by David Stockman
US imperialism was once a fearsome force—-mainly for ill. Under the latter heading, Washington’s savage destruction of Vietnam four decades ago comes readily to mind. But now the American Imperium has become just a gong show on the Potomac—even as its weapons have gotten more lethal and its purposes more spurious and convoluted.
There is no more conspicuous proof than Obama’s quixotic “war” on ISIS. The quote marks are necessary, of course, because the White House insists that this is merely a counter-terrorism project that is not really a war; that the campaign to “degrade, disrupt and destroy” the Islamic State will not deploy a single American soldier—at least not one with his or her boots on; and that the heavy lifting on the ground against the barbaric ISIS hordes will be conducted by a “broad coalition” of so far nameless nations.
In truth, the whole thing is a giant, pathetic farce. There will be no coalition, no strategy, no boots, no ISIS degradation, no gain in genuine safety and security for the American homeland. This is an utterly misbegotten war against an enemy that has more urgent targets than America, but a war which will nonetheless fire-up the already boiling cauldron of Middle Eastern tribal, religious and political conflict like never before. There is no name for what Obama is attempting except utter folly.
Even before Secretary Kerry brought his medicine show to Paris, it was evident there is no coalition of the willing—or even the bought. The best that the 26 odd signatories to his communique could muster was a vague endorsement of Iraq’s boundaries and a pledge to support its still only partially formed, three-week old government “by any means necessary“………except not by a single one of the “means” that are actually available.
Let’s start with the neighboring nations which should fear ISIS far more urgently than the citizens in distant places like Lincoln NE and Spokane WA. The short answer is not a single one of them want to help, can help or will be invited to help. Obama’s putative coalition consists of the invisible (Germany), the indisposed (Turkey), the indecisive (the UK), the ineligible (Iran), the unwelcome (Saudi Arabia), the insolvent (Egypt) and the incensed (Russia), among others.
Thus, the heartland of the newly emerged Islamic State is in the upper Euphrates valley of Syria centered at Raqqah. That is, the fearsome threat against which Washington wants to mobilize two dozen nations sits cheek-by-jowl along a 560 mile border with Turkey. And the latter possesses the largest and most potent air force and army in the region—-a force of some 600,000 including reserves or 25X the size of the CIA’s most recent, and undoubtedly exaggerated, count of ISIS fighters.
Moreover, against the several score of tanks and armored vehicles that the jihadists seized from the retreating Iraqi Army, the Turkish military possesses 3,500 tanks, 9,000 armored fighting vehicles, 700 multiple-launch rocket systems, 2,000 towed artillery pieces and 1,000 aircraft and helicopters—-much of this right out of the latest US military specs. Finally, by virtue of its membership in NATO, it also happens to host one of the largest US air bases in the world.
But Turkey didn’t even sign the communique; won’t deploy its military against ISIS—despite its adjacency and capability to demolish the ISIS capital in short order; and won’t even permit US bombers to operate against ISIS out of the Incirlik air base–notwithstanding that 60 years ago it was that very facility which allowed Turkey to avoid Stalin’s clutches.
Instead, it seems that the Islamist Sunni regime in Ankara has more urgent fish to fry than the medievalist Sunni sect encamped on its border: Namely, its far higher priority is deposing the secularist Alawite branch of the Shiite tribe represented by the Assad regime in Damascus. Yes, ISIS has 50 Turkish hostages, but that only guarantees that in the immediate neighborhood of the purported greatest terrorist threat ever, according to the US Secretary of Defense, there will be no war of Sunni-on-Sunni.
That means, of course, that the nation with the next largest army in the region ought to step right up because Iran is, after all, the epicenter of the worldwide Shiite community. And it is exactly the 1300-year old “heresy” of that confession which is the real target of the ISIS butchers. To be sure, the latter now find the freedom of young people in distant Buffalo NY to hang around strip malls listening to rap music and drinking beer to be evil incarnate, but their sword is meant first and foremost for the age-old infidel in their immediate environs.
Yet there will be no Shiite boots to mop up behind Obama’s bombers, either. Owing to express malice of forethought in Washington, the Iranians weren’t even invited to Paris. Needless to say, that was no small disappointment to the new government of the very nation we are attempting to rescue.
“We had insisted for Iran to be there and we regret their absence,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said in Paris, adding that Tehran had provided his government with “significant support” in fighting Islamic State.
In fact, Iran is the indispensable ally if Washington really means to takes sides in this latest eruption of an age-old Sunni vs. Shiite religious war that has virtually nothing to do with America’s legitimate security interests. But two decades of neocon and Israeli propaganda have deposited a thick vapor of lies throughout the entire beltway—-spurious claims that Iran is an aggressive, terrorist nation hell-bent on getting nukes, and that, therefore, it cannot be consorted with under any circumstance.
Yes, the mullahs are doctrinaire theocrats who rally the masses with thundering denunciations of the far enemy in Washington and the near one in Tel Aviv. But Iran’s purported two decade long program to acquire nuclear weapons is entirely an invisible one—-a phantom campaign that only Washington’s neocon sleuths have ever been able to detect and which involved only a few small experiments that even the CIA says were abandoned a decade ago.
And, of course, Iran has never invaded another country in modern times–unlike Washington. As for supporting “terrorism”, that consists of thoroughly open and plausible alliances based on political and religious affinities with the elected government of Syria and the dominate, elected party—Hezbollah–in Lebanon. Before Washington went hysterical about “terrorism” those sorts of relationships used to be called foreign policy.
So the irony of the neocon demonization of Iran is that the one real political and military barrier to the expansionist ambitions of the Islamic State—- the so-called “Shiite Crescent” of Iran, the Assad regime in Syria and Hezbollah—is not even admitted onto the battlefield. Indeed, instead of facilitating the organizing and strengthening of the region’s indigenous opposition to ISIS, Washington continues to strangle the Iranian economy with brutal sanctions and attempts to overthrow the one regime with enough boots on the ground to actually halt the ISIS expansion.
Least there was any doubt that the Shiite Crescent is out of the ball game, Iran’s supreme leader, the ayatollah Khamenei quickly made it clear that it would not have gone to Paris even if invited. Thirty years of unrelenting enmity from Washington has its consequences, after all.
“I said we will not accompany America in this matter because they have got dirty intentions and hands,” Iran’s most powerful figure said in a televised address. “They see pretexts to interfere in Iraq and Syria, just as they did in Pakistan, where [the U.S.] can commit any crime it wants.”
On the other hand, Iran’s principle enemy on the Persian Gulf–the royal family of Saudi Arabia—does want to help. That is, they want to help as long as it only involves dropping bombs from high altitude fighters or hosting desert training camps populated by non-Saudi mercenaries.
But there are some real problems with that sort of “help”. In the first place, the Saudi’s have made it very clear that the only bombs they intend to drop in Syria would be those meant for the incapacitation of Alawite soldiers in Damascus, not ISIS fighters in Raqqah.
Secondly, the Saudi’s are not even welcome to drop bombs on ISIS in Iraq because the newly installed government—actually the same old, same old Shiite gang—-won’t permit it. Indeed, the latter didn’t even need to speak up. The Kurdish president of the country spoke out preemptively:
Iraq’s president insisted that Arab powers Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia do not need to join airstrikes against the Islamic State group. In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, President Fouad Massoum said, it’s “not necessary”.
But that delimiting of outside help by the Iraqi government involves more than just the exclusion of Sunni Arab air power. The Shiite politicians and militia strongmen who dominate the south do not want to see the sight of any American boots on the ground— even should Obama relent.
