President Barack Obama is being lambasted by US Republicans for admitting that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with the rise of the militant group, ISIS, or Islamic State, as it’s now known.
Given that the US had made an unbelievable mess of its Mideast policies, the president is right to pause and think, something his shoot –from- the- lip Republican critics rarely do. They are demanding the US attack both Iraq and Syria without asking “what then oh brave Washington warriors?” These are the Republicans who ardently supported George Bush’s catastrophic invasion and destruction of Iraq.
The problem is that too many cooks in Washington are spoiling its Mideast soup. In his magnificent new book, “The Sleepwalkers,” Prof. Christopher Clark of Cambridge describes how World War I was in part ignited by small numbers of anti-German officials in France, Russia, Serbia and Britain who often undermined their own government’s moderate policies.
The same process occurred under President George W. Bush when cabals of neocon officials in the Pentagon, State Department, CIA and media drove the US into a calamitous war whose negative effects are still being felt.
Today, other pro-war cliques in official Washington are at it again, each trying to dominate policy. Add a bunch of pro-Israel billionaires who have bought both the Republican and Democratic parties, apparently including Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president.
President Obama has always found it extremely difficult to impose his will on all these different factions, even more now that he’s a lame duck. He has repeatedly made clear that he wants to avoid any new wars, but while allowing drone attacks to increase.
Both party politics and the need to shore up America’s shaky Mideast imperium – which I call the American Raj – are pushing Obama towards military action.
So we see small numbers of US troops being sent back to Iraq – enough men to get the nation stuck in a new conflict but not enough to make a major difference. In short, the worst of both worlds.
Now, Obama is being pressed to attack Syria, an idea so crazy it takes the breath away. Obama is largely responsible for the current disaster in Syria – nearly 200,000 dead and three million refugees. Once thriving Syria, the real heart of the Arab world, has been devastated. President Vlad Putin may not save Obama this time.
The US sponsored and armed the uprising against the Assad regime, which had brutally ruled Syria for 43 years. France, Britain, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations backed the campaign to overthrow Assad, as a way to damage Iran, Syria’s principal ally. The result: a bloody war of attrition that is slowly being won by Damascus.
Worse, the western intervention in Syria produced what is known in the intelligence business as “blowback”- in this case the Mother of all blowback.
The Syrian jihadist supported by the western powers and, for some baffling reason, Turkey, ran amok. A previously unknown band of gunmen known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant were trained and armed in Jordan by CIA, then turned lose on Syria.
ISIL became ISIS, then the by now notorious Islamic State(IS) which has been rampaging across northern and central Iraq. What makes IS so effective is that the major portion of its leaders and soldiers are veterans of President Saddam Hussein’s army, notably the Republican Guard. With IS is the last surviving Saddam insider, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri.
When the US first invaded Iraq, Saddam predicted it would face the “Mother of all battles.” Westerners laughed. Eleven years later, the laughter has been silenced. Iraq continues to fight on and it is no longer safe for foreign oil companies. Saddam’s revenge.
The Islamic State is the perfect example of Nietzche’s over-used maxim, “what does not kill us makes us stronger.” It has risen from the ruins of Iraq and Syria to challenge the American Raj.
“Light” bombing by the US in Iraq won’t stop the IS. Pentagon chiefs now say US air power and special forces must go into Syria. This is standard Obama procedure: inching forward and launching trial balloons to test public opinion. But it’s clear the American public does not want new wars no matter what the pro-war media and bought Congress may say.