TEL AVIV – Caught off guard by the unraveling of the Iraqi state – spurred by the rapid advance of militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – Americans and Europeans have reverted to their penchant for self-flagellation. And, indeed, a major share of the responsibility for the tumult in Iraq – not to mention Syria – undoubtedly lies with the West’s pernicious colonial legacy and wrongheaded policies in the Arab Middle East. But, ultimately, the turmoil in the Arab world reflects the difficult encounter of an old civilization with the challenges of modernity.
To be sure, US President George W. Bush’s Iraqi enterprise was calamitously ill-conceived, as was President Barack Obama’s subsequent failure to leave an adequate residual force in Iraq after the United States withdrew its troops. Indeed, America’s hasty departure allowed ISIS to gain ground, while blurring the border with Syria. In its push to carve out an Islamic state, ISIS invaded Syria from Mosul long before they invaded Mosul from Syria.