and fairness, the American policymakers and analysts are always willing to accept the blame for the mistakes of the distant past that have no bearing on the present, however, any fact that impinges on their present policy is conveniently brushed aside.
In the case of the creation of Islamic State, for instance, the United States’ policy analysts are willing to concede that invading Iraq back in 2003 was a mistake that radicalized the Iraqi society, exacerbated the sectarian divisions and gave birth to an unrelenting Sunni insurgency against the heavy handed and discriminatory policies of the Shi’a-dominated Iraqi government; similarly, the war on terror era political commentators also “generously” accept that the Cold War era policy of nurturing the Afghan so-called “freedom fighters” against the erstwhile Soviet Union was a mistake, because all those fait accompli have no bearing on their present policy.
The corporate media’s spin-doctors conveniently forget, however, that the creation of Islamic State and myriads of other Sunni Arab jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has as much to do with the unilateral invasion of Iraq back in 2003 under the previous Bush Administration as it has been the consequence of the present policy of Obama Administration in Syria of training and arming the Sunni militants against the Syrian regime since 2011-onward, in fact, the proximate cause behind the rise of Islamic State, al Nusra Front and myriads of Sunni jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has been Obama Administration’s policy of intervention through proxies in Syria.
Leaving the funding, training and arming aspects of the insurgencies aside, but especially pertaining to conferring international legitimacy to an armed insurgency, like the Afghan so-called “freedom struggle” during the Cold War, or the supposedly “moderate and democratic” Libyan and Syrian insurgencies of today, it is simply beyond the power of minor regional players and their nascent media, that has a geographically and linguistically limited audience, to cast such heavily armed and brutal insurrections in a positive light in order to internationally legitimize them; only the Western mainstream media, that has a global audience and which serves as the mouthpiece of the Western political establishments, has perfected this game of legitimizing the absurd and selling the Satans as saviors.
It is very easy to mislead the people merely by changing the labels while the content remains the same – call the Syrian opposition moderate and nationalist rebels or insurgents and they would become legitimate in the eyes of the Western audience, and call the same armed militants “jihadists or terrorists” and they would become illegitimate. How do people expect from the armed thugs, whether they are Islamic jihadists or supposedly “moderate” and nationalist rebels, to bring about democratic reform in Syria or Libya?
For the whole of the last five years of the Syrian civil war the focal point of the Western policy has been that “Assad must go!” But what difference would it make to the lives of the Syrians even if the regime is replaced now when the whole country has been reduced to rubble? Qaddafi and his regime were ousted from power in September 2011; five years later Tripoli is ruled by the Misrata militia, Benghazi is under the control of Khalifa Haftar who is supported by Egypt and UAE and a battle is being fought in Sirte between the Islamic State-affiliate in Libya and the so-called Government of National Accord.
It will now take decades, not years, to restore even a semblance of stability in Libya and Syria; remember that the proxy war in Afghanistan was originally fought in the ‘80s and even 35 years later Afghanistan is still in the midst of perpetual anarchy, lawlessness and an unrelenting Taliban insurgency.
The only difference between the Soviet-Afghan jihad back in the ‘80s, that spawned the Islamic jihadists like the Taliban and al Qaeda for the first time in history, and the Libyan and Syrian jihads 2011-onward is that the Afghan Jihad was an overt jihad – back then the Western political establishments and their mouthpiece, the mainstream media, used to openly brag that CIA provides all those AK-47s, RPGs and stingers to the Pakistani ISI which then forwards such weapons to the Afghan mujahideen (freedom fighters) to combat Soviet Union’s troops in Afghanistan.
After the 9/11 tragedy, however, the Western political establishments and corporate media have become a lot more circumspect, therefore, this time around they have waged covert jihads against the “unfriendly” Qaddafi regime in Libya and the anti-Israel Assad regime in Syria, in which the Islamic jihadists (terrorists) have been sold as “moderate rebels” to the Western audience. It’s an incontrovertible fact that more than 90% of militants operating in Syria are either the Islamic jihadists or the armed tribesmen, and less than 10% are those who have defected from the Syrian army or otherwise have secular and nationalist goals.
