Every war when it comes, or before it comes,

is represented not as a war but as an act of

self-defense against a homicidal maniac

– George Orwell

US interventions in the Middle East post 1945 are not something new, with the US having a history of involvement in coups and sabotage across the region. The former CIA agent Miles Copeland in his memoirs, ‘The Game Player,’ reveals how he travelled across the region to instigate coups to secure US strategic interests, which are numerous and ranging from securing the Zionist state, ensuring a constant supply of oil, controlling key sea and trade routes, re-shaping the region, and blocking an ideological rival to US political leadership. Sometimes, the US has given more weight to one strategic objective over the other; for example, during the Cold War, keeping Communism out of the region was central to US intervention in the region, whereas US military intervention in the Gulf in 1991 can be seen to be driven by economic interests although multiple other strategic objectives were executed as spin offs.

Now, moving on to the new US war, with justification for airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, being the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which has been running riot and committing numerous crimes which have disgusted the whole world. To the naked eye, this justification for intervention seems plausible given natural human dislike to killings, murder, and other injustices. However, is ISIS the real motivation driving the US war or is ISIS a smokescreen, like the WMD smokescreen leading up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003? A closer examination of US strategic objectives in Iraq and Syria will allow for an answer to this.

There is a strong narrative amongst a number of political analysts that the US for a long time has been trying to re-shape Iraq, falling in line with the US policy of a ‘New Middle East’ involving the break up of Iraq into three distinct entities, with a Kurdish North, a Sunni Centre and Shia South. The present US Vice President Joe Biden mentioned this plan back in 2006 in his co-authored article for the New York Times titled, ‘Unity through autonomy,’ stating ‘The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by de-centralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group — Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab — room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests. We could drive this in place with irresistible sweeteners for the Sunnis to join in, a plan designed by the military for withdrawing and redeploying American forces, and a regional nonaggression pact.” He added, “Establish three largely autonomous regions with a viable central government in Baghdad. The Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security. The central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues.”

As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations in 2007, Biden attempted to create reality when an overwhelming majority of the U.S. Senate voted for his non-binding resolution to divide Iraq into three parts — Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish autonomous zones. Ron Paul, a former US congressman and Republican presidential candidate, has unequivocally stated that the US through its airstrikes is trying to break the Kurdish areas away from the rest of Iraq, and to demarcate the remit in which ISIS is allowed to roam and venture in Iraq rather than a campaign to terminate the existence of ISIS. If extermination of ISIS was the case, the US would be pushing its resources towards Kobane, but the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, at a conference in Cairo on the rebuilding of Gaza, said, “Kobane does not define the strategy for the coalition in respect to Daesh [ISIS]. Kobane is one community and it is a tragedy what is happening there. And we do not diminish that.” This raises the question: if Kobane does not define US strategy, what does? Is it breaking up Iraq as presented by Biden?

Moving on to Syria. Since the Syrian uprising, over three years ago, US diplomacy has been lacklustre to say the least, with failed diplomatic urges to resolve the Syrian crisis. Unlike, the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, where the US had political proxies through which it was able to work to re-direct the uprisings to a more favorable outcome, this has not been the case in Syria. With no one on the ground, the US resorted to manufacturing a Syrian National Coalition in Turkey and Qatar, but failed to receive any support from inside Syria. However, the battalions, such as Jabhat al Nusrah, Liwar al Tawheed, Tawheed Brigade and Ansar al Islam, amongst many others are on the ground, have support and have dismissed any idea of talks with Asad, and US interference. According to Syrian expert Professor Joshua Landis, the ideology of these battalions rests on the implementation of Islamic law and pan-Islamism, which is clearly at odds with US strategic interests in Syria. Bearing this strategic headache, it is not surprising that the US has hit Jabhat al Nusrah and other battalions in the airstrikes. In response, the Al Nusrah spokesman Abu Firas al Suri said, ‘This is not a war against Al Nusra, but a war against Islam.’

So the curious mind asks: Is Orwell’s maniac, in this case ISIS, being used to partition Iraq and subvert a revolution in Syria (which the US has not been able to influence)? To many observers, the maniac and its use is apparent. To others, it might take some time like the WMD, which are now well understood to have been a smokescreen to the US invasion.

 The writer is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS.