Between Iraq and a hard place

By Lindsey Stokes
Staff Writer

The Warburg Program presented a discussion on the jihadist militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Tuesday to a crowd of 75.

The roundtable, which included four professors from International Relations and Political Science backgrounds, worked to analyze the current threat posed by ISIS, as well as breakdown the political climate that allowed for the group’s emergence.

Professor of political science Kirk Beattie started the discussion by providing “6,000 years of history in 15 seconds or less.”

After delving into the different factions that held control of the region of the Levant—which historically includes Cyprus, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria—from the Umayyad Dynasty of around 600 A.D., to the Ottoman Dynasty, which ended in 1922, Beattie described the conflicts that arose after the carving-up of the lands of the Levant by the French and British governments after World War I.

“Religious issues rose from the boundaries drawn by these outside nations. Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis all found themselves within the borders of Iraq. This inspired incredible tension.”

According to Beattie, though Iraq and Syria have experienced long traditions of authoritarian rule, newfound hope was inspired with the rise of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s current President.

“People expected something different when he came to power. He proved to be every bit as brutal as his predecessors,” Beattie said.

Assistant Professor of international relations and political science Ben Cole went on to provide global and regional context regarding ISIS, largely illustrating failed interventionist policy by the United States in Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Cole articulated the idea of “dangerous neighborhoods”, or areas in the region with a propensity to destabilize.

“To some degree” said Cole, “U.S. foreign policy has contributed to the rise of these dangerous neighborhoods.”

Invasions by the United States, Cole explained, inadvertently destabilized those country’s neighbors.

“ISIS was not born in a political and social vacuum, it is the product of an authoritarian regime and later foreign occupation.” Asserted adjunct Professor of International Relations Mariam Raqib. “It is important to keep that in mind.”

Speaking to the ideology behind ISIS, Raqib was careful to note that the religion of Islam is nothing more than a “strategic political tool” to ISIS members.

“The ISIS ideology is a nationalist ideology only coupled with Islam to reach a wider audience, and gain legitimacy.”

“Islam goes back to a far –gone era of strength and unity,” continued Raqib, “The Islamic State is in the minds of the elites, it is imaginary.”

Ambassador William M. Bellamy ended the roundtable by discussing current U.S. policy toward ISIS.

“Right now ISIS is not much of a direct threat to the United States,” said Bellamy, “Potentially they may be… but this is not that state of affairs now.”

As a result, Bellamy explained, the United States has time to develop an effective policy.

“The administration is going about this very carefully,” said Bellamy. “First with airstrikes, then with a tone-up of the regional military.”

“My twenty-five cents worth on this policy succeeding- not likely.” Stated Bellamy “Even less promising is the situation in Syria.”

“The United States and ISIS want Bashar al-Assad out of power, but Assad is fighting ISIS which technically makes him our ally. We just cant have it both ways.”

Though we have an “incoherent strategy” said Bellamy, for now “it’s the best we can do. We are duty bound to try.”