The Rise of Islamic State is a short book but an extremely important one. Cockburn, a veteran Middle East correspondent, lucidly describes how Islamic State has arisen as a concrete legacy of Bush and Blair’s inept and illegal invasion of Iraq. He also unpicks the political and military quagmire currently extant in that region.
Cockburn identifies Saudi Arabia as the primary source of financial support for Islamic State (DAESH) and its predecessor Al Qaeda, and the origin of its barbaric “jurisprudence”. However in the aftermath of 9/11, or indeed at any time subsequently it seems, rather than confront Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan with its murky ties to international terrorism, the Bush administration instead invaded Iraq, a country that, for all the brutality of Saddam had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.
One can only imagine how Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the US, an instigator of the Iraq invasion and frequent house guest of George Bush, must have giggled to himself at how easily led the US was towards advancing Saudi Arabia’s brutal foreign policy without Saudi ever having to get its hands dirty. As head of Saudi intelligence subsequently, from 2012 to 2014, Bandar was the key individual responsible for backing DAESH against Shia and minorities in the region and so helping them become the potent military force they currently are.
Cockburn points out that while DAESH may not be loved by the Sunni population of Iraq, they are tolerated by them because the alternative, perhaps unbelievably to some, would be much worse for them. The bigoted, pro-Sunni extremism of DAESH Wahhabism is mirrored by the brutality and sectarianism of the Shia militias that the US and UK supported Iraqi government have been sponsoring.
Which brings us to the present: the Obama administration’s efforts seemed to be towards a detente with Iran as an element in not only a nuclear non-proliferation strategy but as one, along with support for the Kurds, against DAESH.
The desire of the US Congressional Republicans in collusion with Netanyahu to undermine a deal with Iran seems peculiar. However this is in keeping with the ineptitude and dysfunctionality of US Middle Eastern policy over the past 15 years, something made altogether more terrifying when the shallow but fevered imaginings of Donald Trump are brought to bear on the situation.
However one should also recognise that US policy towards the region now appears to have much in common with that of the UK. Both seem to value the possibility of profiting from the sales of arms to Saudi Arabia rather than actual regional security. In the end perhaps the US and UK will gain the same comfort as the gun store owner who at least has the satisfaction of knowing he sold the gun to the psychopath who murders him.