Anarchy, ISIS, and Democracy in the Middle East

As the United States contemplates the use ofmilitary force against ISIL, Congress and President Obama should work together on a strategy before authorizing and implementing military force. There are two general policy positions on the shape of U.S. force: limited intervention using the Powell Doctrine, or correctly implementing what President George W. Bush set out to do in Iraq, establishing a working democracy in the Middle East.Middle East

The Powell Doctrine[i] seems to be the more popular approach, however, a limited intervention can only hope to contain the ISIL at best. In order to eradicate Islamic militantism in the Middle East, the United States needs to state institutions that would replace religious identities with national identities.

President George W. Bush’s would be legacy was a democratic Middle East. President Bush was a strong proponent of democratic peace theory, the theory democracies are more stable and democracies do not fight democracies. The current situation in the Middle East, however, is either a complete failure of democratic peace theory, or a failure to correctly implement a democratic system. For example, John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations made the point that the Middle East is more unstable now than at any point since the 1976 war between the Arab states and Israel. He said that many post-Arab Spring states are in danger of dissolving. For example, Libya has been torn apart in the aftermath of the political power vacuum following the Arab Spring.


Why is there is too much anarchy in the Middle East?


The United States has failed at developing democracy in the Middle East – which has led to increased instability and anarchy – because U.S. foreign policy has misunderstood the formula for building democracy-dependant institutions. The United States is just the latest Western nation to fail in the Middle East. As the U.S. contemplates increased military action in the Middle East, specifically authorization of military force in Syria, the U.S. needs to consider the path that created so much anarchy in the first place.

Anarchy in the Middle East comes from a chain of conditions that explain and even predict why the Middle East is largely anarchic, and this formula should be applied to U.S. policy going forward—especially when looking at recent foreign policy failures going back to the justification of the Iraq War. Anarchy in the Middle East has its roots in the post-imperial power vacuum. As Robert D. Kaplan explains, the vacuum left by the sudden withdrawal of colonial institutions created the perfect environment for dictators to flourish. Instead of forming institutions that occur organically in democratic states, the dictators formed intelligence states to control the behavior of their populations. The lack of institutions barred the population from participating in the political process, which led to the development of “feeble identities”—people saw themselves as subjects rather than citizens.[ii]

The existence of a weak national identity allowed for what Kaplan called “Doctrinal Battles” to occur; religious and tribal identities took the place of a national identity. The final factor, “Information technology” was the match that lit the powder keg. Kaplan’s argument is that the internet and social media make it easier for factions to recruit and organize, giving groups a larger voice.

De-Ba’athification in Iraq led to a brain-drain of the Iraqi elite and dissolution of Institutions—essentially, the Ba’athist party was the institution that kept Iraq working. Once the Ba’athist party was removed, there was no government.

By 2005, when the violence in Iraq was at its worst, identities were broken down into sub-religious, quasi-tribal categories. Sunnis were fighting Sunni, both of which were fighting with the Sunni led al-Qaeda in Iraq, not to mention the Shiite and Kurdish partisans.

The United States attempted to create an Iraq identity within the Sunni population. The United States sponsored Sunni militias called “The Sons of Iraq.” The program was a system where the United States paid local sheiks to maintain these militias as a peace keeping entity. Essentially, when some sort of violence broke out in a sheik’s territory, the local U.S. military commander would threaten to cut off the money or even use a rival sheik’s militia to keep the peace. The doctrine, aptly called “Money as a Weapon” dramatically reduced violence across Iraq, until the program was suspended.

As U.S. policy makers are deciding what to do about ISIL, they must decide on the endgame of U.S. intervention in the Middle East. Will the United States continue the Bush Administration’s doctrine of democratization? If so, what will the United States do to prop up stable institutions that are not reliant on the United States?

If the United States does not want to commit 100% to institution building, then rely on the Powell Doctrine: “intervention only when it can be quickly and easily accomplished.”





Photo Curtesy of Karl-Ludwig Poggemann (Licensecropping authorized

[i] See Robert D. Kaplan, The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War at 123 (Vintage Books 2000).


