The history of the current situation in the Middle East is long and twisted and increasingly confused by people who have their agendas. Republican politicians want to attack Obama, Jews want to not see any further cooperation between Iran and the USA. The oil oligarchy wants to get back to the good old days of prohibitive gas prices. Crazy Christians want to bring about the end of the world, which is also what the really crazy Moslems want. To make some sense of it for myself, and for some of my friends who have talked about it with me, I sat down and made this list of my understanding of the situation. I also offer my conclusion that only a crazy person would think the USA should put troops on the ground there again.
1. After WWI, Britain, which claimed all the colonies in the Middle East not claimed by France, organized new governments there. The Brits never paid much attention to religious or tribal or ethnic differences among their conquered people, thus the Iraq they created includes three distinct groups: Sunni Arabs, Shiia Arabs and Kurds. Sunni and Shiia hate each other for reasons that date to the time after Mohammed’s death. Kurds are a distinct ethnic group, not Arabs. Until recent times they worshiped Zoroaster, Mithras and variations of those ancient Persian religions (Yazid is one we have recently heard). They are now mostly Sunni although they are not as serious about it as some would like to think. For political reasons the Brits placed Sunni in charge in Iraq even though they were a distinct minority.
2. Saddam Hussein was not a religious ruler. He governed through the BAATH party, which was an Arab nationalist party derived largely from the pan-Arab movements of the post WWII era. (Nasser and King Hussein were allied under the Pan Arab Banner, for example.) Saddam was a cruel and vicious bastard, but he managed to keep the lid on the fairly volatile stew of ethnic and religious groups he governed. (He is correctly compared to Tito, who ruled Yugoslavia … comprised of Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Catholics and Moslems… see what happened after he died and the strong central government failed.)
3. Iran is a Shiia nation of Persians. Not Arab or Kurd, they proudly trace their ancestry to Cyrus the Great. They generally view Arabs as lowly scum and Sunni Arabs as apostate, lowly scum.
4. Iran and Iraq fought a bitter war (from 1980 to 1988) in which millions were killed and neither side gained anything. The US, which had for years considered Iran, ruled by a CIA backed King or Shah, its closest ally in the region, now backed Iraq, having been tossed out of Iran by the 1980 Revolution. Iraq, being a not religious based government, was a natural ally for us in a region of religious governments.
5. In 1991, Iraq invaded Kuwait because Kuwait was drilling vertical wells under Iraq and stealing its oil. When asked whether it was OK to invade, the US Ambassador to Iraq told Saddam the matter was of no interest to the USA. Then the USA changed its mind (at the behest of the Saudi family which has long business ties to the Bush family) and threw Iraq out of Kuwait but did not invade Iraq itself. (While this happened, Kuwaiti army officers, exiled by the Iraqi army, partied in Lebanon and Paris), the Saudis, who had urged the USA to help Kuwait, loaned us some bases and its air force flew some missions, but for the most part the Saudi Army did not participate.
6. During the American invasion, The Kurds who had dominated the northeast corner of Iraq where all the oil was located, rebelled. They say they anticipated aid from the USA, which never came. Saddam retaliated by using nerve gas on the Kurdish people. The USA (now under Bill Clinton) and the UN imposed an embargo on Iraq in retaliation, and declared a no fly zone over the Kurdish region. This action allowed the Kurds to build their own governing system and establish an army without interference from Baghdad.
7. In 2011, a gang of terrorists financed by Osama Bin Laden, the son of a billionaire Saudi family, financed a raid on the US that resulted in destruction of the World Trade Center towers and a direct assault on the Pentagon. 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi. Saudi Arabia is dominated by a radical version of Sunni Moslem faith known as Wahabi. The Wahab originally came from India, but were suppressed there by the British who, ironically, helped the Saud family secure the Arabian Peninsula in the early 20th Century (you know, Lawrence of Arabia). The Saudi operated by offering opposing tribes the option of joining them… by adopting their religion…or fighting to the death. Oil was not initially an issue in these days. The Brits were interested in controlling trade by controlling the Persian Gulf. To this day, the Saudi civil government operates under a medieval legal system operated by Mullahs who act as moral police with broad powers to correct citizen behavior in public. (The private behavior of Saudi citizens is a tale of the most egregious hypocrisy since the days of the Borgia papacy.) Beginning in the 1980s, the Saudi government began financing schools throughout the world, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan, that taught the Wahabi version of the Koran to children of mostly poor families. The term Taliban means student and is derived from these schools. Mullah Omar, who led the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan, was a graduate of one of these madrassas. (Worth noting that the USA showed no interest in supporting Afghanistan after the Russians were thrown out with aid of the CIA. Many Afghans who are now fleeing their homeland were educated by the Russians, speak fluent Russian and miss the days of freedom under Russian rule. Benazir Bhutto came to the USA to plead for assistance in establishing schools in Afghanistan. As much as we praised the people who forced the Russians out, we did not stay around to help them establish a modern governing system. Instead we left them to the mercy of the Talban, which were financed largely by Osama Bin Laden (Saudi money) using American equipment and financing mechanisms initially established by the CIA.)
