* Take all of this with a grain of salt since I am not an expert on the Mideast.
** Yes, there is more to it with all kinds of ethnicities and tribes and such. This is not a Clash of Civilizations--too much intra-Sunni and intra-Shia violence to say that big blocs are the only dynamic here.
Which puts the US in the middle. In Syria, the US wants to defeat ISIS (the Sunnis) without helping Assad (ally of Shia) in Syria. In Iraq, the US wants a government that has been pro-Shia to become inclusive government (good luck with that) to defeat ISIS without giving too much help to Iran. Our allies in this war, who are tepid, are mostly Sunnis who are hardly moderates--Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc.. When I saw this tweet from the US Dept of State, I had to consider that the effort might be doomed:
De-humanization of women central to ISIL terror campaign. Coalition that fights ISIL must also fight this brutality. http://t.co/WVn4fgD6HgAs much as I would like for treatment of women to be central to the fight, it is as Dan Murphy put it--for domestic consumption and perhaps for the Europeans--but not really central to the strategy. It does help to illustrate how screwed up all of this is.
— Department of State (@StateDept) September 12, 2014
To be in the middle of a religious war is a bad thing. Some (I forget who) have offered up the idea of a new Westphalia--that Iran and Saudi Arabia should/can agree that the religion of a state should be what that state's leadership decides and not be subject to this rivalry. Good luck with that. The bright side is that it only took thirty years of war to produce the Treaty of Westphalia, which means we might be halfway there?
The American solution, of course, is to take the state out of it, and let religion be up to individuals. That, too, is a non-starter. So, the US is left in the awkward spot of trying to get religious extremists of various sides to be a smidge less extreme, I suppose. Because the forces of secularism are not going to be coming to the rescue in any of these places.
Our best hope is that the ISIS folks alienate everyone through their beyond the pale barbarism, so that the locals, no matter how objectionable they are to us or us to them, switch sides and support this tepid coalition. Kind of sounds like Afghanistan, right? In that case, this should just take thirteen years or so.
Perhaps the theme song for this conflict is: