Iraq is a shambles. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Al Qaeda off-shoot that now controls nearly a third of the nation, continues to run amok.
It’s way past time for the White House to get its head in the game. The disaster unfolding in Iraq and Syria could very quickly spiral into a much, much bigger problem. And some problems are so big that even our president can’t spin his way out.
At the top of the list of what the administration should be worrying about—and preparing to deal with—is the potential for an endless three-way civil war in Iraq. With Sunni, Shia and Kurds fighting one another, it would look something like the civil war in Syria—on steroids.
Two massive civil wars in the middle of a strategically important part of the world is not a good situation for any U.S. president, at any time. It is doubly worse now, with the region still teetering uneasily after the Arab Spring and U.S. stock in the area pathetically low.
The White House should be facing up to the fact that it may soon be staring at a contiguous Islamist state smack dab in the middle of the Middle East.
That state would look eerily similar to Afghanistan, circa September 10, 2001. In some ways, it would be an even more worrisome state. Instead of being based among mountains at the end of the earth, these Al Qaeda look-alikes would be perched just a stone’s throw from Europe and one hop away from a quick transatlantic flight to America.
Even if ISIS doesn’t end up owning a lot of real estate, this campaign will be a huge psychological victory for the terrorist movement.
The Islamists will argue that they bested the army trained and equipped by the Americans. They are clearly on the offensive, which means “the Americans” are in retreat. The message to all extremists: Join us, the winning side.
And don’t expect the war Syria to end any time soon. With a strong base of operations in Iraq, ISIS can always throw more gasoline on that fire and keep that conflict going.
And who is to say the terrorists will stop there? Poor little Jordan teeters on the edge of the abyss. With the Muslim Brotherhood still strong within its borders and Syrian refugees now constituting more than a tenth of its total population, Jordan looks like a target that says “Islamists come after me.”
Finally, who knows what this means for Iran? Tehran will undoubtedly use the opportunity to strengthen its own influence in Iraq, even as it looks to deflect pressure from the US with a faux nuclear deal.
None of these all-too-possible outcomes can be ignored or brushed aside.
Another round of Secretary of State John Kerry’s special shuttle diplomacy would be an exercise in feckless kabuki.
Nor will the usual response from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel—which pretty much amounts to “Whatever the White House says is OK by me”—cut it.
Serious times require serious measures, not Bart Simpson-like evasions. The administration must drop its business-as-usual (and none-too-“smart” diplomacy) approach to address what are very real and pressing dangers.
After six years, the president needs to start acting like a real commander-in-chief.
James Jay Carafano is vice president of foreign and defense policy studies The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @JJCarafano.