The neoconservative foreign policy doctrine advanced by officials in President George W. Bush’s administration was defined by the ideological belief that America has a “unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity and our principles.” In other words, America is the one indispensable nation in the world. That ideological belief inspired the Bush administration to manufacture a case for war in Iraq that was based on lies. And now, more than eleven years later, that same ideological belief is driving President Barack Obama’s administration.
In Obama’s speech announcing his strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), he invoked the September 11th attacks and the economic recession.
“My fellow Americans, we live in a time of great change. Tomorrow marks 13 years since our country was attacked. Next week marks 6 years since our economy suffered its worst setback since the Great Depression. Yet despite these shocks; through the pain we have felt and the grueling work required to bounce back – America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth.”
Obama proceeded to fervently rattle off accomplishments, which will, for the most part, have absolutely no bearing on what happens in Iraq and Syria, as the US further escalates war. He mentioned tech companies, universities, manufacturing, auto industry and job creation.
“Abroad, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists,” Obama declared.
“It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny. It is America – our scientists, our doctors, our know-how – that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so they cannot pose a threat to the Syrian people – or the world – again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, tolerance, and a more hopeful future.”
In reality, America has been a leader when it comes to profiling, spying, detention, torture and extrajudicial killings, which disproportionately affect Muslim communities. America was about to bomb Syria when Secretary of State John Kerry suggested Syria turn over its chemical weapons. Disarming Syria was adopted as a solution and made possible because of an international coalition. America’s support for the Ukrainian people’s right to self-determination is not unique among other nations, and it is rather crude to bring the peaceful work of American doctors and scientists fighting a real virus into a speech announcing a war strategy.
“America, our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead,” Obama continued.
Such a statement seemed to have biblical overtones, like Americans bear the burden of the sins of this world and are the saviors of this Earth. This patronizing rhetoric was one of the clearest examples of delusion in Obama’s speech.
After he cited an unnamed refugee who had been trapped on Mt. Sinjar and supposedly saved by US forces last month, Obama added, “Our own safety – our own security – depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for – timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.”
But ISIS poses no threat to America currently.
As the New York Times noted after Obama’s speech, “Some officials and terrorism experts believe that the actual danger posed by ISIS has been distorted in hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians, and that there has been little substantive public debate about the unintended consequences of expanding American military action in the Middle East.”
Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Department’s top counterterrorism adviser during Mr. Obama’s first term, said the public discussion about the ISIS threat has been a “farce,” with “members of the cabinet and top military officers all over the place describing the threat in lurid terms that are not justified.”
“It’s hard to imagine a better indication of the ability of elected officials and TV talking heads to spin the public into a panic, with claims that the nation is honeycombed with sleeper cells, that operatives are streaming across the border into Texas or that the group will soon be spraying Ebola virus on mass transit systems — all on the basis of no corroborated information,” said Mr. Benjamin, who is now a scholar at Dartmouth College.
What makes these officials and pundits who have exaggerated the threat of ISIS to build support for military action any better than the officials and pundits who lied and exaggerated the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? What makes them any better than those who lied about Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda to convince Americans of the need for war and occupation?
The Obama administration could make disrupting ISIS’s finances a primary objective instead of escalating military operations. It could, as the Obama administration already claims it is committed to doing, reduce ISIS’ revenue from oil it “plundered” and disrupt “external donations to the group.”
Rhetorically, the administration has appeared to recognize a political solution is required to take care of the political vacuum, which has benefited ISIS. It urged Iraq to form an “inclusive government.” A new Iraqi government was sworn in on September 8. Only a day later, the administration announced plans to escalate military action without even giving the government a chance to begin working.
What happens if the action taken by the Obama administration has a destabilizing effect on the government again, as recent actions in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq have had?
The Obama administration is either blind to the US’ role in fueling the rise of ISIS or deliberately displaying ignorance:
What we have seen with [ISIS] is the emergence of a growing threat emanating from Iraq and Syria over the course of the last several months. However, it’s important to note that [ISIS] has its roots in al Qaeda in Iraq; it was formerly the al Qaeda affiliate operating in Iraq for many years after the US-led invasion in 2003. But we have seen it gain in strength as it has taken advantage of sectarian strife in the region and the civil war in Syria to operate more freely in the border region of Iraq and Syria, to gain territory that has allowed it access to resources, funding and weapons in recent months to seek to make further advances, particularly inside of Iraq.
