US Behind ISIS?

Map of New Middle East

Here in Egypt the conspiracy thinking is strong that the United States, or at least her allies in the region, are a force behind the emergence of the so-called Islamic State.

From the London Review of Books, here is some of the evidence. Fortunately, the author also deals with it along the conspiracy spectrum:

His book went to press before he could take account of the extraordinary revelation that US intelligence had anticipated the rise of Islamic State nearly two years before it happened.

On 18 May, a document from the US Defense Intelligence Agency dated 12 August 2012 was published by a conservative watchdog organisation called Judicial Watch, which had managed to obtain this and other formerly classified documents through a federal lawsuit.

The document not only anticipates the rise of IS but seems to suggest it would be a desirable development from the point of view of the international ‘coalition’ seeking regime change in Damascus. Here are the key passages:

7b. Development of the current events into proxy war … Opposition forces are trying to control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to the western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar), in addition to neighbouring Turkish borders. Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey are supporting these efforts. This hypothesis is most likely in accordance with the data from recent events, which will help prepare safe havens under international sheltering, similar to what transpired in Libya when Benghazi was chosen as the command centre of the temporary government …

8c. If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.

So American intelligence saw IS coming and was not only relaxed about the prospect but, it appears, positively interested in it. The precise formula used in paragraph 8c is intriguing. It doesn’t talk of ‘the possibility that Isis might establish a Salafist principality’ but of ‘the possibility of establishing’ a Salafist principality. So who was to be the prime mover in this process? Did IS have a state backing it after all?

The second piece of evidence is less direct, but comes from a 2006 map of the ‘New Middle East’ published in the Armed Forces Journal. It draws boundaries for an Arab Shia state, an Arab Sunni state, Syria, and Kurdistan.

Here is the author’s interpretation:

What we can make of this is, of course, unclear. At one extreme, conspiracy theorists will argue that it supports their claim that the Western powers have been deliberately creating chaos for unavowable reasons of their own.

At the other end of the spectrum, one could hypothesise that the DIA document may have been read by four unimportant people in Washington and ignored by everyone else.

In the middle, showing more respect for the DIA, we could imagine something else: the possibility that, in 2012, American and other Western intelligence services saw Isis much as they saw Jabhat al-Nusra and other jihadi groups, as useful auxiliaries in the anti-Assad drive, and could envisage its takeover of north-eastern Syria as a helpful development with no worrying implications.

If Islamic State escaped whatever influence Western intelligence services may initially have sought to have on it and went its own way, this means that people have been playing with fire.

I don’t pretend to know what the truth is. But there is no need to prove malign intent on the part of the Western powers. The most charitable theory available, ‘the eternally recurring colossal cock-up’ theory of history, will do well enough.

It is a very long but thorough article, stretching from the Mamluke era to Sykes-Picot through last century’s cycle of Arab revolutions and coup d’etats, up to the current day. His conclusion is that if the Western world wants to defeat the Islamic State, it must do so through the Syrian army, at least temporarily with Assad at the helm.

It makes for a good read, and also drives you crazy. Just realize that Arab conspiracy theorists are right there with you, and have suffered far more than we who can read the London Review of Books.