When I was a student in Nottingham (which is now a scary amount of time ago).. there was a dubious nightclub called ISIS. It was only dubious because of the calibre of us students frequenting it, mostly on a Wednesday night. It had seemingly changed its name from Black Orchid to get away from the connotations of ‘BO’ and the athletics union night that it so famously hosted at that time, although it never got away from the sticky floor it had whatever time of day or night one went in. But on the plus side it wasn’t into world domination, mass beheadings or any of the other nasties that the group that has taken inspiration from its name are clearly into… so that’s a plus.
There are many things to be perturbed about regarding the sudden rush of ISIS through key parts of Iraq. Why was there not the intelligence in place to identify this in advance (and if there was why was the response so poor?), why did 800 armed militants scare of two divisions of Iraqi army.. just how flaky is the Iraqi army? And – worst of all (I jest) – was Putin correct in supporting Assad?
This is a theme I have touched on before on these pages… The simple logic of my enemy’s enemy is my friend, the challenge to it, and the notion that containment of an enemy like Hussein, like Assad is far more effective that toppling or attempting to topple.
Is the chemical weapons using Assad better or worse for our interests, for regional stability than ISIS? An ISIS now using the American supplied equipment that the Iraqi army dropped when it turned on its heel and ran crying a couple of days ago? Well, given that I’d rather containment than rash acts (and cards on the table, I was ghoulishly excited by rash acts in 2003…) my hunch is that once again we’ve not only dropped a plate, we’ve hurled the plate into the wall and then realised we’re not at a cliched and improbable Greek wedding (I’ve not been to one where anyone has wanted to break stuff… shoot into the air, yes. Curiously. But not break stuff). Putin supported Assad’s Syria because it was one of the last mainstays of Russian support in the Middle East (so, self interest), he also said to us he supported it because the alternative was worse (and he appears to be very correct about that), and because he noted that our ‘civilising mission’ in the Middle East had been differently successful (given the whole running away thing, that’s also pretty correct).
So, we’re in a pickle. And for anyone who follows @SoVeryBritish we are thankful for the definition of this which is: “A bit of a pickle – Translation: A catastrophically bad situation with potentially fatal consequences.” We actually require Assad to survive. Because we actually cannot have ISIS conducting a cross-border insurgency in Iraq and Syria in which two non-functioning states are (un)created. As a friend whimsically put it yesterday, ‘at least Iraq no longer has WMD’.
ISIS appear to be well-organised (not just because of the recent victories), are very ambitious, and having been disavowed by AQ, present a strong risk to our key interests in the Middle East and nearer to home (mostly because their membership is said to have a large European contingent).
I’m not sure it’s the time to say Vlad was right, but it might be the time to start doing things that could be misinterpreted in that way. Getting Assad somewhere back into the fold and contained is – it would seem – the lesser of two evils and the bastard you know is better than the bastard you don’t…