The problem the United States is facing with terrorism that originated in the Middle East is the direct result of the West’s post-WWI supposition that it could keep native populations under control by partitioning their traditional homelands in a way that would allow us to exploit their oil resources. The result was the alliance of the West with strong-men who wielded dictatorial control over their newly-created countries. Once the Cold War mushroomed, our political positions were dictated largely by who aligned themselves with our interests.
Thus, the United States aided the Baathists and, eventually, as Saddam Hussein gained power, we supplied him with weapons and economic support as he imposed a draconian control over his people. But that was in the era when our CIA regularly helped to topple established governments in many parts of the world, including Iran. The revolution that resulted from our support of the Shaw created an enemy that we were forced to deal with. The best way we could engage that enemy was to back Iran’s war against it. At stake was the control of certain oil fields.
For a long time, Saddam was our buddy. Even when he gassed the Kurds, our government looked the other way. By our maneuvering of events to insure Iraq’s oil would keep flowing to the nations we favored, we pretty much guarantied extremist organizations would form to oppose us. For a while, like all upstart revolutionaries, these opposition groups were easily contained by the West’s superior economic and military capabilities. But eventually rebel terror tactics and internet propaganda technologies became increasingly effective at creating propaganda favorable to them.
In situations where opposition groups arise to take action against a perceived oppressor, there is usually an ebb and flow of the primary leadership among those organizations. Over the past several decades, we’ve all heard, at various times, about Hezbollah, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, just to name a few. So far though, aside from mostly wringing its hands and reciting the oft repeated chorus of “Ain’t it awful,” the American citizenry has largely been unconcerned and disconnected on a personal level. After all, terrorism, for the most part, happens in other places.
Enter ISIS/ISIL, a group of extremists that has made butchery their way of life and has done something in a way no other terror organization has managed to do (with the possible exception of the 9/11 attackers). They’ve got America’s attention.
And now, we’ve had to respond—no one disputes that. But the question is have we done it the right way—a way that won’t, if we’re militarily and politically successful, create replacement enemies, thereby extending the tragedies of war in the region indefinitely.
Simply declaring victory and an intention to withdraw from the battle in Syria without consulting with our military leadership, as President Trump has done will not be effective. Nor do turning our backs on the Kurds, allowing Russia to wield strategic power by staying close to Assad, or failing to address the refugee crisis created by the ongoing civil war offer any positive resolutions.
There are military and economic actions that can be taken, but as with all ideologically-driven terrorist violence, the only way it can, over time, be eradicated (or at least, marginalized) is to win the hearts and minds of the populations supporting the extremists. There are simply no quick fixes, but the first step in meeting a jihadist mentality head on is to understand the extent of the part this nation has played in creating its enemies.
In many ways, our need to control major oil supplies provided an impetus that set our current problems in motion. In a State of the Union Address on January 23, 1980, the Carter Doctrine was proclaimed, primarily due to economic and political pressures the United States was experiencing due to the Arab oil embargo. That doctrine stated that the United States would use military force, if necessary, to defend its national interests in the Persian Gulf. Americans, it seemed, would be willing to go to war rather than pay more at the pump or develop alternative energy sources while expanding our system of public transportation.
The Reagan administration helped Saddam Hussein to wage his war against Iran (while ironically selling weapons to our enemy). Fast-forward to 1990, when the George H.W. Bush administration, after giving reassurances to Hussein that the US was not interested in creating economic problems for Iraq, lured him into an invasion of Kuwait. This provided H.W. with an excuse to declare war, presumably because we were concerned with Kuwaiti freedom and (as it turned out, largely fabricated) human rights violations that were being reported in our press. Much of this was eventually exposed as “disinformation” by Bush’s spokespersons to help drum up needed public support for our actions. The U.S. won a rapid victory then stepped back, but only after establishing a string of “temporary” bases that stretched from the oil pipelines on the Arabian Peninsula up toward the natural gas deposits near the Caspian Sea.
From the viewpoint of several rebel organizations, the US was considered an invading force, and they sought ways to strike back at America. During the time that the Clinton administration implemented an air and sea embargo on Iraq—including on food and medical supplies—thousands of civilian deaths occurred, a great many of them children who were most vulnerable to deprivations caused by the sanctions created primarily by the U.S.
Then came 9-11, which was caused by—according to George W. Bush and his spokespersons—Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi people’s hatred for American freedoms. That Iraq had nothing to do with the terrorist attack hardly mattered to the neo-cons and private contractors who were measuring their potential successes by the vast amounts of money that could be made off the government’s military largess and the potential control of oil reserves (which, we were told, were going to pay for our war) once a friendlier Iraqi government was installed.
But this war of choice came with a price, and that price was the anger and hatred for America by so many Middle Easterners. . It’s not hard to understand why, if one is willing to look. The Watson Institute of Brown University cites that, only counting Iraqi civilians, approximately 165,000 have died “from the time of the invasion  through April 2015. Huge numbers of those killed were children.
165,000 people slaughtered by an unnecessary war—a war totally manufactured by US authorities out of the whole cloth of lies and politically-stoked paranoia. And yet, we continued (and still do) to target our Middle Eastern enemies with drones. To be fair, this is not an entirely indefensible tactic, but it is one that carries the consequence that every innocent civilian killed during a strike serves as a recruitment tool for ISIS. We claim to abhor terrorism, but since the 1990s, the U.S. has been waging our own brand of terrorism on millions of Middle Eastern people.
Where once there are calls to take the fight to ISIS, we find ourselves wondering why we are being rushed out of the fight on a whim of a Commander-in-Chief who clearly has extremely limited knowledge of international politics and is uninterested in learning more. Who and/or what will follow any attempt by us to become more isolationist will create the vacuum needed for the next opposition group to form. The current would-be neo-Caliphate was born out of our own collective American greed, paranoia, and ignorance. It will not be defeated by western nations, who, after allowing themselves to be drawn into another major conflict on Middle East soil, want to simply declare victory and go home, leaving a brutal dictator in charge and ignoring the humanitarian crisis that has overtaken the region. And it certainly will not be defeated by calls to ban Islam or Muslims from this nation. The fear-driven rhetoric that has become a political litany in our current election cycle only serves the cause of terrorist recruiters.
ISIS/ISIL is a problem that’s going to be with us for a long time, but until we get serious about shifting the world market away from oil-based energy, our interests and those of a sizable proportion of the Middle Eastern population will remain at odds. The worst thing we could do at this time is let ourselves be driven by fear of terrorist attacks into a course of action that will further alienate and agitate people who are of different faiths and/or cultures.
Our paranoia is what ISIS wants; it’s what any opposition group wants and needs to feed a recruitment program. If we define our challenge from an extremist organization as requiring mano a mano response, we will continue to let them survive in one form or another until they eventually win. When threatened with violence, the least effective action is to escalate the violence without clear cut objectives to improve the lives of the people directly affected. We need to think rationally, acknowledge what we’ve been doing wrong (and right), and think like adults and not frightened children.