More than 191,000 dead in Syria during the civil war. Four to five million displaced. Nearly 3,800 slaughtered in Iraq in September alone. The numbers mount. But America is back on the case. President Obama has assembled a crack cabal of international criminal satraps to fight the world-historical scourge known as ISIS, the band of some 30,000 fundamentalist killers marauding through Iraq and Syria. True, ISIS is laying waste to the Iraqi Army and the slightly more respectable Kurdish Peshmerga. These mad jihadists par excellence are said to be within an hour’s drive of Baghdad, a reality that has more irony beneath it than the Middle East has petroleum. Baghdad trembles behind the new, untested al-Abadi government, which has yet to show it is any more “inclusive”—that magic touchstone—than the U.S.-installed al-Malaki government before it. Yet it was only when enraged Sunnis in Syria and Iraq exploded in revolt did the White House shake itself into sentience and declare itself for inclusivity.
Evidently, Baghdad’s only hope from being brutally steamrolled is the Shia militias that police parts of the city. These were once called ‘insurgents’ by the U.S., a strange term for militias battling an occupying army. The backbone of ISIS itself seems to be the real Iraqi Army, dissolved years ago by cowboy viceroy Paul Bremer soon after we gloriously dispatched the secular Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. This destruction of one of two secularist regimes in the region was part of an elaborate attempt to thwart a decentralized terrorist group called al-Qaeda, which until the invasion had not stepped foot in the Republic of Iraq. In an irony too big to fully comprehend, the nonexistent group Bush chased in Iraq soon birthed a vile strain of itself which then conquered much of the country it had formerly ignored, using American weapons taken rather effortlessly from fleeing Iraqi soldiers.
Many of the ISIS fighters learned their trade under Hussein. Many of the Iraqi Army soldiers learned their trade under the expensive tutelage of U.S. Army personnel—think of Aristotle tutoring young Alexander—which poured at least $25 billion in the mirage of national pride that became a 56 brigade fighting force. That training included the provision of 400 tanks, thousands of armored assault vehicles, and more than 400 aircraft and helicopters collectively. Many vehicles were abandoned in Mosul, as Iraqi commanders reportedly fled the fight. Not the best role models for the garden-variety infantry soldier, one would think. Evidently, the faux Iraqi Army had some 60,000 soldiers, plus police, in the Mosul area before it was hammered by less than 2,000 ISIS marauders. But there were reportedly just 30,000 Iraqi troops in attendance for the Mosul massacre. Notably because battalions in the Iraqi Army are chronically understaffed, as countless soldiers pay off their commanding officers for the pleasure of staying home during times of national crises. So much for Iraqi nationalism.
But what can you expect of a nation that the British Empire cobbled together from the smoking ruins of the Ottoman Empire. This despite Iraqi resistance to a United Nations mandate that seemed to them colonization by another name. But the Brits had their way, installed Hashemite puppets and took control of military and foreign policy. Sunnis were privileged, Shias repressed. And now England is bombing their old Sunni allies in a country the British themselves created in 1921.
This chronicle of chaos hasn’t prevented the U.S., or its British deputy, from gazing desirously at the Middle East, and continuing to conjure reasons for intervening.
The Middle East Needs Our Military Might
One can hear, in the reverberating noise of mainstream justifications, a series of claims. Among them is the idea that the Middle East is united in opposition to ISIS. Indeed it is, if you confine your poll to the rotten monarchies of the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. Adding Jordan to the mix, this fulsome collection of anti-democratic and largely puritanical theocrats is by some stretch of the imagination supposed to provide Arab and Muslim legitimacy to America’s war.
Fancy that, legitimacy conferred by five of the most authoritarian governments in the Middle East. Thus we are ostensibly defending the cause of freedom by assembling a coalition of five treacherous freedom deniers. One human rights violator is leading a coalition of human rights violators against a new human rights violator whose actions deeply offend it. We are appalled at the sight of beheadings and intend to destroy those who practice it, supported by the leading beheader on the Arabian Peninsula. We bomb ISIS oil depots, claiming they have been criminally seized. This barely a decade after we criminally seized major Iraqi oil contracts, while our troops “guarded” the oil ministry (from ‘insurgents’).
Then there’s the dutifully ignored footnote, a poll conducted by the Arab America Institute, which found that:
“Strong majorities in every country favor U.S. policies that support a negotiated solution to the conflict, coupled with more support for Syrian refugees. Majorities in all countries oppose any form of U.S. military engagement (i.e., “no-fly zone,” air strikes, or supplying advanced weapons to the opposition).”
And most Arabs found President Obama most effective in ending the U.S. presence in Iraq. Perhaps the true patriot could efface all of this were it not for the additional fact that our partners in extermination are the leading financial backers of extremists across the Arab world. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are nothing if not open-air markets for arms merchants, money launderers, and angry mullah mosque builders. You could be forgiven for wondering if half our coalition is helping attack ISIS and then immediately re-arming it when it emerges from the rubble, as it invariably will. This is what’s known in arch capitalist circles as “creative destruction.”
We Are Morally and Legally Obliged to Intervene
Are we? None less than Iranian President Hassan Rouhani got it right when he said recently that the conflict was a regional one and should be primarily prosecuted by regional allies. It was al-Maliki who invited the U.S. into Iraq as he spied the black flag of ISIS in the swirling dust storm over Mosul. But Maliki was an American plant and he has been banished from power. As Rouhani later asked on CNN in regards to the U.S. plan to arm Syrian rebels again, “With whose permission? With what mandate? According to what international laws and norms are they doing this?”
These are good questions, as yet unanswered. Did Obama prove that ISIS represented an immanent threat to the United States, as the United Nations Charter—to which we are legally bound by American law as signatories—demands as first criteria for aggressive action? Not in the slightest. Did he persuade the Security Council to approve the attacks? Hardly. Did he ask Congress to authorize this war? Please reference the Authorization of Military Force Act (AUMF) for the answer to this question. Did he at least get Syrian permission for violating its sovereignty and bombing its grain silos? Not a chance. However, we are comforted by the mainstream media’s celebration of the fact that the administration “informed” Syria that it was about to violate its airspace. Surely an act of magnanimity not seen since the Marshall Plan.
Howard Friel neatly shredded the pathetic neocon argument for the legality of the attacks:
“Although Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, claimed in her words ‘a fundamental principle in the United Nations Charter that gives countries the right to defend themselves, including using force on another country’s territory when that country is unwilling or unable to address it,’ there is no rule in the Charter that would permit one country (in this case Iraq) to invite a second country (the United States) to bomb a third country (Syria) at the discretion of the first and second countries and without Security Council authorization.”
Now the dubious prospect of a no-fly zone has appeared about appeared in the mainstream media. Presented as a humanitarian gesture, defensive in nature, no-fly zones can be anything but. Consult the no-fly zone role in the destruction of Libya in 2011, where it served as the first step in all-out war on the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.
We Must Defend the Fatherla—correction—Homeland!
Surely, defeating ISIS is a matter of national security. We have to kill them there before they kill us here. As the only enlightened nation on earth, there is, dare we say it, a certain noblesse oblige to all of this. Of course, not one U.S. intelligence agency has said that ISIS is an immanent threat to the United States. Given this embarrassing lack of uniformity on the part of government spin doctors, the administration hastily penned a fictitious tale about a seething band of sectarian fanatics called the “Khorasan group.” As expected, the media lapdogs in L.A. and New York and Washington breathlessly reported the salacious news of this new harbinger of the apocalypse. The New York Times led the way, trumpeting the possibility of a fresh attack on American soil. A week’s worth of headlines included, “A Terror Cell That Avoided the Spotlight,” “In Airstrikes, U.S. Targets Militant Cell Said to Plot an Attack Against the West,” and “U.S. Suspects More Direct Threats Beyond ISIS.” Eventually it began to concede the obvious, that there was little basis for this fearmongering:
“Several of Mr. Obama’s aides said Tuesday that the airstrikes against the Khorasan operatives were launched to thwart an “imminent” terrorist attack, possibly using concealed explosives to blow up airplanes. But other American officials said that the plot was far from mature, and that there was no indication that Khorasan had settled on a time or location for the attack — or even on the exact method of carrying out the plot.”
No evidence of the plot was forthcoming. But the damage was done. The negative threat was implanted in a million minds. Perhaps it was George Creel or Walter Lippmann that said half of the work of convincing the public of something is to simply state a claim. (People tend to accept a statement as plausible until given a reason to disbelieve.)
The facts—or lack thereof—soon emerged. Nobody in the Middle East had heard of such a group. No sinister canisters of TSA-proof chems were unearthed. Adderall-jacked Special Forces in infrared goggles snatched no scribbled blueprints from tawdry apartments. The group is said by U.S. “military officials” to be comprised of a staggering two dozen men, led by a nefarious former confidant of Osama bin Laden, and who may or may not call themselves the Khorasan Group and who may or may not even be an actual group, but perhaps simply an “informal group of commanders,” according to Vox. One cannot help but recall with shivering trepidation tales of Nigerian yellow cake uranium and a fog-enveloped rendezvous between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi officials. Those stories, too, worked their magic.
A View to a Killing
Any pretext will suffice, so long as it harries the American public into a state of fear or at least acquiescence to war on ethical premises. But behind it all lie natural resources. Is it merely a coincidence that we demonize Venezuela, which sits on the most oil and gas reserves in South America? Or that we overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, which happens to sit atop the most oil reserves in Africa? Or that we cannot shake our unseemly obsession with the Middle East, which happens to have 56 percent of the world’s oil reserves and 40 percent of the world’s gas reserves? It isn’t just the American economy that runs on oil and natural gas, but the American military as well, which is the world’s largest buyer of oil. Yet it isn’t so much that we need all those natural resources for ourselves, but that controlling it gives us power over countries that do. Namely China.
Hence is it any surprise that one of our other major projects is our evident desire to disassemble the Russian Federation, decoupling it from Europe in the process. Russia just so happens to be the world’s second leading oil exporter and an increasingly close ally of China’s? And therein lies the impetus for all this fearmongering. For all this conjuring of demons. For the endless threat posture of American forces, which currently deploy Special Operations Forces (SOF) in more than 100 countries. The plan is for a “a Global SOF network of like-minded interagency allies and partners.” Since 9/11 the number of actual forces has doubled, supposedly around 72,000 today. That alone is a sign that American government will use any pretext it can—all the more so a real one—to expand its reach and control anywhere there is a geostrategic advantage.
The irony is that after eight years of ‘change we can believe in’ and ‘the audacity of hope,’ we are back where we began—mired in a morass of Arab and Persian enmities. Yes, there are fewer boots on the ground—for now—and that’s a good thing. Yet he entered office in a period of unwinding engagements, and will likely leave in a period of escalation. President Obama will leave America right where he found it—at war. Did we really expect much different?
Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry. He lives and works in New York City and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.