This is a slippery slope if ever there was one.
On the immediate — the need for some help in getting emergency supplies to the beleaguered community, mainly Yazidis, stuck on top of the mountain, is urgent. But even before President Obama’s announcement, there were reports that some humanitarian support, including an evacuation corridor, had been created by Peshmerga forces who broke through IS lines. If accurate, that’s great. If not, the U.S. should support and move urgently to demand that Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki accept the United Nations offer of technical help on implementing a humanitarian air drop campaign. But the US should NOT send its air force to re-engage in the skies over Iraq. It’s much safer to have the UN provide assistance.
It’s safer partly because of the slippery slope, and partly because the US record on dropping emergency food in the middle of hostilities is nothing to brag about. We shouldn’t forget the November 2001 debacle of Washington’s last massive “humanitarian” war-time airdrop. The US was bombing Afghanistan’s cities, and desperate Afghans were fleeing to the mountains to escape. They faced the cold with nothing, and the US insisted (against the advice of experienced humanitarian organizations) that an air drop was the best solution. (Of course the made-for-CNN visuals of US planes dropping food to beleaguered refugees had nothing to do with it.)
But it got worse. It turned out that the Pentagon’s yellow-plastic-wrapped food packets looked identical to the yellow-wrapped cluster bombs they were dropping nearby….and so many kids were killed running for what they thought was food. When journos pressed the Pentagon, asking aren’t you going to stop dropping those yellow cluster bombs, Gen. Richard Myers said the US had no intention of stopping the use of cluster bombs, and that changing the color, “obviously will take some time, because there are many in the pipeline.”)
Dropping food and water isn’t always the same as dropping bombs – but when it’s the US Air Force, with cargo planes full of food and water accompanied by fighter jets and bombers, it’s way too easy for one to segue right into the other.
In the region, a return to direct U.S. military involvement in Iraq would inevitably be understood by Iraqis and others as an escalating effort to shore up the discredited Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Long supported by the U.S. despite a legacy of corruption and wide-ranging sectarian exclusion and repression of Sunnis and other non-Shi’a in Iraq, al-Maliki is widely blamed for the recent rise in sectarianism originally imposed by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The parliamentary deadline for Maliki’s party to decide whether or not to replace him is only hours away, and the need for a new government, while supported in principle by the Obama administration, will be even more difficult if the US rejoins its longstanding partner with military support. With Obama crediting Maliki’s request as the basis for the Air Force moves, it is virtually certain Maliki will see even less reason to step down from his position.
In the region and around the world this will also be seen in the context of double standards because of the Israeli assault on Gaza. There are 1.8 million “innocent people facing violence on a massive scale” – in President Obama’s words. Why isn’t the US concerned about them, sending an airlift to overcome Israel’s siege, to force open Gaza’s border crossings and let the people breathe in safety? Obama said that “ISIL forces below have called for the systematic destruction of the entire Yezidi people, which would constitute genocide.” Exactly right. And Israeli Knesset Member Ayelet Shaked posted a call to kill Palestinian mothers so they don’t give birth to more “little snakes.” Would that not constitute genocide as well?
In Washington, any even small-scale military action would almost certainly be answered with a demand from President Obama’s political opponents on the right to “go further,” to “finish the job.” The claim that bombing Iraq was necessary to “protect American lives” was clearly designed to justify the complete lack of consultation with Congress or any reference to the War Powers Act. (If the 40 or so US diplomats and 200 or so US military “advisers” in Erbil were in fact in jeopardy, they are certainly a small enough number to be loaded onto a couple of transport helicopters and moved out.)
And whatever else we may have learned from the president’s “dumb war,” it should be eminently clear that we cannot defeat Islamist extremists with bombs and airstrikes. Every bomb recruits more supporters. As President Obama himself said, there is no US military solution in Iraq. So why is he authorizing US military action?
And by the way, the US launched its first airstrikes of this new bombing campaign against Iraq with 500-pound bombs fired from the USS George H.W. Bush.
No you can’t make this stuff up.
Phyllis Bennis is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. Her books include Ending the Iraq War: A Primer. This article is based on one published in the Washington Post. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/08/08/how-obamas-iraq-airstrikes-could-help-the-islamic-state/)