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‘Operation Enduring Contradiction’

Fighters from the Al Qaeda group Al Nusra wave their flag at a refugee camp south of Damascus in July. Al Nusra is a bitter rival of ISIS.AFP/Getty Images

It’s been a couple of months now since America embarked on yet another war in a Muslim land, but as of this writing the Pentagon doesn’t have a name for it. “Operation Inherent Resolve” was suggested, but rejected.

Nor can we agree on what to call the Sunni Muslim extremists we are fighting. Some say ISIS for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or is it Sham, an Arabic term for a greater Syria? President Obama calls it ISIL, for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, and the Islamists themselves call it simply the Islamic State, a term we don't want to use because it implies legitimacy. But for simplicity's sake let's call it ISIS.

I would submit the war be called "Operation Enduring Contradiction," and here's why.

We are gathering together a coalition of Sunni Muslims to fight ISIS, but Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have been supporting the export of fanatical Islam for years. NATO ally Turkey has been letting foreign fighters cross into Syria to fight for ISIS, and keeping Kurds in so they can't fight against ISIS. When vice president Biden pointed out these contradictions to Harvard students recently, he had to make formal apologies to our allies, thereby contradicting himself.

Other NATO allies, Britain, Denmark, and Belgium, have said they will join the anti-ISIS coalition, but only against the Islamic State in Iraq. They will not fight in Syria, even though there is no effective border between Iraq and Syria anymore. Maybe Belgians, Danes, and Brits should call the enemy ISIO: "Islamic State in Iraq Only."


The most powerful force fighting ISIS on the ground, and the principal beneficiary of our air strikes, is Bashar Assad's Syrian army, but we can't enlist them as an ally because we have said Assad has to go. We can't enlist the help of Iran, a natural enemy of Sunni extremism, because Iran is Shiite and that might offend our Sunni allies. But we look the other way when Iranian advisers help our Kurdish allies on the ground in Iraq.


One of our stated goals is to save the Kurds and support their armed forces against ISIS, but our military support is helping the Kurds move ever closer to independence and the breakup of the Iraqi state, which we say we don't want.

One of the bitter rivals of ISIS is the Al Qaeda franchise in Syria called Al Nusra. Does bombing ISIS mean we are helping Al Qaeda? That contradiction may be on the way to resolution because our bombing is bringing Al Nusra and ISIS closer together. And then there is Donald Rumsfeld's old question: Are we creating enemies faster than we can kill them?

We got rid of Saddam Hussein a decade ago with the idea of building Iraq into a Westernized, democratic, oil-producing state — which would undermine the authority of oil- rich undemocratic states such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and spread democracy across the region. But now we are seeking the aid of those same undemocratic states, and democracy across the region has never seemed farther away. We hoped to turn Iraq into a bastion of American influence, but we empowered the Iraqi Shiites, who in turn abused the Sunni minority, many of whom are now fighting for ISIS. And the top leadership of ISIS is said to be made up of graduates of American prisons in Iraq.

Therefore, what we face today is a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad supposedly on our side but with an unreliable army, an ISIS-controlled third of the country in the middle, and the independent minded Kurds in the north whose independence we don't want but are abetting. We have a mess in Syria, where we are unsure who among the so-called moderates can be counted upon to be both moderate and effective. We have NATO and non-NATO allies with very differing goals between themselves and with us.


H.D.S. Greenway is a former editorial page editor of the Globe.