On Friday, the Boston Globe allowed former Massachusetts Senator and current Secretary of State John Kerry to publish an op-ed piece defending the United States’ actions against the Islamic State (IS) entitled, “Under US leadership, world will defeat ISIS.” Air strikes and increased ground support have begun in earnest since President Obama announced on September 10 that the United States would be expanding its efforts to combat IS in both Iraq and Syria.
Needless to say, the op-ed is just the latest carefully-worded piece of propaganda from the Obama administration, filled with contradictions and patronizing rhetoric characterized by fear-mongering and equivocation.
You don’t have to be a hippie peacenik, leftist anti-imperialist, or libertarian isolationist to sift through the bullshit and understand that this latest Middle East intervention is nothing more than a continuation of militarist, Bush-era policies that would keep us in a state of perpetual war for the remainder of our lifetimes.
From the op-ed:
“The United States has long faced threats from a lethal brand of terrorism that perverts one of world’s great religions. We have been relentless in targeting Al Qaeda and its affiliates, but the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, now poses a profound and unique threat to the entire world.
What we are confronting is nothing less than a violent extremist enterprise. It has employed violence, intimidation, and genocidal brutality to impose its will across large swaths of Syria and Iraq. The Islamic State controls more territory than Al Qaeda ever has, which means it has access to money on an unprecedented scale to finance its mayhem.”
This is all true – except that even President Obama admitted in his own statement two weeks ago that IS, though indeed uniquely brutal and indefensible, poses no direct threat to the United States. IS does actually endanger the countries that surround Syria and Iraq, but to say that they pose a “threat to the entire world” is at best an exaggeration and at worst a lie.
Does the Obama administration even see the irony in the fact that it rose to power largely as a reaction to the warmongering of the Bush years, yet has mostly continued a slightly lesser version of those same policies?
Could the Islamic State pose a threat to the United States and the rest of the world someday? Maybe, but who really knows? Perceived or hypothetical threats are not a legitimate basis for foreign intervention, let alone war. But our government has proven once again that it will not hesitate to intervene in foreign affairs and conduct war under almost any circumstance, with no regard for democracy, morality, legality or the Constitution.
“With American leadership, the world is responding with a unity that shows these criminals that we will not allow them to divide us or force their nihilistic vision on helpless people, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or nationality. On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution condemning the gross abuses carried out by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.”
Secretary Kerry forgot to mention that the Security Council, though they did unanimously condemn IS, did not pass a resolution in support of the US-led war against them.
The administration’s continued insistence on labeling IS as “nihilistic” is also misleading and problematic. The Globe itself recently published an article correctly claiming that the Islamic State is anything but nihilistic:
“[Nihilism] is most often defined as the conviction that no conviction—religious, metaphysical, or moral—is possible. Its original associations were not with any perceived barbarism in non-Western societies, but to the spiritual decadence and rudderlessness of the West. By withdrawing the promise of heaven and the threat of hell, nihilism threw life on earth into relief, making us responsible for our own deeds.
The ethos of ISIS—in which no act is too sadistic if it helps bring an extremist religious state closer to reality—is not nihilistic at all. It is, to the contrary, a reaction to nihilism, a way of fending off its moral challenge by embracing a dangerous and outdated theocratic mentality.”
Back to the op-ed:
“There is a vigorous international debate under way about what it means to destroy the Islamic State, about how effective and resilient the growing coalition will be, and about how the strategy will unfold in the coming months.”
The real debate should not be about strategy and effectiveness, but why the United States thinks it can and should destroy the Islamic State in the first place. Why is the US once again further injecting itself into the same Middle East quagmire, especially if those in power admit that IS is not a threat? This important debate has not been had at all – not in the press and not in the halls of congress.
“Here at home, I understand why Americans are weary about US involvement in the volatile Middle East. People are right to ask tough questions, and we have a responsibility to answer them.
I am proud to work for a president who asks questions before using military force because, after all, I remember the words of the conservative Edmund Burke: ‘a conscientious man would be careful how he deals in blood.”
Yes, John Kerry agrees that we, the People, are right to ask tough questions. He also agrees that the State has a responsibility to answer them. But he, nor anyone in the administration, has offered any real answers. Go figure.
That second sentence perhaps reveals one of the administration’s political motives for their overzealous reaction to IS – to appease conservative hawks in Congress and their reactionary demands for more drastic action by couching their relative caution in conservative terms, (as if quoting the person whom many consider to be the father of modern-day conservatism would restrain their bloodlust).
