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Opinion: Pointless Blame Games - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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It seems the “blame game” season is in full swing. It began just after it became evident that no one had expected the situation in Iraq and Syria to deteriorate to the extent that a terrorist organization can capture large expanses of territory, including a major city such as Mosul, in such a short period of time, becoming a threat to regional stability and global security.

A recent episode of this blame game saw bickering between the US on the one hand, and Turkey and the UAE on the other. Eventually, the US had to apologize and clarify to Ankara and Abu Dhabi recent comments made by US Vice-President Joe Biden, in which he was understood to be blaming Washington’s friends in the region for the growth of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Biden was quoted claiming that Washington’s allies were responsible for its failed policy regarding Syria.

This is a new chapter in this process of shifting blame onto others, and it is not expected to be the last. It actually began within Washington itself—between US President Barack Obama and the intelligence community. Obama was quoted as saying the intelligence community had underestimated the risk of the Islamist group while at the same time putting too much stock in the capabilities of the Iraqi army. For its part, the intelligence community said it had warned of the group in reports the White House had overlooked due to its other preoccupations. Over the past two days, former US secretary of defense Leon Panetta also criticized Obama. In his new book, Panetta holds Obama to task for not heeding advice from military officials and former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to strike a deal with then-Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Mliki’s government so that the US army stays in Iraq instead of completely pulling out of the country and causing a vacuum.

Without doubt, mistakes have been committed; otherwise, things would not be as bad as they are right now. It is widely believed that the rapid withdrawal of the US army from Iraq, without ensuring the presence of strong and inclusive state institutions, is responsible for the current deterioration in security. Moreover, reluctance to act early on the Syrian crisis allowed radical groups to reorganize and assemble themselves there before moving on to Iraq and erasing the borders between the two countries. The deal between Washington and the Afghan government to keep US forces there may provide a lesson here.

These mistakes must provide strategy and diplomacy scholars with a subject for study to determine who is responsible for the current mess—and to prevent future generations from making the same mistakes. But under the present circumstances, no one will benefit from the blame game currently being used for domestic policy purposes. This approach will create more damage than benefit, damaging the partnerships and trust among the members of the international anti-terror coalition that is currently being cobbled together to defeat groups like ISIS.

The important thing now is to agree on realistic strategies and policies in this war, and to mobilize regional and international efforts to surround and eradicate the terror phenomenon. The situation has seriously worsened and is now extending beyond Iraq and Syria into Lebanon, attracting other terror groups in other areas, such as Libya and other north African countries, who employ similar methods and threaten to expand the geographical scope of terror. Years ago, no one had a clear idea about the complex nature of Syria’s domestic map and the possibility of it being used by the Syrian regime or other parties to turn what started as a legitimate popular uprising into a civil war with a sectarian flavor. In fact, the Syrian regime has ample experience in this department, sending out countless radical fighters across the border into Iraq during the US occupation.

On the other hand, we shouldn’t overestimate the capabilities of these terror groups. Panetta’s recent talk of the war dragging on for decades or even 30 years is questionable. Certainly, if there are concerted and genuine political and military efforts, the war on terror need not take all that time. Crises drag on when states exploit them in order to achieve their political and private interests. The Syrian crisis is an example of how regional and international powers have collided in a manner reminiscent of the proxy wars between the US and the former Soviet Union. It would be better for all sides to cooperate in order to defuse these crises, whether in Syria or in Iraq.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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