US and Middle East After IS

US and Middle East After ISUS and Middle East After IS

As the Congress ponders President Barack Obama’s request for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to fight the Islamic State, US policymakers must focus on the “morning after” before they embark on another potentially disastrous war against IS, Emile Nakhleh, a research professor at the University of New Mexico wrote for IPS News.

The president assured the nation at a press conference on February 11 that IS is on the verge of being contained, degraded, and defeated. If true, the US and the West must address the future of the region in the wake of the collapse of IS to avoid the rise of another extremist threat and another “perfect storm” in the region. The evidence so far that Washington will be more successful than during the Iraq war is not terribly encouraging.

George Tenet, former director of the CIA, wrote in his book At the Center of the Storm that in September 2002 CIA analysts presented the Bush administration with an analytic paper titled “The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq.” The paper included “worst-case scenarios” of what could go wrong as a result of a US-led invasion of Iraq, including “Anarchy and the territorial breakup of Iraq, regime-threatening instability in key Arab states, and deepening Islamic antipathy toward the US.”

The Perfect Storm paper suggested several steps that the United States could take that might mitigate the impact of these potentially negative consequences. These included a serious attempt at solving some of the key regional conflicts and domestic economic and political issues that have plagued the region for decades.

 However, the Bush administration spent more time worrying about defeating Saddam’s army than focusing on what could follow Saddam’s demise. Ignoring the Perfect Storm paper, as the past decade has shown, was detrimental to US interests, the security of the region, and the stability of some key Arab allies.

  From Liberation to Occupation

US policymakers should have the courage and strategic vision to raise and answer several key questions. How will Muslims react to the re-entry of US troops on the ground and to the likelihood that US military presence could extend beyond three years?

The “liberation” of Iraq that the Bush administration touted in March 2003 quickly turned into “occupation,” which precipitously engendered anger among the population. Iraqis rose up against the US military. Bloody sectarianism spread across Iraq as an inevitable consequence of the invasion, and it still haunts the region today. The territorial expansion of IS across Iraq and Syria has virtually removed the borders between the two countries and is threatening the boundaries between Syria and Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Perhaps more importantly, what should the United States do to thwart the rise of another terrorist organization in the wake of this one? The US should be prepared to urge the new Saudi leadership to review the role of Salafi Wahhabi preachers in domestic public life and foreign policy. This also should certainly apply to Saudi education and textbooks.

Whereas in the past, Saudi officials have resisted any perceived foreign interference as an encroachment on their religion, this type of extremist, intolerant ideology has nevertheless given militants a justification for their violence. It now poses an undeniable threat to the national security of the US and the safety of its citizens in the region.

  Regional Instability

Autocracy, corruption, repression, and anarchy in several Arab states have left millions of citizens and refugees alienated, unemployed, and angry. Many young men and women in these populations will be tempted to join new terrorist organizations following IS’s demise. The governments violate the rights of these young people, imprison them illegally, and convict them in sham trials—all because of their political views or religious affiliation or both.

In Egypt, hundreds of political prisoners are in jail. In Bahrain, the regime has been stripping dozens of citizens of their citizenship because of their pro-democracy views. Once their passports are taken away, Bahraini citizens are deprived of most government services and opportunities. When visiting a government office for a particular service, they are required to show the passport, which the government has already taken away, as a proof of identity—a classic case of “Catch 22” leaving these citizens in a state of economic and political limbo.

Partnering with the said governments in the fight against IS will likely reach a dead end once the group is defeated. Building a new Levant cannot possibly be based on autocracy and corruption. Iraq and Afghanistan offer stark examples of how not to build stable governments. The Perfect Storm paper warned the Bush administration about what could follow Saddam if critical questions about a post-Saddam Iraq were not addressed. The Bush White House did not heed those warnings. It would be indeed tragic for the US if the Obama administration made the same mistake.