The situation in Iraq appears to be spiralling out of control, with Islamic militants in an organisation called ISIS taking over important cities and the Iraqi government apparently powerless to respond.
The Iraqi government is dominated by the Shia Muslims, who are the majority in Iraq. However, they are regarded as infidels by the Sunni Muslims of ISIS.
Says the BBC:
The US says it is considering giving further assistance to Iraq in fighting Islamist miltants who have taken control of a large swathe of territory in Eastern Syria and western and central Iraq.
Meanwhile, in neighbouring Syria, the government of Bashar al Assad is fighting a civil war against Islamist militants, among others. And in Syria, our hapless Western governments have been supporting the opposition.
We have the United States supporting the government in Iraq against Islamists, and at the same time helping rebels fight alongside those same Islamists against the government in neighbouring Syria.
Why are they supporting the opposition in Syria? The American government have suggested that Assad’s government in Syria is part of an “axis of evil” along with Iran, the third big country in this region. Their reason for believing this seems to be that they see the situation in terms of democracy versus dictatorship. It is all black against white. Good against evil. The United States and its allies against everyone else.
Assad is not pro-US. Therefore he must be evil and anyone who fights him must be Good.
Iran is not pro-US. Therefore it too must be evil.
Everyone “Evil” is allied together against the US and its “Good” allies. Therefore Syria and Iran must be Evil Allies.
Meanwhile, in the real world, it is a bit more complicated.
Syria under Assad and previously his father, has long been known as a country in the Middle East where Christians are relatively safe and given better rights to practice their religion than elsewhere. Reason: Assad’s government is not a religious government. It is a secular government.
The same was true of Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq of course. It was a horrible government in many ways, but had little time for religious fundamentalists.
It seems to me that the United States has completely misunderstood the dynamic of this region, and made major mistakes as a result – and is still making those mistakes.
The West, especially the United States, has seen the whole politics of the region in terms of democracy versus dictatorship. Therefore it has assisted rebels to destroy the dictator Saddam Hussein, and has also been assisting the rebels in Syria against the much less awful dictatorship of Assad.
What is very clear to me is that the real struggle in this region is not between dictatorship and democracy. The players seem to be Sunni Muslim religious warriors, Shia Muslim religious warriors, and secular but brutal dictators. Unfortunately there don’t actually seem to be any democrats involved in all these struggles.
Based on this complete lack of understanding, the Americans have blundered in. They have supported those they have identified as “democrats”. But there aren’t any democrats involved in these struggles. Therefore America’s support is for a completely random collection of governments and rebels.
The result of this Western blundering has been thousands of people killed, millions of refugees, dictatorial but secular governments undermined and religious fundamentalists boosted.
In other words, the result has been a reduction in regional stability, an increase in religious fundamentalism, an increased hatred of the West and a large amount of bloodshed.
In short, the result has been that Western interests have been undermined and the US has achieved the exact opposite of what it set out to do.
Where do the British government stand in all this? After all, you can criticise the Foreign Office for a great deal – but it has always been respected for its understanding of Middle Eastern issues. Says William Hague:
We will not be getting involved militarily. We will support the United States in anything that they decide to do, we’re in consultation with them.
British foreign policy remains the same then. “We will support the United States in anything that they decide to do.”