- April 20, 2020
America and the rise of ISIS
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Americaand the rise of ISIS
Armedconflict has been part of the human civilization for centuries. Overtime, wars have taken different mandates as different societiesresulted to fighting in a bid to make their case where dialogue hadfailed. With the collapse of the Soviet Union which brought an end tothe cold war, the world thought that a period of global peace hadbegun. However, this era was short-lived as a new enemy in the formof terrorism emerged at the beginning of the 21stcentury. The new threat has been a major concern for many nationsbecause of its ability to disguise itself among civilian and strike ablow to the society while it is least expected. Terrorism has beenintroduced to the world under different names, and this is possiblebecause if its ability to reinvent itself. The latest terror threatin the world is in the form of the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria(ISIS). With the group expanding at an unexpected rate, there is araging debate as to who should be blamed for the emergence anddominance of this jihadist group. The paper evaluates theresponsibility to be borne by the United States in the creation ofthis terror organization. It seeks to show that the US is responsibleto a large extent for the creation of today`s largest extremistentity that is ISIS.
Briefhistory of ISIS
Beforedeliberating on who is to blame for the emergence and successivedominance of this terror organization, it is important to understandwho ISIS is and why they are a threat to global security. The group,also known as the Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) orDaesh, is a jihadist militant group that follows the Wahhabi doctrineof Sunni Islam. With a history that dates back to 1999, the group hasbeen involved in several conflicts under the name of al-Qaeda,especially in Iraq during the American invasion that lasted over adecade.
Thegroup is widely known because of its trademark videos where militantsare filmed beheading both civilians and soldiers, and especially aidworkers and journalist. The group has received global criticism fromthe United Nations and other government entities. ISIS gainedworldwide attention in 2014 when it successfully drove out Iraqisoldiers from the country’s northern territories and took controlover the city of Mosul. It was during this period that they declaredthemselves a worldwide caliphate1.With a presence in more than 20 nations around the world, the groupis accused of war crimes, human rights abuses, and ethnic cleansing,especially in northern Iraq. ISIS has taken credit for severalattacks both in the Middle Eastern region and in other areas,especially in Europe.
Therole of the US in the creation of ISIS
Recently,there is growing consensus among different stakeholders that the USbears the greatest responsibility for the emergence and acceleratedgrowth of ISIS. This rhetoric has been repeated over and over to theextent that it has become an issue during the presidential electionin the country. Though the government does not take anyresponsibility for the emergence and growth of the terrororganization, several senior government officials are in agreementthat the US ought to have done more to ensure the group was dealtwith decisively before it gained hold of territories it currentlyholds. The next part of the paper evaluates the action or inaction orthe US and how they created a thriving environment for the group togrow.
In2003, the Bush administration led an invasion of Iraq under the guiseof finding and destroying weapons of mass destruction (WMD`s) thatwere apparently being developed by Saddam Hussein. Though theauthorities discovered that the intelligence about the weapons wasincorrect, the American occupation was Iraq continued as theadministration argued that Saddam Hussein’s government wascollaborating with terrorist and this was something that could not beallowed to continue2.When the invasion began, the Americans were met with resistance fromthe al-Qaida, and this established them as a political forced thathad the ability to carry out military attacks on the foreignoccupier.
Duringthis occupation, the armed forces and the civil service, which werethe two major bastions of secular nationalism, were abolished. Intheir place, the US government replaced the Hussein rule with acoalition of sectarian Shia parties with most of them maintainingclose ties with Iran. Sunni extremist saw this as a betrayal by theircountrymen who had sold out their people to Persians and westerners3. The situation was made worse by an influx of former army soldierswho had lost their jobs and pension because of the invasion. This ledto an increase in attacks in Shia neighbourhoods. Though there was ahistorical context to this fight, before the conflict, these twoopposing function had learned to live together harmoniously.
Inorder to ensure that the conflicts stop, the American negotiated adeal that allowed Sunni extremists to lay down their arms and inexchanged get more inclusion in government. Fast-forward to 2011,American troops pulled out of Iraq leaving the struggling governmentwithout the support of her former ally. The Shia majority governmentstarted targeting their Sunni countrymen as a political cleansingstrategy4.This created a vital opportunity for ISIS to emerge. This is becauseit gave the al-Qaeda fighters that had fled to Syria to escape thewrath of the American an opportunity to come back and impose theirmandate on Sunnis that were under constant threat from the Iraqigovernment.
