America’s Islamist Allies of Convenience

NEW DELHI – In just one decade, the United States has intervened militarily in three Muslim-majority countries and overthrown their governments. Now the same coalition of American liberal interventionists and neoconservatives that promoted those wars is pushing for punitive airstrikes in Syria without reflecting on how US policy has ended up strengthening Islamists and fostering anti-Americanism. Indeed, the last “humanitarian intervention” has clearly backfired, turning Libya into a breeding ground for transnational militants.

As the intense US debate about President Barack Obama’s proposed use of military force highlights, the attack-Syria push is not about upholding America’s national interest. Rather, the desire to protect US “credibility” has become the last refuge of those seeking yet another war in the wider Middle East.

If “credibility” were purged from the debate and the focus placed squarely on advancing long-term US interests, it would become apparent that an attack on Syria might not yield even temporary geopolitical gains. Beyond the short term, it would unleash major unintended consequences, potentially including an Iraq-style “soft” partition of Syria and the creation of a haven for extremists stretching across much of Islamist-controlled northern Syria and into the Sunni areas of Iraq.

Indeed, an attack would most likely increase America’s reliance on unsavory Islamist rulers in countries ranging from Saudi Arabia and Qatar to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Some Arab monarchs have pledged to bankroll the US attack – an investment that they would easily recover, given that the war talk has already increased oil prices.