The US occupation of Iraq following the US invasion attracted militants, which formed al Qaeda in Iraq and then became ISIS.
US-made weapons given to rebels in Syria have fallen into the hands of ISIS. Fighters have also obtained weapons, which were supplied by Saudi Arabia to opposition groups in southern Syria in January 2013, according to The Guardian.
Obama has sought $500 million to train and arm Syrian rebels. What is going to happen strategically that will be any different? How are American weapons not going to wind up in the hands of ISIS?
Additionally, this new war in Iraq is premised on the alleged fact that US operations, including drone strikes, in Yemen and Somalia have been successes.
Even the State Department has recognized that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has grown from around 200 people in 2009 to “several thousand” people. AQAP has taken advantage of a political vacuum in Yemen. Amel Ahmed, a Yemeni freelance writer, suggested, “Al Qaeda would not be in Yemen but for a discredited central government that has failed to provide its people with opportunities and better living conditions.”
A story published by The Washington Post on May 29, 2012 reported, “An escalating campaign of US drone strikes is stirring increasing sympathy for al-Qaeda-linked militants and driving tribesmen to join a network linked to terrorist plots against the United States.”
Al Shabaab has developed and carried out attacks in Somalia as a result of “Washington’s own actions,” according to journalist Jeremy Scahill.
His book, Dirty Wars, detailed how “al Shabaab and its al Qaeda allies [grew] more powerful in Somalia than it—or the CIA—could ever have imagined.”
The CIA-backed Somali warlords were defeated by the Islamic Courts Union in the mid-2000s. “Blowback sparked by US policies in Somalia and abroad,” further inspired al Qaeda activity.
“The civilian tolls the wars were taking in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, gave credence to the perception that the United States was waging a war against Islam,” Scahill wrote. “While the United States backed its own warlords in Mogadishu, Washington’s post-9/11 actions led to the formation of a coalition of former warlords and religious movements that would challenge the rule of the US proxies in Somalia.”
When Ethiopia got involved in the fighting, that further escalated the conflict. Malcolm Nance, a “career navy counterterrorist specialist who trained elite US Special Operations Forces,” told Scahill, “The Shabab existed in a very small warlord-like infrastructure, prior to that, but once Ethiopia went in there—it’s pretty obvious that they were acting as a [US] surrogate—al Qaeda said, ‘Great! New full-on Jihadi battlefront. We’ve got ‘em here. We’ve got the Christian Ethiopians, we’ve got American advisers. Now we just create a new battlefront and we will reinvigorate East Africa’s al Qaeda organization.’ And that is exactly what happened.”
The US is going to be leading a coalition composed of forces from various countries, which it will not be able to control. How much time has it spent assessing the endgame, meaning what will happen with each of these countries waging war? What militants will each country attract?
It is rather incredible to think that in Obama’s second inaugural speech he spoke about enduring peace and lasting security not requiring perpetual war. Escalating the war in Iraq, especially before trying other measures and allowing Iraq’s new government to strengthen, is sowing the seeds of war.
The Obama administration does not appear to understand that citizens in these countries, where military or covert operations have taken place, are horrified by the policies of their own government. When the US aids or support their government, which has been responsible for brutality against them, it alienates them. Secret US operations ending in carnage impact families, who become even more incensed by their government’s failure to address their needs. That makes them the perfect individuals for groups like ISIS to recruit.
Both the Bush and Obama administrations have perpetuated a cycle of violence that leads to more terrorism, that fuels more intense conflict in countries and leaves citizens wondering if this is the goal of the US: to maintain conditions for fighting extremist groups like ISIS so America can continue to justify its presence in places around the world.
What the Obama administration is doing continues this dangerous game, and it could have terrible consequences for the people of Iraq and Syria, who do not need to suffer from more atrocities. They need actions that will de-escalate the Middle East, not further transform the region into a training zone for extremists.