Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at 8:42 AM

Demystifying ISIS: Case against Obama’s Bush-lite War on Terrorism

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

This is a very complicated and convoluted issue; therefore, I shall begin with a few clarifying points:

  • Despite the media inciting hysterical calls for war against them, the jihadists rampaging across the Middle East, who call themselves ISIS/ISIL (hereinafter ISIS), pose no security threat to the United States. They represent little more than the latest surge in the internecine struggle within Islam that Sunni and Shiite factions have been waging for one thousand years. ISIS (comprised of Sunni extremists) certainly has done nothing to warrant President Obama forming a coalition of the willing to “degrade and destroy” it. Never mind the foreboding similarities his talk of coalition bears to the one his predecessor touted for the ill-fated invasion of Iraq. In fact, Obama has less justification to launch strikes against ISIS than President Bush had to invade Iraq.
  • With all due respect to the two American journalists ISIS beheaded in such provocative fashion recently, the barbaric killing of Americans abroad does not constitute just cause for this kind of military response. If it did, Obama would’ve responded accordingly after rampaging thugs killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, at that U.S. Consulate in Benghazi two years ago this week. Mind you, this is not to say that no response is warranted. I just think a few drone strikes — of the kind Obama has launching for years to take out terrorists from Pakistan to Yemen — would deliver appropriate (i.e., proportionate) retribution for such killings.
  • If mere threats to terrorize or destroy this country were sufficient provocation, the United States would be in a permanent state of war. Most notably, JFK would’ve been provoked into launching preemptive strikes against the Soviet Union in the 1960s; and, instead of Iraq, Bush would’ve had far greater justification to invade North Korea – a country whose foreign policy for the past two decades has consisted of little more than threatening to launch nuclear attacks against the United States or its ally, South Korea.
  • Nothing betrays how foolhardy forming this coalition to fight yet another war on terrorism is quite like the United States having nothing to show after 13 years of fighting al-Qaeda: Nothing, this is, except a $1 trillion money pit in Afghanistan, over 2000 dead U.S. troops, and spawns of al-Qaeda (including ISIS) now killing and terrorizing – as much in Africa and South Asia as in the Middle East – in ways that would offend the conscience of no less a terrorist than Osama bin Laden himself. Indeed, given that Boko Haram has been doing in Africa exactly what ISIS is doing in the Middle East, Obama would be hard-pressed to explain why he’s not forming a coalition of the willing to degrade and destroy this al-Qaeda spawn too….
  • Obama has been taking great pains to assure the American people that the only boots on the ground for this war on terrorism will be those of regional allies like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Turkey. Except that nothing betrays how misleading (or misguided) this is quite like Bush taking great pains to do the same with respect to his coalition. After all, despite paying lip service and egging on the United States, not a single Mideast country participated in the invasion of Iraq. What’s more, many of the countries Bush named, like Micronesia, didn’t even have armies from which to draft foot soldiers. More to the point, given the way ISIS has already routed the rag-tag Syrian Free Army, cowardly/disaffected Iraqi Forces, and beleaguered Kurdish Peshmerga, Obama selling them as boots on the ground is even more disingenuous than a used car salesman selling lemons.
  • It should be instructive that the warmongers now scaremongering about ISIS bringing jihad to the United States are the same warmongers who were scaremongering 13 years ago about al-Qaeda doing the same: Not to jinx it, but we’re still waiting. And don’t get me started on their enabling, ratings whores in the media for whom there’s no better John than a calamitous war. Is there really any wonder Americans fear that a bunch of rampaging jihadists in the Middle East pose the biggest threat to the United States since Hitler’s Germany…? Never before has FDR’s admonition, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” been more apt.
  • If there are Americans training with ISIS to do its bidding on the home front, the NSA would be far more likely to foil their plots than Obama’s “core coalition,” which will be waging another unwinnable war over in the Middle East. This is why it behooves Obama to ignore self-professed privacy advocates who complain about NSA spying (at home and abroad) to keep us safe, but think nothing of Google and Amazon doing even more spying just to sell us stuff. Incidentally, you’d think, given Snowden’s revelations about the NSA spying on foreigners, that the Americans would know that the Saudis and other Arabs think of them as nothing more than hired help to protect their countries; not unlike the way they think of the Indonesians they hire to clean their homes.
  • Don’t get me started on pandering politicians citing public opinion polls to support their drumbeat for war. After all, half of the American people probably have no clue who or what ISIS/ISIL is; and, despite more than a decade of war in the region, even more of them probably could not locate Iraq on a map to save their lives.

This is the mockery politicians – who have become little more than ‘perfectly lubricated weather vanes’ – have made of representative government. For the record, the American people elect (and pay) congressional representatives to make ‘informed’ decisions on issues of national importance. We have representative government, instead of literal democracy, precisely to avoid the spectacle of governing based on prevailing, and invariably uninformed, passions.

(“On Syria and Almost Every Other Issue, the American People Are Insolent, Ignorant Idiots … and Their Congressional Representatives Are Pandering, Pusillanimous Pussies,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 10, 2013)

  • To say nothing, alas, of so-called analysts who have been all over the media schilling for the military industrial complex (and earning exorbitant fees), instead of explaining what national security interest is being served by launching a war against ISIS.


That said (and I know I’m really testing your Twitterized patience here), what follows is more lamentation than commentary. It highlights the abiding flaws in American foreign policy that give rise to wars like the one Obama will attempt to make the case for tonight in a special address to the nation.

I urge you to listen carefully for anything that convinces you that his war on terrorism (against ISIS) will be any more successful than Bush’s ill-fated war on terrorism (against al-Qaeda). Just be mindful that JFK convinced the American people that his war on communism (in Vietnam) would be more successful than his predecessor Truman’s war on communism (in Korea). And beware that a stupid war by any other name (like “a counterterrorism operation”) would still prove as stupid….

I’m on record predicting – in such commentaries as “Fifth Summit of the Americas: Managing Expectations,” April 17, 2009 – that Obama’s “transformative” presidency will be defined as much by reforming healthcare, the signature legislative achievement of his first term, as by lifting the embargo against Cuba, which should be the signature foreign policy achievement of his second.

Political Posters in Castillo de San Cristobal - 06The reason for the latter, of course, is that this embargo represents the most enduring example of the double standards, mixed messages, and brazen hypocrisy that have bedeviled U.S. foreign policies for over 50 years. For example, apropos of double standards, only insidious political pandering (to Miami Cubans) explains why the United States nurtured diplomatic and economic relations with communist sharks like China and the Soviet Union, while enforcing an embargo against a communist minnow like Cuba.

Alas, the double standards, mixed messages, and brazen hypocrisy that have bedeviled America’s dealings with communist countries are beginning to bedevil its dealings with state sponsors of terrorism, most notably Iran and Syria.

Rouhani-ObamaApropos of double standards, here’s how I commented on the way Obama bent over backwards last year to woo the president of Iran:

Who can blame [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] for becoming a little unnerved by Obama’s solicitous pursuit of [Iranian President Hassan Rouhani] for just a photo-op handshake at the UN last week; to say nothing of the blushing way Obama trumpeted their ‘15-minute talk on the phone,’ which he initiated from the White House as Rouhani was being chauffeured to JFK airport.

(“Netanyahu, Obama’s Iago; Iran, His Desdemona,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 2, 2013)

Bear in mind that Iran is a country the United States still designates as a state sponsor of terrorism. Not to mention one that remains hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons, which presumably would make the terrorism it sponsors (and executes) positively genocidal. Ominously, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that: “Iran failed to meet a deadline to provide information on its past nuclear work.”

booooomaNow here’s how I commented on the way Obama proclaimed two years go that the time had come for the president of Syria “to go:”

One can be forgiven for thinking that [with this proclamation] President Obama sealed [President Bashir al-Assad’s] fate as surely as, with a thumb down, a Roman emperor sealed that of a gladiator…

This raises the question: How on earth has Assad managed not only to survive, but to massacre tens of thousands of the people Obama seemed so concerned about? The answer, frankly, can be summed up in one name: Vladimir Putin.

(“Why Putin, Not Obama, Is Master of Assad’s Fate,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 14, 2012)

Bear in mind that, even though a country the United States still designates as a state sponsor of terrorism, Syria has demonstrated its good-faith interest in normalizing relations. It did so by foreswearing WMDs — complete with UN experts overseeing the dismantling of labs and destruction of stockpiles. Not to mention demonstrating its bona fides as a “moderate” Muslim state. It did so by waging an existential battle against ISIS for over a year before the United States recognized this al-Qaeda spawn as its enemy too.

Apropos of mixed messages, just contrast my account above on the solicitous way Obama sought a handshake with Iran’s president last year with this report below on the visceral way he raised a clenched fist to Iran’s supreme leader last week:

The U.S. rejects the offer of the spiritual leader of the Islamic republic, Ali Khamenei, to cooperate in action against the Jihad ISIS group (‘Islamic State’) in northern Iraq. ‘The US doesn’t share intelligence information nor acts in military cooperation with Iran’, said the State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, in a press conference.

(Jerusalem Online, September 6, 2014)

In a similar vein, Obama rejected any prospect of cooperating with Syria. Here’s how French President Francois Hollande rejected (on behalf of Obama and other NATO leaders) Assad’s offer to cooperate with the international community to fight ISIS terrorists in his country, where they’ve based their operations and claimed vast territories as part of their new jihadist Caliphate.

Assad cannot be a partner in the fight against terrorism. He is the de facto ally of jihadists… There is no choice to be made between two barbarisms.

(Al Jazeera, August 28, 2014)

But, trust me, the only reason Obama is not accepting Assad’s offer is that Republican warmongers, like Sen. John McCain, and Democratic hawks, like wannabe president Hillary Clinton, have goaded him into thinking he must do to Assad and Syria (after he decapitates ISIS in Iraq) exactly what Bush did to Saddam and Iraq (after he decapitated the Taliban in Afghanistan). Unbelievable? Well, so is the fact that these warmongers and hawks have already goaded Obama into a Vietnam-style mission creep – given that the 300 troops he said in June were sufficient to protect embassy personnel in Iraq have already mushroomed to over 1000, not including an untold number of military “advisers.”

NATOApropos of brazen hypocrisy, just bear these protestations in mind when wire services begin publishing reports in the coming weeks about NATO “coordinating” with Iran and Syria in the fight against ISIS.

After all, nothing indicates that it will be thus quite like the State Department spokeswoman, who is quoted above pooh-poohing any prospect of such coordination, proceeding to speak out of both sides of her mouth as follows:

We are open to engaging them, as we have in the past, but we are not interested in military cooperation with the Iranian leadership.

Perhaps even more telling, though, is that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif did the same when he ended a harangue against Obama for rejecting the Ayatollah’s offer as follows:

This danger threatens the entire region and requires international cooperation.

(Agence France-Presse, September 7, 2014)

Indeed, it speaks volumes about the (regional) menace ISIS poses that the Arab League voted at an emergency meeting in Cairo on Sunday to join Obama’s international coalition of the willing to degrade and destroy it. Except that, here again, its members showed no willingness to do anything more than serve as IAGO-like cheerleaders to an Othello-like Obama

460xMeanwhile, Obama readily concedes that major regional countries – that can deploy ground troops – are indispensable to the success of this international fight. Which can only mean that, despite his public protestations, he knows full well that Iran and Syria (and Russia as their superpower patron) will be de facto allies.

Not least because a) Iran and Syria have the region’s most effective fighters; b) Obama insists that the United States will not deploy any troops on the ground; c) U.S. airstrikes alone cannot “shrink the territory” ISIS controls; and d) Iraq has demonstrated that, despite 10 years of training by the United States, it has no ability to govern itself, let alone defend itself, against ISIS.

What’s more, ISIS has just given Putin a reason to join the fight:

Earlier this week, the Islamic State issued a video challenging a powerful global leader. But this time, it was not President Obama … it was Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the video, fighters pose atop Russian military equipment, including a fighter jet, captured from the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

(Washington Post, September 6, 2014)

Of course the irony is that, just weeks ago, the Russians were hurling undisguised expressions of schadenfreude at the sight of ISIS/ISIL terrorists parading the military hardware they wrested from Iraqis the mighty Americans trained. Now Americans can do (and are doing) the same at the sight of ISIS terrorists parading the military hardware they wrested from Syrians the mighty Russians trained.

All of the above clearly puts a new wrinkle on the adage: the enemy of my enemy is my friend/ally. Especially when one considers that the United States will be drawn into these strange military alliances, while it’s ratcheting up against Russia the same kinds of economic sanctions it has been imposing against Iran and Syria for years. How’s that for strange bedfellows?!

China's President Xi speaks during his meeting with U.S. President Obama, on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit, in The HagueIncidentally, if you’re wondering why China is the only world power that has remained deaf, dumb, and mute in the face of this menace, consider this:

China acts like a parent who seems to think her only duty is to feed and clothe her child – all guidance about and regard for right and wrong be damned. The latest example of this is China’s refusal to even voice disapproval of the brutal crackdown Syria is now carrying out against pro-democracy protesters. (More than 3500 people have been killed and thousands more injured since March.)

This stands in instructive contrast to the coalition of the willing the U.S. is amassing to impose even stiffer sanctions against Syria. The Arab League – which has a history of blithely countenancing the human-rights abuses of member states – so disapproves of the crackdown that it voted this week to expel Syria…

Of course, in a rather perverse way, at least China is being consistent. For the one thing every brutal dictator who fell during the Arab Spring could count on was China’s tacit, and sometimes overt, support. Indeed, it behooves the black countries of Africa and the Caribbean that are sucking up to China these days as a more generous Sugar Daddy than the U.S. to appreciate that, if the Apartheid government of South Africa were still in power, China would have no qualms about doing business with it too.

Hell, just yesterday, in an unwitting, or perhaps telling, bit of timing, the China International Peace Research Center announced that the neo-Stalinist prime minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is this year’s recipient of its Confucius Peace Prize, which was established ‘to promote world peace from an eastern perspective.’

(“China’s Deficit? No Moral Authority to Lead,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 16, 2011)

In other words, if by some diabolical miracle it succeeded in setting up a jihadist Caliphate in the heart of the Middle East, ISIS would be able to count on China not only to establish diplomatic relations, but also to help it build its infrastructure in exchange for sweetheart business deals (especially for cheap oil). And this would be the case even if, to achieve its ends, ISIS (comprised of Sunni Muslims) killed more Yazidi Christians and Shiite Muslims than the number of Jews the Nazis killed during WWII. But I digress….

IranTo be fair to Obama, no less a revered president than Ronald Reagan conducted a similar foreign policy of double standards, mixed messages, and brazen hypocrisy with respect to Iran. After all, Reagan regarded Iran as such a state sponsor of terrorism that he famously damned it as “murder incorporated” and, more to the point, vowed to have no dealings with it.

Yet, while damning Iran, Reagan dispatched an emissary to open backchannels to negotiate selling arms to help Iran in its war against Iraq, in exchange for Iran’s help in securing the release of four American hostages being held by Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. What unfolded – as the Iran-Contra and arms-for-hostages fiasco – was as scandalous, not to mention illegal, as Watergate. Such was Reagan’s popularity, however, that he was not even impeached, let alone kicked out of office.

It’s debatable whether Obama should consider this a guiding or foreboding precedent. But it might be helpful to know that he’s on record declaring his ambition to be more transformative like Reagan than effective like Clinton….

In a similar vein, I would be remiss not to acknowledge another ominous precedent that is probably troubling Obama. It’s the one Woodrow Wilson set when he won re-election in 1916 by pledging to keep America out of WWI. Alas, Wilson soon felt that geopolitical developments left him no choice but to enter the “Great War” in Europe “to end all wars and make the world safe for democracy.” Unfortunately, all the United States did was reinforce old enmities and spawn new rivalries, which led inexorably to WWII.

Now recall that Obama won re-election in 2012 by pledging to end wars, not to start them. Alas, he too clearly feels that similar developments leave him no choice but to enter this truly bedeviling fray – of shifting alliances in what, at its core, is a nearly 1000-year-old sectarian/fraternal conflict. Unfortunately, there seems little doubt that all the United States will do is reinforce old enmities and spawn new rivalries, which presumably will lead inexorably to yet another president declaring yet another war on terrorism….

Finally, I’ve been lamenting – in commentaries as far back as “The Shotgun Convention of Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds to Frame an Iraqi Constitution,” August 22, 2005 and as recently as “Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds Fighting for Control of Iraq. Stay Out, America” June 19, 2014 – the folly of the United States acting as if it can either “win” a war on terrorism or build a Jeffersonian democracy in the Middle East:

With respect to the former, I’ve maintained that the best the United States can do is deny terrorists safe havens and disrupt their training and planning with vigilant drone surveillance and targeted preemptive strikes. After all, as it has demonstrated by doing this everywhere from Pakistan to Yemen, the United States does not need a coalition of the willing to do so.

140711-isis-raqqa-syria-1703_6d46cbee7ca0ae44ff1270f38afd6961With respect to the latter, I’ve maintained that it’s best to rely on aggressive diplomacy (aka “soft power”) to affect change in the region. And if diplomacy fails, to leave warring factions to their own devices, sufficing only to warn whichever one emerges as the governing authority that it will suffer a Taliban-like fate too if it harbors terrorists within its borders.

I put forward this strategy because, if the Afghans and Iraqis Americans spent over a decade training to govern themselves, defend themselves, and sustain themselves can’t stand on their own against a rag-tag bunch of Taliban fighters and rampaging ISIS/ISIL terrorists, respectively, then they deserve whatever fate befalls them. To say nothing of the dreadful spectacle of so many of those the U.S. trained either turning their guns directly on U.S. troops – in now notorious “green-on-blue” killings, or using that training to professionalize the ranks of terrorist groups like ISIS.

Incidentally, Obama is making quite a show of seeking congressional authorization to train “moderate” Syrian fighters as part of his war on terrorism strategy. But, consistent with the foregoing, nothing betrays the wishful thinking inherent in this quite like the shameful (and ultimately sacrificial) way thousands of U.S.-trained Iraqi fighters threw down their U.S.-made weapons, abandoned their U.S.-made military vehicles, and hightailed it from just a few hundred poorly equipped ISIS/ISIL fighters.

More to the point, though, it smacks of a delusional mix of paternalism, narcissism, and sadomasochism for the United States to keep trying to impose Jeffersonian democracy on countries in the Middle East. The irony, of course, is that, left to their own devices, those countries might develop into thriving democracies after all … just like the United States.

Indeed, perhaps the most galling feature of U.S. foreign policy is that Americans act as if they developed their beacon of democracy overnight. Whereas, in fact, the barbarism ISIS is displaying with its land grab and ethnic cleansing across the Middle East, which Obama is citing as the cause for war, pales in comparison to the barbarism Whites displayed with their land grab and institutionalized slavery across the United States. Not to mention that Americans hurling self-righteous indignation at the barbaric sectarian war between Sunni, Shia, and Kurds for control of Iraq would do well to remember the barbaric Civil War between Yankees, Confederates … and Blacks for control of the United States of America.

With that I rest my case against Obama’s war on terrorism.

Related commentaries:
On Syrian and almost every other issue
Fifth summit
Netanyahu, Obama’s Iago
Why Putin
Killing with gas
Support the Draft to prevent stupid wars

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