On March 11th 1917, General Maude's British Indian army marched into Baghdad and took as prisoners almost 10,000 Ottoman troops. If you had to locate the birth of the modern, post-caliphate Arab world in a single event, that would be it. Over the next few years, London and Paris drew lines in the sand and invented the western Middle East, and the states we treat with today - Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia. The British certainly understand the significance of March 1917: When they returned to Baghdad to topple Saddam a decade ago, they named their new military headquarters in the Green Zone "Maude House".
Likewise, if one were to pick a single, decisive event that would mark the end of the modern, western Middle East and the dawn of the post-western pre-modern Middle East, it would be the fall of Baghdad to ISIS or ISIL or, as they prefer to be known, "the Islamic State".
Is that likely? According to General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking on ABC News at the weekend, the head hackers were within 15 miles with "a straight shot to the airport". As I write, they're apparently within eight miles. The Iraqi Army do not seem minded to put up much of a fight - unlike, say, the Kurds in Kobani. And naturally, heady on its usual cocktail of treachery and delusion, Washington has chosen to stiff the Kurds but prop up the Iraqi Weapons of Mass Desertion.
Can American air support delay the inevitable? Or will the jihad boys soon be poking around not only the abandoned Maude House but also the largest and most expensive US embassy on the planet, laughing it up for the cameras in front of askew portraits of Joe Biden? One assumes the Administration is at least rehearsing some spin for this eventuality, although with the Obama crowd nothing can be taken for granted. Still, no doubt Susan Rice will be sent out on the Sunday talk-shows to declare that Baghdad is of no strategic significance, and the court eunuchs of the American media will helpfully explain how this shows Obama's commitment to fulfilling his election promise of decisively ending Bush's Iraq war - or, alternatively, that Obama is too sophisticated to be trapped by outmoded paradigms such as victory and defeat.
But out in the real world the meaning of the event will be well understood. "The Islamic State" will be the Islamic State, the one that finally redrew the infidel lines on the Arab map imposed by Anglo-French colonial administrators in 1922. The neo-caliphate will have taken Baghdad, the capital of the old caliphate for half-a-millennium, from its designation in 762 by the caliph al-Mansur as the seat of his empire. Wannabe caliph al-Baghdadi will have an historic Muslim metropolis, most of Iraq, much of Syria, and - who knows? - maybe a nibble or two of Jordan and a few other bits and pieces. John Kerry, who isn't an Islamic scholar but plays one on TV news, will continue huffin' an' a-puffin':
ISIL now proudly takes credit for the abduction, enslavement, rape, forced marriage, and sale of several thousand Yezidi and other minority women and girlssome as young as 12 years old. Just as despicably, ISIL rationalizes its abhorrent treatment of these women and girls by claiming it is somehow sanctioned by religion. Wrong. Dead wrong.
ISIL does not represent Islam and Islam does not condone or honor such depravity. In fact, these actions are a reminder that ISIL is an enemy of Islam.
Yeah, right. If you didn't think Kerry and Obama and Cameron's no-Islam-to-see-here protestations could sound any more risible, wait till al-Baghdadi's proclaiming the restoration of the caliphate from the CIA safe room in the Baghdad embassy. In Patrick Poole's analysis of an ISIS victory, this section is hard to argue with:
Much of the Obama administration's anti-ISIS efforts have been trying to leverage other "vetted moderate" groups in Syria against ISIS, with some "smart set" thinkers even advocating engaging "moderate Al-Qaeda" to that end. We are already seeing jihadist groups gravitating towards ISIS, such as the announcement this week by Pakistani Taliban leaders pledging their allegiance to the Islamic State. Other groups of younger jihadis are breaking away from Al-Qaeda franchises in North Africa and defecting to ISIS. Despite bitter rivalries between ISIS and other jihadist groups in Syria, namely Al-Qaeda's official Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, these other groups will be hard-pressed to deny ISIS' caliphate claims if they do take Baghdad. In that part of the world, nothing succeeds like success.
Or, as Osama used to put, when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they go with the strong horse. The Islamic State will have land, money, oil, and a ton of great infrastructure and weaponry courtesy of American taxpayers. All the "moderate" groups we've been trying to woo from Libya to Syria and beyond will side with the strong horse. Our remaining allies, such as Jordan, reeling under the social strains of a vast swollen refugee tide from across its borders, will get with the program - or be the next to fall. Nothing exists in isolation: Syria was unimportant to the Obama Administration, so it sat by as the opposition to Assad mutated and evolved, and then spilled over into Iraq. And maybe Iraq is unimportant, too, but, bigger and stronger, ISIS will move on from there, too. Is the Kurdish north unimportant? Lebanon? Jordan? Israel?
Maybe it's all unimportant, at least when compared to "social justice" and transgendered bathrooms. But, to modify Trotsky, you may not be interested in the world but the world is interested in you. And, indeed, not being interested in the world would be a more credible position if you hadn't let the world move into the rental apartment above your garage. For those thousands of disaffected young Muslim men cruising jihadist websites from their drab housing projects in Antwerp and Hamburg and Minneapolis, the restored caliphate will not be a pipe dream but a new reality. And they will act accordingly.