The Isis Crisis
Who are the bad guys nowadays?
Posted Nov 29, 2014
In olden times we always knew who were rooting for when we went to war. We rooted for us. Just like now. But back then we also knew who we were fighting against. We were fighting the Nazis and their friends, the Japanese, known as “the Japs.” Together they were referred to as “the axis.” Nowadays, things are much more complicated. The saying “the enemy of our enemy is our friend,” no longer applies. A better way of putting it now would be, “The enemy of our enemy is our friend unless he is also the friend of a different enemy who is fighting one of our friends or the friend of one of our enemy’s friend’s.” It is all very confusing. We can still root for us during the Isis Crisis, but it is no longer clear whom we should root against. Sometimes we are rooting for someone we think is a friend, but we are forced to fight the same guys only a few miles away. As a public service, I offer the following guide to the major players:
Iran. Iran, which used to be one of the good guys when the Shah ran it, is one of the bad guys now. They are trying to build a nuclear weapon. No one wants them to have nuclear weapons, including Russia, which is a nearby country and vulnerable to a nuclear strike. Russia is on our side in that respect and is participating in a boycott of Iran.
Russia. On the other hand, Russia is trying to recover pieces of the Ukraine it used to have, even though the Ukrainians (and everybody else) wants them to stay away. Nevertheless, they are invading (just a little). Consequently, the Americans and the Europeans are conducting a partial boycott of some Russians and some Russian companies.
Syria. Syria (the Assad regime) is close friends with both Russia and Iran. Both countries are very supportive of Syria even though that regime has evicted or killed millions of its own citizens. Everyone else is horrified. A rebellion has developed, supported, in theory, at least, by the United States. “Assad has to go,” is the American position. However, it turns out that some of the groups in the rebellion are also our enemies. More of this later.
Iraq. Iraq used to be one of our worst enemies. We invaded Iraq in order to establish a democracy, or, at least, to prevent Iraq from invading other countries, like Iran, or poisoning their own citizens, such as the Kurds. With our aid, Iraq has become one of the good guys, more or less. The Shiite militias in Baghdad fought us for a while, as did the Sunni tribes, but that is mostly over now. The Sunni tribes fought Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which existed in Iraq Sunni territory for a while, until they morphed into the group now known as ISIL or ISIS. ISIS is composed of very, very religious Sunni. Their army is being led by secular elements of the previous Iraqi government. The Shiite militias are fighting with us (or pretending to) against ISIS in order to preserve Iraq as a country, although the Iraqi Kurds are administering their own provinces in expectation that they may form their own country, perhaps in alliance with some Turkish Kurds (The Kurdistan Worker’s Party or PKK) who have been labelled by the United States as a terrorist group.
Turkey. Turkey is a member of NATO and is, by definition, one of our friends. Initially, they promoted ISIS and other enemies of the Assad Regime because they identified with the aspirations of the Sunnis, who have been persecuted by Assad. However, ISIS has behaved so abominably-- murdering raping, burying children alive, etc.—that President Erdogan of Turkey has taken some tentative steps to oppose them. These steps are tentative because he does not want his restive population of Kurds to ally with the Iraqi Kurds and separate from Turkey. Consequently, he has bombed his own Kurds. The United States is angry at President Erdogan for not moving more quickly in the fight against Isis. On the other hand, Turkey is thinking of opening up its airfields for use by Americans, Europeans and the United Arab Emirates.
Lebanon. Lebanon is composed of a number of separate groups, including Hezbollah, which is Shi’a and a very powerful terrorist group that came together initially to fight against the Israelis, one of our closest friends. They have recently invaded Syria to help Al-Assad, who is an Alawite, a branch of Shiite. The Hezbollah are still fighting the Christian Lebanese and the Palestinians (sometimes) and the Lebanese police when they get in the way. Of course, they are also fighting ISIS. Occasionally, they lob mortars into Israel.
India and Pakistan. Both of these countries are our allies, but they hate each other and have been conducting a war in Kashmir that has been smoldering for generations. Pakistan is allied to some extent with the leaders in Afghanistan but also the Taliban, who are rebelling against the elected government. (Actually, the elections were tied so that Afghanistan has two leaders.) We are fighting in Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in our country’s longest war. Pakistan is fighting its own branch of the Taliban. But they object publicly when we try to help them with drones.
Egypt. The military has ousted an Islamic, democratically elected government in a coup. They are inclined for their own purposes to favor the Israelis in their dispute with the Palestinians, particularly Hamas, which is a terrorist organization and an offshoot of the Islamic Brotherhood, now banned in Egypt. This makes Egypt one of the good guys now. In a way.
Libya. Libya is no longer a country now that Gadhafi has been overthrown. Various tribes are fighting each other, including Islamic tribes which are being bombed surreptitiously by the United Arab Emirates and perhaps the Egyptians. Some of these Islamic terrorists kill Americans when they can.
The conditions in Iraq are too fluid to characterize accurately; but the newspapers say that some of their armed forces have been infiltrated by groups strongly allied with Iran. They are Shiite, and they are holding back in the fight with ISIS hoping the United States will re-invade. (Which Iran says it does not want.) Some of the Shiites in government are fighting amongst themselves.
An obvious background to all these quarrels is the fundamental dispute between the Shi’a and the Sunni. This death struggle, which has been waxing and waning since the fifth century, started in an argument over who was the proper successor to Mohammed. This disagreement has not proven amenable to compromise over the succeeding fifteen hundred years.
Reading about all of this—between one thing and another—a great dissatisfaction has grown up in this country about Obama’s leadership. He’s been in office for six years, the complaint goes, and he should have been able to straighten out this mess by now. (c) Fredric Neuman Author of "Come One, Come All."