Obama’s new Mesopotamian quagmire

Note: This article was originally written on August 9, and submitted to an unnamed publication, and there was no response, so I am publishing it here. Some specifics like the number of bombings done by the US and the increasing presence of drones in the conflict (more than just one attack), but much of the article is still relevant. Importantly, Obama declared recently that the bombing in Iraq will be a “long term project”, meaning that the bombing of Iraq could continue for months and months (unless we do something about it). Since that time, Britain has basically declared its support for the US bombing in Iraq, with France saying it supports the US mission but not offering any support. While there were a number of good stories on this topic questioning the effectiveness of US intervention (see here and here) all while the Pentagon even admitted that airstrikes wouldn’t stop ISIS. Lest us forget that the US had a role in creating the leader of ISIS, with his rise facilitated by US intervention in 2003, as Alexander Reed Kelly noted in Truthdig. Talk about blowback. Even worse is the fact that the US is bombing ITS OWN weapons in Iraq and it wants to idiotically send more, which will end up in the hands of ISIS. Then, there’s Maliki holding onto his power which Juan Cole says may be the preparation for a coup, as the US government openly supports a new government in Iraq (also see here). I end with a quote from an article by Matthew Schweitzer in Truthout, in which he writes: “Airstrikes will not mold Iraq into a stable or inclusive state…Yet, by declaring his support for the new Iraqi prime minister, Obama may have replicated the conditions that produced Maliki in the first place.”

Early in the morning two megaton bombs were dropped on what was supposedly a “mobile artillery piece” of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). As the day went on, war planes owned by some of the US’s biggest military contractors dropped even more bombs in Iraq. The night before, President Obama had announced the dropping of humanitarian aid and that he authorized strikes as a measure to prevent “genocide.” This makes Obama the fourth consequent President to launch military strikes in Iraq. The peace movement had been duped. In June and early July, there had been a bout of protest with groups such as United for Peace and Justice,CodePink, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for Peace standing against Obama starting a new war in Iraq. However, after July 8th, many of these groups turned most or all of their resources to protesting Israel’s invasion of Gaza, not steadily pushing against a war in Iraq. In this sense, the peace movement seems to be caught off guard by the war. As there is a growing bipartisan consensus among top politicians [1] and the mainstream media that support Obama’s new war, there is relatively little opposition from politicians like Rep. Alan Grayson [2] and Rep. Barbara Lee, groups such as CodePink and Center for a Liveable World, and numerous peace activists. Hence, it is important to recognize the war for what it really is.

Obama claims that the war is humanitarian in nature, an act to stop “genocide.” While it is clear that ISIS has done horrible, despicable things, including the killing of scores of people, it is absurd to say that they are about to begin a genocide. ISIS is not trying to destroy in “whole or in part” any “national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” not even Iraqi Christians, despite what some say. As an acute observer knows, Obama’s reasoning is just a guise to hide the true nature of war. Furthermore, the new war is part of, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, a “presidential ritual” since the 1990s of “humanitarian” bombing of Iraq. Humanitarianism is not the motive here, rather it is about energy. The record shows that the US is concerned about Kurdish oil, [3] so much so that Obama in June admitted that if “ISIL was able to obtain control over major [oil] output, significant refineries, that could be a source of concern.” The takeover of oil refineries has not happened, but ISIS has taken control of two oil fields and possibly more, and the US government seems to be concerned about “an oil pipeline that connects Kurdish areas and Turkey because it could make the Kurds financially independent from Baghdad” according to Rick Noack of the Washington Post. The motive for energy was also present in the 2011 war in Libya, premised on protecting civilians, but as moderate Democrat Ed Markey, in a rare truthful statement by a politician, said in March 2011, that US was “in Libya because of oil.”

This war couldn’t come at a worse time. Congress is preparing to enter its August recess and the military strikes, which were conducted without congressional or UN authorization, cannot be voted on. On top of Israel’s invasion of Gaza which has consumed the energy of angry activists, for good reason, there is a void where there is little opposition. In such a void, Obama could easily increase the number of U.S. “advisers,” who are really U.S. troops, to 1,000 strong or more. All he’d have to do is send Congress a polite letter, under the requirements of the War Powers Resolution, telling them why he moved more troops to Iraq. Related to this is the comment by former Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein who alluded that Obama’s new war in Iraq is a “smart” war. If “smart bombs” are not smart, neither is war. Death and destruction is dumb, not smart, as it results in the death of civilians. There is, additionally, no such thing as smart imperialism. The recent strikes in Iraq, which constitute a war crimes under international law, can be considered the “first of what is expected to be a series of American [military] strikes,” according to the Wall Street Journal which may even embolden Vladmir Putin of the Russian Federation to use a humanitarian pretext to send Russian troops into Ukraine since he already has “pointed to American interventions elsewhere when defending his own intervention in Ukraine”, possibly arguing that “he wants to protect Russian speakers from Ukrainian fascists” as he already did when Russian troops came into Crimea.