Notwithstanding, unlike al Qaeda, which is a terrorist organization that generally employs anticolonial and anti-Zionist rhetoric to draw funds and followers, Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front, both, are basically anti-Shi’a sectarian outfits. By the designation “terrorism” it is generally implied and understood that an organization which has the intentions and capability of carrying out acts of terrorism on the Western soil. Though, Islamic State has carried out a few acts of terrorism against the Western countries, such as the high profile November 2015 Paris attacks and the March 2016 Brussels bombings, but if we look at the pattern of its subversive activities, especially in the Middle East, it generally targets the Shi’a Muslims in Syria and Iraq.
A few acts of terrorism that Islamic State has carried out in the Gulf Arab States were also directed against the Shi’a Muslims in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia and Shi’a mosques in Yemen and Kuwait. Moreover, al Qaeda Central is only a small band of Arab militants whose strength is numbered in several hundreds, while Islamic State is a mass insurgency whose strength is numbered in tens of thousands, especially in Syria and Iraq.
Additionally, Syria’s pro-Assad militias are comprised of local militiamen as well as Shi’a foreign fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and even Hazara Shi’as from Afghanistan. And Sunni jihadists from all over the region have also been flocking to the Syrian battlefield for the past five years. A full-scale Sunni-Shi’a war has been going on in Syria, Iraq and Yemen which will obviously have its repercussions all over the Middle East region where Sunni and Shi’a Muslims have coexisted in peace for centuries.
Regardless, it should be kept in mind here that the Western interest in the Syrian civil war has mainly been about ensuring Israel’s regional security. The Shi’a resistance axis in the Middle East, comprised of Iran, the Syrian regime and their Lebanon-based proxy Hezbollah, posed an existential threat to Israel; a fact which the Israel’s defense community realized for the first time during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War.
When protests broke out against the Qaddafi and Assad regimes in Libya and Syria, respectively, in early 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings, under pressure from the Zionist lobbies, the Western powers took advantage of the opportunity provided to them and militarized those protests with the help of their regional allies: Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf Arab States.
All of the aforementioned states belong to the Sunni denomination and they have been vying for influence in the Middle East against the Shi’a Iranian axis. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in August 2011 to June 2014, when Islamic State occupied Mosul, an informal pact existed between the Western powers, their regional allies and the Sunni jihadists of the Middle East against the Shi’a resistance axis. In accordance with this pact, Sunni militants were trained and armed in the training camps located in border regions of Turkey and Jordan.
This arrangement of an informal pact between the Western powers and the Sunni jihadists of the Middle East against the Shi’a Iranian axis worked well up to August 2014, when Obama Administration made a volte-face on its previous regime change policy in Syria and started conducting air strikes against one group of Sunni jihadists battling against the Syrian regime, i.e. the Islamic State, after the latter transgressed its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq and threatened the capital of another steadfast American ally: Masoud Barzani’s Erbil in the oil-rich Iraqi Kurdistan.
After that reversal of policy in Syria by the Western powers and the subsequent Russian military intervention on the side of the Shi’a regime, the momentum of Sunni Arab jihadists’ expansion in Syria has stalled and they now feel that their Western allies have committed a treachery against the Sunni jihadists’ cause; that’s why, they feel enraged and they are once again up in arms to exact revenge for this betrayal.
If we look at the chain of events, the timing of the Paris and Brussels attacks has been critical: Islamic State overran Mosul in June 2014, Obama Administration started bombing Islamic State’s targets in Iraq and Syria in August 2014 and after a long time first such incident of terrorism took place on the Western soil at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 and then the November 2015 Paris attacks and the March 2016 Brussels bombings.
Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and MENA regions, neocolonialism and petroimperialism.