They’re back! John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney – the people who pushed the U.S. into the devastating mistake that was the 2003 invasion of Iraq, have discovered yet another existential threat ready and able to destroy the world. Back then it was Saddam Hussein and his mythical cache of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Now it is ISIS and its army of fanatical jihadists who are torturing, raping, crucifying, decapitating and genocidally killing anyone who stands in the way of the new caliphate they are building in what is left of the nations of Iraq and Syria. It is precisely because there is a political, military, and economic vacuum in the heart of the Middle East that ISIS is able to thrive and expand.
The tragedy of American foreign policy is that the people who helped create that vacuum – who set into motion a war of aggression and choice – have never been held accountable for their mistake. So here they are, this time doing the bidding of ISIS, spreading terror and fear into the hearts of the American people, priming the country for yet another war of aggression. The foreign policy of these cheerleaders is encapsulated in one sentence, which ought to be carved on the tombstone of Bill Kristol, the man who said this: “What’s the harm of bombing them at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens?”
American warmongers assume bombing is a clinical, dispassionate, coldly accurate, and ethically neutral part of modern warfare. It’s just so easy to push a few buttons in New Mexico, and drones rain bombs half a world away, from Pakistan to Afghanistan, Iraq, The Sudan, and if Bill Kristol has his way – Syria. Yet even the Pentagon admits it is not so easy as all that. You need someone on the ground to identify a target, and then hope that the computer operator in New Mexico can see the target clearly on their screen. Inevitably, much of the time, someone dies who is “peripheral, collateral damage.” Who is accountable for the collateral damage? The soldier on the ground who didn’t have accurate information on how many innocent people were with the target? The computer operator who should have seen a child playing next to the building about to be blown up?
One of the reasons Barack Obama and the Pentagon pulled US fighting forces out of Iraq last year was exactly over this question. The Iraqis wanted Americans who committed war crimes in Iraq to be brought to justice in Iraqi courts. The Pentagon would have none of this, and the decision to leave Iraq to its own defenses was made. Many months later, when ISIS conducted its blitzkrieg into Iraq from Syria, it was too late for the al-Maliki government. The defense forces of Iraq fled in fear, partly because most of them were Sunnis and had no loyalty to a government in Baghdad which promoted only Shi’ite interests. It didn’t help matters that ISIS was given a welcoming hand by Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq, who also were fed up with the al-Maliki government.
Most of those Sunni tribal leaders now regret their decision, having seen firsthand the barbarism of the ISIS jihadists. Iraq is not simply home to Sunnis and Shi’ites. There are Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, and other tribal groups that have their own religious identities – and these are the groups ISIS is targeting for extermination on the grounds of apostasy. Shi’ite soldiers are immediately executed, and civilians are given the “right” to convert to Sunni Islam or pay a crippling tax (a practice that does indeed go back to the days of the eighth century caliphates). If you want to experience an existential crisis, try being a member of a non-Sunni group in northern Iraq.
There is certainly a sense developing in Iraq that an existential crisis is upon them – all of them, Sunni or Shi’ite, Arab or Kurd. Tens of thousands of Turkmen were surrounded by ISIS troops in the town of Amerli, but rather than surrender, the town arranged its own defense, even to the point where food and water were running out. The Iraqi government in Baghdad came to the support of Amerli, accompanied by Iranian-led Shi’ite military, with additional bombing help from the US military. The critical factor for the US was that the Pentagon had a clear idea where the ISIS offensive forces were amassed, and they were receiving ground help from the Iraqi military in setting targets. ISIS was pushed back, the siege was lifted, and the US was able to air-drop food and supplies to thousands of people who were in desperate condition.
At about the same time, the US began coordinating with the Kurds, who lost the major city of Mosul to ISIS, and whose Pesh Merga military force has proven far less formidable than everyone had thought. With this coordination, ISIS was forced to give up control of a critical dam on the Euphrates River, and the next step appears to be to oust ISIS from Mosul.
Immediately after these events, ISIS began fulminating about the US attacks made on them. ISIS vowed revenge, and the videotaped beheadings of two American journalists seemed to be a direct consequence of the US “taking sides.” The beheadings served their terroristic purpose. They spread virally on the internet, and proved to the world that a new horror had been unleashed in the Middle East. American politicians called for counter-revenge, warning that ISIS was ready to cross the border from Mexico, that sleeper cells might already exist in America, that more than 100 Westerners have joined ISIS and are being groomed to perform acts of terrorism in Europe and America. And yes, Republicans began talking about an existential crisis facing the US.