There is something even more disturbing about this war. Its not the money that war profiteers like Boeing and Lockheed Martin are getting for bombing people in Iraq. Rather its the control of information. All accounts of military strikes in Iraq by the U.S. government published in the mainstream press is based on what the Pentagon and/or anonymous military officials are saying. As the parody account, @feardept quibbed, “to encourage the public to turn to [Defense] Dept. sources for their news, we had [the] Pentagon Pres[s] Sec[retary] tweet the missile strikes.” These sources, official or unnamed could easily be overestimating or (more likely) underestimating U.S. strikes in Iraq. For example, before Pentagon Spokesperson, Admiral John Kirby tweeted out that the first U.S. strike had been launched, Kirby denied that the U.S. had struck in Kurdistan in the early morning, despite claims to the contrary. What if there were hundreds of people dead already from U.S. strikes? The Pentagon would never tell you, only saying that there are an unnamed number of casualties.

One more aspect of this war is deeply disturbing: the use of drones in a full-fledged war. While drone strikes can easily be considered undeclared wars, they have not, for the US, been considered part a broader military campaign. This war could possibly set an ugly precedent of drone strikes accompanying U.S. bombing raids and possibly troops on the ground. After all, as an MSNBC article admitted, “for several weeks, the U.S. has been flying F-18 fighter jets, B-1 bombers and Predator drones over Iraq” and a BBC article added that “a few weeks ago…the US reinforced the protection of its embassy and also deployed manned and unmanned aircraft” since US has, for the past month, “been flying some 50 sorties a day to build up a detailed intelligence picture of what is happening on the ground.” Both articles miss that, according to the Wall Street Journal in June, that the U.S. has been “secretly flying unmanned surveillance aircraft” (i.e. drones) over Iraq since last year.

The war itself is almost a “new” kind for the US. Instead of a massive ground force, all that is bombing Iraq are planes and drone(s), with the help of troops and special forces on the ground. This war does not include a ground force like that used in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq (1st or 2nd time), or Afghanistan. The war is unlike that in Bosnia in the 1990s or Libya in 2011 as it does not include a no-fly-zone. The U.S. government is instead engaging in a unilateral military conflict without allies, with Britain most notably refusing to help. It is also a war that is meant to showcase American hegemony, and the declaration by the 9/11 Commission Report, in words that echoed world domination, that “the American homeland is the planet.” Recent reports show that Obama also wants Iraq’s government to change and says the the US will not become Iraq’s air force. The military strikes themselves may not only serve as propaganda for ISIS, but it will increase anger against the U.S. in the Muslim world. As Phyillis Bennis of the Institute of Policy Studies told the New York Times, “it should be eminently clear that we cannot bomb Islamist extremists into submission or disappearance. Every bomb recruits more supporters.” Already, ISIS has declared that the airstrikes would not effect them, with one fighter telling Reuters that death will not stop them and that “the planes attack positions they think are strategic, but this is not how we operate. We are trained for guerrilla street war.” On the domestic front, polls have shown US public opposition to another war, which was expressed when Rep. Jim McGovern’s resolution, that passed the US House of Representatives, which in McGovern’s words, “makes one clear statement: If the President decides we should further involve our military in Iraq, he needs to work with Congress to authorize it.”

With a war that has no definite end, Iraqis face a bleak future. While it is clear, as United To End Genocide notes, that a “failure to act [in Iraq] is morally indefensible,” it is absurd to claim that, as they have that Obama is taking action to “protect innocent civilians” or that genocide is imminent. It is also ridiculous for them to imply not supporting the war in Iraq is committing a more wrong. The organization’s endorsement of an imperialist war, is what is truly “morally indefensible” to use their own words. Additionally, their claim that the military strikes should be supported because the US has a ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) civilians is also absurd. The reason for this is because R2P which in theory has noble goals, has been hijacked and has become a guise for what some call “humanitarian” imperialism, which I doubt UN member states voted for all those years ago. The position of United To End Genocide is not really that surprising since they have a page about it on their website and one of the people on their board worked on the Genocide Task Force, co-chaired by Madeline Albright, which advocated for “humanitarian” wars to stop genocide.

