Suddenly, and without almost anyone noticing, the war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq is developing and growing rapidly. Some elements are already clear enough: they include the expansion of ISIS-controlled territory in Libya, the attacks in Paris and California, the increasing involvement of Russia, and the decision of the British parliament to authorise UK air-attacks in Syria.
Those are all significant changes. But they are decidedly less important than another development, one that resonates with the experience in the early days of the Iraq war in April 2003.
That war had started on 20-21 March. Within three weeks, United States marines and army units had got to Baghdad and the Saddam Hussein regime had collapsed; three more weeks, and President George W Bush could don a flying-jacket and jet out to the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his confident “mission accomplished” speech from the carrier’s flight-deck.
True, there was at the time looting and disorder in Baghdad, and early indications of a revolt. But the expectation was that peace would be restored, Iraq would make a successful transition to a pro-western state, and most of the coalition troops would leave within months.
Already, though, something different seemed to be happening, with reports in the US media that the Pentagon was planning to establish four large bases for airforce and army units, with every intention that these would at least be long-term projects and quite possibly permanent (see “Permanent occupation?”, 24 April 2003) Now it was becoming clear what the Bush administration was about: a military operation that would determine US influence across the region for many years to come.