Monthly Archives: May 2015

Does Iran Support The Islamic State?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on May 26, 2015

Qassem Suleimani, Iran's spymaster, believed in some MidEast conspiracy theories to control ISIS

Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s spymaster, believed in some Mid-East conspiracy theories to control ISIS

In 2010, Farzad Farhangian, an Iranian diplomat based in Belgium, defected to Norway. Farhangian has now emerged with the extraordinary accusation that the Islamic Republic of Iran is controlling the Islamic State (ISIS) and using it as part of Tehran’s war against the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia. Farhangian’s accusations are lurid and (literally) incredible, but the question of Iran’s role in ISIS’ creation and growth, and Iran’s manipulation of ISIS to further its own ends, is one well worth asking. Continue reading

The Islamic State’s Strategy Is Working, Its Enemies Are Failing

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on May 23, 2015

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To hear President Obama tell it, his announced program to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS), which began with airstrikes into Iraq last August that were extended into Syria in September, is working, albeit with some tactical setbacks. The implication is that the setbacks of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS campaign are not strategic.

As J.M. Berger phrased it:

In the Washington vernacular, the act of Being Strategic implies a near mystical quality of superior thinking possessed by some, and clearly lacking amongst the vulgarians of the world—heedless brutes such as ISIL. Tactics are short-term ploys, easy to dismiss. Strategy is for winners.

Unfortunately, this soothing view is almost exactly wrong: it is the United States that is relying on various short-term methods—commando raids into the Syrian desert, for example—while ISIS has a long-term goal fixed in mind and is working assiduously to achieve it. The U.S.-led Coalition is losing, in short, and ISIS is winning. Continue reading

How Many Alawis Have Been Killed In Syria?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on May 20, 2015

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In a report on the internal divisions in the Assad regime and the passing of Syria’s sovereignty to Iran by Ruth Sherlock in The Sunday Telegraph on May 17, there was this stunning sentence: “Perhaps a third of all Alawite males of military age have been killed in the civil war.” This is a startling thought.

To determine if this figure for the proportion of Alawis killed is plausible it is necessary to know how many Alawis there were in Syria at the outset of the war, and how many people have been killed during the war. Continue reading

Raids in Syria Can’t Defeat the Islamic State If Obama Continues Alignment with Iran

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on May 16, 2015

26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Maritime Raid Force Marines fire M4 Carbines while conducting a marksmanship training exercise at a range in Qatar, April 22, 2013. Eagle Resolve is an annual multilateral exercise designed to enhance regional cooperative defense efforts of the Gulf Cooperation Council nations and U.S. Central Command. The 26th MEU is deployed to the 5th Fleet area of operations aboard the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group. The 26th MEU operates continuously across the globe, providing the president and unified combatant commanders with a forward-deployed, sea-based quick reaction force. The MEU is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response and limited contingency operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Christopher Q. Stone, 26th MEU Combat Camera/Released)

Last night the United States launched a commando raid into al-Amr in Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria. According to the White House statement, Abu Sayyaf (real name: Fathi ben Awn ben Jildi Murad al-Tunisi), a senior Islamic State (ISIS) commander “overseeing … illicit oil and gas operations,” was killed, and his wife, Umm Sayyaf, was taken into American custody and is being held in Iraq. The Sayyaf couple had been holding a young Yazidi woman as a slave and she has now been freed.

Unfortunately, this American raid is a tactical success amid a strategic failure—and a tactical success likely to be used to obscure the strategic failure of the U.S. anti-ISIS campaign. Even in the narrowest humanitarian terms: if the freedom of this one Yazidi girl is used to perpetuate a policy that leaves many more Yazidi girls in bondage then it is a failure. Continue reading

The Gulf States Push Back Against Obama’s Iran Policy

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on May 12, 2015

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President Obama invited the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to a meeting at Camp David on Thursday to clear the air as the President looks to finalize his nuclear deal with Iran. But on Sunday, Saudi King Salman said he was not attending, and soon after the Bahraini monarch followed. The only Gulf leaders in attendance will be the Emirs of Qatar and Kuwait. Since leaders do not just have other things to do when they are scheduled for a private meeting with the President of the United States, this can be taken as a pointed snub to President Obama, and no amount of administration spin about Salman’s absence having nothing to do with political substance will change that. Continue reading

Book Review: The Consequences of Syria (2014) by Lee Smith

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on May 9, 2015

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Lee Smith’s The Consequences of Syria is part of the Hoover Institution’s “The Great Unravelling” series, which also included The Struggle for Mastery in the Fertile Crescent by the late Fouad Ajami (which I reviewed here.)

Published in June 2014, Smith narrates Syria’s terrible war to the opening months of 2014, the innumerable excuses made by the Obama administration for letting it run, and the theoretical framework behind the administration’s decision. The book is relatively short and the prose is direct; it takes very complex discussions of ideas and puts them in easily-digestible terms—all while keeping the reader’s eye on the practical implications.

Smith starts with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the central event in President Obama’s thinking about the Middle East. Continue reading

Book Review: The Muslim Discovery of Europe (1982) by Bernard Lewis

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on May 7, 2015

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With the triumph of relativism and the current economic woes of the West, the sense that Western civilization is unique and in some respects—to use an old-fashioned word—better than the alternatives, and worth defending and exporting, is waning. But Bernard Lewis’ The Muslim Discovery of Europe suggests a longer view in which Europe, while containing all the faults of previous civilizations, has been one of the few to begin the process of correcting those faults, and has corrected many more than any other civilization.

One feature of European civilization that stands out as unique is curiosity. Continue reading