By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Joby Warrick
Narration by: Sunil Malhotra
The cause for the rise of ISIS is often conflated with America’s mistakes in the second Iraq war. Eliminating Hussein did unloose a Middle Eastern civil war but the rise of ISIS is more a consequence of Middle Eastern history than singular, albeit ignorant, actions by America. Sunday mornings slaughter of 50 innocents in Orlando, Florida, or the equally reprehensible terrorist acts in Paris, have little to do with Hussein’s demise or America’s mistakes in the Middle East.
Not being the cause of ISIS’s rise to power does not absolve America of many wrong things done in the Middle East. However, dethroning Saddam Hussein is not the preeminent cause of ISIS’s rise.
Joby Warrick’s “Black Flags” is offering a damming critique of mistakes made by America in the second Iraq war; particularly, America’s failure to listen to some of its own analysts and critics; and America’s failure to listen to leaders like King Abdullah II and other Middle Eastern’ citizens.
Warrick’s report about America’s mistakes may be accurate, but one should be cautious about conflating the second Iraq war with ISIS’s Middle Eastern ascent. America’s mistakes in Iraq may be argued as a catalyst for the rise of ISIS but not its principal cause.
Warrick explains how a poorly educated Jordanian rises to America’s most wanted terrorist, after Saudi Arabian Osama bin-Laden. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, like bin-Laden, is a Sunni Muslim. (Sunni Muslims led Iraq under Saddam Hussein.) Zarqawi is considered by Stanley McChrystal, the Commander of Joint Special Operations in Iraq, to be an intelligent and highly skilled insurgency strategist.
Zarqawi appears to some who view his terrorist acts as a psychopathic murderer but to others as a military strategist bent on fomenting a civil war between Sunni’s and Shiites. Zarqawi is the first Islamic leader of the Iraq insurgency to indiscriminately massacre fellow Muslims whether Sunni or Shiite. Zarqawi, like many fanatics, justifies murder and mayhem based on a personal interpretation of religious doctrine. Warrick shows Zarqawi’s true motivation is about political power; not religion.
Warrick’s argument is that Zarqawi sets the stage for the rise of ISIS. That ISIS’ philosophy began with Zarqawi may be true, but only to the extent that ISIS is a coined phrase for a revisionist Islamic State, a Caliphate. A Caliphate is a state governed by sharia law and ruled by one person with religious authority. The first Caliphate dates back to the 7th century with a series of Caliphates that ends with the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century.
Zarqawi broadens bin-Laden’s “death to Americans and western influence” to death to all who do not follow me and my interpretation of the Koran. Zarqawi becomes bin-Laden’s commander in Iraq because his strategy of “death to all non-followers” is more effective than bin-Laden’s death to western influence. Zarqawi is pleased with bin-Laden’s recognition but grows to believe his success and right-to-rule is greater than the 9/11 perpetrator. Zarqawi’s terrorism is designed to create fear among all Middle Eastern citizens; i.e. with fear of all, the desire for security becomes all. Bin-Laden’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri chastises Zarqawi’s murder of fellow Muslims.
In any case, Warrick shows that behind a curtain of religion, Zarqawi sets the table for a Supreme Leader of a new Caliphate. McChrystal and the American military forestall Zarqawi’s ambition for hegemonic control of Iraqi, Syrian, and Jordanian Muslims by ending Zarqawi’s life.
Waiting in the wings is a Muslim scholar named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Al-Baghdadi carries the mantle of religious education that Zarqawi’s education misses. Al-Baghdadi’s blood line reaches back to Muhammed, the founder of Muslimism. However, many Muslims say Al-Baghdadi distorts Muhammad’s teaching because he adopts Zarqawi’s heinous Muslim killings with a legitimized religious fervor that reminds one of the Great Crusades when Popes also justified burning “heretics” alive.
A part of what makes Warrick’s book interesting is the explanation of the roles Robert Ford, Leon Panetta, Hillary Clinton, and President Obama play in the rise of ISIS.
ISIS is an attempt to resurrect a long-standing history of religious, political leaders in the Middle East. ISIS is meant to create an equal to an ancient Caliphate; e.g. a new Ottoman Empire. “Black Flags” is an informative history of the rise of ISIS but implying America’s mistakes in Iraq (and later in Syria) is the source of ISIS rise oversimplifies the truth.
Ideology and terror are the tools of radical minorities. Only measured resistance, education, and time can defeat radicalism. That is no consolation for the victims of Paris, Orlando, Aleppo, Kandahar, Mosul, and Manchester; particularly for the mothers, fathers, and children left behind.