Traditionally,Sunnis from Iraq had been considered relatively secular and wereagainst extremist tactics that were used against their adversaries.However, in 2012, when al-Qaeda, now ISIS, came to the aid of thesecommunities they were welcomed by the locals who saw them as a lesserevil to their national government that had continued to target them.With the help of the local community, ISIS was able to establish afoothold in Iraq5.Their advances were aided by the fact that the government in Iraq wasinvolved in massive cases of corruption and this made it possible forthe terror organization to advance their occupation of Iraq.
Thishas been noted as the first failure by the US government that led tothe emergence of the group, and this argument has been amplified bymembers of the Republican Party who blame President Obama forcreating a thriving environment for extremists to sell theirideology. In their view, it was premature to withdraw all Americanforces from Iraq as the new government lacked both technical andintellectual capacity to deal with the threat of terror that hadengulfed the region for more than a decade. However, it is importantto note that President Obama had asked the Iraqi authorities to allowhim to leave 5000 troops in the country to aid his forces but theyrefused6.This said it would be fair not to forget that the initial invasion ofthe nation in 2003 was large to blame for the conflict in the regionas it allowed extremists to recruit fighters in the name of fightingfor Islam.
Anotherargument that supports the claim that the American played a key rolein the creation of ISIS is in regards to the conflict in Syria. Earlyin 2012, there were anti-government movement that was focused onremoving the regime of Bashar al-Assad from power. This presentedanother opportunity from for ISIS to grow and expand7.This is because there was a lot of intervention by foreign powers inSyria each with its interest. The conflict between these powersprovided vital funding and military equipment for ISIS as itmasqueraded itself as one of the groups that were fighting for theauthoritarian regime.
Whenthe protest began in Syria, several players began using it as a powerplay. The Turkish, Saudi and Qatari coalition felt that PresidentAssad’s rule gave the Shias more control over the region. They sawan opportunity to do away with him and install a Sunni regime. Toeffect this change, they started funding rebel who the US classifiedas moderate Muslims. However, different organizations and the Assadregime continued to note that these were terrorist that weredisguised as terrorists. This presented an opportunity for the UnitedStates to step in and call upon its allies to stop funding and armingthese rebels. However, it did the complete opposite and joined in theproxy war8.This was after it was unable to acquire a UN resolution to carry outairstrikes against Assad`s forces after this proposal was vetoed byboth the Russians and the Chinese.
Theproxy war took several phases. Firstly, there was a war between theAssad regime and rebel. Here the government used all its might to tryand quell down the uprising, and this created a recruitmentopportunity for both Syrians and foreigners to join the armedstruggle. Secondly, there was a proxy war between Sunnis and Shias.This ensured that there was a steady flow of foreign weapons into thecountry and most of them were acquired by ISIS. Thirdly, there was awar between the Americans and Russians. Syria, having a long-timeally of Russia received military and was even assisted by the RussianAir Force to conduct strikes on rebel-held areas9.Americans were very skeptic about committing troops to the conflictas it feared getting entangled in another Middle Eastern conflict.Therefore, it opted to train and arm proxies whom it termed asmoderate rebels with the hope that they would topple the Assadregime. However, reports have shown that a good chunk of theseweapons ended in the hands of ISIS.
Withthe Syrian government entangled in a conflict from all sides, ISIStook advantage of the situation and expanded its reach by occupyingvast territories. In laying claim to the regions they had captured,they argued that they do not recognize the colonial boundaries thathad been imposed on them by Western powers10.This is the second area where the actions of the US aided in thegrowth of ISIS. As a global superpower, the US had a responsibilityto call upon its allies and require them to stop channelling weaponsin Syria as there was irrefutable evidence that they were beinghanded over to the terrorist. However, the US opted to get involvedin a sectarian conflict by choosing to side with its sunny allies inthe region. As a result, it provided weapons and funding to ISISwhile it should have been at the forefront in working towards theextermination of the group.
Anotherway that the US is responsible for the rise of ISIS is its inabilityto separate moderate opposition rebels in Syria from individuals whoare considered as extremist sympathizers. After the Iraqi invasionand the subsequent event that the action had on the US military,there was a consensus that Americans would never commit troops toregime change. Thus in Syria, they decided to support moderateopposition groups. However, the government failed in ensuring thatthose they were aiding were taken through vetting to ensure that theywere not extremist or sympathizers of terrorism. As a result, theweapon produced or purchased with America’s taxpayer’s moneyended up in the hand of ISIS. Some of these weapons were state of theart, and they gave ISIS a tactical advantage never enjoy by any otherterror group and thus the quick rise to power.
Thecurrent foreign policy being implemented by the American governmentalso played a policy in enabling ISIS to rise and expand to itscurrent state. From the cold war era, the US has implemented apolicy where every action by a nation considered as an ally waspermissible while any action by a communist-friendly nation wasconsidered unacceptable. Close to three decades since the end of thecold war, the policy is still widely used. ISIS has grown because ofthe divided approach used by the international community to addressthe problem. Arab American allies are more focused on attaining moreinfluence and curtailing the policy of Iran than they are withensuring that the threat is naturalized. Their increased policy toundermine the action of either Iran, Syria or Russia in the regionprovided a favorable environment where the terror group was able togrow and metastasize and grow to its current form.
Theapproach that the US used after the outbreak of the Syrian civil waralso played a role in enabling ISIS to gain a foothold in the region.The growth of ISIS was highly favoured by their impact in Syria asthe conflict provided material resources and manpower needs toadvance their extremist activities. One of the primary argument madeby those who place the blame for the rise of ISIS on the US arguethat the country was in a hurry to invade Iraq and yet did nothing torescue the situation in Syria11.This is because in both cases the use had the single goal on regimechange. However, in Iraq, the change was forced upon Iraqis while thenation did nothing when the Syrians were demanding for the same. Inessence, had the US acted more decisively in Syria, ISIS would nothave entered into Syria, and this would have made it easier for theorganization to be dealt with while still in Iraq.
Geopoliticalstand against the Russian Federation is another way that the actionsof the US have continued to favour this terror organization. TheRussians have been actively engaged in a conflict in Syria as theytry to weaken this terror organization12.In their effort, they have stated that they are willing to work withAmerican to ensure that the threat of terrorism is dealt with onceand for all. However, the Americans have continuously failed to agreeto work with Russian and in some instances have even applauded whenthe Russian efforts were met with challenges with a good casing pointbeing the downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey. The fact thatthe US cannot even corporate with Russia in an important issue suchas fighting terrorism moves to show the failures by the US that hadan impact on enabling ISIS to thrive.
Theabove explanations can be considered the primary through which the UScontributed to the growth of ISIS. However, there are some theactions that appear inconsequential, but that had a role in enablingthe terror organization to grow. Firstly, the use of a localinsurgency to deal with those who opposed their place in Iraq. Thus,the US used Shia operates to counter the insurgency of the Sunnis13.This had a rippling effect as the Sunnis who were moderate were moreinclined to entertain extremist agendas felt that the war was notonly against the dictator Saddam but also against their beliefs. ISIStapped into this anger and exploited it, and the resulting effect wasthe development of the world largest terror organization.
Anotherway that the US contributed to the rise of ISIS is during theiroccupation of Iraq. It is estimated that during the first four yearsof their stay, they had detained more than 24000 Iraqi men among whomwere al-Qaeda hard-core followers14.These inmates also included innocent civilians and Baathist officers.The holding facilities became more of an extremist breeding groundthat a correctional facility as people who detested the US occupationwere placed in a similar location and given ample time to plan of aproper retaliation policy. The result of this policy was that theplans on the formation and strategies to be applied by ISIS weredeveloped here15.This was a failure on the part of the US that also ensures that thebrightest criminal minds developed a strategy that took the world bystorm and tested the security of many nations to level neverwitnessed before.
Havingestablished that the US was directly or indirectly responsible forthe formation and rapid growth of ISIS, it is important to establishpolicies that can be implemented to ensure that the terrororganization is dealt with before it can do further damage. There areseveral policies that may be implemented towards achieving this end. Firstly, the US needs to hold itself to a higher standard whenintroducing arms to an ongoing conflict. Current and historicalreports have shown that most terror organizations which operatearound the world do so with arms that they at one point got from theUS while trying to achieve another means. It is high time the USshould stop the strategy of arming people that are not answerable toanyone there are better forms of achieving regime changes withoutnecessarily resulting in conflicts as these weapons once distributedcannot be recalled16.Cutting down on its arming policy will ensure that extremistindividuals in this region do not have access to weapons which theyuse to advance their agenda.
