So far, the ISIS, notwithstanding the fact that for weeks and probably months, its regional threat has been entirely obvious, has taken Washington totally by surprise every step of the way, despite our knowing that ISIS aspired to becoming a cross-border caliphate, was running protection rackets out of Iraq, was getting rich off Syrian oil, and was threatening even its Salafi heartland, Saudi Arabia. Yes, experts and anyone who bothered to spend a few hours searching the Internet knew this, but official Washington, well, is still playing catch-up. To Obama’s everlasting credit, he distinguished himself by thinking before acting, so there is hope.
But Washington’s thinking so far appears from the outside to be, understandably but erroneously, focused on the present; after all, the folks in charge do have a certain fire-fighting duty. But equally great is their duty to lay the foundations for a better world, and that promised land lies on the far side of a morass, for the obvious outcome of the current disaster is that extremists will win the day on both sides, defining the game as outright ethnic war — Sunni vs. Shi’a. With Sunnis lining up behind the despicable ISIS and Maliki leading an ineffectual but equally biased ethn0-religious counter-attack, there is no one left in Iraq to defend: both sides are wrong. We might build a wall around Iraq and just watch…but seriously, what will actually happen seems likely to be a military rescue by Iran, led by the most extreme elements in the Iranian regime, with this promptly countered by the most extreme elements in Saudi Arabia. Iran seems likely to win a military showdown and end up essentially owning the Shi’i portions of Iraq, while the Saudis perhaps manage to govern some sort of way-too-hot-to-handle Sunni rump.
Does anyone think that outcome will remain inside Iraq? Does anyone think it will bring stability? Does anyone think Washington will be able to control its itchy trigger finger?
So…it seems that we must start focusing our thinking on what to do when the obvious occurs.