8. In 2003, the USA conquered Iraq, disbanded its army and disenfranchised the Baath party. This removed the strong non-religious central government that had kept the lid on the rival Moslem groups and ultimately brought about civil war between Sunni and Shiia. (Bush advisor Billie Kristol once said that there was no fundamental difference between the two sects.) The Sunni militia comprised largely of Iraqi army regulars, including officers who became unemployed when the USA took over. The Shiia were neighborhood insurgents trained, if at all, by Iran. The USA’s last ditch effort to stabilize Iraq, known as the Surge, worked because we began to support Sunni militia groups that we had previously fought. After we left, the Shiia dominated government remained in control of Baghdad and the southern marshes, but Sunni controlled the remainder of the country NOT controlled by the Kurds. Efforts of the central government to reassert control over the rest of Iraq failed mostly because the Shiia army treated the Sunni citizens badly, and the US armed Sunni Militia, left with what they saw as no viable choice, ultimately affiliated with ISIS. While USA advisors have been dispatched to Iraq, the Iraqi army is relying mostly on assistance from its Shiia brothers from Iran, which has sent advisors and troops to help counter the ISIS insurgency (aided by USA air strikes).
9. ISIS is an extreme fundamentalist Sunni sect determined to re-establish the true religion of Mohammed by building a Caliphate in the vast territory comprising large parts of Iraq and Syria. They believe in converting people by force and killing those who do not (or in some cases are not permitted to) convert. They view Jews and Shiia and Christians with the same distain. They are well armed (mostly with USA weapons) well led (a lot of experienced Iraqi military leaders) and financed (Saudi money, stolen oil and trade in everything from hostages to ancient art). They will cut off your head or burn you alive. No doubt scary fuckers.
10. The majority population of Syria is Sunni. The Assad government is dominated by the minority Alowite Moslem sect… which is Shiia and closely allied with Iran. Assad demonstrated what a bastard he is when he began slaughtering citizens participating in what was supposed to have been a peaceful protest widely known as the Arab Spring. (My opinion: Obama may have screwed up when he declared fairly early (as did most of the civilized world) that Assad should step down.) As the revolt spread and became an armed conflict, several militia groups took up the fight against Assad. Obama resisted significant pressure to arm the militia because he could not know who he was arming. (For example John McCain went to Syria and met with a rebel group and demanded the USA arm them. The group turned out to be ISIS.) This is all by way of stating the well-known fact that Syria is a mess.
9. Lebanon, which is the first place most of us came face to face with the Sunni/Shiia conflict is dominated now by Hezbollah, a Shiia outfit that essentially won the Lebanese civil war with the backing of Iran. The USA stepped into Lebanon a number of times. The only successful foray was in 1957, when Eisenhower sent in the army and made a peace that lasted nearly 20 years. Beirut became a major fashion and business center, but was literally blown to oblivion by the revolutions of the 1980s. Raygun sent in the marines, lost about 400 men in one suicide bomb incident and then made what is likely the wisest decision of his career… declared victory and brought the troops home.
11. Jordan is a corrupt but fairly successful parliamentary monarchy ruled by the same family since 1952. It is stable because the population is 95 percent SUNNI and most of its people are not starving.
12. Everyone in the Middle East hates Israel.
13. The Saudi Army is 250,000 active troops and can draw from a manpower pool of 15 million. It has a lot of money and the best equipment money can buy. This does not include its air force, which is well equipped, trained and experienced.
Kuwait has an active army of 11,000 troops, with a 6,000 person national guard and another 43,000 reserve force. The army is well financed with oil money and very well equipped. It also has an air force.
Lebanon has a 53,000 man army that is well equipped (financed largely by Iran) and experienced. It also has a 6,600 man navy.
Jordan has an army of 110,000 with an active reserve of 65,000. It can draw on an eligible population of over 3 million men of military age.
Egypt has enough trouble of its own.
Regardless what some people in Congress say, Israel ain’t in this. Israel is a convenient wedge issue for Moslem politicians. Just like Republicans have to hate gay people to get elected, so do Middle Eastern politicians have to hate Israel. Israel is not a primary concern of any Moslem leader at this moment. In fact, as long as Sunni hate Shiia Israel can consider itself insulated from its neighbors. The more the Moslem world fights against itself, the greater protection Israel has from the Moslem world. If Israel has anything to worry about it is that the Moslems will fight it out once and for all. Not at all a likely result.
Israel has nothing more to do with ISIS than does Iran. ISIS hates every person who does not conform to its rigid way of thinking about the world, it views Jews the same way it views Shiia. There are many millions of Arabs and Persians and Kurds who have a personal stake in the battle with ISIS. There are very large armies available to fight that battle, some of which are engaged (Iran and the Peshmurga and Iraqis.) There are many armies that are not engaged and should be. The US Army is not among them.
The USA and western nations in general should only be concerned about ISIS if it wins. One way to make it easier for ISIS to recruit young soldiers… and thus win… is to make this a war between ISIS and western (i.e. in their mind Christian) nations. This is why ISIS is baiting us so strongly with demonstrations of violence against western captives. We are fools to rise to the bait.