Reader Supported News
14 September 14
Never bet on another man’s game,” my father loved to say. It’s a lesson Barack Obama never learned, especially in his military strikes against Islamic State.
Islamic State, or ISIL, has only one way to keep the support of Iraq’s Sunni tribesmen and former Baathist supporters of Saddam Hussein. The blood-thirsty “fools of God” need to be seen defending their people against a Western invasion, which is precisely what Obama gives them.
He plays the role they purposely provoked with their brutal beheadings, summary executions, and sickening use of mass rape to keep their fighters happy. He becomes the foreign, Christian crusader defiling a Muslim land, and he does it in company with Iranian as well as Iraqi Shiites, whom Islamic State despises as heretics, and with the blessing of Sunni Arab leaders it correctly sees as outrageously corrupt.
In other words, the more jihadis Obama kills, the more Sunnis that Obama recruits to their ranks. Not a winning strategy.
Please do not read into this any defense of Islamic State. Though a response to centuries of Western abuse and colonialism, they are much too blood-thirsty and demented to deserve the least bit of sympathy, support, or solidarity.
Nor should we deny that they pose “a terrorist threat” to Europe and the United States, not to mention Washington’s Arab allies who – at least for now – safeguard Big Oil’s control of so much of the world’s supply of energy.
Realistically, the threat is far more limited than Obama wants us to believe, and nowhere near justifies calling in Central Command with its airpower and Special Forces. Even The New York Times, which shamed itself by beating the war drums in 2003, has rushed to remind readers that American intelligence sees “no immediate threat to the United States” from Islamic State in either Syria or Iraq.
So, let’s lower the volume and resist the counterproductive urges of chicken-hawks like Dick Cheney and the neocons – and of liberal interventionists like Hillary Clinton. By now we all should have learned to leave terrorists to lawmen, judges and juries, and the spies who have wasted so much time and treasure listening to our telephone calls and reading our emails.
The imperative here is exactly as Obama previously preached, and for which Hillary widely condemned him. “Don’t do stupid stuff.” Hillary is right in part. The old medical principle “First, do no harm” does not a foreign policy make. But giving Islamic State the war it wants will prove many times worse, as voters will hopefully come to see before they cast their ballots in 2016.
Besides being counterproductive, Obama’s war will also prove short-sighted. Go back and read how he had the CIA fly in arms, mostly from Libya, for the Saudis and Qataris to supply to supposedly moderate jihadis fighting Bashir al-Assad in Syria. Among those “moderates” were the ISIL militants, now Islamic State.
A few Cassandras, myself included, predicted that something like this would happen. Were we so much smarter than Obama and then CIA director David Petraeus? Not at all. We just listened, as they did not, to what history had to teach. We learned from the past the folly of covertly using Islamic groups, whether to protect Big Oil, drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, or fight the Croats and Serbs in Bosnia, where the CIA flew in al-Qaeda militants from Azerbaijan.
Contrary to the overblown claims of many truthers and conspiratorialists, these episodes do not mean that Washington created or controlled its Islamic enemies. Not Islamic State. Not al-Qaeda. Not the Taliban. And certainly not the Iranian ayatollahs, some of whom the CIA bribed in 1953 to help overthrow Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh.
The truth, if I may borrow back the word, is less dramatic and more instructive. Simply put, Washington’s covert warriors funded, trained, and armed groups they could not control, strengthening them to bite America in the arse. As TV’s Mr. Rogers might have put it, “Okay, class, how do we spell ‘blowback?’”
Who, we have to wonder, will be the beneficiaries of Obama’s short-sighted and counterproductive war in Syria and Iraq? The answer seems obvious.
First will be the Iranians, the only real winners of the Bush-Cheney war in Iraq. Many of today’s deep thinkers called for Obama to ally overtly with Shiite Iran against Islamic State, a prospect that Henry Kissinger returned from the near-dead to warn against. Obama never mentioned Iran in laying out his strategy, but Central Command are likely working covertly even now with Iranian troops already fighting in Iraq.
The second winners will be the Sunni rulers and richies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whom Washington has covertly backed for several years. Only now the support will be more in the open.
The third winner will be Syria’s Bashir al-Assad, with whom Washington will likely work covertly to coordinate airstrikes against Islamic State forces in his country. Assad is the leader of the Alawites, a Shiite sect.
In short, Obama is helping draw the Shiite and Sunni pieces deeper into place, supercharging them for one of two very different outcomes. Either they will reach a rapprochement after more than 13 centuries of conflict. Inshallah. Or, if history holds, they will end up waging a cataclysmic sectarian war. This could be Obama’s legacy, for which the world will never forgive him.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, `Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold.`