Paul Wolfowitz in 2003:
There are other differences that suggest that peacekeeping requirements in Iraq might be much lower than historical experience in the Balkans suggests. There’s been none of the record in Iraq of ethnic militias fighting one another that produced so much bloodshed and permanent scars in Bosnia along with the requirement for large policing forces to separate those militias.
Where we stand right now.
* Nouri al-Maliki runs Iraq basically as a moderate Shiite islamic state aligned with Iran. He seems comfortable with the marginalization of Sunni minorities that we started when we disbanded the Iraqi army and de-Baathified its government.
* Both Maliki and Iran generally support the allawite Assad family that runs Syria, largely for geopolitical reasons (e.g., Hezbollah) and because they all have problems with Sunni groups.
* Bashar al-Assad needs support from Iraq and Iran (and from Russia, a traditional ally) to fight a bunch of groups trying to kick him out. In particular,
* The most effective resistance fighters in Syria are a Sunni group called Islamic State of whatever. ISIL/ISIS/whatever broke ties with al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden’s next in command decided they were too extreme. We can try to find ‘nice’ groups to arm and train in Syria but ISIS/ISIL/whatever has the manpower, the organization and the fanatical motivation that no other group has.
* More or less everyone thinks the Sunni Sauds are fat kleptocrats who barely pretend to care about anything past their gold plated stretch hummers. The Saudis therefore borrow credibility by letting extreme religious groups go hog wild anywhere they’re not parking a Ferrari or drilling for oil. Syrian resistance groups benefit from their basically indiscriminate support.
* Nobody gives a crap about Palestinians.
* Turkey really does not want to deal with this sh*t. Yes Erdogan wins elections on an islamist ticket but he sees his destiny in Europe. Mostly Turkey wants the refugees from Syria and Iraq to go away.
* ISIL/ISIS/whatever got sick of losing in Syria so they jumped the border to try their luck against Iraq‘s army. The Sunni hinterlands don’t necessarily want to live in an Afghanistan with internet cafes but they hate Maliki and his Shiite posse enough to step aside and let ISIS/ISIL/whatever go nuts. In Sunni territory the Iraqi forces are simply not ready to deal with a motivated bunch of hardcore believers who fought a hardened modern(ish) army more or less to a standstill. Non-Sunni lands are another story. Shiite militias would love more practice killing foreigners in a bloody war of attrition in their home neighborhood. See also:
* Kurds. The Basques of the middle east. Aligned no one but themselves and sometimes Israel, Kurds want to carve their own country out of contiguous high ground they occupy in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Organized Kurdish resistance forms an effective barrier against ISIS/ISIL/whoever moving any farther north. However the Kurds’ effectiveness is inextricably tied with their independence.
* Kurdish independence is a problem for everyone. At least Turkey and Iran are willing to go to war and/or kill a lot of people to keep their Kurdish lands. The oil-rich region around the Iraqi town of Kirkuk borders Kurdish territory and any attempt to settle whether Kurds or the Iraqi government ‘own’ that patch will almost certainly end in violence.
* ISIL/ISIS/whatever just declared their current piece of land a new caliphate and named their leader Caliph, fake genealogic link to Muhammad and everything. This is roughly as provocative as group of Christian fundamentalists declaring that Jesus has come back and their leader is Him. Not a great way to build coalitions. Islamic groups already kill each other over obscure interpretations of old lore so this could realign the chess board very much not in favor of “Islamic State”. Everyone outside their club now has a potent incentive to see “Islamic State” proved wrong through political irrelevance and/or a painful death.
* Pakistan borders Iran and Afghanistan, harbors (read ‘tolerates’) al Qaeda and the Taliban, in part to bother India, and has nuclear weapons. Security forces have been extremist-friendly to a troubling degree though recent terrorism against Pakistani society at large could change that.
* America wants to leave Afghanistan something other than a burning wreck. Afghanistan’s own ethnic – slash – religious divisions constantly threatened to dash that hope even before the crazy provocation from Islamic State.
* America has a fun choice of allies: on the Syrian side of Iraq/Syria Islamic State will step in if the Assad clan falls. On the Iraq side our chief alternative is Maliki, a corrupt partisan Shiite who answers to Iran. As for a viable alternative to him, America has settled on…Ahmad Chalabi. Yes, our top pick is embezzling con artist Ahmad f*cking Chalabi, the one guy everyone in Iraq agreed to hate the last time we tried to parachute him into Saddam’s palace.
* Both America and Iran have advisors in Iraq to help fight Islamic State. Iran has invested more including a lot of equipment, but America looks like it wants to catch up. Iran would probably not support Prime Minister Chalabi (assuming for a second that anyone in Iraq would), potentially strengthening Islamic State if we go that way and creating a greater need for American troops on, over and under the ground in Iraq.
* Syria keeps bombing targets inside Iraq. This puts the two countries technically at war even though the bombings are sort of on Iraq’s behalf. Similar carelessness at the Turkish border might invoke the NATO charter.
Iraq’s Kurds will hold an independence referendum within months, their leader Massud Barzani said on Tuesday, as the region reels under a brutal offensive by Sunni jihadists who have declared an Islamic caliphate.
A neocon: someone who thinks he can conquer the world because he learned how to cheat at RISK.