Two scholars of the Middle East's tangled politics and history told Newsmax TV
on Monday that a more realistic and less wishful Obama administration might have prevented the looming catastrophe in Iraq.
Herbert I. London, president of the London Center for Policy Research, and Robert Rabil, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, appeared on "MidPoint" with host Ed Berliner to discuss a Sunni Islamist insurgency that may be the greatest threat to Iraq since U.S. forces left the country in 2011.
London said the White House's only option now is some combination of military force
and help from a sworn enemy, Iran, to push back insurgents and prop up a U.S.-backed Iraqi government.
"Now, air support is certainly possible, but the most ironic part of this is the United States will undoubtedly engage in some sort of collaboration with the Iranians," said London, co-author of "The Sunni Vanguard: Can Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia Survive the New Middle East?"
"A nation that has been engaged in significant rivalry with the United States, that has been responsible for terrorist activity around the world, is now going to be the savior of the United States in Iraq," London said.
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London said the U.S. wound up where it is through miscalculation— especially regarding the intentions of Iraqi's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — and a misguided optimism that declaring the conflict in Iraq over would make it so.
He said the U.S., in being caught "flatfooted" by the violent Sunni Islamists of ISIS
, also failed to appreciate the region's volatile mix of politics and religion. For some actors, such as the ISIS fighters sweeping through Iraqi cities, Islamism is a "political ideology . . . with an imperial political desire" to establish a new religious republic in the heart of the Middle East, said London.
Rabil, author of a forthcoming book
on a messianic strain of Islam known as Salafism, described ISIS as a product of Salafism's core belief: restoration of an Islamic "golden age."
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With a name drawn from the Arabic root word "salaf," meaning "predecessor," Salafists look at a period in the first millenium as the most perfect expression of Islamic society and hope to re-create it today, said Rabil.
For ISIS, that means an Islamic utopia spanning conquered parts of Syria, where ISIS was born, and Iraq, where it is spreading.
Rabil said not all Salafists see violence as the way to attain their vision. Some advocate a purely political way forward.
Whatever form it takes, Salafism joins Arab nationalism, Baathism and various forms of political Islam as the latest in a string of regional ideologies "misconceived in the West," said Rabil.
"When you go to the Middle East, you should be very careful," Rabil said of any country hoping to influence events there.
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