The unintended consequences of airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq

Second, air strikes will unavoidably mark an already vulnerable minority with the stain of American favoritism. The salvation proffered by American arms now will compromise the group’s status later on — not just with the militant fighters currently lunging for their throats but with much of the Iraqi population. Although it is still too early to say that the evolution of modern Middle Eastern politics points to the end of the road for Christians and other minorities, things are heading that way; air strikes and aid or not, the Yezidis’ future is bleak.

Third, air strikes will almost certainly unite Sunnis against other sects and boost support for ISIS while fueling disdain for the United States. The gist of the social media commentary on the strikes has been this: For years, the United States has tolerated — or perhaps even facilitated — a violent onslaught against Sunni Muslims. The very instant that other groups are threatened, the United States intervenes immediately against the Sunnis. And who benefits from this intervention? The Shia. It is a potent narrative, which the air strikes, however unavoidable, will appear to affirm. Indeed, impolitic language aside, it is hard to dispute the idea that the Shia, particularly Maliki, who has presided over a state that privileges that group while marginalizing Sunnis, will reap the gains of this campaign, at least in the short term.

Fourth, intervention is liable to complicate already tense relations between the United States and its allies on the Arab side of the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.