The Hidden Agenda: The List Is Long
ISIS has become the most influential proxy in the Middle East. Although everyone claims to want to get rid of the extremist group, very few actors are without hidden agendas. This has made the conflict increasing volatile and more likely to lead to a larger and much more violent war. That is not to say that world powers are not acting on the serious threat of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) but leaders around the world are promoting their own agenda above the need to put an end to ISIS.
Let’s take a look at the actors involved and what their goals actually are in fighting the Islamic State.
Russia Is Using ISIS to Prop Up Assad
Image Source: channel4
In late September, Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered Russian military forces to enter Syria under the guise of defeating ISIS. But in reality, Putin is using them to prop up Syria’s embattled dictator, Bashar al-Assad. Assad is a longtime Russian ally in a region where Putin desperately wants to gain a more prominent influence.
Although, Putin often presents himself as a stoic and intrepid presence on the world stage, his actions in Syria are partially motivated by fear. The situation in Syria is a microcosm of his nightmare scenario in Russia. The combination of populist uprising and Western meddling in Syria could potentially happen in Russia as well, and Putin has decided to take a preemptive step in preventing it through intervention in Syria.
His true goals became clear when the first Russia airstrikes in Syria did not target ISIS forces, but rather U.S.-backed Syrian rebels. Putin desperately wants to keep Assad in power to not only retain his partnership with the Syrian leader, but to also send a message to the United States and other Western powers.
Turkey Is Using ISIS to Attack the Kurds
PKK Kurdish soldiers in Turkey-Image Source: Democraticunderground
A few months ago, following a violent suicide bombing in the Turkish border town of Suruc, Turkey officially entered the war against ISIS – or did it? Although it is true the Turks have arrested hundreds of ISIS members since entering the conflict, they have been more focused on arresting and attacking the Kurdish fighters battling ISIS.
The Turkish government has a long and violent history with the Kurdish people. Turkey has a large Kurdish minority population. The PKK, the leading Kurdish resistance group in Turkey, has been fighting the government for equal treatment for decades. The PKK and Syrian Kurds had been claiming quite a bit of territory on the Turkish-Syrian border before the Turks entered the war. The Turks put an end to that, however, by bombing several Kurdish camps and bases soon after getting involved in the conflict. The PKK’s leader, Cemil Bayik recently told the BBC that,
The Turkish claim they are fighting Islamic State…but in fact they are fighting the PKK. They are doing it to limit the PKK’s fight against IS. Erdogan is behind IS massacres. His aim is to stop the Kurdish advance against them, thus advancing his aim of Turkishness in Turkey.”
Erdogan’s biggest fear is a Kurdish state on Turkey’s border. Therefore, he has decided to use ISIS as cover to go to war against the Kurds.
Iran Is Using ISIS to Expand Influence with Shia Populations
Image Source: sputniknews
The United States did their part to make Iran one of the post powerful states in the Middle East in 2003, when they ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
By removing Iran’s chief rival, the U.S. opened the door to the spread of Iranian influence in the region, and more specifically in Iraq. Late last year, Iran began bombing ISIS targets in Iraq and eventually drove a large percentage of ISIS forces back into Syria. They did this not only to destroy the Sunni radicals, but also to form relationships with Shia groups in Iraq.
The Iranian regime covets Iraq for a number of reasons. Iraq provides Iran with a buffer zone against Saudi Arabia and other gulf monarchies they are currently battling for dominance of the Persian Gulf. In addition, Iran wants to make sure that Iraq never again becomes a credible threat. In spite of the fact that Iraq has a majority Shia population, they had been under Sunni rule since 1932 until just recently.
Iran has sent military units to train Iraqi Shia militias and has offered a great deal of tactical support to Iraqi Shias in the fight against ISIS. The long term goal of this strategy is to use ISIS to expand Iranian influence and protect it from external threats.
Saudi Arabia Is Using ISIS To Overthrow Assad, Attack Yemen, and Limit the Rights of its Citizens
Houthi rebels protest for saudi bombing of Yemen-Image: Gazzettenews
Saudi Arabia’s goals in using ISIS are convoluted but they exist nonetheless. The Saudis have long despised Assad, and they made no effort to hide they would like to see him out of power. In addition, Saudi Arabia has also declared they want to get rid of ISIS. Removing Assad will undoubtedly make ISIS stronger. So how do they plan to accomplish both goals?
The answer is that they can’t, which may be part of the plan. The Saudis have outwardly claimed to want the whole region to get rid of ISIS. But their actions speak louder than their words. Saudi Arabia’s top geopolitical foe is Iran and everything they have done has been to undermine Iranian goals.
The Saudis have used ISIS as a cover to launch brutal attacks on the Iranian-allied Houthis in Yemen. By those means, they distract Iran from their fight against ISIS, pull Arab allies away from the fight, as well as to help with the campaign in Yemen. They have also used ISIS as a tool to keep the restless Saudi population in fear and subservient to the government’s draconian rule.
A strong ISIS is actually good for the Saudi government. The Saudis have made little tangible effort to defeat the radical group. Instead, they have used them to accomplish other goals in the region.
European Nationalists Are Using ISIS to Reject Refugees And Promote Islamophobia
German extreme right wing groups protest to stop the “Islamisation of Europe”-Image Source: Novamagic
In recent months, many Western European nations have made a meaningful effort to accept and care for Syrian refugees. Many believe that these efforts are too little, too late, but late action is better than no action at all.
These recent moves by Western European governments have stoked fears among xenophobic European nationalists of what they call a “Muslim invasion” of the West. They have used the atrocities committed by ISIS in the Middle East to gather support for their views and it seems to be working with segments of the population.
French white nationalist Guillaume Faye recently wrote that
This unprecedented migratory invasion, which is 80% Muslim, is also part of a strategy (organized by ISIS and Ergodan’s Turkey) to conquer Europe by Islam. Invasive war from the bottom and by cunning, by moral disarmament.”
One of Faye’s compatriots in England, Paul Weston, a former leader of the extremist English Defense League recently wrote:
Why would any country with a non-suicidal ideology wish to import just one Muslim, let alone millions.”
The nationalist far right in Western Europe is using ISIS to spread xenophobia and Islamophobia. Right wing groups are garnering popular support for a policy that would end the migration of Syrian refugees into their countries.
The U.S. Is Using ISIS To Stay Involved In the Middle East
Image Source: esoterically.net
To say that U.S. influence has waned in the Middle East over the past decade is a huge understatement. The U.S. once had allies throughout the region, but now most of their powerful allies are concentrated in the oil-rich Gulf Monarchy states. President Obama desperately wanted to ouster Assad at the start of the Syrian Civil War, but was met with significant resistance both at home and abroad.
After wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public was war-weary and hesitant to get involved in another conflict in the Middle East. The rise of ISIS was a godsend for hawks in the U.S government because it allowed them to show there was an Islamic group beheading Christians in the region. The videos of beheadings had a profound effect on the majority of anxious American citizens. This provided an uptick in popular support for a war against ISIS.
It is obvious now that the U.S. war against ISIS was partially a ruse designed to allow the U.S. government to get more involved in Syria in hopes of ousting Assad once and for all.
So where does all of this put the world in the fight against ISIS? The answer is discouraging. We are not much closer to actually defeating them than we were when the conflict began. There are too many hidden agendas and complex interests at play here to come together and actually stop the extremist group.
Unfortunately, the bloodshed will continue.