Can We, And Should We, Do Anything About the Islamist Capture of Iraq?

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, continues its march toward Baghdad. But what does ISIS actually want? Is it capable of holding the territory that it is capturing? What are its aims? What are the consequences if it succeeds in toppling Iraq's current, secular, government?

Iraq has 10% of the world's oil supplies. In economic terms alone, if an Islamist terrorist government with al Qaeda's ideology captures Iraq, the consequences will be serious.

But according to the New York Times, the Obama administration has already ruled out any intervention on Iraq's behalf, on any scale.

As the threat from Sunni militants in western Iraq escalated last month, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki secretly asked the Obama administration to consider carrying out airstrikes against extremist staging areas, according to Iraqi and American officials.

But Iraq’s appeals for a military response have so far been rebuffed by the White House, which has been reluctant to open a new chapter in a conflict that President Obama has insisted was over when the United States withdrew the last of its forces from Iraq in 2011.

That stubbornness may prove to be very costly. Blogs of War lays out what the US might be able to do short of putting any American troops back into Iraq.

What the United States can do is provide very limited air/drone support, intelligence support, diplomatic support, and coordination with the regional teams who would actually have boots on the ground. Assorted tools from the covert war playbook would likely be enough to make life difficult for ISIS. And frankly, that is all that the United States can, or should, do. We do not need to eradicate them in bloody urban combat or commit massive development resources to a dysfunctional Iraqi government. However, we do need to find a way to check the momentum of a rapidly expanding threat before it becomes an exponentially bigger problem. All military options are ugly, and far from a permanent solution, but engaging ISIS quickly might stave off an absolute collapse of the country.

Collapse isn't the only risk. A full ISIS takeover is a grim possibility. TIME magazine says that what ISIS really wants is what its predecessor, al Qaeda, wanted: a restoration of the Islamic caliphate.

...if ISIS can in fact hold the area it has overrun, it may well be able to fulfill its stated mission of restoring the Caliphate, the governing structure for the Sunni Muslim world that inherited authority from the Prophet Mohammed. “This is of great significance,” according to an assessment released Wednesday by The Soufan Group, a private security company. A restored Caliphate will attract “many more disaffected young people … from all over the Muslim world, especially the Middle East, lured by nostalgia for al-Khulafa al-Islamiya (the Islamic Caliphate), which remains a potent motivator for Sunni extremists.”

Restoring the Caliphate was the stated goal of Osama bin Laden in creating al-Qaeda, but the terror group has never operated militarily. “It’s ISIS that will build the Caliphate, not al-Qaeda,” says al-Tamimi.

Guess who would be a modern caliphate's lionized and revered founding father? Besides Barack Obama, who is at least passively enabling all this, Osama bin Laden would get his face on the new caliphate's currency.

A caliphate would out-Islam even Iran's Islamic Revolution. It would provide a direct challenge to every secular government in every Islamic country in the Middle East. It would unite millions of Muslims in one of the caliphate's ultimate goals -- the destruction of Israel in order to recapture the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. A caliphate would also provide a threat to Shiites, and might trigger a much wider Islamic civil war, on a more or less global scale.

US power would be severely weakened in all this. In fact, it already is. Iran is already shipping oil to the Syrian government, in open violation of US and international sanctions against Assad. The Obama administration doesn't seem to care.