IS ISIS IS?
The US role is rather puny
In wars of Shiite versus Sunni.
For neither side should we be lackeys.
This time let’s leave it to Iraqis.
Islamic State, once known as ISIS.
They must be stopped. How much suffices?
Boots on the ground we’ll not be sending.
But once we’ve started, where’s the ending?
Satirists thrive on ironic situations – events whose results are very different from their original intention. So Iraq has made two successive Presidents the targets of biting ironic satire. George W. Bush was pilloried mercilessly for his absurd claim that he was bringing democracy and harmony to Iraq, thereby providing a model for the entire Middle East. Then Barack Obama, having won the presidency by denouncing Bush’s policy, withdrew all American forces from Iraq by 2011 – only to decide in 2014 that, when the U.S. armed and trained Iraqi army ignominiously collapsed against an insurrection by Sunni extremists, we would send in the bombers.
The cartoons poured out. David Horsey had Obama leaving Iraq, his bags packed, but with Iraq pulling him back by his tie as he complains: “Dang! I was so out of here.” The Guardian’s Riddell has a forlorn Uncle Sam sitting on the floor, facing an emerging Iraq civil war, and complaining “All options are on the table, except we don’t have a table.” Lisa Benson shows Obama standing on a rug labeled Iraq under which he has swept a huge mess harboring a ticking time bomb. Branco draws Obama pouring American sacrifices in Iraq down the toilet. McCoy depicts an advisor telling Obama “Sir, Iraq’s unemployment is high, their economy is in shambles, and its people are in turmoil”, to which Obama responds: “See? I told you I’d make America a model for the world.” And from the Netherlands came a cartoon by Tom Jannsen memorializing the remarkable fact that Iran and the U.S., usually sharply antagonistic, were united in their attitude toward Maliki, first supporting him, then forcing him out. The cartoon showed the Iranian Ayatollah labeled “Axis of Evil” joining “Great Satan” Obama in holding back a door labeled “ISIS” with a bloody sword coming through.
Jon Stewart defended Obama against the perennial proponents of Bush’s Iraq policy. But that was in June 2014. By August he was having doubts about the latest development – 275 troops being sent to protect the Baghdad embassy. Backed by a poster of a bare-chested Superman Obama promising “Prepare for Glory”, Stewart suggested: “There is an effective number of troops to fight an invading force in that part iof the world, but it ain’t 275.” Nor even the 300 military advisors announced subsequently by Obama.
In the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd mocked the media for its inability even to agree on what to call the insurgents; was it the earlier ISIS, or the more recent IS, or the even newer ISIL, or whatever. But her chief complaint was more fundamental: “The latest turn of the screw in Iraq also underscored how we keep getting pulled back, “Godfather”- style without ever understanding the culture. Our bone-headed meddling just creates ever-more-virulent monsters.” And the online Before Its News had Secretary Kerry and outgoing Iraqi prime minister Maliki announcing an agreement on a new united government, with Maliki agreeing it was an excellent idea, but politely asking “if the United States had ever considered such a government”.
Among online magazines Onion cited Obama declaring reassuringly that: “Many are concerned that these strikes could lead in a compassionate and responsible manner to a host of other crises in the world, but I cannot and will not allow that to happen.” The Dubai-based Pan Arabia Enquirer, had fun mocking Abu Bakr al-Baghadi, the self-described caliph of the alleged Islamic State: “Is described as being a direct descendant of the prophet Mohammad, but is a far closer descendant of his parents, Michael and Janice al- Baghadi, who run a dry-cleaning business in Samarra”; and despite his policy of imposing a strict interpretation of Sharia law, he has installed in his home “a cinema screen, bar and Jacuzzi for ISIS soldiers to chill out after a big fight.”. But the magazine did not spare the U.S., quoting Obama on the original decision to leave Iraq: “When I told cheering troops in 2011 that we were leaving behind “a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq”, I, of course, meant ‘a post-apocalyptic nightmare populated by roving gangs of Al-Queda-loving religious fanatics who hate America only slightly more than they hate each other’”.
Then there was the unkindest cut of all -- the fact that in large measure the ISIS advance was dependent on captured U.S. armaments. The U.S. army’s satirical Duffelblog poked fun at the quality of some of the weaponry in question, particularly the thousands of Humvees captured by ISIS “after being abandoned by Iraqi soldiers unable to locate the vehicle’s keys, which they claimed the U.S. advisors had never provided.” But neither could ISIS use them because of their “incredibly poor fuel consumption, as well as unsuccessful efforts to obtain spare parts from manufacturer A.M. General in Indiana.” An ISIS leader was quoted: “We were considerably more mobile with Toyota Technicals”. Another complained: “In the name of the Blessed Prophet, these things are death traps. How can anyone drive these things around a parking lot, let alone a combat zone?” Unfortunately the joke was ultimately on America. Apparently ISIS did learn how to operate the Humvees; and there was no escaping the excruciating irony of the U.S being the prime supplier of its fanatical foes.
Conceivably all this satire may prove to be moot. Perhaps the several objectives short of all-out war listed by Obama will be achieved – the humanitarian effort to save a threatened religious sect from genocide (already largely accomplished by the Kurds); the protection of Americans in Baghdad; and the blunting of the ISIS advance. The departure of Maliki has removed a main impediment to Sunni-Shiite reconciliation. Conceivably in time Iraq may yet become a quiet backwater, a model of religious and political reconciliation, no longer demanding irritated attention in the White House. But satirists are a skeptical species, and are far from ready to remove Iraq from their list of prime targets.