22 Jan 2015

Today’s anti-IS meeting is fantasy masquerading as policy

The British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, said that it will be “months” before the Iraqi army is ready to combat Islamic State militants, and at least two years before the jihadis are driven out of Iraq.

He was speaking at the meeting of what the Foreign Office calls the “anti-Isil coalition” – the group of nations intervening in Iraq on behalf of the government of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.

What’s interesting is not the foreign secretary’s timeline, but that he continues to assert that Iraq will exist as a unitary state in two years time. Reality looks rather different.

Already the Kurds have formed a de facto state, and the rest of Iraq is increasingly divided between Shia and Sunni. The US spent 10 years and $25bn creating, training and equipping the Iraqi army, but when Isis seized territory Iraqi soldiers dropped their weapons and fled. Sectarianism and corruption had sapped morale and effectiveness. So what good will a few more training sessions do?

It was Colin Powell, US secretary of state at the time of the US invasion of Iraq, who invoked the Pottery Barn principle: if you break it, you own it. Well, Iraq is broken as a result of western policy but that doesn’t mean western policy can mend it. Call it the Humpty Dumpty principle – all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put Humpty together again.

Syria policy is also based largely on magical thinking. Somehow, the US and the UK hope that the “moderate” opposition will prevail over the far richer, better equipped Islamic State, at the same time as fighting President Bashar al-Assad‘s troops, which are reinforced by Iranian Revolutionary Guards and battle-hardened Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon. In fact, the “moderates” have been squeezed so hard that in much of Syria they scarcely exist, and the fragmented rebel forces inside Syria take no notice of the western-backed opposition leadership swanning around Istanbul.

Official US and UK policy remains that Assad is an enemy, not a potential ally against Isis, but it’s slipping – you don’t hear resounding calls for Assad to go from John Kerry or Obama these days, and the Syrians politely ignore US jet fighters flying over their territory to bomb Islamic State targets. Not that the Americans admit the change: there’s now public policy, real policy and reality. The three bear little resemblance to each other.

So what point in today’s meeting? One hopes that, gathered round the table in private, the foreign minsters of all these countries who fear Islamic State militants will seriously discuss how to counter them, both in Iraq and at home.┬áJust don’t expect the public statements to bear much relationship to reality on the ground.

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5 reader comments

  1. Philip says:

    There’s also a saying about when you’re in a hole, stop digging. We may have played the major part in creating this dangerous mess, but we have no part to play in the solution. Our task should be to get the regional powers – notably Iran, Turkey & Saudi Arabia – to understand that we’re walking away from this, as events have shown that our involvement only makes things worse – and it’s up to them to sort out their own backyard….as they certainly can’t do it any worse than we have & have a more direct interest in sorting it out. We can then concentrate on the problem we’ve created for ourselves – ex-ISIS radicals who want to bring back to the UK some of what we gave the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.

  2. Gaby (Taylor) Harrington says:

    My sentiments exactly, Lindsey. We do have to hope that the empty public bluster does hide some meaningful thinking and planning going on behind closed doors.

  3. Bill Hughes says:

    It was predicted that the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq by the war criminals Bush and Blair in 2003 would cause untold trouble in the Middle East. The West is now reaping what they have sown and will never be trusted again..

  4. Grigore Pecovici says:

    Why beat around the bush? Like Al Qaida before it, ISIS is a western constuct, deliberately made for 2 purposes: 1 – to undermine and destroy the Assad regime, in preparation for the utimate target which is Iran, and 2 – to attract all the islamist hot-heads into one place, and make then fight a proxy, ostensibly “sectarian” war of liberation against Assad, but really for western and Israeli interests (see point 1). Rather than have to deal with well established states with powerful economies like Iran and Syria, western powers would much rather have a fanatical, chaotic enemy hated by moderate, reasonable people the world over. This is why the so called “anti-IS meeting” is an obfuscation, smoke and mirrors for the more naive Joe Public.

  5. David says:

    i wanna excape from china .

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