Tuesday, September 2, 2014

History Repeats itself 75 Years After

As the world marks the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, there is a sense if history repeating itself. While many in Europe believe that history is being repeated in Eastern Ukraine, there is somewhere else that this is happening and is still overlooked for some extent. These events are unfolding in Iraq and Syria.

The rise of the rebel group now calling itself Islamic State (IS) has been phenomenal seen from outside, partly because of the relevant media blackout in Western media until June. It was then that the IS, then variously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) burst into world politics. The well armed militants swept across a large swath of the territory in Iraq in a matter of days. All of a sudden, the United States, which usually has solutions (good or bad) to most of the problems in the world, are totally lost without a strategy to counter the issue.

Territories under the control of "Islamic State" by August 24, 2014 in red. (Wikimedia Commons)
For the time being, the West is trying to aid its allies in the area to fight the ISIS. Ironically, ISIS has benefited from the weapons sent to the Syrian opposition from the West. Today, both sides are fighting with weapons originating in the same countries, mainly in the West. What the ISIS today faces is an alliance of Iraqi forces, Turkish Peshmerga and other Iraqi militants. Meanwhile in Syria, it faces the Assad regime. The western democracies find it hard to work with the Assad regime against which they have been helping the opposition for more than three years.

Here lies a parallel to some extent with the history of the Second World War. By mid 1939, it was increasingly becoming evident that the German dictator Adolf Hitler would not back down unless he got Danzig, if not the whole of Poland. France, the traditional ally of Poland, and Britain wanted to help the threatened country, which could not have possibly resisted a German Blitzkrieg. However, the allies were constrained from one major fault, geography. Furthermore, militarily, the French were so negative minded. If not, they could have ended the Hitler regime in Rhineland three years before the Danzig issue.

The only viable alternative was to solicit the support of the Soviet Union. But Poland was vehemently opposed to it as well, as the staunchly anti-Soviet Polish people did not want to speculate on the possibility of seeing the Red Army in Poland.

If a defense alliance with the Soviet Union did happen, Germany would have been forced to reassess their plans of invading Poland. Soviet troops would have entered Poland only in the case where Germany decided to carry on the invasion regardless of the alliance. By then, it would not have mattered much as Poland would be already in a battle for survival.

One can hardly speculate what would have happened. But the Germans would have most probably backed off, not wanting to face a combined alliance of the Soviet, Polish, British and French forces. It was a possibility. Disregarding that possibility landed the Polish people in half a century of oppression, first by Nazis and then by the Red Army and its puppets. At the time, Poland was not ready to make an agreement with the “devil” to defeat the other, more obvious threat, and ended up in being subjected to both evils.

The apparent rise of the ISIS has created a situation similar in some aspects to what Europe faced before the outbreak of the Second World War. The threat of the ISIS is quite prominent and the current band of allies of the western democracies cannot possibly withstand it alone. They will fight back, and inflict defeats, but they do not have the strength or perhaps even the will to crush the ISIS completely.

There are three parties which can play a major role in this battle against ISIS. Two of them will not be able to play an active part due to obvious reasons. They are Israel and Iran. If either of them gets engaged, it will possibly destroy the anti-ISIS alliance. The third party, which already has been in the middle of the battle, is Syria. However, the west is uncomfortable of aiding Syria in its battle with ISIS, simply because they want to see the back of Assad.

The West is in a dilemma in Syria. Today, they have to choose the lesser of the two “evils”, Assad and ISIS. Assad is a secular leader and despite his anti-western stance, can perhaps be a person one can deal with. On the other hand, ISIS is a volatile outfit which increasingly looks menacing. Who will the west pick is the question. If it does not choose to ask for Assad’s help, it might be something similar to Poland not wanting the assistance of the Soviet Union. It is high time for the Western powers to decide clearly what the “lesser devil” is. Otherwise things will get even more complicated.

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