In fact, the leaders of Iraqi Shiite militias allied with Iran such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq (“League of the Righteous”), Kata’b Hezbollah and the Madhi Army have warned that US soldiers would be targeted. In this regard, the nemesis of Washington’s first occupation of Iraq, firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, leaves nothing to the imagination:
Failing the threat of unrest keeping US troops off Iraqi soil, Sadr warned that they could find themselves once again a target of his allied militias, declaring “if you come back, we will be back too.”
The Mahdi Army largely disbanded after the US pullout, but Sadr has kept ties with its leadership, threatening regularly to bring them out of retirement if the US tries to return to the country in a military role. With the ISIS war looking to do exactly that, they could quickly be another foe for the US in its ever-expanding conflict.
Mr. Sadr’s ingratitude might seem a trifle grating—after all among the infidel heads that ISIS would love to sever, his would surely rank high on the list. But actually his seemingly impudent remonstrations say it all—-namely, that there is no longer an Iraqi nation or Iraqi army and no possibility that it can function as an ally on the ground in destroying ISIS.
What is left in the ancient land of Mesopotamia is only what was there before the last European empires still standing in 1916 drew lines on a map and declared it a nation—that is, sectarian enclaves and obstreperous militia that are more than able to defend their own territories, but do not want to be rescued by the Washington war machine.
And that’s why the chirping cherubs on the CNN War Channel get it so wrong night after night. They are pleased to report that Washington’s allies in Baghdad and Erbil have answered Obama’s call to arms, but have not figured out that this has nothing to do with degrading or defeating ISIS.
Stated differently, the Kurdish militias will doubtless effectively and ferociously defend Iraqi Kurdistan east and north of the Tigris river, but when it comes to the upper Euphrates valley where the Islamic State is actually embedded, there is a considerable problem. Namely, that Turkey considers most of the Kurdish militias which operate there–such as the PKK affiliated groups—-to be terrorists and mortal enemies.
Likewise, the Shiite militias would be completely toxic in the Sunni lands where Obama’s bombers will need boots on the ground to accomplish anything except wanton destruction and hellacious blowback. In fact, it is not at all clear that they are any less barbaric than the ISIS fighters. As the New York Times noted, under a surely understated file called “Shiite Militias Post Challenge For US in Iraq”, militia justice is simple. As one fighter explained,
“We break into an area and kill the ones who are threatening people,” said one 18-year-old fighter with Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a Shiite militia that operates as a vigilante force around Baghdad.
In fact, the Shiite militias have been no less ruthless in Sunni neighborhoods than have the ISIS killers in the territories they occupy. As the NYT further noted,
At the end of July, a report from the research and advocacy group Human Rights Watch said it had documented the killings of 109 Sunni men — 48 in March and April, and 61 between June 1 and July 9 — in the villages and towns around Baghdad. Witnesses, medical personnel and government officials blamed Shiite militias for all of them, and “in many cases witnesses identified the militia as Asaib Ahl al-Haq,” the report said.
Well, that leaves Washington’s favorite delusion—the Free Syrian Army(FSA)—-as the only available boots. At the end of the day there is no place else to go. Certainly, the peripheral Arab nations are not candidates.
Qatar, for instance, is aligned with the Muslim brotherhood and is therefore proscribed by Egypt and the Saudis. Besides, Qatar’s overwhelming objective is putting a natural gas pipeline though Syria—something that Assad has decisively rejected in deference to his Russian patrons, but which for a price the Islamic State would likely embrace in a heartbeat. So it is not even clear which side the Qataris are on.
Likewise, the UAE has no soldiers—just money—while Egypt has a lot of the former but none of the latter.
And, yes, there is a roadblock with the so-called moderate rebels and FSA, too. Notwithstanding that the House GOP has already approved $500 million of funding so long as each and every fighter first submits a fitness and suitability report card to the House Armed services committee, it turns out that like Leroy, the reluctant running back of football lore, FSA doesn’t even want the ball.
As widely covered in the middle eastern press but hardly mentioned in Washington, most of the rag-tag remnants of the moderate rebel alliance have announced a truce with ISIS on the grounds that their real enemy resides in Damascus, not Raqqah.
