The U.S. won’t fix the disaster it caused in Iraq

September 10, 2014

The emergence of ISIS is the result of the violence unleashed by U.S. imperialism.

BARACK OBAMA and the U.S. political establishment--Democrats and Republican alike--are whipping up support for a new war drive in the Middle East.

Obama will give a televised speech tonight outlining plans to escalate U.S. military intervention, one month after American warplanes began dropping bombs on Iraq in the latest chapter in almost a quarter century of warfare against the Iraqi people.

Obama claims the U.S. is responding to a grave new threat: the Sunni fundamentalists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), whose military offensive this summer has given them control over large parts of northern and western Iraq, to go with their base in eastern Syria.

But the U.S. is aiming its weaponry at a force that arose as a direct consequence of imperialism--in particular, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and Washington's divide-and-conquer policies to stoke sectarian hatred between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Revving up the war machine will only add to the suffering and violence.

President Obama speaking at a press conference
President Obama speaking at a press conference

ISIS has horrified people around the world with its beheadings of captured journalists, its murderous violence toward ethnic and religious minorities, and the reactionary dictates it wants to apply to everyone within the self-declared ISIS caliphate.

This makes it the perfect enemy to help U.S. imperialism rally support, domestically and internationally. The confrontation with ISIS will become the pretext for increased military intervention by U.S. forces; for bolstering reactionary and repressive allies in the region; for increasing Pentagon spending; for intensifying the Big Brother surveillance state; and who knows what else.

The U.S. may or may not re-invade Iraq with ground troops or expand its bombing to Syria in the near term, but make no mistake: Barack Obama is declaring a new war--or at least a new phase in an old one: the decade-old "war on terror."

That war will be waged in the name of stopping more horrors in the Middle East and protecting the security of the U.S. But the American empire will do nothing of the sort. As they have for more than 10 years already--not to mention a century of imperialist aggression before that--the warmakers of Washington will only make the world more unstable, more oppressive and more violent.

THE DOUBLE standards and hypocrisy of the U.S. case for action against ISIS beg to be exposed--though you won't hear much about them from a corporate media that never tires of cheerleading the next U.S. war.

ISIS has killed thousands of people during its recent military operations in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. government, on the other hand, has killed millions in Iraq alone over more than 20 years, in the process of reducing a once developing industrial society to one of the poorest and most violent countries in the world.

ISIS fighters are fanatical fundamentalists who tolerate no dissent, including among fellow Sunni Muslims. But what about the Religious Right maniacs who murder doctors and women's clinic workers in the U.S.--not to mention the reactionary "neocons" who justified their post-September 11 "war on terror" as a part of a "clash of civilizations" between the West and the Arab world?

ISIS has declared a Sunni Muslim caliphate. Israel, America's main ally in the Middle East, is explicitly a Jewish state, formed by the dispossession of the Arab population of Palestine.

ISIS targets journalists. So does Egypt, the U.S. government's second-largest aid recipient in the Middle East. The military regime is prosecuting and jailing journalists for reporting on anti-government demonstrations--those journalists who weren't killed by rampaging security forces, that is.

Then there is the main symbol of ISIS barbarism, known around the world: the videotaped execution of two U.S. reporters by beheading. But when it comes to this sickening form of state murder, ISIS doesn't hold a candle to U.S. ally Saudi Arabia.

According to Britain's muckraking Private Eye magazine, during the 21 months between photojournalist James Foley's abduction by ISIS and his murder in August, at least 113 people were beheaded in Saudi Arabia--in public executions in a plaza in Riyadh well known as "Chop-Chop Square." Among the "crimes" punishable by beheading in Saudi Arabia are blasphemy, adultery, drug smuggling, sedition, sorcery and witchcraft--though authorities may order those accused of adultery to be stoned to death.

And is Barack Obama threatening war against these reactionary fundamentalist tyrants? On the contrary, Obama went on a state visit to Riyadh in March of this year--to emphasize that "Saudi Arabia is a close partner of the United States," according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

BUT MAYBE the rankest hypocrisy of all is this: The U.S. is preparing to go to war against an enemy it brought to life and allowed to flourish, directly and indirectly--not once, not twice, but many times.

The roots of ISIS lie in the al-Qaeda network once led by Osama bin Laden--though the remnants of al-Qaeda now disavow ISIS as "extremists."

Bin Laden and what would become al-Qaeda got their first military experience in Afghanistan during the 1980s as international recruits to the armed resistance against the ex-USSR's invasion. The U.S. funded and supplied the Sunni fundamentalist mujahedeen in Afghanistan--President Ronald Reagan called bin Laden and his fellow insurgents "courageous freedom fighters."

When the USSR was forced to retreat, Reagan and the U.S. lost interest in the rebels they had supported. Bin Laden later turned on the U.S. as al-Qaeda's overarching enemy, especially after Washington increased its military presence in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War of 1991.

After al-Qaeda's September 11, 2001, attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., the Bush administration exploited the opportunity to launch a "war on terror," with targets that went far beyond al-Qaeda. One of them from the start was Saddam Hussein's Iraq--even though Iraq neither possessed weapons of mass destruction nor harbored al-Qaeda, as U.S. officials claimed.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq only emerged after the U.S. invasion in 2003, once opposition to Washington's colonial occupation had spread. Even so, al-Qaeda in Iraq was a small part of the developing resistance. It stood apart from the broader armed opposition because of its deadly attacks, often targeting Shia Muslims, rather than U.S. troops.

When the wider Sunni resistance briefly threatened to unite with Shia opposition to occupation, the U.S. didn't hesitate to stoke sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shia, with al-Qaeda in Iraq as a handy villain. The consequences of the civil war and ethnic cleansing that followed were catastrophic.

Within a few short years, al-Qaeda in Iraq was politically marginalized and militarily defeated by the so-called Awakening Councils. They were formed by Sunni tribal leaders, with support and financing from the U.S., which promised that Sunni leaders would be integrated into the central government, now dominated by Shia political parties.

But the Shia-run state reneged on the bargain the U.S. struck in its name. Former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made sure the re-established Iraqi army and police were dominated by Shia militias--they were turned loose against any and all dissent among Sunnis.

Even after U.S. combat troops were withdrawn from Iraq at the end of the 2011, the U.S. remained implicated in the government's war on Sunnis. When police and military carried out their repression against Sunni dissent--including the wave of largely nonviolent demonstrations in 2012 and 2013 dubbed the "Iraqi Spring"--they used Hellfire missiles, attack helicopters and other weapons supplied by the U.S.

If ISIS today leads the armed Sunni insurgency in Iraq and has at least passive support from much of the Sunni population, it isn't because ISIS's reactionary and authoritarian ideology is widely embraced, but because its fighters have succeeded in defending Sunnis from attack by the U.S.-backed central government in Iraq. The rise of ISIS is a product of the violence and repression unleashed by U.S. imperialism and the other powers of the region.

OBAMA HAS been under pressure to escalate U.S. action against ISIS, including calls to expand air strikes in Iraq and extend them into Syria--even though this would effectively place the U.S. on the same side as Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose regime the U.S. supposedly wants to overthrow.

Both Republicans and Democrats are demanding that the U.S. go after ISIS, but the pressure on Obama doesn't stop there. According to opinion polling conducted for ABC News, support for air strikes against ISIS in Iraq grew from 45 percent in June to 71 percent now--and 65 percent of people favor extending air strikes into Syria. An overwhelming 91 percent of people believe ISIS is "a serious threat to U.S. vital interests."

No wonder the Obama administration is pushing ahead with a new Middle East war drive. It can count on ideological ground well prepared by the "war of terror" decade, launched by the "neocons" during the Bush years and continued, with more moderate rhetoric and somewhat altered methods, under Obama.

Just as in the Bush years, this new war drive will stoke Islamophobia. Whatever Obama's claims to the contrary, the demonization of ISIS--without the slightest recognition of the war crimes of the U.S. government that gave rise to it--will give an official stamp of approval to anti-Muslim bigotry.

Example number one: Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York, reported that she was attacked while leaving the organization's Brooklyn headquarters last week by a man who threw a trash can at her and another woman--and threatened to behead her to "see how your people feel about it."

Such attacks will outrage the same people who are already critical of Obama's campaign to extend and expand the "war on terror" against a new target. We may be a minority at first, but we need to send a loud and determined message against anti-Muslim bigotry and U.S. military escalation in the Middle East.

Barack Obama's "game plan" to confront ISIS won't stop the disaster that the U.S. itself created in the Middle East--still less will it make ordinary people in the U.S. safer. On the contrary, the new drive to war is making the world more dangerous.

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