Eight reasons to oppose Obama’s (new) war

November 10, 2014

Alan Maass and Eric Ruder make the case against a new war in the Middle East.

BARACK OBAMA claims his war on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is necessary to stop the menace of terror and oppression. But lurking behind his rhetoric to justify the latest American military intervention are the same imperial motives--control of oil, geopolitical dominance in the Middle East, international rivalries--that we know from previous U.S. wars.

Like those conflicts, the war on ISIS will make the world more violent, more oppressive and less safe. Here, SocialistWorker.org gives you some of the reasons why you should oppose this new war--so you can speak out and make the case yourself.

ONE: Obama has declared war on ISIS to promote U.S. imperial interests, not to confront tyranny and oppression.

The U.S. government's new war in the Middle East, launched this summer, represents a dramatic escalation of violence by the world's most powerful military machine. Just last week, as his first major statement after his party, the Democrats, suffered a drubbing in midterm elections, Barack Obama announced a "new phase" in the war, starting with the deployment of 1,500 more "advisers" to Iraq.

President Barack Obama speaks to U.S. soldiers

Obama insists the "advisers" won't participate in combat, but we've heard that promise before, dating back to the Vietnam War. A website documenting the "mission creep" of the war on ISIS shows that the new deployment will nearly double the number of official U.S. military personnel in Iraq.

Already, the U.S. is carrying out intensive air strikes in Iraq, continuing a quarter-century of war that has reduced what was once a developing nation to one of the poorest on Earth, and in Syria, a country it hadn't gotten around to bombing before. As of mid-September, after just one month of the air war, U.S. warplanes had already flown 2,750 sorties--an average of nearly 100 every single day.

The enemy in this new war is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a reactionary military force and would-be state that grew powerful as a direct consequence of the disastrous U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Now, ISIS threatens to erase the borders of a Middle East where the U.S. has been the dominant imperial power for half a century.

That's why Obama gave the order to drop bombs this summer. At stake for the U.S. is control over Middle East oil--not because America needs imports, but because this control gives it leverage against international rivals like China and Russia, not to mention its allies in Europe. The point was summed up in a 1945 State Department report that called the region's oil resources "a stupendous source of strategic power and one of the greatest material prizes in world history."

The U.S. also wants to rehabilitate its military machine after the disasters of the "war on terror" decade--and ISIS provides the "perfect enemy" to win support. The stakes are high for all of us: If U.S. imperialism emerges stronger by defeating ISIS, the war-makers in Washington will be in a better position to subdue resistance anywhere on the globe, including within the U.S.

TWO: The U.S. war won't save religious and ethnic minorities who are being persecuted by ISIS.

THE FIRST air strikes were accompanied by claims that the U.S. wouldn't "turn a blind eye" to the plight of the Yazidis, a religious minority besieged by ISIS fighters. Obama had the gall to talk about these "innocent people" facing "violence on a horrific scale" after the U.S. government's main ally in the Middle East, Israel, had spent the previous month terrorizing the people of Gaza with "violence on a horrific scale."

Tellingly, most of the first U.S. bombs were dropped several hundred miles away from where the Yazidis were besieged. The air strikes were concentrated around the city of Erbil, where ISIS was threatening to conquer the capital of the Iraqi Kurds, the U.S.'s most steadfast allies within Iraq during 25 years of war. Erbil is also--surprise, surprise--a key city for oil production in northern Iraq.

The U.S. government's cynicism was further exposed when ISIS fighters launched a deadly offensive against Kobanê, a city in the region of northern Syria where most of the country's Kurdish minority lives.

At first, with the city on the verge of falling, U.S. officials like Secretary of State John Kerry nevertheless lectured reporters that saving the Kurds of Kobanê wasn't part of the plan for this "humanitarian" intervention. Meanwhile, Turkey--a staunch U.S. ally that has inflicted terrible oppression against its own Kurdish minority--refused to support the defense of Kobanê, just over its southern border, unless the Kurds agreed to certain conditions.

Against the odds, ISIS has so far been repelled in its invasion of Kobanê--in part because of stepped-up tactical air strikes by the U.S., but mostly because of the courageous defense of the city by outgunned Kurdish fighters who are fighting for their people and their rights.

In the aftermath, the Kurds should beware of the U.S. government claiming it will "help" the Kurds in their struggle--because there will be strings attached. As the American socialist John Reed said, "Whoever takes Uncle Sam's promises at their face value will find himself obliged to pay for them with blood and sweat."

THREE: U.S. imperialism bears a lot of the responsibility for ISIS's rise. Escalating the U.S. war is more likely to strengthen the reactionaries than weaken them.

To listen to Barack Obama talk about the "cancer of violent extremism," you'd think the U.S. government was uncompromising in its opposition to reactionary formations like ISIS.

But not if they can be used to further imperialist aims. In the 1980s, the U.S. government financed and supplied Islamic fundamentalists fighting the former USSR's invasion of Afghanistan. The men who Ronald Reagan called "freedom fighters" later came together as al-Qaeda.

During the occupation of Iraq, U.S. officials encouraged the sectarian division between Sunni and Shia Muslims--as a divide-and-conquer strategy against the threat of a united resistance targeting U.S. forces. When this sectarian dynamic set off a bloody civil war, al-Qaeda in Iraq--the predecessor organization of ISIS--gained a foothold for the first time.

More recently, the U.S. looked the other way while its allies among the authoritarian regimes of the region, especially Saudi Arabia, supported armed Islamic formations like ISIS--as a counter to the growing strength of Shia-dominated regimes across the region. Thus, the toxic sectarian conflict stoked by the U.S. during the occupation of Iraq spread across the region--encouraged by the American empire.

ISIS now claims to rule over a huge area in Iraq and Syria--and over millions of people, including many Sunnis, who view its reactionary agenda and persecution of all dissent as abhorrent. But for now, ISIS still has the passive support of many Sunnis because it has defended their community from the repression of the Shia-dominated regime in Iraq, for one. Every time the U.S. fires another missile, it drives Sunnis toward ISIS--as the only force that has been successful in defending them against violence and oppression.

FOUR: If the U.S. can weaken or destroy ISIS, it will strengthen the network of dictatorships and reactionary monarchs that rule the Middle East.

The images from ISIS's videotaped beheadings of Western journalists have rightly horrified people everywhere. They are a barbaric emblem of its tyranny.

But the U.S. has been joined in its air strikes against ISIS by Saudi Arabia, among other authoritarian regimes, which executes dozens of people by beheading in the infamous public plaza in Riyadh known as "Chop-Chop Square." Among the "crimes" punishable by beheading are adultery, sedition, sorcery and witchcraft.

The old order around the Middle East has reacted to the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 by mobilizing the utmost violence against all dissent. When the island kingdom of Bahrain--home to the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command--faced a pro-democracy uprising, the Saudi Arabian military invaded to crush the rebellion. In 2013, when Iraqi Sunnis organized a wave of largely nonviolent mass demonstrations, the Shia-dominated central government used all the weapons that the U.S. had supplied it with to put down the dissenters.

Meanwhile, in Syria, the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad has the most to gain from the U.S. war on ISIS, though neither side will say so out loud. The Syrian regime and ISIS have cynically abided by a de facto cease-fire for most of the last two years, while both trained their guns on different sections of the mass uprising against the dictatorship. Today, the regime can continue its murderous war on the revolution, knowing that its military will be well positioned to take advantage if the U.S. air strikes weaken ISIS.

We want to see ISIS overthrown. But if it is accomplished by the U.S. and its authoritarian allies, the forces of reaction in the Middle East will be strengthened.

FIVE: The violence of ISIS, as horrific as it is, pales in comparison to the violence of the U.S. government.

For 25 years, the U.S. has deployed the world's most deadly military against the people of Iraq. During the 1991 Gulf War, it fired 320 tons of depleted uranium munitions, littering the country with radioactive dust that has led to a dramatic spike in cancer rates and birth defects.

In 1996, Bill Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright infamously told 60 Minutes that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children caused by U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq were "a price worth paying" to isolate Saddam Hussein's regime. After Bush Jr.'s invasion in 2003, the esteemed Lancet medical journal estimated that the latest phase of the U.S. war had caused another 600,000 Iraqi deaths as of 2006.

The U.S. war and occupation also produced one of the world's largest refugee crises, with some 4 million Iraqis--more than 10 percent of the population--living abroad or internally displaced. And while U.S. officials and media pundits decry the barbarism of ISIS's hostage-taking, the torture of detainees by U.S. forces at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan is no less horrific.

All told, the U.S. has killed well over 1 million Iraqis, fanned sectarian tensions that will take more lives in the years to come, and condemned millions more to a slow death from poverty, malnutrition and sickness. Why should we believe the outcome of a new war will be any less devastating for Iraq?

SIX: The U.S. doesn't go to war for humanitarian reasons and never has.

The U.S. hasn't spent trillions of dollars and shed untold amounts of blood in the Middle East to advance the spread of democracy and human rights, but to pursue its economic and strategic interests, from control of Middle East oil to military dominance over its rivals.

To carry out its wars, however, U.S. politicians must count on at least passive support from the U.S. population, which is unlikely to be persuaded by calls to secure the profits of multinational oil companies or cement U.S. strategic influence. That's why U.S. war planners invariably conceal their true aims with more noble-sounding justifications about "humanitarian intervention."

If the U.S. were truly motivated by humanitarian concerns, it wouldn't count Saudi Arabia, one of the region's worst abusers of women's rights, as an ally. "There's no chance, however, of the U.S. bombing Riyadh to end this evil," wrote socialist journalist Eamonn McCann. "The Saudi dictatorship is top of the list of regional allies the U.S. needs onside for blitzing ISIS. Recently, the Obama administration distributed pictures of Secretary of State John Kerry in comfortable conversation with the leader of the Saudi beheaders, King Abdullah."

Nor would the U.S. support apartheid Israel in its drive to ethnically cleanse Palestine of its indigenous inhabitants if it truly cared about confronting the "perpetrators of violent extremism." On the contrary, Israel remains the U.S. government's most valued ally--under Democrats as well as Republicans--because it is committed to helping the U.S. maintain its imperial control over the Middle East.

The U.S. empire has always attempted to give a humanitarian cover to its military adventures. As SocialistWorker.org wrote in an editorial, even in the earliest days of U.S. imperialism at the turn of the 20th century:

[P]oliticians and the media invented crude provocations to justify intervention in the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico, where American forces carried out the wholesale slaughter of indigenous populations. All this was done, according to President William McKinley, "not as invaders or conquerors, but as friends, to protect the natives in their homes, in their employments, and in their personal and religious rights."

More than a century later, U.S. political leaders are pretending to be friends to the people of the Middle East--but it is they who are paying the price for America's wars.

SEVEN: Obama's new war on ISIS won't make people in the U.S. or anywhere else safer. On the contrary, it will make the world more dangerous.

ONE OF the most taboo questions in U.S. political culture is why the U.S. was targeted on September 11. The truth is that the U.S. has carried out the equivalent of thousands of 9/11s around the world, which is why it is feared and despised in every corner of the globe. Sometimes, that anger is directed against U.S. targets--often people who have nothing to do with the U.S. war machine, but who are victims of what U.S. government officials openly call "blowback."

Osama bin Laden infamously used images of emaciated and malnourished Iraqi children suffering under a regime of U.S.-imposed sanctions to recruit fighters to al-Qaeda.

Likewise, regimes around the world have pointed to the indefinite detention of Arab and Muslim detainees at the U.S. prison camp at Guantánamo Bay--not to mention U.S. officials' justification for using torture against them--to legitimize their own abuses. For this reason, a dozen Nobel Peace laureates have called on Obama to make "full disclosure to the American people of the extent and use of torture" by the U.S., a call which Obama is resisting.

The "war on terror" has also been used as justification by the NSA and other government agencies for their widespread violations of the right to privacy and other civil liberties.

EIGHT: Another war will waste money and resources that are desperately needed in every corner of the world, including the U.S.

EARLIER THIS year, Congress passed an $8.7 billion cut in the food stamp program for the poor. Meanwhile, Obama's new war on ISIS will cost an estimated $18 billion to $22 billion each year. Just last week, Obama asked the new Republican-dominated Congress for $5.6 billion in additional funding--not to repair parts of the social safety net, but for the Pentagon and State Department as part of the war on ISIS.

As Middle East commentator Juan Cole wrote:

The same people who have trouble justifying a safety net for the working poor and find it urgent to cut billions from the programs that keep us a civilized society rather than a predatory jungle--those same people have no difficulty authorizing billions for vague bombing campaigns that are unlikely to be successful on any genuine metric.

U.S. domination of the Middle East is also about speeding up the extraction and burning of fossil fuels--even though climate scientists are united in calling for fossil fuels to be left in the ground if the planet is to have a fighting chance maintaining the ecosystem.

From Iraq to Syria to the U.S., ordinary people won't benefit from another imperial adventure to keep money flowing into the already overflowing coffers of the world's most powerful and wealthy corporations.

Ultimately, it is the system of capitalism that drives nation states and corporations into an all-out struggle to defeat their rivals and dominate the planet. Only by uprooting this system and replacing it with a socialist society will the needs of people and the environment finally win out over the blind pursuit of profit.

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