The Sunni allies ISIS has been able to attract are exactly the disenfranchised Sunnis that fought together with Al Queda throughout the Iraq war. The “end” of the war has often been credited to Gen Petraeus and the surge, but this played a far smaller role than the real explanation. It was described in Seymour Hersh’s March 5, 2007 New Yorker article, “The Redirection” a name given within the White House to what was in effect a radical change in our policy. To quote that article: “In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy… To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East.” Urged by Saudi Arabia to make this change it brought the war to a rapid de-escalation. Convinced that our redirection, our radical shift in priorities was real, the Sunni’s soon turned on their Al Queda allies and became our friends
This shift is often mistakenly attributed to their wanting the money we were offering, or to their suddenly being disgusted by Al Queda’s violence, but it is really very simple. Shiite Iran and Sunni Iraq fought a ferocious war from 1980 to 1988. The war left them bloody and exhausted thus willing to live with the status quo. But then we upset this balance of power by overthrowing the Baathists and putting the Shiites in charge. To the NeoConservative then catching Bush’s ear, as the majority, the Shiite were the legitimate rulers of Iraq. Only after the Redirection, after we designated Iran as our primary enemy, did our Sunni enemies lay down their arms and become our allies.
On a roll we tried to line up most Arab nations with our new priorities in a new anti Iranian alliance at the Annapolis conference in November 2007. Faced with the danger of Iran, led by Saudi Arabia, they were willing to sit at the same table as Israel. Indeed there was no choice. With a power vacuum created by Iraq becoming a Shiite nation, Israel was the only viable option as a counterforce. Hersh noted in his article that Saudi Arabia favored Israeli bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. Overtly the conference was to be about Israel and the Palestinians, but behind the scenes it was all Iran. Almost all Arab nations (including, to our surprise) Syria took part. Our ally, Maliki’s Iraq Shiite government was repeatedly invited. They refused to attend. Iran was now their most important friend.
Hersh noted that the CIA was opposed to the Redirection from the beginning. Cheney, Rice and Saudi Arabia’s focus on Iran as our enemy was not in their plans. So they were left out of the initiative. (The CIA, over the years, has consistently favored the Shiites over the Sunni) The Annapolis Conference took place November 27th. A few days later, on December 3rd the American intelligence agencies released a report claiming Iran had given up its pursuit of nuclear weapons in 2003. Clearly in Washington there were then, and still are, two different views of Iran. I assume that all along the CIA has had a relationship with a more moderate element in Iran and hoped to bring this connection to fruition. Finally, recently they have been in the driver’s seat, with our deescalation of our confrontation with Iran.
It didn’t take long for ISIS to result. It should be noted that the Sunni army consists of the professional soldiers armed and trained before we arrived. Maliki’s Shiite army are comparatively amateurs, trained by us, but as recently demonstrated, not the real thing when we aren’t around to lead them.
Obama is trying to patch together our previous commitment to fairness for the Sunnis, making it a condition for our support of the Iraqi government, but it is too little too late. And probably meaningless. Our recent courting of Iran was the final blow as far as the Sunnis are concerned. The Sunnis still consider Shiite Iraq and Shiite Iran their true mortal enemies. Sunni nations everywhere are disturbed by our desire to engage the Iranians. Throughout the Mideast Sunni individuals are sending large amounts of money to the Sunni rebels (as they did all throughout our military engagement in Iraq). Openly encouraging Iran’s military assistance to stop the rebels will only make things worse.
In the past, as we did in Viet Nam when South Vietnam leader Diem was blamed for his army’s poor morale, we assassinated him and replaced him with a new leader. Is that to be Maliki’s fate? Apparently, he isn’t too worried. He knows this is a different America. Our watchdog press is up the butt of the CIA, the administration, our military leaders. They would not allow this kind of Machiavellian maneuvering. There are too many leaks. And although Obama has been warning Congress that he is going to take things into his own hands, he is not the kind of president to do this with foreign policy. He prefers speeches. He believes in the mighty power of Talk. Meaning, if the right words are found to address the media, the problem is solved. (Whether or not it really is)