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NIU SONG: The U.S. is hard to pivot away from the Middle East

By Niu Song | 2014-09-15 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)






Though the militant organization Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Shams (ISIS) seized territory and invaded cities on the border of Northern Iraq and Syria, its territorial claim of “building a new authority under its direct political control” is being resisted by many political factions within the two countries, and its predecessor organization Al Qaeda has renounced its already weak ties with the group.

However, the group has announced even grander ambitions, saying that the territory of the Islamic state it aspires to build would definitely not be limited to the Valley of the Tigris and Euphrates. Its political leader has given himself the title of Caliph, claiming to be the leader of all the world’s Muslims. U.S. fighter jets and drones repeatedly bombed the Sunni Islamic extremists, hoping to help its alliance curb the expansion of ISIS through military force.

Terrorism, global public hazard
From a strategic point of view, the nature of ISIS as a terrorist organization and its rejection of modern norms of international relations will help the United States to win support for its intervention from the global community. America’s determination to maintain its leading role in world affairs also makes it reasonable to expect that it would use military force against ISIS. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, it has been the shared view of the international community that terrorism is a threat to public safety across the globe. ISIS’ political goals are directed not only at the West but also at China, Russia and other non-Western countries inhabited by Muslim.
Furthermore, ISIS fundamentally challenges the current international order, having infringed upon the interests of many countries, especially those plagued by national separatism. The target of ISIS is not simply to alter the status quo of a particular political regime in the states where they operate but to expand its ruling area and bring Muslims all over the world under its political control. Such a scheme has never come close to being realized until now. In the end, the U.S. finds itself resorting to military action to maintain the post-Cold War international order. Divergences between the Republic Party and the Democratic Party in domestic politics, however, have not affected their foreign policy consensus on the necessity to maintain the U.S. role as the world leader. The U.S. adopted a three-war strategy: Kosovo War, which aimed to wipe out the so-called remnants of Communism; the War in Afghanistan to crack down on Islamic radicalism and terrorism, and the Iraq war to undermine the anti-American forces.
ISIS, difficult to eradicate
From the perspective of military tactics, U.S is clearly aware of its goal for the attack, which is to help Iraqi and Kurdish autonomous authorities stay in power while supporting the Syrian opposition. However, America has no desire to launch a ground war, which would undermine the U.S. goal of relocating its strategic center and overburden the military. To put it simply, the U.S. is reluctant to be bogged down in Middle East wars.
The airstrike launched by the U.S. may lead to the following consequences: first, since religious extremism and terrorism is deeply rooted, the Iraq troops, Kurdish and Syrian armed forces, though supported by the West, are impotent to resist the military attack from ISIS, which is difficult to eradicate. Furthermore, due to the limited nature of the U.S military action, the cowardice of the Iraq army and the audacity of ISIS, the militant group will probably stage a comeback like the Taliban did. The strike on ISIS may even elevate Iran’s regional status in the Middle East, which has, in an objective way, been increasingly on the rise since the U.S. began waging a series of wars in the region. Looking back, the Iraq War helped Shia Islam recover from its weak position. The pro-American government of Iraq has also improved its relations with Iran. Therefore, the U.S. strike on ISIS and Iran’s interests converge to some extent, which may add more complexity to Iran nuclear issue.
In conclusion, the U.S. air strike on ISIS may have won the support or tacit consent of the international community, especially Iraq, the instability engendered by the inter-territorial nature of ISIS power may mean military intervention may be less effective than the U.S. previously expected. Therefore, the energy of the U.S. will, no doubt, continue to be distracted by the ISIS, and other hotspot issues in the Middle East.
Niu Song is from the Middle East Studies Institute at Shanghai International Studies University. 
The Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No.633, August 13, 2014

Edited and translated by Bai Le 

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