This is an excellent long discussion of the historical background of today’s struggle for Iraq between ISIS and the modern Persian empire:
The eschatology of revolution and Western decline
All of this history is recent, in Persian terms. The ancient Persian Empire was old by the time Herodotus the Greek, father of Western history, walked the earth, 2,400 years ago. There are much older ghosts in the plain of Zahab – but the Islamic conquest of the 630s is the “break” that counts: the one that set Persia and modern Iran on course for their rendezvous with 2015.
Three and a half centuries after the Treaty of Zahab, a revolutionary Iran, sensitized to eschatological signs, found herself facing serious danger from an independent and radical Iraq. The pathway to Baghdad suddenly had geo-military significance again.
A year after the war with Iraq ended, the great brooding empire of the north, the Eurasian Warsaw Pact, began to crack up. Two years later, the empire’s core – the Soviet Union – had imploded from within.
Yet even before that, America had led a coalition invading Iraq. That would have been unthinkable in 1979 or 1980; to a Mahdist’s eyes, in 1991, it would have looked like a sign.
Throughout the period that started in 1980, Iran’s revolutionists cultivated a military geography that focused on leveraging strategic pathways: toward Israel’s borders, toward the region’s maritime chokepoints – and toward Baghdad, alongside the other main approaches to Mesopotamia. Iran’s preparations in the 1980s and ‘90s, supporting Iraqi Shia movements and armed militias, were never about Shia fraternity; they have been all along about the ghosts of Diyala and the potential for opportunity from the hand of Allah.
Just over two decades after Saddam’s invasion of 1980 suddenly brought Diyala front and center again, an American-led coalition invaded Iraq for a second time. Iran was ready for the turmoil that ensued in Mesopotamia. Iran’s senior commanders – including the now iconic General Soleimani – had mostly fought in the 1980-88 war. Soleimani’s band of “special groups” was ready to answer the call.
In Persian-historical terms, things have moved very fast since 1979. All in one generation, the men who run Iran’s military strategy and operations today have watched their opportunities open before them for 35 years, easily interpretable as portents by the clerics in Qom.
Not only has the West softened Iraq up for a subtle, under-the-radar takeover by Iran – it has obligingly lost its will and purpose just at the crucial moment. Everything laboriously achieved in Iraq by a sharpened and wiser American strategy from 2006 to 2009 was ultimately undone by the withdrawal and lack of interest after 2011. Whether that could have been predicted or not, it serves as another portent of opportunity, seemingly created for the Iranian Mahdists by Allah.
[. . .]
The midwifing of outcomes from this development will not be done the Westphalian way. Iran and Islamic State already know that, because they’re driving the train. Within a very short space of time, the other nations like Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia will be sure of it themselves, and will be doing whatever they have to, to maneuver in this gangland without a sheriff.
The utility of America’s residual power in this situation is almost extinguished. The hope that we will use it has been holding most of the nations in check. But that hope is fading rapidly now; I would say literally by the hour. Assuming Qassem Soleimani takes Tikrit without us, he can high-five the ghosts of 14 centuries after an advance of a mere 170 miles. He could get in a jeep and drive from Zahab to Tikrit as a conquering commander, from one scene of centuries-old defeat to the next, demonstrating the putative ascendancy of Shia Islam along the way.
The Westphalian West, with our UN, our EU, our negotiations and debt fights and demography-obsessed navel-gazing, will be off dropping bombs on a strategically meaningless mountaintop somewhere – and arguing over that.
This is where we are, as Iran nears a nuclear breakout. Not where most of the world would have expected to be, if we’d had to prognosticate 30, or 20, or even 10 years ago. Order, peace, and Westphalian principles don’t maintain themselves, if you neglect them and leave force and will to atrophy.
The sense is inescapable, moreover, that something very big is going on. We’ve had to learn this lesson about force and will before, in recent memory. But in the 2010s, we’re rolling back not decades but centuries to do it – in some ways, as if they never even happened.
The cause of the problem isn’t ISIS or Iran but the foreseeable power vacuum, now being filled, that was created by Obama’s reckless abandonment of Iraq. Most of what is now happening follows from that terrible decision, made to fulfill a stupid campaign promise Obama should have ignored once he was elected. And now, having made bad decisions and spurned reasonable allies, Obama is reduced to delusionally hoping that we will somehow come out ahead if Iran stops ISIS. (Or perhaps he is mainly concerned that the extent of the catastrophe doesn’t become obvious until after he has left office.)
Read the whole thing.