Pushing the Extremes
A chronicle of ISIS's rise tells only half the story
The Rise of Islamic State:
ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution
by Patrick Cockburn
$16.95 List Price
The last thing most Americans wanted during Barack Obama’s second term was another war in the Middle East. But now we’re in one, and an inevitable and necessary raft of new books is emerging to explain to the public how and why this came to be. Patrick Cockburn’s The Rise of Islamic State is an important contribution to this topical genre, even though his account is deeply flawed in key respects. It is, at best, half the story, and readers will have to look elsewhere for a more comprehensive and balanced assessment.
Obama swept into office in 2008 in large measure because he vowed to end the indefensible, almost inexplicable war in Iraq and the ill-conceived nation-building project in Afghanistan, both initiated by his predecessor, George W. Bush. During his first term, Obama took major strides toward fulfilling this promise. Voters expected that his administration would continue to disengage the United States from these regional quagmires after his 2012 reelection, while simultaneously conducting an expanded counterterrorism campaign against Al Qaeda.
But early this past summer, Americans suddenly found themselves once again embroiled in a long-term conflict with a Middle Eastern group most of them had never heard of: the Islamic State, also known as ISIS (or ISIL). This violent faction is an offshoot of the organization known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, which had gradually been subdued with the help of local Sunni Arab forces during the “Sunni Awakening” of 2007. ISIS gained great momentum and increasing popular support during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, and in 2013 it
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