by Berry Friesen
Missing from most Christian commentary about the Islamic State has been discussion of the possibility that it is a proxy army of the empire, carrying out the aims and purposes of the USA and its allies.
This suggestion may surprise some readers. After all, isn’t the USA bombing the Islamic State?
Yes, it is. But that does not end the discussion. When an empire engages in a war for survival, we can safely assume it fights to win. But when its survival is not at stake, it may find it advantageous to fight on both sides so that neither emerges victorious and the entire region is disorganized and open to imperial exploitation. In such situations, success does not require victory, but only fragmentation and the absence of effective opposition.
Since the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the Mideast and its oil have been a strategic priority of the USA. For forty years, the USA has been committed to being the dominant power in the region. Toward that end, it has established permanent bases in the Mideast; entered into strategic alliances with Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States; isolated and stigmatized Iran; encouraged Iraq to attack Iran and later Kuwait; launched a war of aggression against Iraq; occupied Afghanistan on a permanent basis; and deployed lethal force against Iran, Yemen and Syria. As many as five million Middle East residents have died as a result of these actions.
Obviously, the USA does whatever is “necessary” to maintain Mideast dominance. Is the Islamic State one of its tools to accomplish this? Much evidence suggests it is.
The organization known today as the Islamic State was already highly visible in Iraq during the years leading up to and immediately following the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011. Its actions included many car bombs aimed to kill Shiite civilians and facilitate prison breaks. The point is that U.S. officials were well-acquainted with this group three-to-four years ago.
In April, 2013, the Islamic State formally merged with al-Qaeda in Syria (called the Nusra Front) for the purpose of bringing down the Syrian government. During the last half of 2013, its fighters took control of many smaller towns and cities in eastern Syria. In January 2014, it seized Raqqa, Syria’s largest city in the east and made it the center of its operations. By June of last year, it had captured vast expanses of Syria and Iraq, including Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
The USA and its allies did little to stop this aggression. But in July, 2014, after mainstream media headlined Islamic State massacres of Yazidi civilians, U.S. officials responded with alarm. Secretary of Defense Hagel hyped the Islamic State as “a force that is sophisticated. It’s dynamic, it’s strong, it’s organized, it’s well-financed, it’s competent. And it is a threat to our allies all over the Middle East. It’s a threat to Europe. It’s a threat to every stabilized country on Earth, and it’s a threat to us.” President Obama promptly sent U.S. troops back to Iraq. By August U.S. planes were bombing Islamic State positions and by September the U.S. had assembled a 40-nation coalition to defeat the Islamic State.
The abrupt change in the U.S. response was bizarre. It suggested the U.S. wanted the Islamic State to succeed, but only up to a point.
This past May, we learned that since at least August, 2012, the Pentagon had been expecting something like the Islamic State to emerge in eastern Syria. I quote from a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report: “If the situation unravels [in eastern Syria], there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria, and this is exactly what the supporting powers [Western countries, the Gulf states, Turkey] to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime” (emphasis added).
In other words, at least three years ago, the Pentagon anticipated and hoped for the emergence of something like the Islamic State.
During that time, support from the USA and its allies has included money, arms, supplies and open borders. This began at least as early as 2011, soon after the NATO attack on Libya, with the shipment of Libyan arms into Syria. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador killed in Benghazi, was giving oversight to that CIA operation in the days just before his death.
Wealthy supporters living in Sunni-dominated countries, especially Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, provided cash—perhaps in the billions. This financial support has been widely reported and openly discussed by U.S. officials, but continues without serious U.S. objection even today. Of course, the Gulf States have long supported jihadi violence, beginning with the mujahedeen (including Osama bin Laden) during the final months of the Carter Administration and continuing ever since. British researcher Nafeez Ahmed traces this 35-year history in his article, “Islamic State is the cancer of modern capitalism.”
Earlier this year, mainstream media in Germany and the U.S. confirmed that every day, convoys of trucks with supplies for the Islamic State cross Turkey’s southern border. Chechnyan recruits from southern Russia and Uyghur recruits from western China also cross that border to join the Islamic State’s army. Of course, Turkey is part of NATO and an ally of the USA; if U.S. officials wanted to end the violence of the Islamic State, it would persuade Turkey to close its borders to this traffic.
In May, U.S. Special Forces raided the eastern Syria office of the Islamic State official responsible for smuggling the oil that has become a major source of revenue for the Islamic State, amounting to several million dollars a day. Records seized in that raid revealed that Turkish buyers accounted for most of the oil sales and that high-ranking Turkish government officials gave oversight to the commerce.
Last week, Turkey ended a successful two-year ceasefire with Kurdish separatists in Syria, Iraq and Turkey. It arrested hundreds of Kurdish activists in Turkey and launched scores of bombing raids on Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq. What is the significance of this? The Kurds have been highly effective battlefield opponents of the Islamic State. By attacking the Kurds, a key U.S. ally is making sure that the Islamic State remains strong.
A small example communicates vividly the phony nature of Western opposition to the Islamic State. In May, after the Islamic State captured Ramadi, the capital of Al Anbar province located about 65 miles west of Baghdad, it held a victory parade on a sunny day under skies controlled entirely by the USA and its allies. You would think such a spectacle would have been bombed, but it wasn’t. And the pictures of the triumphant and seemingly unstoppable Islamic State parading through Ramadi showed up on all the U.S. news shows that very evening.
In short, it appears that part of the reason the Islamic State is scary and powerful is because the USA wants it to be scary and powerful. And indeed, when we look at the impact the Islamic State is having in the Middle East, we immediately notice that it is weakening the same governments that U.S. officials want weakened: Syria, Lebanon and Iraq (directly) and Iran (indirectly). Israel and Saudi Arabia have no problems with the Islamic State.
What should Christian peacemakers do about this? Very simply, talk about it with one another, in our congregations and with anyone who will listen. The Islamic State is so successful because it is supported by the West to serve Western interests. Peace will not come until we bring this dirty secret out into the light of day.