The Free Syrian Army has announced that it will not sign up to the US-led coalition to destroy Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq and Syria. The group’s founder, Colonel Riad al-Asaad, stressed that toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is their priority, and that they will not join forces with US-led efforts without a guarantee that the US is committed to his overthrow……
The announcement comes a day after a ceasefire was signed between another rebel group, the Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF), and IS fighters in Damascus. The details of the truce agreement, published by Arabic news site Orient Net, showed that the two sides had agreed not to target each other. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that IS and the SRF had agreed that Assad’s government and the forces allied to it are the principal enemy.
If there appears to be a pattern here, there is. Washington is trapped in a strategic cul-de-sac. Without troops on the ground in the 40% of Syria occupied by the Islamic State, US drones, tomahawks and bunker busters will simply turn these Sunni villages and cities into Gaza-On-Euphrates—-that is, a wasteland which will breed ISIS fighters prolifically rather than degrade and destroy the jihadist threat.
But fielding a moderate rebel fighting force in Syria depends on eliminating the Assad regime first—-an obviously fraught undertaking. It would result in not simply a two front war—-with the Shiite Crescent and ISIS at the same time–but for all practical purposes a three front war, including Russia.
Perhaps the amateur warriors running the show in the Obama White House have not noticed, but their foolish campaign against Russia over the Ukrainian civil war is a direct threat to the only thing that keeps the Russian economy alive—its gas and oil exports to Europe. At the same time, elimination of the Assad regime would almost surely compound that threat by opening up a new gusher of competition for the European energy market in the form of a pipeline through Syria and Turkey for transport of Qatar’s now stranded but massive deposits of natural gas.
So to the nameless coalition of the willing, add an existentially motivated champion—-Russia—-of the status quo in Damascus. Indeed, were Obama to actually recognize that the route to regime change in Raqqah is through Damascus first, the resulting thunderous confrontation at the UN Security Council would be one for the ages. Putin would be banging his shoe in behalf of the sanctity of sovereign borders in Syria, while the Obama Administration would be reduced to saying that the international rules allegedly at issue in the Ukrainian civil war apply always and everywhere…….except when Washington finds them inconvenient.
At the end of the day, of course, the White House will flinch—there will be no overt campaign to militarily eliminate the Assad regime, and therefore no boots on the ground, either. The peace candidate from the school of Saul Alinsky will become the Curtis Lemay of the 21st century. He will attempt to bomb back to the stone age a freakishly retrograde regime that would prefer to be there anyway.
And that points to the final folly of Obama’s war on ISIS. A band of medievalist butchers has seized power in the Sunni uplands of the Euphrates river because for 20 years Washington has been on the wrong side of the Islamic religious divide. It has consistently opposed secularizing Arab regimes in Iraq and Syria while coddling the nursemaids and bursars of Sunni fanaticism—the octogenarian gluttons and Wahhabi tyrants who occupy the throne in Riyadh.
Indeed, the Islamic State’s astonishing military success is almost solely attributable to the vast deposits of advanced weaponry that Washington has dumped into Syria and Iraq in its befuddled campaigns to destroy the Baathist regimes of Saddam Hussein and Bashar Assad. In a recent brilliant exposition in the socialist forum called Counterpunch, author Gary Leupp crystallized the giant strategic error:
George “Dubya” Bush gleefully destroyed the Iraqi state. He smashed a state in which Christians served in high posts, women attended college and felt free to leave their heads uncovered, rock n’ roll blared from radios, liquor stores operated legally, and there was even a gay scene. He replaced it with an occupation run by clueless cowboys literally marching around Baghdad in cowboy boots, issuing orders—most notably the orders of dissolution of the Baathist Party and the Iraqi Army…….. These were secular institutions, not tools for the propagation of any theology. Their dissolution was an attack, not on a religious belief system (about which the Occupation could have cared less), but on the Sunni community that had provided Saddam Hussein’s support base and dominated his regime.
