The way a stove top expresso maker works is by heating one chamber full of water and letting steam push coffee into the relative vacuum of another. When ISIS drove East toward the Shi'ite areas supported members of the old Baathist regime, it was essentially the same process: it was al-Qaeda coffee percolating toward Baghdad.
The al Qaeda offshoot has captured swathes of territory in northwest and central Iraq, including the second city, Mosul. They have seized large amounts of weaponry from the fleeing Iraqi army and looted banks.
World powers are deadlocked over the crises in Iraq and Syria. Shi'ite Iran has said it will not hesitate to protect Shi'ite shrines if asked by Baghdad but Sunni-run Saudi Arabia has warned Tehran to stay out of Iraq.
When Reuters says "Sunni fighters seized a border post on the Iraq-Syria frontier, security sources said on Saturday, smashing a line drawn by colonial powers almost a century ago and potentially creating an Islamic Caliphate from the Mediterranean Sea to Iran" they are basically describing a merge between two wars. The same bad guys operated across a border without distinction. After a while the de facto threatens to become de jure.
Ian Black of the Guardian writes "jihadi advances are not only erasing the old borders and allowing Isis to claim it is in reach of its goal of creating a new Muslim caliphate, but also ensuring that the wars for Syria and Iraq have merged into one, each feeding on, affecting and sustaining the other."
Control of territory in north-eastern Syria helped Isis capture Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city. Money and arms flow easily. Croatian-made anti-tank weapons sent by Saudi Arabia via Jordan to mainstream rebel forces in southern Syria found their way to Isis fighters in Anbar province in Iraq. Last week convoys of trucks carrying captured Iraqi weapons arrived in Hassaka. Equipment including tanks has been moved to Raqqa in Syria, where Isis has its headquarters.
"The Iraq-Syria border is.... increasingly immaterial," commented Charles Lister, a military analyst at the Brookings Doha Centre. "Conflict on both sides of the border has become inherently interconnected." Comparisons are now being made with the way the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan became irrelevant for al-Qaida.
The effective erasure of the old border means that Isis can make tactical adjustments and new deployments in line with changing battlefield circumstances. It has acquired new strategic depth and more secure supply lines.
Who brewed up the Middle Eastern expresso machine? Anne Marie Slaughter, director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009 to 2011, provides the answer. Barack Obama's policy of thinking that you could wall off one from the other was largely responsible. Writing in the New York Times she says: "experts have predicted for over a year that unless we acted in Syria, ISIS would establish an Islamic state in eastern Syria and western Iraq, exactly what we are watching." They let Syria fester and now this.
The campaign against Assad had to feed into Iraq across the common border. It had to. Had to. By failing to grasp events in Syria by the horns and opting instead to "lead from behind" Obama essentially 'let it happen'. He let someone else -- al Qaeda -- drive. And what happened is now plain for all to see.
Somehow officials in the administration imagined that the legal line between "Syria" and "Iraq" had some physical meaning; that you could build up an enormous pressure in Syria without consequences. Well whoever imagined that never operated an expresso machine. The coffee flowed and now Obama is shocked at the result.
Slaughter argues that Obama could not see the connection between maintaining the Pax Americana and the "humanitarian" concerns he so loves to tout. "This is where the White House is most blind. It sees the world on two planes: the humanitarian world of individual suffering, where no matter how heart-rending the pictures and how horrific the crimes, American vital interests are not engaged because it is just people; and the strategic world of government interests, where what matters is the chess game of one leader against another, and stopping both state and nonstate actors who are able to harm the United States."
Thus, Obama cannot see that he is at least partially responsible for headlines like: "Iraq's beleaguered Christians make final stand on the Mosul frontline" or "More Than 50 Million People Are Displaced, the Highest Number Ever Recorded" -- the highest number, in fact, since World War 2.
Refugee levels are not independent of Obama's policy failures. The refugees in Syria are the direct result of his geopolitical screw-ups. The flood of "migrants" besieging the southern US border did not occur independently of the administration's immigration policy. They were caused by it. Breitbart notes that "White House Admits 'Rumors' of Amnesty Motivating Illegal Border Crossings".
The humanitarian crisis is a function of the collapse of foreign policy. Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had to point out the obvious. “Suddenly, the cohesion and integrity of two major countries, [Syria and Iraq] not just one, is in question,” he said, as the war has spread into Iraq. "Regional powers became involved. Radical groups gained a foothold. Syria today is increasingly a failed state."
Bubble, bubble, bubble.
As Slaughter points out, Obama, in the process of dispensing his fine humanitarianism and exquisite moral judgment has more or less blown up the Middle East. The Guardian notes that Iranian forces are already rushing into Iraq. Like a firestorm it sucking more and more combatants in.
Its enemies are already responding – on both sides of the frontier. According to reports from Lebanon, Iraqi Shia fighters who have been fighting in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad are heading home again to bolster Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, in his war against Isis and a wider Sunni insurgency.
Iraq Shia militiamen deployed to Damascus to guard the revered Sayyida Zeinab shrine — along with Iranian revolutionary guards - are soon likely to be protecting the Shia holy places of Najaf and Karbala from Isis and other Sunni groups seeking to ignite a sectarian civil war. Many are with the Iraqi militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq, (League of the Righteous), an Iranian-backed force that is expected to spearhead the fightback against Isis. Men from the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah are filling the vacuum in Syria.
In another twist in the fast-moving situation, last weekend the Syrian air force staged its first raids on Isis bases in Raqqa, Hassakeh and Deir al-Zor. That was noteworthy because Assad's enemies have often accused him of tolerating Isis or tacitly cooperating with it in order to split rebel ranks and present himself as a secular bulwark against al-Qaida and jihadi fanaticism.
Will the fighting become general? Perhaps the better question is to ask why it should not become general for the same reasons that Slaughter already described. Whether in Eastern Europe or Asia, the same practice of neglect can be observed. In each place Obama has lit a pressure chamber and the steam has to go somewhere. In he Middle East, Syria/Iraq has now become the steam chamber, and if there is any obvious reason why the high-pressure coffee won't flow into lower conflict areas it does not readily present itself to the observer.
Recent items of interest by Belmont readers based on Amazon click-throughs.
Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific