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Four Months into Iraq War 3.0, the Cracks Are Showing -- on the Battlefield and at the Pentagon
By Peter Van Buren
Karl von Clausewitz, the famed Prussian military thinker, is best known for his aphorism “War is the continuation of state policy by other means.” But what happens to a war in the absence of coherent state policy?
Actually, we now know. Washington’s Iraq War 3.0, Operation Inherent Resolve, is what happens. In its early stages, I asked sarcastically, “What could possibly go wrong?” As the mission enters its fourth month, the answer to that question is already grimly clear: just about everything. It may be time to ask, in all seriousness: What could possibly go right?
Knowing Right from Wrong
The latest American war was launched as a humanitarian mission. The goal of its first bombing runs was to save the Yazidis, a group few Americans had heard of until then, from genocide at the hands of the Islamic State (IS). Within weeks, however, a full-scale bombing campaign was underway against IS across Iraq and Syria with its own “coalition of the willing” and 1,600 U.S. military personnel on the ground. Slippery slope? It was Teflon-coated. Think of what transpired as several years of early Vietnam-era escalation compressed into a semester.
And in that time, what’s gone right? Short answer: Almost nothing. Squint really, really hard and maybe the “good news” is that IS has not yet taken control of much of the rest of Iraq and Syria, and that Baghdad hasn’t been lost. These possibilities, however, were unlikely even without U.S. intervention.
And there might just possibly be one “victory” on the horizon, though the outcome still remains unclear. Washington might “win” in the IS-besieged Kurdish town of Kobane, right on the Turkish border. If so, it will be a faux victory guaranteed to accomplish nothing of substance. After all, amid the bombing and the fighting, the town has nearly been destroyed. What comes to mind is a Vietnam War-era remark by an anonymous American officer about the bombed provincial capital of Ben Tre: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”
More than 200,000 refugees have already fled Kobane, many with doubts that they will ever be able to return, given the devastation. The U.S. has gone to great pains to point out just how many IS fighters its air strikes have killed there. Exactly 464, according to a U.K.-based human rights group, a number so specific as to be suspect, but no matter. As history suggests, body counts in this kind of war mean little.
And that, folks, is the “good news.” Now, hold on, because here’s the bad news.
The U.S. Department of State lists 60 participants in the coalition of nations behind the U.S. efforts against the Islamic State. Many of those countries (Somalia, Iceland, Croatia, and Taiwan, among them) have never been heard from again outside the halls of Foggy Bottom. There is no evidence that America’s Arab “allies” like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, whose funding had long-helped extreme Syrian rebel groups, including IS, and whose early participation in a handful of air strikes was trumpeted as a triumph, are still flying.
Absent the few nations that often make an appearance at America's geopolitical parties (Canada, the Brits, the Aussies, and increasingly these days, the French), this international mess has quickly morphed into Washington's mess. Worse yet, nations like Turkey that might actually have taken on an important role in defeating the Islamic State seem to be largely sitting this one out. Despite the way it’s being reported in the U.S., the new war in the Middle East looks, to most of the world, like another case of American unilateralism, which plays right into the radical Islamic narrative.
The ultimate political solution to fighting the war in Iraq, a much-ballyhooed “inclusive” Iraqi government uniting Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds, has taken no time at all to fizzle out. Though Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi chose a Sunni to head the country’s Defense Ministry and direct a collapsed Iraqi army, his far more-telling choice was for Interior Minister. He picked Mohammed Ghabban, a little-known Shia politician who just happens to be allied with the Badr Organization.
Even if few in the U.S. remember the Badr folks, every Sunni in Iraq does. During the American occupation, the Badr militia ran notorious death squads, after infiltrating the same Interior Ministry they basically now head. The elevation of a Badr leader to -- for Sunnis -- perhaps the most significant cabinet position of all represents several nails in the coffin of Iraqi unity. It is also in line with the increasing influence of the Shia militias the Baghdad government has called on to defend the capital at a time when the Iraqi Army is incapable of doing the job.
Those militias have used the situation as an excuse to ramp up a campaign of atrocities against Sunnis whom they tag as “IS,” much as in Iraq War 2.0 most Sunnis killed were quickly labeled "al-Qaeda." In addition, the Iraqi military has refused to stop shelling and carrying out air strikes on civilian Sunni areas despite a prime ministerial promise that they would do so. That makes al-Abadi look both ineffectual and disingenuous. An example? This week, Iraq renamed a town on the banks of the Euphrates River to reflect a triumph over IS. Jurf al-Sakhar, or “rocky bank,” became Jurf al-Nasr, or “victory bank.” However, the once-Sunni town is now emptied of its 80,000 residents, and building after building has been flattened by air strikes, bombings, and artillery fire coordinated by the Badr militia.
Meanwhile, Washington clings to the most deceptive trope of Iraq War 2.0: the claim that the Anbar Awakening -- the U.S. military’s strategy to arm Sunni tribes and bring them into the new Iraq while chasing out al-Qaeda-in-Iraq (the “old” IS) -- really worked on the ground. By now, this is a bedrock truth of American politics. The failure that followed was, of course, the fault of those darned Iraqis, specifically a Shia government in Baghdad that messed up all the good the U.S. military had done. Having deluded itself into believing this myth, Washington now hopes to recreate the Anbar Awakening and bring the same old Sunnis into the new, new Iraq while chasing out IS (the “new” al-Qaeda).
To convince yourself that this will work, you have to ignore the nature of the government in Baghdad and believe that Iraqi Sunnis have no memory of being abandoned by the U.S. the first time around. What comes to mind is one commentator's view of the present war: if at first we don’t succeed, do the same thing harder, with better technology, and at greater expense.
Understanding that Sunnis may not be fooled twice by the same con, the State Department is now playing up the idea of creating a whole new military force, a Sunni “national guard.” Think of this as the backup plan from hell. These units would, after all, be nothing more than renamed Sunni militias and would in no way be integrated into the Iraqi Army. Instead, they would remain in Sunni territory under the command of local leaders. So much for unity.
And therein lies another can't-possibly-go-right aspect of U.S. strategy.
The forces in Iraq potentially aligned against the Islamic State include the Iraqi army, Shia militias, some Sunni tribal militias, the Kurdish peshmerga, and the Iranians. These groups are, at best, only in intermittent contact with each other, and often have no contact at all. Each has its own goals, in conflict with those of the other groups. And yet they represent coherence when compared to the mix of fighters in Syria, regularly as ready to slaughter each other as to attack the regime of Bashar al-Assad and/or IS.
Washington generally acts as if these various chaotically conflicting outfits can be coordinated across borders like so many chess pieces. President Obama, however, is no Dwight Eisenhower on D-Day at Normandy pointing the British to one objective, the Canadians to another, ultimately linking up with the French resistance en route to the liberation of Paris. For example, the Iranians and the Shia militias won't even pretend to follow American orders, while domestic U.S. politics puts a crimp in any Obama administration attempts to coordinate with the Iranians. If you had to pick just one reason why, in the end, the U.S. will either have to withdraw from Iraq yet again, or cede the western part of the country to IS, or place many, many boots on the ground, you need look no further than the strategic incoherence of its various fractious “coalitions” in Iraq, Syria, and globally.
The Islamic State
Unlike the U.S., the Islamic State has a coherent strategy and it has the initiative. Its militants have successfully held and administered territory over time. When faced with air power they can’t counter, as at Iraq’s giant Mosul Dam in August, its fighters have, in classic insurgent fashion, retreated and regrouped. The movement is conducting a truly brutal and bloody hearts and minds-type campaign, massacring Sunnis who oppose them and Shias they capture. In one particularly horrific incident, IS killed over 300 Sunnis and threw their bodies down a well. It has also recently made significant advances toward the Kurdish capital, Erbil, reversing earlier gains by the peshmerga. IS leaders are effectively deploying their own version of air strikes -- suicide bombers -- into the heart of Baghdad and have already loosed the first mortars into the capital’s Green Zone, home of the Iraqi government and the American Embassy, to gnaw away at morale.
IS's chief sources of funding, smuggled oil and ransom payments, remain reasonably secure, though the U.S. bombing campaign and a drop in global oil prices have noticeably cut into its oil revenues. The movement continues to recruit remarkably effectively both in and outside the Middle East. Every American attack, every escalatory act, every inflated statement about terrorist threats validates IS to its core radical Islamic audience.
Things are trending poorly in Syria as well. The Islamic State profits from the power vacuum created by the Assad regime’s long-term attempt to suppress a native Sunni "moderate" uprising. Al-Qaeda-linked fighters have just recently overrun key northern bastions previously controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian rebel groups and once again, as in Iraq, captured U.S. weapons have landed in the hands of extremists. Nothing has gone right for American hopes that moderate Syrian factions will provide significant aid in any imaginable future in the broader battle against IS.
Trouble on the Potomac
While American strategy may be lacking on the battlefield, it’s alive and well at the Pentagon. A report in the Daily Beast, quoting a generous spurt of leaks, has recently made it all too clear that the Pentagon brass “are getting fed up with the short leash the White House put them on.” Senior leaders criticize the war’s decision-making process, overseen by National Security Adviser Susan Rice, as “manic and obsessed.” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel wrote a quickly leaked memo to Rice warning that the president’s Syria strategy was already unraveling thanks to its fogginess about the nature of its opposition to Assad and because it has no “endgame.” Meanwhile, the military's “intellectual” supporters are already beginning to talk -- shades of Vietnam -- about “Obama's quagmire.”
Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey has twice made public statements revealing his dissatisfaction with White House policy. In September, he said it would take 12,000 to 15,000 ground troops to effectively go after the Islamic State. Last month, he suggested that American ground troops might, in the future, be necessary to fight IS. Those statements contrast sharply with Obama's insistence that there will never be U.S. combat troops in this war.
In another direct challenge, this time to the plan to create those Sunni National Guard units, Dempsey laid down his own conditions: no training and advising the tribes will begin until the Iraqi government agrees to arm the units themselves -- an unlikely outcome. Meanwhile, despite the White House's priority on training a new Syrian moderate force of 5,000 fighters, senior military leaders have yet to even select an officer to head up the vetting process that’s supposed to weed out less than moderate insurgents.
Taken as a whole, the military's near-mutinous posture is eerily reminiscent of MacArthur's refusal to submit to President Harry Truman's political will during the Korean War. But don’t hold your breath for a Trumanesque dismissal of Dempsey any time soon. In the meantime, the Pentagon’s sights seem set on a fall guy, likely Susan Rice, who is particularly close to the president.
The Pentagon has laid down its cards and they are clear enough: the White House is mismanaging the war. And its message is even clearer: given the refusal to consider sending in those ground-touching boots, Operation Inherent Resolve will fail. And when that happens, don't blame us; we warned you.
The U.S. military came out of the Vietnam War vowing one thing: when Washington went looking for someone to blame, it would never again be left holding the bag. According to a prominent school of historical thinking inside the Pentagon, the military successfully did what it was asked to do in Vietnam, only to find that a lack of global strategy and an over-abundance of micromanagement from America's political leaders made it seem like the military had failed. This grew from wartime mythology into bedrock Pentagon strategic thinking and was reflected in both the Powell Doctrine and the Weinberger Doctrine. The short version of that thinking demands politicians make thoughtful decisions on when, where, and why the military needs to fight. When a fight is chosen, they should then allow the military to go all in with overwhelming force, win, and come home.
The idea worked almost too well, reaching its peak in Iraq War 1.0, Operation Desert Storm. In the minds of politicians from president George H.W. Bush on down, that “victory” wiped the slate clean of Vietnam, only to set up every disaster that would follow from the Bush 43 wars to Obama's air strikes today. You don’t have to have a crystal ball to see the writing in the sand in Iraq and Syria. The military can already sense the coming failure that hangs like a miasma over Washington.
In or out, boots or not, whatever its own mistakes and follies, those who run the Pentagon and the U.S. military are already campaigning strategically to win at least one battle: when Iraq 3.0 collapses, as it most surely will, they will not be the ones hung out to dry. Of the very short list of what could go right, the smart money is on the Pentagon emerging victorious -- but only in Washington, not the Middle East.
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during the Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A TomDispatch regular, he writes about current events at his blog, We Meant Well. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2014 Peter Van Buren
Hot tub poll shows Republicans don’t like their politicians: Election Night Wasn’t a GOP Victory, It was a Democratic Rout
By Dave Lindorff
The sclerotic Democratic Party was trounced yet again yesterday, as Republicans outdid projections and appear to have taken at least seven Senate seats away from the Democrats, giving them control of the both houses of Congress.
There's a version of this story at Al Jazeera.
The U.S. Air Force says it is not halting its use of Depleted Uranium weapons, has recently sent them to the Middle East, and is prepared to use them.
A type of airplane, the A-10, deployed this month to the Middle East by the U.S. Air National Guard's 122nd Fighter Wing, is responsible for more Depleted Uranium (DU) contamination than any other platform, according to the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW). "Weight for weight and by number of rounds more 30mm PGU-14B ammo has been used than any other round," said ICBUW coordinator Doug Weir, referring to ammunition used by A-10s, as compared to DU ammunition used by tanks.
Public affairs superintendent Master Sgt. Darin L. Hubble of the 122nd Fighter Wing told me that the A-10s now in the Middle East along with "300 of our finest airmen" have been sent there on a deployment planned for the past two years and have not been assigned to take part in the current fighting in Iraq or Syria, but "that could change at any moment."
The crews will load PGU-14 depleted uranium rounds into their 30mm Gatling cannons and use them as needed, said Hubble. "If the need is to explode something -- for example a tank -- they will be used."
Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright told me, "There is no prohibition against the use of Depleted Uranium rounds, and the [U.S. military] does make use of them. The use of DU in armor-piercing munitions allows enemy tanks to be more easily destroyed."
On Thursday, several nations, including Iraq, spoke to the United Nations First Committee, against the use of Depleted Uranium and in support of studying and mitigating the damage in already contaminated areas. A non-binding resolution is expected to be voted on by the Committee this week, urging nations that have used DU to provide information on locations targeted. A number of organizations are delivering a petition to U.S. officials this week urging them not to oppose the resolution.
In 2012 a resolution on DU was supported by 155 nations and opposed by just the UK, U.S., France, and Israel. Several nations have banned DU, and in June Iraq proposed a global treaty banning it -- a step also supported by the European and Latin American Parliaments.
Wright said that the U.S. military is "addressing concerns on the use of DU by investigating other types of materials for possible use in munitions, but with some mixed results. Tungsten has some limitations in its functionality in armor-piercing munitions, as well as some health concerns based on the results of animal research on some tungsten-containing alloys. Research is continuing in this area to find an alternative to DU that is more readily accepted by the public, and also performs satisfactorily in munitions."
"I fear DU is this generation's Agent Orange," U.S. Congressman Jim McDermott told me. "There has been a sizable increase in childhood leukemia and birth defects in Iraq since the Gulf War and our subsequent invasion in 2003. DU munitions were used in both those conflicts. There are also grave suggestions that DU weapons have caused serious health issues for our Iraq War veterans. I seriously question the use of these weapons until the U.S. military conducts a full investigation into the effect of DU weapon residue on human beings."
Doug Weir of ICBUW said renewed use of DU in Iraq would be "a propaganda coup for ISIS." His and other organizations opposed to DU are guardedly watching a possible U.S. shift away from DU, which the U.S. military said it did not use in Libya in 2011. Master Sgt. Hubble of the 122nd Fighter Wing believes that was simply a tactical decision. But public pressure had been brought to bear by activists and allied nations' parliaments, and by a UK commitment not to use DU.
DU is classed as a Group 1 Carcinogen by the World Health Organization, and evidence of health damage produced by its use is extensive. The damage is compounded, Jeena Shah at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) told me, when the nation that uses DU refuses to identify locations targeted. Contamination enters soil and water. Contaminated scrap metal is used in factories or made into cooking pots or played with by children.
CCR and Iraq Veterans Against the War have filed a Freedom of Information Act Request in an attempt to learn the locations targeted in Iraq during and after the 1991 and 2003 assaults. The UK and the Netherlands have revealed targeted locations, Shah pointed out, as did NATO following DU use in the Balkans. And the United States has revealed locations it targeted with cluster munitions. So why not now?
"For years," Shah said, "the U.S. has denied a relationship between DU and health problems in civilians and veterans. Studies of UK veterans are highly suggestive of a connection. The U.S. doesn't want studies done." In addition, the United States has used DU in civilian areas and identifying those locations could suggest violations of Geneva Conventions.
Iraqi doctors will be testifying on the damage done by DU before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commissionin Washington, D.C., in December.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration said on Thursday that it will be spending $1.6 million to try to identify atrocities committed in Iraq . . . by ISIS.
by Debra Sweet ISIS = Bad U.S. War for Empire = Even Worse! Friday October 10, World Can't Wait brought the message of NO War on Iraq & Syria when Barack Obama spoke in San Francisco. Press Coverage of Protests in San Francisco Outside of Obama Fundraiser
by Carol Dudek On Tuesday, Oct. 14, Columbia University's School of Public Health hosted a presentation by two prominent researchers who have been documenting the shocking increase of birth defects and cancers in newborns in Iraq after bombardments by the US and its coalition. Dr Mozhgan Savabieasfahani of the University of Michigan's School of Public Health is an environmental toxicologist. She has written two dozen articles and a book, Pollution and Reproductive Damage. Dr Muhsin Al-Sabbak is the Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Basra Maternity Hospital.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
Chevron made waves in the business world when it announced its October 6 sale of 30-percent of its holdings in the Alberta-based Duvernay Shale basin to Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Company (KUFPEC) for $1.5 billion.
Photo Credit: Oil Fires in Kuwait During First Gulf War | Wikimedia Commons
by Debra Sweet October 2001: the U.S. swept into Afghanistan. October 2014: years after the U.S. promised to leave, the new U.S. – approved Ashraf Ghani government of Afghanistan (which many report has influence as far as the outskirts of Kabul) announced a new agreement to let 10,000 U.S. troops stay in the country for “training and advising,” until at least 2024.
By David Swanson, originally published by Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity
Last year, public pressure played a big role in stopping US missile strikes on Syria. The biggest difference between then and now was that televisions weren't telling people that ISIS might be coming to their neighborhood to behead them. There were other, smaller differences as well: Britain's opposition, Russia's opposition, and the difficulty of explaining to Americans that it now made sense to join a war on the same side as al Qaeda.
But there's another big difference between last year and this year. Last year was not a Congressional election year. With elections coming this November, Congress declared an early vacation in September and fled town in order to avoid voting a new war up or down. It did this while fully aware that the President would proceed with the war illegally. Most Congress members, including House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Leader Harry Reid, believe that by allowing a war to happen without explicitly voting for or against it they can best win our votes for re-election without offending their funders.
Congress members have good reason to think that way. Numerous organizations and individuals are dumping endless energy and resources into trying to elect either Democrats or Republicans, regardless of their policies. Big groups on the left have told me that they will not have any time for opposing war until the elections are over, at which point they'll be happy to "hold accountable" any of the Democrats they've just reelected. There are organizations who do the same thing for Republicans.
When war was made the top election issue in exit polls in 2006, Democrats took power and their leader in the House, Rahm Emanuel, openly told the Washington Post that they would keep the war in Iraq going in order to campaign against it again in 2008. And so they did. Republicans elected opposing war in 2010 have been more rhetorical than substantive in their "opposition."
The current war, and the endless war it is part of, must be opposed by people across the political spectrum who put peace ahead of party. ISIS has a one-hour video asking for this war. Giving it to them, and boosting their recruitment, is insanity. Ending insane policies is not a left or right position. This is a war that involves bombing the opposite side in Syria from the side we were told we had to bomb a year ago, and simultaneously arming the same side that the U.S. government is bombing. This is madness. To allow this to continue while mumbling the obvious truth that "there is no military solution" is too great an evil to fit into any lesser-evil electoral calculation.
This war is killing civilians in such large numbers that the White House has announced that restrictions on killing civilians will not be followed. This war is being used to strip away our rights at home. It's draining our economy. It's impoverishing us -- primarily by justifying the routine annual spending of roughly $1 trillion on war preparations. It's endangering us by generating further hatred. And all of this destruction, with no up-side to be found, is driven by irrational fear that has people telling pollsters they believe this war will endanger them and they're in favor of it.
According to the Congressional Research Service 79% of weapons shipments to Middle Eastern countries are from the United States, not counting arms given to allies of ISIS or used by the US military. Rather than arming this region to the teeth and joining in wars with US weapons on both sides, the United States could arrange for and lead an arms embargo. It could also provide restitution for what it has done in recent years, including the destruction of Iraq that allowed the creation of ISIS. Making restitution in the form of actual aid (as opposed to "military aid") would cost a lot less than lobbing $2 million missiles at people who view them as recruitment posters and tickets to martyrdom. That shift would also begin to make the United States liked rather than hated.
We won't get there unless people whose souls are un-owned by political parties take over town hall meetings and let Congress members know that they must work to end this war if they want to earn our votes.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org.
Dostoievski once had a character imagine what a head would think if for some seconds it were aware of having been cut off by an executioner's guillotine, or if somehow it were aware for a full minute, or even for five minutes.
I should think such a head would think thoughts entirely dependent on the circumstances and that the type of blade that committed the murder wouldn't affect the thoughts too greatly.
I loved you, it might think, thinking of its loved ones. I did well there, if might think, thinking of its accomplishments. I'm sorry, it might think, dwelling momentarily on its deepest regrets -- as likely as not relatively trivial incidents in which the head together with its body had hurt someone's feelings.
I've died in a war, the head might think, despite opposing wars. I took the risk and enjoyed the thrill, yet the injustice remains. I didn't launch the war. I didn't make millions off it. I didn't win votes from it. I tried to tell people what it was, and here I am no better than a soccer ball about to cease existing as a consciousness.
As the beheaded head's remaining seconds stretched into what seemed to it a long period of time, it might be struck by the absurdity of the situation, and it might be horrified by the barbarism. I was supposed to not be the news, the head might think, and now I am the news. After pretending not to be human, my humanity -- once ended -- will now be used as a reason to escalate the war. No one will ask me. How could they?
But no one ever asked me, did they, even when I was connected to a neck and arms and legs? I reported on this battle or that atrocity. But did anyone ever ask whether the entire enterprise made me ashamed of my species? Did anyone ever ask whether the justifications used were any better than lunacy? My country decided 100 years ago that it would dominate the Middle East for oil -- oil that will destroy the world itself if the wars don't.
In recent years my country destroyed Iraq, killing a half-million to a million-and-a-half people, leaving behind a hell on earth, including a government that both beheads people and bombs them, as well as handing over weaponry to this gang that beheaded my body -- a gang that could only have arisen in the hell on earth that Washington created and which will never match Washington's scale of killing if it keeps beheading and crucifying for decades.
So what does the government of the people who read my reports do? It sends in more weapons to the close allies of ISIS and simultaneously starts bombing ISIS just one year after screaming that it must bomb the Syrian government that ISIS is fighting. And ISIS makes a movie demanding heavier U.S. attacks, and the U.S. obliges and launches heavier attacks. And ISIS recruitment soars, the weapons companies stocks soar, and I get my body cut off.
And because my body is gone from me, and because the war is begun, and because it is guaranteed to get worse rather than better, brave drone pilots will be told that they must continue the war so as not to offend themselves, and as they commit suicide after murdering people with joysticks, still more pilots will be called on so that the first ones will not have killed themselves in vain.
Why when we're alive do we act as if the whole thing isn't insane? Is it a function of our habit of acting as if our existence isn't insane? We puff ourselves up, don't we? We talk solemnly of strategy, energetically ignoring the intentional absurdity of the whole doomed project, just as we eat and eat and eat without ever once wondering what the junk we are eating will do to the worms who will dine on our flesh.
What if the world comes to its senses next week, the head might think as the world grows blurry around it. How will I feel to have missed it by so little? Well, I'll feel nothing of course, and so I do hope that it will happen. I really do. This man who's cut off my body has a loud laugh. He was sad yesterday morning and I could not ask him why. I wonder if people back home know that he thinks Americans can only understand the language of violence, so there's no sense talking to them.
By John Grant
I’m a leftist, but I have a weakness for my brothers and sisters on the right. For some reason, I’m compelled to see what troglodytes like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly are thinking. They’re all quite entertaining as they do their best to un-man Barack Obama and advocate day-in, day-out for a war with Islam. They are masters of malicious fog.
Then there’s a writer like New York Times columnist David Brooks, a man who must sit around observing current events until he figures out a safe, center-right position he can express in the most reasonable, muddled language possible. Reading David Brooks is like trying to get a grip on jello.
by Debra Sweet This seems like a good time to sort out what's true in the public discourse over Iraq and Syria, and what's not. The United States, apparently with some significant level of public support, is embarking on an extremely dangerous and provocative war, possibly with the help of allies in NATO, and certainly with an alliance of countries targeted by protesters during the Islamic Spring. We can't spend enough time understanding the dynamics, in order to better challenge the lies, and lead people to stand up for the interests of humanity.
by Debra Sweet The most frequently asked question I'm hearing, including among people who have been active in opposing U.S.
As the United States’ armchair warriors sit in their comfortable homes and offices and decide on which country it is time to invade, attack or bomb, little consideration is given to those that must carry out their decisions. Sound bites for the evening news are far more important that human suffering.
The phrase "war myths" these days is generally taken to mean such nonsense as that war will make us safe, or civilians won't be killed, or surgical strikes will kill more enemies than they produce, or prosperity and freedom will follow war-making, etc. But I wonder whether "war myths" shouldn't be taken more literally, whether we don't in fact have a bunch of warmakers believing that they are Odysseus.
Remember Odysseus, the great Greek hero who went on lots of thrilling adventures on his way home from Troy and kicked a bunch of interloping suitors of his lonely wife out of his house in Ithaca when he got home?
Well, Odysseus didn't actually kick them out, did he? Do you remember what actually happened? Odysseus could have ordered them out upon his return. He could have announced his approach and had them gone before he arrived. Instead, he disguised himself and entered his house unannounced. He secretly hid all the weapons except those for himself and his son and loyal servants. He secretly blocked every door. The suitors were unarmed and trapped when Odysseus revealed who he was and started murdering them.
The suitors offered to more than repay him for what they had stolen from his house, to apologize, to try to make things right. Odysseus, who had a goddess making sure he succeeded in every detail, declined all offers and murdered every man but those his son said were loyal. He beheaded. He tortured. He dismembered. He cut off faces and cut out organs and fed bits of people to dogs. And then, seeing as how he was on such a glorious killing spree, he asked his wife's head servant whether any of the servant women had been disrespectful or misbehaved in any way. Those who had were quickly identified, and Odysseus murdered them immediately.
And there was a cute reunion scene with his wife, and everyone lived happily ever after, right?
Well, actually, there's a bit of the story we tend to overlook. Odysseus realized that the giant pile of corpses in his house had friends and relatives who would seek revenge exactly as barbarically as he had. So his goddess friend cast a spell of forgiveness on all of them, and by that means there was peace.
Now, in the world of the myth one might well wonder why Athena didn't just cast that spell on Odysseus the day before, let the suitors repay him, and skip the blood bath. But in the world of reality, one must ask whether our masters of war believe Athena is going to help them too.
They revenge themselves with righteous brutality on various dictators who have lapsed in their loyalty or death squads that have lost their utility, and the blowback is predictable, predicted, and tragic. No goddess ever shows up to cast a spell of forgiveness on victims' friends and family.
War supporters know there's no goddess in their fight, but often they begin to imagine that the other side will find forgiveness by seeing the justness of the war against them -- although I don't believe there are any examples of this actually happening.
War propaganda maintains that the other side only speaks the language of violence, so violence will communicate to that other side our grievances, our suffering, our justifiable outrage, and our desire for peace. But of course, violence is not a language, not even when dressed up in Homer's art. A language is a substance that can be thought in. Violence cannot embody thought, only fantasy.
The happy little war that turned Libya into hell three years ago was called Operation Odyssey Dawn.
There have been many admirable suggestions put forward to name Obama's latest war:
Operation Enduring Confusion
Operation Rolling Blunder
Operation Iraqi Liberation
Operation We're Indispensable - Guess What That Makes You
Operation Unchanging Hopelessness
But I think the appropriate tag for a mission based on the idea of special holy goodness and power, the idea that mass killing of civilians is justified by outrage at killing of civilians, and the notion that everyone will forgive it afterwards so it won't just make matters worse, is Operation Odysseus' Butcher Shop.
|by Debra Sweet The most frequently asked question I'm hearing, including among people who have been active in opposing U.S. wars, is “but, don't we have to do somethingabout ISIS?” Yes, “we” do. We — people living in this country — do have to send a loud message to the rest of the world that we are completely against the killing, theft of resources, subjugation of women and denial of peoples’ rights in the region by the forces responsible. The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) is both a response to U.S. occupation of the region, and also literally, in some cases, was created by torture in U.S. prisons in Iraq; by billions of dollars in U.S.|
By Reese Erlich
Veteran foreign correspondent Reese Erlich was in northern Iraq at the start of the U.S. bombing campaign against Islamic State. He interviewed Kurdish leaders, peshmerga fighters and U.S. officials. He says the reality on the ground is far different from the propaganda coming out of Washington.
By John Grant
Ain’t no time to wonder why.
Whoopee, we’re all gonna die.
- Country Joe MacDonald
Freedom’s just another word: US Launches Wars and Backs Coups in the Name of Democracy, but Won’t Back Real Democracy Activists
By Dave Lindorff
The US claims to be supporting democracy from Ukraine to Cuba, and from Somalia to Iraq, often by bombing the alleged opposition, or by supporting proxy wars and subversion. But one place where real democracy activists are battling against the forces of repression they are curiously getting no backing from the United States: Hong Kong.
By Gar Smith
When the Islamic State (IS) released a sickening video purporting to show the beheading of American journalist James Foley, a militant chorus of neocon voices thundered: "It's an act of war!" On Fox News' "The Kelly File," Charles Krautheimer excoriated Attorney General Eric Holder for announcing the Department of Justice planned to investigate the murder as a criminal case. "Acts of terror," Krautheimer erupted, are not criminal acts. "They are acts of war!"
This could be open to debate. Under 18 U.S. Code § 2331 the term "act of war" means "any act occurring in the course of (A) declared war; (B) armed conflict, whether or not war has been declared, between two or more nations; or (C) armed conflict between military forces of any origin."
An "act of war" generally requires two or more national, sovereign belligerents. While an attack by a group of dissident insurgents may constitute an act of rebellion, it may not constitute an act of war.
Interestingly, if Washington were to "declare war" on the Islamic State, that might serve to grant diplomatic status to the Islamic forces and thereby acknowledge their claim to having established an "Islamic Caliphate." There would seem to be a moral argument for intervening against IS, a militant force that routinely executes captured soldiers, murders "infidels" and also has reportedly beheaded children. But there is a strategic caveat: Does bringing force to bear guarantee less violence or greater violence? In short: Is the cure to war, more war?
An Act of War or an Act of Revenge?
But there is a more fundamental flaw behind the "act of war" cry.
What happened to James Foley—and subsequently to fellow American Steven Soltoff and British citizen David Haines—was not an act of war but an act of retaliation.
President Barack Obama understood there was a quick and clear path to avoiding the death of James Foley and the threats to ISIS' other US and UK hostages: Simply call a halt to the US' punishing aerial campaign. And the president clearly understood the consequences of continuing to wage a war against ISIS targets: If US attacks continued, American hostages would most likely die.
Barack Obama and his advisors chose the path that they knew would result in the deaths of US hostages. And each time a hostage was brutally murdered, the White House invoked the name of the dead American to help fuel the passion for resuming and expanding a new US military adventure in Iraq.
The timeline (though subsequently muddled by the US media) is clear: The barbaric beheadings, shocking as they were, followed a series of US aerial attacks on ISIS ground forces that killed scores of Islamic fighters and, inevitably, a number of adjacent civilians.
And the use of the term "barbaric" deserves some attention. Certainly, the use of a knife blade to commit a beheading is "barbaric" but is it any less barbaric than blowing someone to pieces with a Hellfire missile? A beheading is a surgical operation with limited impact committed by an individual who is personally accountable and can be held criminally responsible for the act. The use of a Hellfire missile tears entire bodies into heaps of bloody, (Collateral Damage) or breaking into song (see video).
First the Bombs, Then the Beheadings
The IS beheadings did not occur in a vacuum. They were acts of revenge triggered in response to American military attacks. It was America that committed the first "act of war" when it launched an aerial assault inside Iraq on August 8. On that date, US Navy McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighters flew into Iraq and bombed Islamic State artillery units and destroyed an Islamic State military convoy.
Still much of the American media has trumpeted the false narrative that ISIS—in the form of a masked murderer with a British accent—was the aggressor. On September 18, the San Francisco Chronicle's Washington bureau correspondent Carolyn Lochhead reported: "Obama had resisted intervening until the Islamic State group beheaded two American journalists and captured several Iraqi cities."
This was a patent falsehood. But it was a widely disseminated falsehood. Still, the cause-and-effect relationship remains: The US began bombing Islamic rebel forces in early August. It was not until 12 days later that ISIS executed James Foley.
On August 12, ISIS sent Foley's parents an emailed warning that their son would be executed in retaliation for US airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq. The email read, in part:
We have left you [the USA] alone since your disgraceful defeat in Iraq. We did not interfere in your country or attack your citizens while they were safe in their homes despite our capability to do so! You were given many chances to negotiate the release of your people via cash transactions as other governments have accepted. We have also offered prisoner exchanges to free the Muslims currently in your detention like our sister Dr. Afi Sidiqqi, however you proved very quickly to us that this is NOT what you are interested in.You have no motivation to deal with the Muslims except with the language of force….
Now you return to bomb the Muslims of Iraq once again, this time resorting to Arial [sic] attacks and "proxy armies", all the while cowardly shying away from a face-to-face confrontation! You do not spare our weak, elderly, women or children so we will NOT spare yours!
You and your citizens will pay the price of your bombings!
The first of which being the blood of the American citizen, James Foley!
He will be executed as a DIRECT result of your transgressions towards us!
In the video of James Foley's execution, the ISIS spokesman specifically ties the commencement of US bombing attacks to Foley's fate:
Today, your military air force is attacking us daily in Iraq. Your strikes have caused casualties amongst Muslims. You're no longer fighting an insurgency, we are an Islamic army and a State that has been accepted by a large number of Muslims worldwide, so effectively, any aggression towards the Islamic State is an aggression towards Muslims from all walks of life who have accepted the Islamic Caliphate as their leadership.
So any attempt by you, Obama, to deny the Muslims their rights of living in safety under the Islamic Caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people."
James Foley's final statement (a prepared statement that may or may not have represented Foley's actual thoughts) reinforced the point that his fate was an outcome of renewed US bombing in Iraq, stated that the US decision to launch bombing raids on ISIS was the "last nail in my coffin":
I call on my friends, family, and loved to rise up against my real killers, the U.S. government, for what will happen to me is only a result of their complacency criminality…. I wish I had more time. I wish I could have the hope for freedom to see my family once again, but that ship has sailed. I guess all in all, I wish I wasn't an American. [Read the complete statement below.]
The Beheading Was Not Shown
Another surprising media misstatement involved the videos themselves. The US media—from TIME Magazine, The New York Times and The Washington Post on down—routinely and repeatedly claimed that the IS videos "showed the beheading" of hostages. (In fact, the actual act of the beheading was deleted. See details below.) With this excuse in hand, the videos were scrubbed from the Internet—along with the videotaped final statements of the victims and the anti-US commentary of the IS executioner. (Many people refused to view the videos because they believed they depicted a gruesome "beheading.")
The response of the media/government complex was schizophrenic. On one had the government claimed the videos provided justification US retaliation. On the other hand, government pressure made it impossible for the American public to assess the criticisms of US global military policies that were cited as justification for the killings. The critical political content was the major reason the videos were released in the first place. The beheadings were simply a barbaric tool in the IS public relations tool kit. Government pressure to promote the videos as propaganda tool while denying the public an opportunity to watch and judge the content. In the UK, ABC reported, merely watching the James Foley video could expose viewers to a terrorism charge. At the same time, Twitter and Facebook were tracking down everyone who posted the video and were deleting their accounts.
Those who did watch the videos before they were purged from the Internet, expressed surprise. Popular Resistance, writing on TopInfoPost noted:
The most interesting thing about the video is that despite the hype in the media, there was no actual beheading in the video. The TIME article headline was not an accurate description of the video. There was a dead body that was, as many in the media have said, 'purportedly' a beheaded James Foley, but the actual act of beheading is not shown. The video does show someone purportedly using a knife to saw at Foley's neck, but there is no blood and seems to be no actual cut.
We have seen the videos out of Syria, which are truly atrocious, or the video of the beheading of Daniel Pearl a journalist killed by Al-Qaeda, but unlike those there was a strange absence of blood in this video. The supposed killer just puts the knife to Foley's neck, saws back and forth for a few moments and no blood comes out. Then it cuts to a shot of a severed head over a dead body.
Why didn't the most brutal terrorist group, according to western media, show the actually bloody murder to get the full terrorizingeffect? And why hadn't the lack of that scene been a crucial part of the media's coverage?
Are Beheadings Not 'Barbaric' When Done by Allies?
In a September 17 interview on Democracy Now! Phyllis Bennis elaborated on an article she had published in The Nation in which she pointed out that acts of criminal brutality were happening on both sides of the Syrian/Iraq conflict.
According to Bennis, "The New York Times was the only mainstream media outlet that reported … that the Free Syrian Army—the so-called moderate part of the Syrian rebels, who the US wants now to increase aid and military support and training and arming—that the Free Syrian Army had itself beheaded six captives. Six prisoners that they had control of, they beheaded them, right after shooting to death -- right after the shooting death of an American who had been caught by ISIS."
(Barak Barfi, a spokesperson for Steven Sotloff's family, raised another inconvenient truth that was not widely reported. Barfi pointed out that the so-called "moderate" Syrian rebels that Washington has chosen to support were the same ones that first captured, then sold Steven Sotloff to ISIS.)
Human rights organizations have also expressed concern over the number of beheadings by officials in Saudi Arabia. During the first three weeks of August, Saudi executioners decapitated more than one prisoner per day. On August 18, four family members were beheaded for smuggling marijuana. A day later, another Saudi was beheaded for committing an act of "sorcery." In the first seven months of 2014, the Saudis beheaded 41 victims. No one in the US government condemned (let alone mentioned) these apparently "acceptable" beheadings.
And it is not just our Allies that commit acts of barbarism. America itself is also culpable.
The President Invokes Victim's Names to Justify War
Speaking from The Edgartown School in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts on August 20, President Obama somberly declared: "Today, the entire world is appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley by the terrorist group, ISIL." The president then went on tooffer the following characterization of ISIS: "They have rampaged across cities and villages -- killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children, and subject them to torture and rape and slavery." (Worth noting: nearly every one of these crimes also has been ascribed to US forces during American assaults on Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.)
Speaking from Estonia after ISIS made good on its promise to execute reporter Steven Sotloff, President Obama condemned ISIS and insisted "Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists." And then, the Commander-in-Chief used the occasion to further ramp up the rhetoric of war:
It's not only that we're going to be bringing to justice those who perpetrated this terrible crime against these two fine young men. The United States will continue to lead a regional and international effort against the kind of barbaric and ultimately empty vision. Our objective is clear, and that is: degrade and destroy ISIL so that it's no longer a threat, not just to Iraq but also to the region and to the United States.
Looking at the timing, the lost opportunities and the rhetorical escalation, one comes away with an apprehension that this president (like many presidents before him) had engineered a casus belli—allowing the sacrifice of innocent American lives to provide an excuse for war that would outrage and galvanize the American public against the latest "barbaric enemy" to threaten the world.
Look Who's Funding ISIS: Some of our Closest Allies
In her Democracy Now! interview, Phyllis Bennis tried to draw attention to the bloody hands behind ISIS's rampage across the border from Syria into Iraq. According to Bennis:
Saudi Arabia is the source of the largest amount of money, from what all the reports are indicating, that is going to ISIS as well as a host of other Islamist and other organizations…. Some of it probably comes from the government, although that's never been confirmed. But this is a very tightly controlled society where, if there was an interest by the government in stopping its own citizens—whether they are Saudi princes or ordinary citizens, who are the source of a huge amount of the money funding these organizations, including ISIS—it could be contained.
Bennis concluded by pointing out the close military ties between Washington and Riyadh:
The Saudis don't want to talk about that alliance with the United States. But there is $60 billion worth of arms that they've been engaged in buying from the United States over this last two years. Many of those arms are the ones ending up in the hands of ISIS. It's US arms and it's Saudi arms that are ending up there.
Whether it's individuals or whether it's part of the government, that money is coming to a large degree from Saudi Arabia, from other parts of the region, as well—from Qatar, from Kuwait, from UAE, from a number of countries—but Saudi Arabia is very much at the center of this.
And the US-Saudi alliance is such that if the US chose to challenge the arms sellers in this country, who are making a killing on this new war, this Iraq War 3.0, we might say—if they were to prepared to challenge those arms suppliers, and thus challenge the Saudi government, there could be a real effort to put a stop to the funding and arming of these terrible organizations like ISIS.
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Lost Testimony in the War of Words
After the IS hostage videos were falsely described as containing actual footage of beheadings, they were quickly removed from online viewing. This act of censorship prevented much of the public from hearing the full statements of the victims and the executioner contained in the videos. The brutality of the IS executions cannot be fully understood without listening to the justifications offered by the killers. Here are transcripts of the complete statements contained in three IS execution videos.
Transcript of Video: The Final Words
Of US Hostage and Journalist James Foley
I call on my friends, family, and loved ones to rise up against my real killers, the U.S. government, for what will happen to me is only a result of their complacency criminality.
My message to my beloved parents: Save me some dignity and don't accept any meager compensation for my death from the same people who effectively hit the last nail in my coffin with the recent aerial campaign in Iraq.
I call on my brother John who is a member of the U.S. Air Force: Think about what you are doing. Think about the lives you destroy, including those of your own family. I call on you, John, think about who made the decision to bomb Iraq recently and kill those people, whoever they may have been. Think John, who did they really kill? Did they think about me, your and our family when they
made that decision? I died that day, John. When your colleagues dropped that bomb on those people they signed my death certificate.
I wish I had more time. I wish I could have the hope for freedom to see my family once again, but that ship has sailed. I guess all in all, I wish I wasn't an American.
Transcript of Video: The Final Words
Of US Hostage and Journalist Steven Sotloff
I am Steven Joel Sotloff.
I'm sure you know exactly who I am by now, and why I am appearing before you.
And now it is time for my message.
Obama, your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be for the preservation of American lives and interests, so why is it that I'm having to pay the price of your interference with my life.
Am I not an American citizen?
You've spent billions of US taxpayers dollars and we've lost thousands of our troops in our previous fighting against the Islamic State.
So where is the American people's interests in reigniting this war?
From what little I know about foreign policy I remember a time when you could not win an election without promising to bring our troops back home from Iraq, from Afghanistan, and to close down Guantanamo.
Here you are now Obama, nearing the end of your term, having achieved none of the above, and seemingly marching us, the American people, into a blazing fire.
The man who appears to wield the knife seems to have a British accent that has been disguised. His statement suggests he is the same fighter who killed James Foley last month. Below is a transcript of what he says:
I'm back Obama. And I'm back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards Islamic State, because of your insistence in continuing your bombings in Amerli, Samarra and Mosul Dam despite our serious warnings. You, Obama, have yet again through your actions, killed yet another American citizen. So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.
Transcript of Video: The Final Words
Of UK Hostage David Haines
My name is David Cawthorne Haines. I would like to declare that I hold you David Cameron entirely responsible for my execution. You entered voluntarily into a coalition with the United States against the Islamic State just as your predecessor Tony Blair did following a trend amongst our British Prime Minsters who can't find the courage to say no to the Americans. Unfortunately, it is we, the British public, who will pay the price for our parliament's selfish decisions."
The man the Western media has nicknamed "Jihadi John" then says:
This British man has to the pay the price for your promise Cameron to arm the Peshmerga against the Islamic State. Ironically, he has spent a decade of his life serving under the same Royal Air Force that is responsible for delivering those arms.
Your evil alliance with America, which continues to strike the Muslims of Iraq and most recently bombed the Haditha Dam, will only accelerate your destruction. And playing the role of the obedient lapdog, Cameron, will only drag you and your people into another bloody and unwinable war."
The footage then shows another British hostage paraded before the camera. Jihadi John says:
If you, Cameron, persist in fighting the Islamic State then you like your master Obama, will have the blood of your people on your hands."
Here's Francis Boyle on the draft resolution:
So this is a Chapter 7 Resolution, which arguably establishes the predicate for the use of force. It should have been adopted under Chapter 6 to rule out any use of force against Syria. It was not. SC resolutions are binding under either Chapter 6 or Chapter 7 according to ICJ in Namibia Advisory Opinion. So obviously, Obama wants to set the predicate here for using force against ISIS in Syria, which will ultimately lead to the deposition of the Assad government, the crack up of Syria, and genocide against the Alawites and the Christians.
OK. Well obama’s puppet government that he just installed in Iraq could on the basis of this Resolution, Article 51 right of collective self-defense and the bogus doctrine of hot pursuit ask Obama to bomb ISIS in Syria in order to prevent their cross-border movement from Syria into Iraq and back. Under international law there is no doctrine of hot pursuit on land, only at sea. That Obama scenario and strategy become very clear in OP5 and OP10 and OP14, inter alia. Basically trying to create a right of hot pursuit across land borders where it did not previously exist —at least Obama will interpret it that way to justify bombing ISIS in Syria at the request of Iraq. There is nothing in this Resolution to rule out that scenario. Indeed, it seems that this Resolution has been drafted for precisely that purpose.
OK. I have read but am not going to go through the rest of this Resolution. It appears that USG specifically drafted this Resolution so that its puppet government in Iraq can on its basis as well as UN Charter Article 51 right of collective self-defense bomb ISIS in Syria. Otherwise, it would be naked aggression against the wishes of the Syrian government. So Obama will use this Resolution as his legal fig-leaf to start the bombing campaign in Syria upon his return to Washington. He will do to Assad and Syria what he did to Ghadafy and Libya.
Finally, somebody commenting on the state of Iraq thinks George W. Bush got something right. Turns out it's ISIS. In the new hour-long ISIS-produced film about how nice it is to die for ISIS -- Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun -- Bush is quoted: "You are with us or against us." Video shows him saying "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." A graphic in the upper corner of the screen reads: "Bush spoke the truth, although he's a liar."
What truth does ISIS think Bush spoke? The Manichean truth that there are two groups of people on earth with nothing in common between them and a shared dedication to annihilate each other. Of course, the notion that they have nothing in common is delusional. They have almost everything in common: their belief in violence, their monotheism, their stupidity, their desire for a U.S. war in the Middle East.
"In the face of the dark wave of the crusader force..." begins the ISIS movie.
"This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while," said Bush.
ISIS shows Obama as well as Bush and denounces both as liars, including rejecting Obama's lie that he won't send combat troops to Iraq. As even a number of U.S. Senators and Congress Members have pointed out, the 1600 troops he's already sent are trained and equipped for nothing other than combat, and a pilot in a plane is engaged in combat.
But ISIS wants more. This film is not aimed at provoking the United States the way the beheading films were. It's far too long and boring for Americans to watch.
(Why did ISIS make a full-length movie? Because they couldn't find an editor.)
This film is aimed at recruiting fighters. ISIS claims to be fighting the United States, to have long been the core of the resistance to the United States, and to be defeating troops armed with U.S. weapons. (ISIS never mentions that its own "beloved" weapons come from various infidels, including the U.S.) Here's the ISIS pitch to recruits:
Join us in fighting the evil empire. If you die you'll go to paradise. The afterlife is far longer and more important than this life. "Unshakable faith" is the "most effective weapon of war." Come join "Allah's soldiers" and experience courage, excitement, vengeance, adrenaline, the thrill of victory, and martyrdom. Never mind that our movie is so boring, the fighting is really fun, and Allah is guiding our RPGs!
Of course, ISIS is mistaken. God does not have time to be guiding their RPGs when he's busy making sure the football team that prays the loudest wins each game. And of course Obama has told us that "No religion condones the killing of innocents," forgetting that all the religions of Moses contain this teaching: "Kill every male among the little ones and Kill every woman that has known man by lying with him. But all the women children that have not known a man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves" -- forgetting in fact that all of these religions have violent and peaceful traditions but venerate as holy ancient texts from a barbaric age and teach as essential the idea that there is another magical world that matters more than this one whose climate we are destroying. Sing it, soldiers!
Here's the ISIS pitch to the U.S. government:
We will accept only victory or death, just like Patrick Henry, and we will fight you. Fighting you builds our movement because people hate you so much after the past decades of your attacks. We have no doubt that you are stupid enough to fight us if we keep insulting you.
Here's their pitch to opponents:
Oppose us, and we will make you dig your own grave on camera, because we are so courageous and brave that we wear masks to hide out faces and shoot anybody we don't know how to talk to.
Here's their pitch to Hollywood:
We've got dramatic potential. Sure, make us the bad guys, but put us on the silver screen. We're not as slick and convincing as a White House video news release aired by an "independent" media outlet, but we're way more dramatic. We only have a narrator, no actual characters, but we're still more entertaining than C-Span, and the weapons makers are going to absolutely love us -- just check with them about funding. Then die, you faithless dogs.
In 1969, at the height of the U.S. war against Vietnam, Edwin Starr recorded a song called ‘War’, that reached number one on the charts. Among the lyrics are these:
War: What is it good for?
Much as one would like to believe these simple lyrics, there are facts that belie them. In a report from the Financial Times from March of 2013, it is stated that private contractors earned at least a whopping $139 billion dollars from the U.S. war against Iraq up to that time, and that total is ever increasing. Kellogg, Brown and Root, a former subsidiary of Haliburton, the company once run by former Vice President Dick Cheney, the architect of this war, earned nearly $40 billion.
Barack Obama’s central dilemma last week, when he tried to sell a new war to the American public on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, was to speak convincingly about the wisdom and effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy over the last decade-plus while at the same time, alas, dropping the bad news that it didn’t work.
Thus: “Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.”
Hurray! God bless drones and “mission accomplished” and a million Iraqi dead and birth defects in Fallujah. God bless torture. God bless the CIA. But guess what?
“Still we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm.”
So it’s bombs away again, boys — another trace of evil has popped up in the Middle East — and I find myself at the edge of outrage, the edge of despair, groping for language to counter my own incredulity that the God of War is on the verge of another victory and Planet Earth and human evolution lose again.
Obama ended his executive declaration of more war with words that the military-industrial shills have slowly managed to turn into an obscenity: “May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.”
God bless another war?
Tom Engelhardt, writing a few days ago at TomDispatch, called it “Iraq 3.0,” noting: “Nowhere, at home or abroad, does the obvious might of the United States translate into expected results, or much of anything else except a kind of roiling chaos. . . . And one thing is remarkably clear: each and every application of American military power globally since 9/11 has furthered the fragmentation process, destabilizing whole regions.
“In the twenty-first century, the U.S. military has been neither a nation- nor an army-builder, nor has it found victory, no matter how hard it’s searched. It has instead been the equivalent of the whirlwind in international affairs, and so, however the most recent Iraq war works out, one thing seems predictable: the region will be further destabilized and in worse shape when it’s over.”
Obama’s speech is addressed to a nation with a dead imagination. Doing “something” about the Islamic State means dropping bombs on it. Bombing runs don’t inconvenience a politician’s constituents and always seem like stalwart action: a squirt of Raid on an infestation of bugs. They never kill innocent people or result in unintended consequences; nor, apparently, do they provoke an instant sense of horror, the way a beheading does.
Indeed, declarations of war always seem to lift people up. This is because they separate us from the evil that our enemies are committing. Addressing the complexity of others’ brutal behavior means facing our terrifying complicity in it — which is asking far too much of any Beltway-entrenched U.S. politician. Obama hasn’t broken in any way from his inarticulate predecessor in attempting to exploit the simplistic emotional safe haven of war and militarism.
“How do I respond when I see that in some Islamic countries there is vitriolic hatred for America?” George Bush asked during a press conference a month after the 9/11 attacks (quoted recently by William Blum in his latest Anti-Empire Report). “I’ll tell you how I respond: I’m amazed. I’m amazed that there’s such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us. I am — like most Americans, I just can’t believe it because I know how good we are.”
Obama is trying to extract the same public acquiescence to military aggression from the IS beheadings of two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker as Bush did from 9/11. Bush had the distinct advantage of not having himself — and the disastrous mess he created — as his predecessor. Nevertheless, Iraq 3.0 is going to become a reality, even though bombing Iraq will just strengthen IS and likely open the door to the next multi-year military quagmire.
As David Swanson laments on the website World Beyond War, speaking of the first journalist IS brutally murdered, “James Foley is not a war ad.”
“When 9/11 victims were used as a justification to kill hundreds of times the number of people killed on 9/11, some of the victims’ relatives pushed back,” Swanson writes. Linking to a video in which Foley talks about the hell and absurdity of war with filmmaker Haskell Wexler during the NATO protests in Chicago two years ago, he adds: “Now James Foley is pushing back from the grave.”
He invites us to watch Foley talk about “the dehumanization needed before people can be killed, the shallowness of media coverage” and other toxic realities of war that usually don’t show up in presidential speeches.
“We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world . . .”
I can’t believe I live in a country that still tolerates such simplistic, knife-edged rhetoric. Oh, so much evil out there! The U.S. government, in all its might and purity, has no choice but to go after it with every weapon in its arsenal. What Obama doesn’t bother to say, though perhaps in some helpless, futile way he knows, is that engaging in the game of war is always an act of defeat. And the opponents, in their brutal aggression toward each other and everyone else, are always on the same side.
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at email@example.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.
© 2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.
ISIS has created a movie preview for the coming war, a war it eagerly wants Washington to take part in. The White House and Congress would like to oblige, as long as the movie can be a short one, on the model of Libya. Here's the plot: Evil force arises out of nowhere; United States destroys it; credits roll. If Libya-The-Movie had begun with years of support for Gadaffi or ended with the disaster left behind, the critics would have hated it. Framing is everything.
Kathy Kelly published an article on Wednesday describing her visit some years back to a U.S. prison camp in Iraq where Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai spent four years under the name Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi before becoming the leader of ISIS.
Imagine a Hollywood-like movie that began in that camp. An opening scene might show Baghdadi and his fellow prisoners paraded naked in front of female soldiers and forced to say "I love George Bush" before they could get their food rations. We'd see them sleeping on the ground in the cold, cursing their captors and swearing every last drop of energy and instant of remaining life to that highest of all Hollywood values: violent revenge.
Cut to the present and a scene in a small house in Iraq with 500-pound U.S. bombs exploding just outside. Baghdadi and his gang of loveable heroes look horrified, but -- with a twinkle in his eye -- Baghdadi gathers the others to him and begins to smile. Then he begins to laugh. His comrades look bewildered. Then they start to catch on. "You wanted this, didn't you?" exclaims Sexy Female Rebel. "This was your plan, wasn't it!"
"Hand me the ultimate weapon," Baghdadi says, turning to a future nominee for best male supporting actor. BMSA grins and pulls out a video camera. Baghdadi raises the camera over his head with one hand. Turning to Sexy Female Rebel he says "Go on the roof and look north. Tell me what you see coming."
Cut to view through binoculars as music swells to high enthusiasm. Countless oceans of people on foot are making their way over the land with burning U.S. flags on sticks leading the way.
Of course, even Hollywood, which made Avatar, wouldn't make exactly THIS movie. The White House is going to have to make it. But who's directing? President Obama is hunting around for a name for this war, while ISIS has already released one in its video preview. Even the U.S. public seems increasingly interested in the full-length feature. "How does this end?" they want to know. "This was begun by Bush" they say, depending on their partisanship.
What if the script were flipped, not to portray the Iraqi as protagonist, but to abandon the religion of violent revenge? What if Washington were to say to ISIS this:
We see that you want a war with us. We understand that you would gain local support because of how deeply we are hated. We're tired of being hated. We're tired of taking direction from criminals like you. We're not going to play along. We're going to make ourselves loved rather than hated. We're going to apologize for our occupations and bombings and prisons and torture. We're going to make restitution. We're going to provide aid to the entire region. It'll cost us a lot less to do that than to keep dropping bombs on you, so you can forget the plan to bankrupt us. We're going to save trillions of dollars in fact by ceasing to arm ourselves and the rest of the world to the teeth. We're going to announce a ban on shipping weapons to the Middle East. And since we ship 80% of them, not even counting our own military's, we're already off to a huge start. We're going to prosecute any oil company or country that does business with your organization. But we're going to hold no grudges against anyone who abandons your organization and seeks peace, just as we ask you to do what you can toward overcoming grudges against our past barbarity.
What would happen? You might be surprised. Gandhi-The-Movie brought in over $50 million in 1982.