In the hindsight of history it might well be asked what was Saddam’s offense—–surely he was no more autocratic and barbarous than the regime in Saudi Arabia. During the last month alone the latter has accomplished 23 beheadings and, as a matter of general policy, it suppresses internal dissent with ruthless brutality and enforces barbaric medieval religious practices like stoning alleged adulteresses.
In truth, Saddam’s real offense was to pick a fight with the gluttonous emir of Kuwait—the proprietor of another artificial enclave drawn-up by Messrs. Sykes and Picot in deference to the interest of British Petroleum—-that had no bearing on America’s security whatsoever. Indeed, 40 years on from the phony and failed oil embargo of 1973 it should be clear that it doesn’t matter which set of dictators and tyrannical rulers control the various hydrocarbon deposits along the Persian Gulf. Sooner or latter they produce and ship the oil because they need the revenue.
Likewise, international market prices have a proven, remarkable capacity to cause consumer economies to adjust to whatever price regime materializes from the rough and tumble of global political and economic developments. Just 15 years ago, the world oil price was under $20 per barrel and Chinese demand was only one-fourth of today’s level. In the interim, the price of oil has been to $150 per barrel and part-way back and there has been an explosion of new investment around the world in both conventional, deep off-shore and alternative energy forms—-to say nothing of on-going material gains in energy efficiency across nearly all major economies.
So protecting the economic obscenity of the Gulf sheikdom’s has been an invalid excuse for intervention, but one that nevertheless suited the purposes of the neocons and Washington’s warfare state machinery. Yet what it did in the case of the destruction of the secular Baathist regime in Iraq was to open-up the gates to sectarian hell—a consequence that is played out nearly every day as Christian, Yazidi, Kurd, Sunni and Shiite villages take their turns at ethnic cleansing and retaliatory revenge.
So why is Washington promoting a repeat in Syria? After all, the Assads have been no more brutal and selfish than the House of Saud. It can’t be out of fear that they will use chemical weapons on their own citizens. By all accounts those are all gone. No, Washington’s entire campaign is predicated on Syria’s choice of foreign policy alignments—that is, its alliance with Tehran.
So having demonized the relatively enlightened theocrats of Qom and Tehran, Washington would now root-out another Baathist regime that would otherwise stand in the way of the Sharia fundamentalism of ISIS. To quote Gary Leupp again:
The Alawites of Syria have never been interested in establishing a religious state but rather have used the Baathist party to establish religious inclusiveness and prevent the emergence of a Sunni-dominated religious state. Bashar al-Assad’s father even attempted to change the constitution to remove the stipulation that the Syrian president be a Muslim. (This occasioned a massive Sunni uprising in Homs which he brutally crushed in 1982.)
So what we have now in the middle east is a replay of the bloody religious wars that once traumatized the West when Protestants accused Catholics of being idolatrous heretics and the latter returned the favor by putting Protestants to the stakes and the racks. In the present instance, the real war being waged by ISIS is not against the liberties which pertain on the streets of New York City, but in Leupp’s words, “against the Shiites, Christians, Yezidis, secularists, and others it sees as unbelievers and as stooges of the west. But its primary target is the Shiites”.
Needless to say, since Washington has either destroyed, debilitated or marginalized the natural opposition to Sunni fundamentalism—that is, the Baathist regimes and the Iranian-Shiite alliance—-the Islamic State has gained more territory and momentum than would have otherwise been remotely possible.
One way or another, however, 200 million Turks, Iranians, Iraqis, Jordanians, Syrians and Saudis, along with their leaders, will find ways to contain and ultimately eliminate a few thousand medievalist butchers. In the interim, America can remain vigilant at home—which is the only way to deal with the threat of terrorism anyway. Certainly, the confused disciple of Curtis LeMay currently occupying the Oval Office should put his bombs away at the very earliest opportunity.
TLB recommends you visit Stockman Contra Corner for more great articles and pertinent information.
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