The past two weeks has witnessed the stupidest things to be written about Iraq since the lead up to the 2003 invasion. "ISIS is taking over!" "Al Qaeda is coming!" "What's a Shi'ite!" Every single story has gotten everything exactly wrong.
It's painful, especially since there's no other news. No one really cares that Cantor's gone except whoever got to be John Bohner's new bitch. I wasn't paying attention because Congress voted away its own powers in the Bush years. Instead, I've been following every hoot and cry over Iraq, getting a very nasty reminder about the provincial ignorance and credulousness of the American people.
Let's establish the basics first - just what is ISIS? About ten thousand Sunnis calling themselves "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria." They've gone through a couple leaders and a couple similar names, jihadi groups being very flexible about geography. Kind of like the First International back in the Nineteenth Century, which was never all that international. ISIS has so far managed the "Iraq and Syria" part, but only due to porous borders and a sectarian culture no one inside the Beltway will admit exists in the Middle East.
It's horrifying and darkly funny, the way all the Very Serious People talk about Iraq like the Sunni-Shia rivalry doesn't exist. Like this is all because Maliki is weak - I'd never say that to Saddam's former hitman myself - or it's all because of the American president you hate the most. Or it's al Qaeda because al Qaeda al Qaeda al Qaeda.
That's really what's driving all the stupid. Americans in 2014 give even less of a damn about Iraqis than did Americans in 2004, they're all just scared ISIS is gonna somehow start flying planes into skyscrapers if we don't smack 'em down right now. This is what I mean when I say Americans are credulous - ISIS honcho Abd Bakir al-Baghdadi talks a whole lot about setting up a caliphate and making war on New York City, but what exactly are his logistic capabilities?
Keep in mind, this is the same outfit that couldn't knock off Assad a year ago. That's right, the jihadis who've got McCain's panties in a bunch today are the same jihadis he wanted to back last year, when they were talking big about an Islamic state in just Syria while never moving beyond Aleppo. If they couldn't take down the minority of Alawites on the coast, how are they gonna take down the Shi'ite majority of Iraq? Especially when said majority definitely has the backing of Iran?
International terrorism takes two things ISIS doesn't exactly have an abundance of - money and operatives who can blend in with the decadent target culture long enough to get into position. How many of those ten thousand irregulars speak English? How many are even literate in their own language? Jihad doesn't exactly attract the best and brightest, the 9/11 highjakers being a collection of upper middle-class boys with more theology than brains. On the ground guerrilla outfits like ISIS recruit more from peasant and working class stock, low on formal education but dedicated to fightin' and dyin' for the 'hood.
And no more than that. You never heard of Ulster loyalists crashing trucks of semtex into the Oireachtas in Dublin. Why would they need to when there's the more pressing matter of the Catholics three blocks over? That's the rough, sectarian reality no one cares to address. Maybe because they're dumb, maybe because it's not a sexy enough angle for the Beltway media, maybe some mutant mix of both. I don't know and I don't care - point is, ISIS can field a lot of guys to secure majority Sunni towns like Mosul and Aleppo but find themselves short of recruits when it comes to hitting places without any supportive network of cousins. That's why Maliki is as safe as Assad and it's why, for all his bluster, Abu Bakir won't be pulling off another 9/11 unless he does it all by himself.
Which would be easy to see if you first accept that Iraqis, Sunni and Shia alike, have their own local politics and agendas that come first. If the past two weeks have taught me anything, it's that the ruling class and their tame press can't accept that. Won't, in fact, as it violates the American exceptionalism subscribed to by even the most latte-sucking of liberals. This sectarian turf war is entirely because America Did X or America Didn't Do Y and now America Must Do Z or else Bad Stuff. Exactly what that Bad Stuff is depends on who you ask - either Iraq will fall apart or AQ suicide commandos will teleport into Ohio. Both ideas are equally impossible but they play into the solipsism that clouds any understanding of the world, assigning American cultural narratives which are completely alien to the situations in question, which will resolve themselves no matter who Obama bombs.