“Sunni and Shiite alike have joined forces against [the Islamic State]. The coalition represents a unified response, as evidenced by the remarkable and unprecedented participation of five Arab countries in the air strikes in Syria. And that’s just the beginning. There is a role for every nation, from helping to dry up outside funding and stopping the flow of foreign fighters to taking direct military action and providing humanitarian assistance.”
Yes, about those five Arab countries: They should be leading and fighting this war, not the United States. Since IS is actually within striking distance of their borders, why can’t we let them and other coalition nations take care of it? Let them defend their own repressive regimes and their own versions of Sharia Law from the Islamic State – who are nothing if not ideological cousins who have taken Islamic fundamentalism even further.
“This is not the prelude to another US ground war in the Middle East. President Obama has said repeatedly that US ground troops will not engage in combat roles. He means it. I volunteered to serve and fought in a war I came to believe was a mistake. I take that lesson seriously. This will not be another one of those interventions.”
Let’s hope so, but most observers believe that this campaign against IS will not be over anytime soon, and recent comments from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before a Senate committee have raised doubts about the administration’s repeated assertions that there will be no “boots on the ground.”
It’s unfortunate that Kerry realized that the Vietnam War and the second Iraq War were mistakes, but not the current attacks on IS. Maybe he only understands the folly of a particular war after it’s been started, so let’s give him time.
“Finally, this campaign is not about helping President Bashar Assad of Syria. We are not on the same side as Assad — in fact, he is a magnet that has drawn foreign fighters from dozens of countries to Syria. As the president has said, Assad lost legitimacy a long time ago. We are embarking on an important effort to train and equip vetted members of Syria’s opposition who are fighting the Islamic State and the regime at the same time. By degrading the Islamic State and providing training and arms to the moderates, we will promote conditions that can lead to a negotiated settlement that ends this conflict. […] But as the president said, America is not in this fight alone. Iraqi and Kurdish troops are fighting on the ground now, and over the months the moderates in Syria will become a more effective force as we provide training, equipment, and military advice.”
It has yet to be revealed how the US plans to distinguish between “moderate” and “extremist” fighters, or how they will prevent arms from falling into the wrong hands. IS has already gotten a hold of American weapons from the inept Iraqi Army and other fighters in Syria. This is the danger of providing weapons to rebels in a chaotic conflict.
I believe Secretary Kerry when he says, “we are not on the same side as Assad,” but we sure aren’t acting like it. It has been revealed that the United States, through intermediaries, has coordinated attacks on IS militants with the Assad regime, and has sought cooperation from another supposed enemy – Iran – in combating IS. Again, this is a chaotic conflict.
“But our strategy is broader. One important step is reducing the number of foreign fighters flocking to the black flag of the Islamic State. […]Keeping fighters from making it to the war is more effective than taking them out after they arrive. […]We must work to strangle the Islamic State’s funding. The Islamic State has reaped millions of dollars from its sales of pirated oil, extortion rackets, and illegal taxes on businesses in the territory it controls. Ending its taxes and extortion will require winning back territory, but the world can act now to dry up the black market for the oil the Islamic State is smuggling.”
This is a solid strategy, how about we get the approval of international organizations and have the surrounding countries organize the actual war? Oh right, because somehow, United States involvement is necessary:
“The evil that the Islamic State represents is not something that Iraq or the region can take on alone. We face a common threat and it requires a common response. Acting together, with clear objectives and strong will, we can protect the innocent, contain the danger, and demonstrate that our ideals are more powerful than those who seek to impose their warped beliefs at the point of a gun. The Islamic State is odious, but it is far from omnipotent — it will be defeated.”
Well, we’ll see how this turns out – probably not well. Libya, home of the United States’ last major intervention, is on the brink of a full-blown civil war.
One last thought: By intervening in the Middle East, we are playing right into the hands of IS, Al-Qaeda, and other militant groups. This is literally what they want. Provoking Western intervention and war has been at the core of Al-Qaeda’s long-term strategy to inspire Islamic jihadist uprisings and revolutions and the creation of a Caliphate. The last war in Iraq is directly responsible for the rise of what would become the Islamic State – Al Qaeda’s plan was actually, in a way, successful.
Many people would also suggest that military action is exactly what the Islamic State wants, and gives them a previously non-existent rationale for planning terrorist attacks on American soil: