Monday June 16, 2014
The explosive ascendance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) underscores the thoroughgoing failure of America’s political class to devise an effective and sustainable strategy for the United States after 9/11. The failure cuts across Democratic and Republican administrations, with the most self-damaging aspects of each administration’s policies roundly endorsed by the opposing party in Congress.
Both sides deny responsibility for unfolding catastrophe in Iraq: Republicans criticize Obama’s marginal modulations of Bush’s approach to the Middle East while Democrats blame Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. (Republicans also criticize Maliki, but not so much that it might exculpate Obama.) Foreign policy elites also ignore a more urgent and ongoing flaw in America’s post-9/11 Middle East policy that is directly linked to Iraq’s current crisis—Washington’s recurrent partnership with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states to arm, fund, and train Sunni militias.
America’s turn to jihadi proxies did not start with Bush’s strategic malpractice in Iraq. It was born on July 3, 1979, when President Carter signed the first directive to arm jihadists in Afghanistan, before Soviet forces invaded the country. For U.S. policymakers, collaborating with Riyadh to launch transnational jihad in Afghanistan seemed a clever way to undermine the Soviet Union—by goading it into a draining occupation of Afghanistan, which Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, hoped to make Moscow’s Vietnam.