ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) crossed from Syria into Iraq last week. In short order they seized Mosul, Tikrit, and some other, smaller towns near the Syrian Border. Videos showed Iraqi government soldiers removing their uniforms and fleeing their posts before ISIS arrived. American commentators dismissed their actions as cowardice in the face of the enemy. But it was not cowardice. It was merely an attempt at self-preservation.
Videos released later by ISIS showed in gruesome detail what happened to soldiers who were captured by the invaders. The Iraqi soldiers were rounded up and shot. We need to recognize that the Iraqi soldiers, mostly Shi'ite, who were posted in Mosul and Tikrit were not defending their homeland. They were deep inside enemy territory. Those who could not escape to Baghdad could not be certain of survival, for the people of the region oppose the Iraqi government installed by the American army. The Shi'ite soldiers had no place to hide and no one to aid them.
ISIS had been fighting against Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator. These were the same fighters that neocons and John McCain had been urging Obama to support. ISIS is aligned with former supporters of Saddam Hussein. They are Sunni Muslims who have a much stronger allegiance to their religious faith than to any government. They are also one of the main forces that have been opposing the Americans in Iraq. Supporting these people would have been a major blunder, akin to the mistake made by the CIA in Operation Cyclone, which led to the empowerment of Osama bin Laden.
We should understand the alignment of forces in the Middle East.
Iran is the leading Shi'ite state. Other Shi'ite leaders are Syria's Bashar al-Assad and Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki.
Saudi Arabia is the leading Sunni State. Saddam Hussein was Sunni. So was Osama bin Laden. There are powerful Sunni forces in Iraq and Syria, where they oppose the current governments.
The wars in the Middle East between Muslim states since WWII can be viewed as proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia for control of the region. The United States has sided with Saudi Arabia consistently during this entire period, despite the fact that the two countries have little in common aside from an interest in oil.
Sanity seems at last to have reached into the American government. Our intelligence agencies have failed to provide accurate information to our decision makers. Even Jimmy Carter was not immune to the belief that Afghanistan's war against the Soviet Union was somehow a danger to the US.
We don't know what intelligence reports led Obama to decide against intervention in Syria. Perhaps he knew more about the makeup of the rebel force opposing Assad than the rest of us. Or perhaps he was wary about any intelligence he received from the CIA, since they had failed so utterly in this region in the past. Whatever his reasons, Obama made the right choice. The US now enjoys the enviable position of watching chaos from the outside rather than having it falling on our heads.