[ii] See generally Robert D. Kaplan, The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War at 3-57 (Vintage Books 2000). (Explaining that anarchy in the Africa comes from a the end of imperialism creating power vacuums that were filled by post-colonial dictators who created intelligence states instead of developing institutions. The lack of national institutions led feeble identities, subjects instead of citizens, which created doctrinal battles between religion and state identities. With the development of information technology, non-state identities have been proliferated to the point where they compete with national identities).


Death of Top Al Qaeda Officials Confirmed

Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has confirmed the death of its two most senior leaders, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. The group posted a statement on its website late Saturday night, a week after the U.S. reported the deaths, which followed a joint Iraqi-U.S. strike on April 18. U.S. officials called the loss “potentially the most significant blow AQI since the beginning of the insurgency, and the AQI statement heralded its fallen leaders as “heroes on the path of struggle.”

An arrest of a senior leader of AQI in March provided the intelligence that led to the strike. The official, who’s identity has not been released but is believed to be Manaf Abdul Rahim al-Rawi, the “governor” of Baghdad, provided a “trove of intelligence.” In addition to the death of the two top leaders, Iraqi and U.S. forces have arrested many AQI members in the recent weeks, including twelve suspected insurgents arrested in Baghdad and Mosul on Thursday.

The arrests and deaths are sure to have an impact on AQI’s future, although the extent of that impact is currently unknown. Al-Masri was AQI’s military commander, and al-Baghdadi was the group’s ideological leader. American commanders have recently characterized AQI as highly diminished, who’s former support base (local population and tribal leaders) have turned against it and rejected violent methods.

Read more at CNN and the New York Times.

Insurgents Kill Vice Mayor of Kandahar

Insurgents killed the Vice Mayor of Kandahar during prayers at a local mosque. In neighboring Khost Province, NATO troops fired on a car with 12 people inside, killing two insurgents. The other 10 were civilians, including a 12 year old boy. The terrorist attacks in Kandahar are aimed at competent officials. By killing then, the Taliban hopes to dissuade others from filling their place, thus leaving a void of competency, which they hope to fill. However, the inadvertent killing of civilians is the latest in a string, which has damaged perceptions of NATO in the region.

Leaked Video Shows Killing of Journalist in Iraq

On Monday, released a video from 2007 revealing an unprovoked attack on a Reuters photographer and others by U.S. forces in Iraq. The video has been confirmed authentic by military officials, yet multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain the 38-minute video were denied.

In the video, U.S. forces mistake a camera and other equipment for AK-47s and RPGs before opening fire on approximately eight individuals. A van carrying an additional number of people, including two children, later comes to the scene. The individuals in the van can be clearly seen moving one of the bodies towards the van and do not engage in any hostile activity. After requesting permission to engage with the individuals moving the body, U.S. forces open fire on the individuals and the van, wounding both children sitting towards the front.

Twelve individuals, including the Reuters photographer and a driver, were killed during the attack. Despite the obvious gravity of the episode, no disciplinary action has been taken since the U.S. military in Baghdad concluded that the U.S. forces involved could not have known that journalists were in the group.

To watch the video, see: WikiLeaks.Org

Co-ordinated Suicide Bombings Kill at Least 33 in Diyala Provice

Officials have estimated that at least 33 people were killed and another 55 wounded in three coordinated suicide bombings in Iraq’s Diyala Provice on Wednesday, four days before parliamentary elections are to be held. Within minutes, three separate bombings had occurred which targeted an Iraqi police station, the main provincial building, and a hospital, in sequence. The latter attack was perpetrated as the wounded and bystanders attempted to access the hospital in response to their injuries. Al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, had previously stated that he intended to unsettle and obstruct the upcoming elections by “military means.” The UN’s envoy to Iraq has indicated that, despite the levels of violence the election preparations have not been affected. The success of the parliamentary elections on Sunday are seen by many as a key stepping stone for the eventual withdrawal of US military operations in Iraq by 2011.