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President Obama told the American public on Wednesday night that he will order significantly expanded military operations against the Islamic State in the Middle East, including more U.S. troops to Iraq and a bombing campaign in Syria. Anti-war voices and progressive critics were thoroughly unimpressed with the announced strategy as they issued warnings of the disaster to come. (Photo: Public domain)

Obama "Strategy" to Bomb Syria, Escalate in Iraq Pilloried by Progressives

Presidents plan to 'degrade and destroy' militants in Middle East region will only make the situation worse, argue critics

Jon Queally

President Obama delivered a national televised address on Wednesday night and told the American public that he now plans, with or without Congressional approval, to dramatically expand U.S. military operations against the militant faction known as the 'Islamic State' (aka ISIS and ISIL) by sending more U.S. combat troops to Iraq and initiating a bombing campaign in neighboring Syria.

"There are very thoughtful and long term plans that can eliminate extremism in Iraq and Syria, but the U.S. military intervention, and continuing to support some Iraqi factions against others, will only delay real solutions." —Raed Jarrar, AFSCIn the fourteen-minute speech, Obama vowed to "degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL," but progressive and anti-war critics were immediate and scathing in their denouncement of Obama's plans with many expressing outrage that the president who once vowed to end the era of perpetual war—and was first elected in large part for his criticisms of the Bush Administration's illegal and ultimately disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003—continues to make such misguided and increasingly reckless foreign policy decisions.

Watch the speech (read it):

Writing for The Progressive in the wake of Obama's announcement, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC challenged the entire premise of the president's plan by saying, "Escalating military actions against this violent extremist organization is not going to work."

"The President's citing of the success of American military policy in Somalia and Yemen show how intellectually and morally dishonest this administration." —Matthew Ho, Center for International Policy

She continued, "A military strike might bring some immediate satisfaction, but we all know revenge is a bad basis for foreign policy, especially when it has such dangerous consequences."

Instead, Bennis laid out six steps to help resolve the regional crisis that would not involved bombing raids or sending additional to weapons to warring factions.

In his response to the Obama plan, Raed Jarrar, the policy impact director for the American Friends Service Committee, said the strategy is misguided because—like the guiding mindset of the entire 'Global War on Terrorism' launched after 911— it is "still based on the myth that extremism can be defeated by military force."

He pointed out that the word "political" or mention of a concerted diplomatic settlement to end the crisis was never raised in Obama's speech. Jarrar continued:

Bombing Iraq and Syria into moderation and stability is one of the main underlying assumptions of the President's strategy. While I wish there was a way to get rid of extremism this easily, this is why the President's plan will not work:

  • The U.S. tried this before, and failed. Actually, the U.S. tried to destroy ISIS while we had a full-on military occupation of the country with over 100,000 boots on the ground. The group, dubbed as ISI [Islamic State of Iraq] at the time, was weakened but -- as we can all see now -- was never defeated.
  • Our Iraqi 'partners' are not that different from ISIS. They're brutal, corrupt, sectarian and dysfunctional. Although the White House makes it seem like we're stepping in to support our good friends to get rid of the one bad guy, facts in Iraq suggest that there is no legitimate Iraqi force that the U.S. can support. As Reuters reported earlier this week, in a piece entitled 'Iraq's Shi'ite militia, Kurds use U.S. air strikes to further own agendas,' 'Shi'ite militia and Kurdish forces fought under their own banners and the least visible flag was that of Iraq.' A Kurdish commander quoted in the piece described the Shi'ite militia he's coordinating with as the 'Shi'ite ISIS.' Human Rights Watch and other international organizations have documented numerous war crimes and gross human rights violations committed by Iraqi factions supported directly and indirectly by the U.S.
  • Like in Syria, where the White Houses refuses to lump all armed opposition factions into one umbrella, Iraq has other armed opposition groups behind the uprising. These groups include remnants of the old regime and army, tribal militias, and other local groups. None of these agree with the ideology of ISIS, but they tolerate or coordinate with it hoping to get some leverage in addressing their legitimate grievances. Rather than attempting to draw a wedge between them and ISIS, the President's plan will end up uniting them.

There are very thoughtful and long term plans that can eliminate extremism in Iraq and Syria, but the U.S. military intervention, and continuing to support some Iraqi factions against others, will only delay real solutions.

Matthew Hoh, a former U.S. Marine and diplomat who resigned over the failed policy in Afghinstan and now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, said in a statement:

"A rational observer of United States intervention in the swath of land that runs from Libya to Afghanistan would come to a simple conclusion: U.S. military action leads to chaos." —Prof. Vijay Prishad, Trinity College

The President's citing of the success of American military policy in Somalia and Yemen show how intellectually and morally dishonest this administration, like the previous administration, is. Both nations are chaotic and violent and American military action, particularly drone strikes that often kill innocents have not diminished al Shabaab in Somalia or al-Qaeda in Yemen, rather those groups continue to operate and enjoy the recruitment benefits of American airstrikes against Somalia and Yemeni civilians, as well as how American actions play into their propaganda narratives and raison d'être.

A more apt comparison would have been Afghanistan, where a continued U.S. military policy of picking sides in a foreign civil war has seen American troops beginning their 13th year in combat in Afghanistan, violence against civilians at its highest level, the Taliban stronger and more confident than they have ever been, and Afghanistan's government in Kabul in its most severe political crisis since 2001.

What President Obama stated last night, which if put into policy will in effect be a re-invasion of Sunni lands by Shia and Kurdish forces backed by American firepower, will greatly exacerbate the Iraqi Civil War and will revert Iraq to the bloody days of 2006.

Vijay Prishad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, argued that the strategy Obama has put forth does have precedents—both from his own presidency and that of his predecessor—and that they all prove the shortsightedness and disastrous results of the military approach. In an essay published Wednesday, Prashad wrote:

"Obama is the 4th consecutive US president to announce bombing of Iraq." —Glenn GreenwaldA rational observer of United States intervention in the swath of land that runs from Libya to Afghanistan would come to a simple conclusion: U.S. military action leads to chaos. Examples are legion, but the two most dramatic are Iraq and Libya.

In both cases, the U.S. bombed the state institutions to smithereens. It takes a hundred years to build state institutions. They can be destroyed in an afternoon. The chaos that followed in both countries was the ideal condition for the flotsam of al-Qaida. In Iraq, al-Qaida in Mesopotamia (2004) morphed into the Islamic State of Iraq, and eventually ISIS. In Libya, during the NATO bombardment, radicals in Benghazi created Ansar al-Sharia, which slowly leaned toward al-Qaida’s ideological worldview. In both cases, it was the U.S. bombardment that facilitated the condition for their emergence.

A policy determined to battle al-Qaida on the world stage has ended up with the expansion of al-Qaida. A CIA analyst told me in 2003 that the danger of the heavy-handed war on Afghanistan was that it would simply scatter al-Qaida fighters around the world. “When you smash the mercury hard,” he said, “it will spread around.” This is precisely what occurred, as al-Qaida veterans from their U.S.-backed Afghan jihad against the Soviets, now became anti-American fighters across the planet.

During and immediately following the televised address, progressive journalists and foreign policy experts on Twitter exploded in critical response to Obama's so-called "strategy" to deal with the Islamic State.

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