Battling ISIS: In Mid-East My Enemy’s Enemy Is Not My Friend


ISIS on rampage in Iraq


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once observed, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it,” and “Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.”

On September 10th President Obama outlined his strategy for confronting the threat posed by the militant group “Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria” (ISIS).

In the speech President Obama said, “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country…This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

The following week the House of Representatives voted 319-108 and the Senate voted 78-22 to approve the measure authorizing the Obama Administration to arm “moderate” rebels in Syria in a fight against Syrian President al-Assad and ISIS.

It is important to recognize that President Obama’s jingoistic rhetoric was stated primarily for domestic consumption. He has made some Americans feel that their Commander in Chief is taking charge of this situation but ISIS could really care less.

A group of people (ISIS) who have committed their lives to martyrdom will never be frightened or deterred by threats of death, they will only be inspired.

Since America’s primary option is military, every solution has become an air strike.  You cannot defeat an ideology with an army. You defeat ideologies by presenting a plausible counter narrative and reality to those who might otherwise fall prey to, support and finally join the militant adversary.  If militants cannot recruit new members they eventually wither and die on the vine.

ISIS is an offshoot of al-Qaeda.  According to a paper by the Congressional Research Service Osama Bin-Laden believed that US military presence in the Arabian Peninsula is a direct affront to Islam.

Based upon his success as a “logistical coordinator and financier for the Afghan and Arab resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan” he was able to “elicit psychological reactions and communicate complex political messages to a global audience…” spreading his ideological variation of a principle known as “defensive jihad.”

Historically US ham-fisted and misguided interventions in the region serve to validate Bin-Laden’s ideas and entice too many people to subscribe to al-Qaeda’s ideology. 

Again, you cannot defeat an ideology with an army but limited and strategic military action may be needed in order to disrupt the enemy and create the diplomatic environment and political space necessary for long-term solutions to take hold. A major problem is that American action and policy in the region are hypocritical and cannot be trusted.

The president condemns ISIS, and rightfully so, for beheading three journalists but says absolutely nothing about its largest ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, who according to the Washington Post, “In the space of two weeks last month, … executed as many as 22 people. At least eight of those executed were beheaded…”

US policy in the region is not based on a clear understanding of historical, cultural, religious, and ethnic differences, concerns, and realities.  It is based upon what George W. Bush called “American Internationalism”, an arrogant belief that what is best for America is best for the world.

It’s about continuing imperialism and retaining control of natural resources.  It’s about carving up continents like pieces of meat, installing compliant dictators, violently removing them when they no longer serve a purpose and leaving the indigenous peoples with scraps and pottage.

It’s not by accident that the US is engaged in battling fundamentalist Islam in Iran.  At the request of British oil interests, the US orchestrated the overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953 and installed the Shah, Mohammed Rehza Pahlavi.

The Shah’s oppression created the climate for the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the rise of fundamentalist cleric Ayatollah Khomeini.  I submit that this was the beginning of many of the geopolitical problems facing America today and as Malcolm said, “The chickens are coming home to roost.”

Failed policy in Iran led to the US backing of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) based upon the enemy of my enemy dictum. Don’t forget the now infamous photo of Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, shaking hands with Saddam in Baghdad on December 20, 1983.

The US trained, backed, and armed the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980’s as they battled the Soviet’s in Central Asia.  The policy was again based upon the logic, the enemy of my enemy.

Then the US backed the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990’s as the US was trying to build an oil and gas pipeline in the region and wanted a strong central government in place to protect its interests.  When the US abandoned the Taliban, they turned their guns that the US supplied back on us.

President Obama was correct when he said, “Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country” but he failed to provide the historic analysis and context of why the US battled Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He failed to explain why the al Qaeda ideology has spread to Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Mali.  Now it is ISIS in Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Shabaab in Kenya.

FDR once said, “We shall strive for perfection…We may make mistakes—but they must never…result from faintness of heart or abandonment of moral principle.”  Today as the Obama administration and Congress do the complex political calculus they have failed to do the basic moral mathematics.

Dr. King said, “Cowardice asks the question – is it safe? Expediency asks the question – is it politic? Vanity asks the question – is it popular? But conscience asks the question – is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.”

Remember, this new group of “moderate” rebels who are anti-Syrian President al Assad are not necessarily pro US.  Don’t be surprised if like so many others before them they turn their US supplied guns back on us as alliances and interests in the region shift over time.

My enemy’s enemy is not my friend.


Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/Host of the SiriusXM Satellite radio channel 126 call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon” Go to or email: [email protected]. and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at

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