There is no doubt such a crisis is facing Iraqis – Shi’ites, Kurds, minorities, and any Sunnis who stand in their way. There is also evidence that Iraqis, Kurds, and Iran are now taking the crisis very seriously. But exactly who else is being threatened by ISIS? Turkey at this point seems to have tightened up its border with Iraq, but so far no grand coalition of Arab, Turk, or Iranian countries has come together to fight ISIS. You could argue that a lot of Middle East countries are too self-absorbed to come to anyone else’s assistance, until the menace is at their doorstep. But one country that has the capacity of the US to do something significant militarily against ISIS is sitting on its hands. Israel is in critical need of credibility among its Arab neighbors, so why hasn’t Israel sent troops to Iraq and joined the US in a bombing campaign?
The answer to that question is easy: the Israelis never take military action if they can get the US to do it for them. Benyamin Netanyahu doesn’t even have to crank up the AIPAC lobby in the US to goad the Americans into deeper involvement in the area. Lindsey Graham and John McCain are doing just fine, terrorizing the US all on their own, displaying for everyone to see how frightened they are of ISIS, and how frightened we all should be as well. At the same time, since it’s an election year, the Republicans and neocon warmongers are all over Barack Obama for his lack of a strategy, and failure to defend the US.
We’ve heard all of this before, 11 years ago as the Bush Administration was unveiling its public relations campaign for war in Iraq. Republicans have consistently accused the Democrats of being weak on defense and leaving the country unprotected. Now it is true that in many respects, Barack Obama is a weak president, at least when it comes to politics. He’s never publicly delivered the thrashing to the Republicans and the neocons that they deserved, he’s never organized the Democrats to deliver a consistent message on George Bush’s failure to protect the US against the 9/11 attacks, and he’s a surprisingly poor communicator for his own foreign policy, even when it is effective. His approach to getting involved in Syria has been extremely cautious, but not out of cowardice. He’s been judicious in his use of airpower, knowing that it will automatically draw the attention of ISIS, and to his credit, he seems highly reluctant to bring any significant number of troops back into Iraq. He senses that the United States could be trapped once again in the Middle East with no clear outcome in sight, and many downside risks.
Obama’s task would be much easier if he had held anyone accountable, including the media, for the debacle we have created in Iraq. Instead, he wanted amity with the Republicans, and gave George W. Bush a noble sendoff which was completely undeserved. He turned a blind eye to war crimes committed by America, because he wanted to move forward and not backward. Now he is discovering the consequences of fostering a climate of unaccountability. The people who created America’s greatest foreign policy failure, none of whom has suffered any consequences for their personal failures, are back on the airwaves, with unquestioned credibility, forcing Obama to move backward and not forward.
He has few political options left, other than to accept the criticism from all those who are screaming for war in the face of an existential crisis far greater than al-Qaeda ever represented (so said Chuck Hagel, his Secretary of Defense). But if it is too late for Obama to demand accountability, perhaps he can demand responsibility from those pushing for more war. Now is the time for all good countrymen to come to the aid of their country! And by good countrymen, we mean the good and the great who run the United States. The times require, in the midst of this existential crisis, that the good and the great provide leadership, and show the way, by offering up their sons and daughters to the war machine they have created and wish others to feed.
It is time for Chelsea Clinton to volunteer for a military assignment in Iraq. She should be joined by that paragon of journalistic nepotism, Luke Russert. Bill Kristol has several children who could volunteer to fight ISIS. Roger Ailes can offer up his son, Zachary Ailes, who ought to be joined in camouflage fatigues by Lachland Murdoch, who is currently doing nothing for his country by serving as an executive at News Corp. And what of Liz Cheney? She’s unemployed at the moment, having given up on her bid for the Senate seat from Wyoming.
There are so many more worthy young people who should be serving their country. What about Jeb Bush’s son, George Prescott Bush? He’s running for Texas Land Office Commissioner. Surely Texas could forego his services when he could be doing something more valuable, like fighting ISIS over there before they ever reach the Texas border. Think of all the young politicians in Congress who could do real service for the United States by serving in Iraq, rather than wasting everyone’s time in the House or the Senate.
This is what happened during World War II. The great and the good volunteered for the military in substantial numbers, to set an example for the rest of the country. And few of them were even billionaires. If this is the existential crisis today’s billionaires say it is, then once again, the great and the good must set an example, by either personally joining the military effort, or sending their own children to the front lines. This includes oligarchs of every sort, from the Murdochs, Kochs, Waltons, and Trumps, to so many others who prefer to hide in the darkness while they pay Congressmen to preserve and protect their privileges and wealth.
If ISIS is the existential crisis it is said to be, we will know this to be true when you see the rich and powerful put not just their money, but their lives and the lives of their children, at risk in defeating the menace. Until we see that happen, we are entitled to think that the same war-mongering scam that occurred in 2003 is being perpetrated all over again.
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