Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, are creating such chaos that Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, requested that the United States launch air strikes against the militants. In fact, Reuters reports that U.S. officials said Iraq's request included increased surveillance by U.S. drones, and drone strikes.
So far, that request hasn't been met, but the U.S. did agree to send 300 "military advisors" -- or Special Forces -- to Iraq in an advisory role, and the Obama administration has "quietly" consulted Congress about "redirecting some intelligence funding" to financing expanded U.S. operations in Iraq, according to Reuters. So, what could this mean for America?
A divided government
There are a number of reasons behind the ISIS uprising in Iraq and Syria, but what's believed to be a driving force is the fact that the Iraqi government, under the leadership of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, has failed to be inclusive of the Kurds and Sunnis. In fact, it's believed that ISIS is largely comprised of Sunni insurgents who are exploiting the divided government, and rampaging against what they see as a Shia controlled government.
Furthermore, according to Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize winner for The Looming Tower, a history on the rise of al-Qaeda, ISIS's stated goal is to realize the dreams of the late al-Qaeda leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to create a broader Islamic caliphate -- an Islamic state that unites all Muslims under a supreme religious leader, a caliph, who is the "successor" to Muhammad -- eradicate all Shiites, and erase the boundary between Syria and Iraq. In order to accomplish these goals, ISIS has embraced extreme violence that is so gruesome even al-Qaeda has denounced it.
What this means for America
For those familiar with history, "military advisors" conjures memories of the term the U.S. government first used to send forces to Vietnam. And indeed, that may be a fair comparison. Unlike uprisings in the past, ISIS is well funded (it's the richest terrorist group in the world), well organized, and represents as serious threat to not only Iraq, but to America and her allies:
- British Prime Minister David Cameron stated, "No one should be in any doubt that what we see in Syria and now in Iraq in terms of ISIS is the most serious threat to Britain's security that there is today."
- Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said that what's happening in Iraq "represent[s] a grave threat" to U.S. interests.
- Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein stated, "I think most important is that we take direct action now against ISIS marching down to Baghdad, and prevent them from getting into Baghdad."
- When asked, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Sen. Lindsey Graham that ISIS had vowed to attack the United States, and that ISIS could use Syria and Iraq as a safe haven from which to launch terrorist activity against the U.S. "There is open source reporting that [ISIS], although currently a regional threat, they do have aspirations to attack Western interests."
What to watch
It's no secret that Americans are tired of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and don't want to finance another one -- to date, National Priorities Project estimates that Congress has appropriated $1.57 trillion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, that does not include potential future costs, interest payments on the national debt, or future wounded care for soldiers and veterans, and other considerations. When these future costs are added, the Harvard Kennedy School estimates that the total cost of the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars could cost between $4 trillion and $6 trillion.
Regrettably, there are two forces that could prompt American involvement against ISIS. First, as mentioned above, America has already "sunk" a significant amount of money into trying to help democratize Iraq. In investing, this is what's called "sunk cost," which is basically where you've put so much money into an investment, or situation like Iraq, that walking away seems unacceptable, or painful.
Second, and much more likely to prompt American involvement, is the very real threat ISIS poses to America's national security interests. The continued destabilization of the Middle East, coupled with the establishment of a terrorist safe haven in Iraq and Syria, could have significant ramifications for America. Consequently, if ISIS continues to make strides in Iraq, America may be forced to respond.
If, and it's still a big if, America is drawn into another Middle Eastern conflict, military action would likely be funded through the use of emergency funding. Considering that between 2000 and 2010 the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were largely funded through emergency spending bills -- in excess of $980 billion -- this development could be great news for defense contractors. Unfortunately, such a conflict would certainly be bad news for the U.S. deficit. Consequently, the conflict in Iraq is something everyone should be keeping tabs on.