The ISIS boon for America


"Obama's Iraq disaster," states The Washington Post headline, lamenting Iraq's descent into chaos. To stave off the calamity to come, The Wall Street Journal offers "A Plan to Save Iraq From ISIS and Iran." Pundits in these and other outlets, caught up in the minutiae of the advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), fail to recognize the obvious: ISIS is precipitating what has always been an inevitable breakup of Iraq, one that will be all to the good in terms of American security.

Neither Iran nor Iraq is a natural ally of the United States. Because President Obama has correctly decided not to intervene militarily, the Shiite Iranians under the mullahs and the Sunni Arabs under ISIS will resume their all-out war of the 1980s. With Iran — a chief financier of terrorism — now needing to spend hundreds of millions in battle with ISIS, Iran's terrorist surrogates will necessarily be starved of funds, and the ability to do harm to America and its allies. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, too, will need to focus on securing its gains in Iraq, rather than attacking U.S. interests. Only after the Iran-ISIS war winds down would these two enemies of America be able to fully focus on attacking America.

In the interim, a new state of Kurdistan will have emerged. Iraqi Kurdistan, which already exists in all but name, has been prevented by successive U.S. administrations from declaring independence in a misguided State Department belief that America is best off with Iraq united.

But the Kurds, who unlike Iran and Iraq are pro-Western and pro-Israeli, are no longer waiting for U.S. permission. The Kurds have already retaken their ancestral capital, Kirkuk, along with large swathes of their historic oil-rich territory, beating back ISIS in the process. Israel, too, is ignoring the State Department, this week taking delivery by tanker of Kurdish oil in defiance of U.S. wishes.

The U.S. could and should immediately recognize Kurdish independence, which is now inevitable. The U.S. would then have in its camp a formidable military power — the Kurds are both populous and the finest fighters in the Muslim world — and a major oil exporter.

The Kurds will likely declare independence even without U.S. blessing. The benefit to the U.S. would soon become clear. The Kurds will not only claim their oil lands in Iraq, they will also claim their lands in Syria, which their countrymen in Syria now also control. Every Kurdish barrel of oil becomes a barrel that Syria's Bashar Assad or ISIS's butchers don't have. Moreover, because Kurds also populate Iran, the mullahs will worry about a Kurdish revolt, further distracting them from adventures against the U.S.

In addition to a potent Kurdistan, the U.S. can count on Israel, giving it the two best fighting forces in the Middle East when it next finds itself in a time of need. In 1970 during the Vietnam War, for example, Syria, backed by the U.S.S.R., was poised to invade neighboring Jordan and then to take the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. Because the U.S. military, tied down in Southeast Asia, was unable to intervene, President Nixon asked Israel to step in. Israel did, Syria backed down, and Saudi oil kept flowing to the U.S.

In the same way, future American presidents will be able to ask the Israelis or the Kurds to step in should the need arise. One such need — now often cited — would be to prevent an ISIS government in Iraq from establishing the type of training grounds used to launch the 9/11 attack on the U.S. from Afghanistan. The Kurds and the Israelis, themselves historic enemies of the Arabs, would be only too ready to oblige, especially because they would see those training grounds as threats to themselves as well.

By allowing Iraq to break up and disabusing itself of the conceit that a reset is possible with Iran under the mullahs, the U.S. will be saying goodbye to two enemy states and welcoming an important friend in Kurdistan. In the process, Iraq would be diminished as a threat, Syria would be diminished as a threat, Iran would fear having its own territory diminished, and the Kurds and the Israelis, dependably pro-Western states, would be ever able to neutralize threats in the region, obviating the need for U.S. boots on the ground.

Solomon is a columnist with Canada's National Post. Email him at

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