The ongoing turmoil that is seen on a daily basis throughout the Middle East and North Africa appears to have caught off guard much of the mainstream Western media, in addition to Western policy makers alike.
For example, a year ago, it would perhaps be unthinkable that large swaths of Syria and Iraq would be controlled by the brutal Islamic State. Indeed, the rise of this group is shocking in itself. It has achieved rapid success in achieving its objectives of initiating a caliphate and implementing Sharia Law in territory it controls. What is problematic is the apparent lack of vision intelligence agencies have had with identifying its birth and ways to combat it.
One potential reason is the fixation of the Israeli-Arab conflict within Western political circles. For decades, Israel has been viewed by many to be a source of instability in the region and its protracted conflict with the Arab world keeps old wounds open. The insistence from the United States to kickstart and vigorously manage the 2013-2014 peace negotiations may be see to reflect this view. While these negotiations were taking place, the Islamic State and like minded groups continued to strengthen and seemingly cause Syria to cease to exist as a functioning sovereign state as it appears increasingly difficult to see Bashar Assad regaining full control of this country again.
Over the summer, even after Islamic State emerged as the huge threat it is now widely seen to be by Western politicians and media alike, Israel’s operation in Gaza was covered in an hysterical manner by these media outlets, alongside the politicians similar equally worrying outbursts over Israel’s actions, without providing how to ‘proportionately’ respond to thousands of rockets raining down over Israel, not to mention the elaborate tunnel network that sought to allow Hamas to enter Israeli territory and kill and kidnap countless of Israelis.
Meanwhile, as this conflict occupied our television screens and publications, the Islamic State continued with its slaughter and ethnic cleansing of ancient minorites within Iraq and Syria. The United States did not react militarily until the Yazidi sect were threatened with genocide and subsequent beheadings of Western journalists, allowing us to relate to reality under the Islamic State.
The problem is that there has been a non cohesive reaction to the rise of IS. It is certainly not the first Jihadist organisation to carry out beheadings and abuse the rights of women and minorities. The Taliban in Afghanistan is a prime example of such behavior.
The Americans and her Western allies only decided to overthrow the Taliban as a result of 9/11, with abuses from the Taliban occuring for years prior to the terror attacks.
The events of the ‘Arab Spring’ may also reflect the inability of Western powers and mass media to detect potential upheaval in the Middle East. Many were caught off guard when the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain amongst other Arab nations erupted. Further to this, the religious and secterian divides of this region were seemingly not acknowledged or taken too seriously. For example, the mass slaughter of both Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. invasion of Iraq was initiated not only to eradicate the supposed stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. A more stable and indeed democratic nation was envisioned without Saddam Hussein. However, the lack of foresight into the ancient animosity between these two branches of Islam may have allowed the civil war in Iraq to rage in the way it has and is doing currently. Additionally, the widespread Christian persecution within Middle Eastern lands that has been taking place for many years and has only recently gained media attention with the mass exodus of Christians from the Iraqi city of Mosul. Such abuse of this ancient minority surely warranted previous media attention.
Iraq, amongst other states in the Mid East are certainly not monolithic societies, therefore speaking of them as “Iraqis” with unified goals and a sense of deep patriotism to the nation may be futile.
Furthemore, when the U.S and and some NATO allies helped rebels overthrow the Libyan dictator, Colonel Gaddafi, anaysts in the West did not appear to issue warnings about the potential disintegration of post Gaddafi Libya. They did not take into account the various tribal groupings present in this country and the essential artifical nature of the state itself. Currently, Islamic groups, including rival tribes are fighting one another for control of the country and it may well fragment into various patches of territory. This can be said of Iraq and Syria, where it looks increasingly unlikely that they will return to their previous borders of the last few decades. Who would have believed this would occur a mere five years ago?
President Obama has admitted that he overestimated the strength of the Iraqi army and the opposite of that of ISIS. This should be seen as a worrying admission, the most powerful political figure in the world should surely have sufficient knowledge of the very army his administration helped train along with its shortcomings.
Billions of dollars have been spent on military action over the last decade to fight extremism in the Middle East and it seems it ony gets worse. Therefore, a complete overhaul of thinking may need to occur from Western policy makers in order to remedy the turmoil that this region unfortunately experiences.