Additionally,the US also needs to hold to account all its allies that use conflictto try and influence the outcome of an ongoing conflict. The growthof ISIS has been highly favoured by the external influence thatcontinues to increase their tools that are used by extremists. The USbeing the most powerful nation on the planet and also an ally ofthese countries carries great sway and influence over them17.Thus, it is upon the government to call upon all these externalplayers and ensure that they desist from providing arms and othersuppliers to their proxies, especially when they cannot fully accountfor the whereabouts of these weapons once they are dispatched.Controlling the inflow of these tools will go far in ensuring thatsmall extremist entities do not grow to control vast territories ashas been the case for ISIS.
Lastly,the US needs to take up its place as the world leader and actual leadother nations in this fight against extremism that continues to posethe greatest threat to global security. In the fight againstextremism, there should be only one enemy in the name of ISIS. Thusall resources should be concentrated towards ensuring that ISIS isdestroyed. Engaging in a geopolitical war against Russia at the costof the lives of Syrian and Iraqi children that continue to fallvictims of ISIS is an acceptable behaviour for the world onlyremaining super power18.Cooperating with other nations that have similar goals of ensuringthe threat of ISIS is neutralized should be a priority for the US.
Fromthe above discussion, it is evident that the US bears the greatestresponsibility for the emergence and growth of ISIS to become thelargest terror organization. The decision to invade Iraq and thenleave the country at its weakest coupled with its hands-off policyapplied in Syria created a thriving environment that enabledextremists to thrive and cultivate their extremist agenda. The riseof ISIS has seen attacks being carried out around the world and arefugee crisis that is only comparable to the one during the SecondWorld War. This noted it is important that the issues of who is toblame for the rise of ISIS is no longer important and it is high timethat attention shifted towards ensuring that the threat the grouppresent is neutralized. Thus, the US should take a leading role andcreate a global alliance which will work together towards ensuringthat this problem is solved. Doing this will be the first step towardensuring that ISIS expansion is halted. Moreover, it will ensure thatthe thousands of civilians that continue to live in camps aroundEurope and the Middle East have some hope of returning to their homecountry to rebuild what ISIS has destroyed.
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1 Mabon, Simon Paul, and Stephen Royle. "The origins of ISIS: the collapse of nations and revolutions in the Middle East." (2016).
2 Kerr, Paul. "U.S. shifts focus in Iraq WMD hunt." Arms Control Today May 2004: 30. War and Terrorism Collection. (2016).
3 Farwell, James P. "The media strategy of ISIS." (Survival 56.6, 2014): 51.
4 Broder, Jonathan. "The ISIS Creation Myth The rise of the Islamic State has become a major issue in the 2016 presidential campaign." (Newsweek 3 July 2015.Opposing Viewpoints in Context. 2016).
5 Mabon and Stephen,
6 Hussain, Munir, and Muhammad Kashif. "Arab Uprising 2011: Emergence of Extremism in Middle East and Its Regional Consequences." (Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations 14.2. 2015).
7 Cronin, Audrey Kurth. "ISIS Is Not a Terrorist Group: Why Counterterrorism Won`t Stop the Latest Jihadist Threat." (Foreign Aff. 94, 2015): 87.
8 Gause III, F. Gregory. "Future of US-Saudi Relations: The Kingdom and the Power, (The." Foreign Aff. 95, 2016): 114.
9 Farwell, 54
11 Zunes, Stephen. "The U.S. and the Rise of ISIS." The Huffington Post. (TheHuffingtonPost.com, 2016).
12 Cronin, 87
14 Phillips, Peter J. "Terrorist Group Brutality and the Emergence of the Islamic State (ISIS)." (Available at SSRN 2479740 2014). 63
16 Brooks, Rosa. "The US role in preserving global security." American Society of International Law. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting. (American Society of International Law, 2015). 23
17 Gause, 114
18 Brooks, 24