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Obama’s No-Win War on ISIS


The newest crisis in the Middle East has sucked the U.S. into yet another insoluble military problem. Obama is again considering a bombing campaign in Syria after infamously not bombing the country last year. This time, however, he’s not targeting his enemy Bashar al-Assad, but his enemy’s enemy — ISIS — now referred to as the Islamic State.

By attacking the Islamic State in Syria, Obama will become a de facto ally of the Syrian government, just as Obama and ISIS were de facto allies when they were both targeting Bashar al-Assad. Most Americans are likely fed up with Obama’s zig-zagging foreign policy, and with each new u-turn support drops for the next war.

But the U.S. has no plans to leave the Middle East to its own devices, and “fixing” the current problems will mean that Obama will need to tear up the patchwork of alliances previously pieced together amid past U.S. wars. The next U.S.-led “solution” will only compound the catastrophe, and continue the senseless logic of permanent war.

The situation has become so absurd that the U.S. is now spending millions of dollars bombing U.S.-made military equipment in Iraq — itself worth millions, previously gifted to the Iraqi government and then taken by ISIS.

Obama’s constant Middle East flip-flops have made it difficult to keep allies. After having built a coalition of nations to wage a proxy war against Bashar al-Assad, Obama backed out of his promised air strikes last year, in effect abandoning his anti-Syrian partners, many of whom still bear a grudge.

As a result, Obama faces a “credibility gap,” as does anyone who doesn’t do what they say they’re going to do. Obama also said he supported a two-state solution in Palestine, but then backed Israel 100 percent in its ongoing slaughter against the Palestinians and its continued building of settlements.

Obama also promised to wage a “war on terror,” but allowed the growth of jihadi movements in his fight against the Libyan and Syrian governments, since they were de facto allies against the targeted governments. This is one of the reasons given by Middle East journalist Patrick Cockburn on why the “war on terror” failed.

But there are other reasons Obama has few allies to fight ISIS. The unbreakable bond between the U.S. and the Saudi dictatorship can never be too public, since the overwhelming majority of Saudis hate the United States government, as do the vast majority of people across the Middle East, according to a recent poll.

Why do they hate the U.S. government? Unlike the American media perception of U.S. foreign policy goofily stumbling from one good-intentioned mishap to the next, the average person in the Middle East views the American military as a sociopathic power hell-bent on annihilation.

Obama also has to keep Israel at arms length as he searches for war allies in the Middle East, since Israel is the only country hated more than the United States in the region, for the exact same reasons. Thus, teaming up with Israel would worsen Obama’s horrible image in the Middle East.

Many mainstream media publications have recognized Obama’s crisis of allies and are pushing Obama to make new friends, fast. An increasingly popular plan among the mainstream media is to have the U.S. make yet another u-turn and officially ally with the Syrian government, after many of these same publications had been previously urging Obama to attack it.

Interestingly, the Syrian government recently said that it would welcome U.S. airstrikes, but only if Syria were notified first. Without officially allying or “cooperating” with Assad, Obama’s air strikes in Syria will be a breach of national sovereignty, and Assad likely knows that when a tiger gets its paw in the front door it’s not long until it dominates the house.

Obama, however, continues to shun President Assad, recently adding that “Assad is part of the problem.”

Instead, the most “popular” idea seems to be the same one that has failed for the past three years in Syria: create a “moderate” opposition to the Syrian government that would also fight the Islamic extremists. The Guardian explains:

“The favored option, according to two [Obama] administration officials, is to press forward with a training mission, led by elite special operations forces, aimed at making non-jihadist Syrians an effective proxy force. But the rebels are outgunned and outnumbered by Isis and the administration still has not received $500m from Congress for its rebel training plans.”

To continue to advocate for this “plan” after three years of failures is to grasp at already-combusted straws.

The Syrian opposition is completely dominated by Islamic extremists, a fact which nobody seriously contests. But Obama would like to create a whole new “moderate” fighting force out of his armpit, powerful enough to tackle both the Syrian government and the Islamic State. Fantasy quickly reaches its limits in war.

Middle East journalist Patrick Cockburn explains:

“There is a pretense in Washington and elsewhere that there exists a ‘moderate’ Syrian opposition being helped by the U.S., Qatar, Turkey, and the Saudis. It is, however, weak and getting more so by the day.”


“Jihadi groups ideologically close to al-Qa‘ida have been relabeled as moderate if their actions are deemed supportive of U.S. policy aims.”

This “relabeled” type of moderate is what Obama would like to grow in Syria. For example, the U.S.-backed “moderate” group, the Islamic Front, is dominated by the extremist group ahrar al sham.

A more realistic — though equally reckless — solution that Obama is suddenly pursuing is arming the Kurds to the teeth, which creates an entirely new set of regional problems. The Kurds have large populations in several Middle East countries, though most notably Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran.

The Kurds have long wanted their own nation, which they likely believe that the U.S. will help them get, since giving a population tons of guns —Obama’s plan — is the first step toward carving out a chunk of land. And although the Kurds have been a long-oppressed minority group that deserves its own country, carving a country out of land already claimed by other nations isn’t done without war, and lots of it.

Here’s how the Guardian explained Obama’s brand-new Kurdish alliance:

“Obama needs the Kurds, and he knows it. They are largely secular and pro-Western, but also maintain dynamic ties to both Iran and Turkey. They offer a potential base from which the US can stage counterterrorism operations against Isis… It [Kurdistan] offers a stable, economically prosperous buffer zone right at the intersection of several regional conflicts.”

Although the mainstream media has suddenly discovered the ‘Kurdistan’ strategy, many analysts have long speculated assumed it as being the “grand plan” for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East: the main purpose would be to create a new nation and regional power — Kurdistan — that would be loyal to the U.S. and thus serve as a countervailing force to the anti-U.S. “Shiite crescent” countries of Iran, Syria, Iraq (under al-Maliki) and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

A key part of creating the new Kurdistan would require the partition of Iraq into three separate nations, which has been advocated by Vice President Joseph Biden.

This idea — having long been considered a “conspiracy theory” —appears to be manifesting before our very eyes, especially when Vice President’s official plan of a “soft partition” is gaining popularity in D.C.

The above cluster of irrational events are based on one fundamentally incorrect assumption: that the U.S. can create and maintain steadfast allies through military interventions, which inevitably attract the hatred of every Middle Eastern person. This false assumption is why Obama’s foreign policy has mirrored Bush, Jr.’s: creating disaster on top of disaster, leaving a strong stench of death in its wake.

And with each new military intervention in the “war on terror” the jihadist movement grows exponentially, born amid the rubble of U.S.-destroyed Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and groomed to maturity by U.S. allies Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and other Gulf States.

Such an irrational, never-ending cycle of war cannot last forever. It is already collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action ( He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail



Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action ( He can be reached at

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