Will the United States go to war in Iraq once again?
Most Americans have never heard of ISIS or the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, nor could most Americans identify their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a.k.a. Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri al-Samarri. This small group has made the news in the last few weeks because of the territory it has seized in Syria and Iraq.
Now the U.S. is contemplating possible airstrikes on ISIS. The breakup of Iraq is imminent, if not already a fact. Secretary of State John Kerry is negotiating with Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, pushing him to broaden his government to include Sunnis. But he may already be too late to stop the advances of ISIS.
In order to understand how ISIS became so powerful, one needs to understand the rivalry of the Sunnis and Shiites, dating back to 632, when Muslins disagreed over who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad.
The Sunnis have been a minority in Iraq but controlled its politics from the end of World War I to Saddam Hussein. The U. S. invasion of Iraq toppled Hussein and put the Shiites in power. This event has only intensified their rivalry and led to the present crisis.
So what is our national interest in Iraq? Secretary Kerry has raised the question, but really left the definition up to President Obama. It is easy to say that ISIS presents no threat to the U.S. and so the U. S. has no national interest in Iraq.
The question is a good deal more complicated and involves answers to future questions to which we may not know the answers. In the 1980s, Osama bin Laden rose to power partly because of the vacuum of power left by the U.S. in Afghanistan and the CIA who supported young jihadists, who included bin Laden, to fights the Soviets. Who is to say that a similar event could not happen in Iraq?
The goal of ISIS is to establish an Islamic state, or caliphate, including Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. The U.S. national interest includes protection of our allies, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
While ISIS is composed of radical Sunni, the leaders of Jordon and Saudi Arabia are not radical Sunni, but they are wary of ISIS because their advances will jeopardize the regional balance of power. Like bin Laden, al-Baghdadi also may have similar ambitions to take over Saudi Arabia and possibly Jordan, which gives them more reason to fear ISIS.
Therein lies the national interest of the U.S., and that is to protect the regional balance of power and our allies. The U.S. is also committed to assure the production and free flow of oil for Europe and the West, and if that production is threatened, then our national interest is threatened.
ISIS is a terrorist group, like al Qaeda, and if given the tools would in time promote a terrorist plan against America. The U.S. must prevent it from getting the tools and bringing that plan into fruition.
President Obama has limited his options to military advisors to Iraq and air strikes. Both are weak options and probably will not work. What he must do is forge a coalition of forces among our allies in the region to limit ISIS advances. This does not mean U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq but supporting our allies in what they think is the best solution.
Perry J. Mitchell is a retired professor of political science living in Ocean View. He has taught international relations courses for more than 30 years.