Some may say that war is the only answer to the advance of ISIS in Iraq. But, this is wrong since any military strike, unless it is in self-defense, is illegal. As the War Resisters League (WRL) said in a recent statement, “the crisis unfolding in Iraq will not be solved by military action and air strikes…[and] it will not be solved by congratulating ourselves for predicting the outcome of sanctions, invasion, and occupation nor by simply historicizing this devastating moment.” Demanding the Iraqi government “stop persecuting and alienating their own Sunni population,” pushing for the Saudis and others to stop funding ISIS, and delivering humanitarian aid through the UN and Red Crescent are Peter Van Buren’s most practical ideas to solving the crisis in Iraq. The US should “end the threats of airstrikes, bring home the evac troops and Special Forces, and turn the aircraft carrier around” while also supporting an “immediate arms embargo on all sides,” engaging immediately with Iran to pressure the Iraqi government, and engage with Russia and the UN, as Bennis argues in Common Dreams. Still, the best response comes from the WRL who was quoted earlier in this paragraph as saying that the solution to Iraq’s problem is rooted in “the difficult and powerful work of common survival, healing, connecting, rebuilding, and dreaming” for better conditions for Iraqis, future beyond war, increased well-being brought on by “housing, healthcare, and [a] vibrant community,” and ultimately (my favorite part), being part of the solution by deeping “our solidarity with people whose work leads us beyond the cynical terms of what we are told is possible…heed[ing] the urgency behind their insistence in realizing the world we need.”

Natasha Lennard, a former Grand Jury resister and Vice news “ranter,” wrote in June that “it is no longer available to label oneself ‘anti-war,’ to join a mass march, to hold a sign and feel content in one’s efforts against the empire…it is not enough…to be on the right side of history.” I feel that this suggestions should be followed, and that the words I wrote back in June should be repeated: “In this time of dire need, we must heed the words of Dr. King and do all we can through nonviolent means to stop the US government from committing the ‘supreme international crime’ against Iraq for the third time in world history: a war of aggression.” This should be expanded out further, with creative and nonviolent direct or indirect action to stop Obama’s new war, for the sake of humanity.

[1] According to news reports, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Speaker of the House John Bohener, Sen. John McCain, Rep Adam Kinzinger, Rep. Bill Enyart, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Sen. Dutch Ruppersberger, and Sen. Bob Corker support the war currently. Reihan Salam in Slate magazine and the editorial board of the New York Times also declared that they supported the war. Ezra Klein, as noted earlier in this article said he supported the war (basically) as well, as did a number of right-leaning pundits like Charles Krauthaumer, but they wanted more bombing, more violence. In a recent poll where Americans were asked ‘As you may know, President Obama recently authorized the U.S. military to conduct air strikes against insurgents in Iraq. Do you support or oppose this decision?,’ a supermajority of Americans approved of it, but if they knew the truth (that its about oil) they likely would be opposed.
[2] While I applaud Alan Grayson for speaking out against this war, he is a bit hypocritical for not doing the same by opposing Israel’s invasion of Gaza. Not even Keith Ellison, who is the only person in Congress actively opposing the economic blockade of Israel by Gaza seems to oppose Israel’s invasion in Gaza at the root.
[3] See a number of pages on the White House website (here, here, here, and here) outlining US interest in Kurdish oil, and these articles about big multinational oil companies in Kurdistan: see here, here, here, and here. Also see here, and here for more context. Additionally, the price of oil rose after it was announced that the US was striking militarily in Iraq. In an article titled ‘Three ways that oil matters for the crisis in Iraq‘ on the liberal clap-trap & dumpster site, Vox, Blad Blummer wierdly stated its “probably overstating things” to say that the war in Iraq is all about oil, saying that the US has many goals in the intervention and he claimed they were humanitarian (they are not). However, despite this, he admitted that it would “be wrong to pretend that oil is totally irrelevant to the larger crisis in Iraq…ISIS is threatening a key producer [of oil]…[and] disputes over how to divvy up Kurdistan’s oil revenue are a significant factor in Iraq’s never-ending political impasses.”

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