Posts Tagged ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’

We broke Iraq. Do we own it?

August 18, 2014
Kurdish Peshmerga in Kirkuk

Kurdish Peshmerga in Kirkuk

You break it.  You bought it.

==The Pottery Barn Rule (per General Colin Powell)

Of all the arguments for sending troops back into Iraq, the most plausible (to me) is that we owe it to the Iraqi people—and in particular the Kurdish Iraqi people—to clean up the mess the original U.S. intervention created.

The people of Kurdistan and Baghdad would not be menaced by the would-be Islamic Caliphate (aka ISIS) if the U.S. invasion had not broken down orderly government in Iraq, and opened up an opportunity for these murderous fanatics.  So do we Americans not have a responsibility to fix the situation before we leave the Iraqis on my own.

But it was that very argument that led me, 10 years ago, to support the original invasion of Iraq.  I thought to myself that we Americans had supported Saddam Hussein in the first place.  Our government provided him with weapons, encouraged him to attack Iran and protected him from international sanctions when he used poison gas against the people of Kurdistan.   Then we turned against him, and waged a low-level war of blockade and bombing through the Clinton years.

So it seemed to me (wrongly) that by invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam, we could partly make up for the harm we had done to the Iraqi people.

And even now I sometimes think (wrongly) that the U.S.-led invasion would have worked out—

  • If the U.S. forces had recognized the local governments the Iraqi people spontaneously chose and worked with them, instead of installing puppets of U.S. choosing.
  • If the American authorities had not discharged the Iraqi army, had kept control of weapons and armories and had not allowed the country to disintegrate into anarchy.
  • If the United States had employed the Iraqi people in rebuilding their own country instead of turning Iraq into a vast cash cow for American contractors.
  • If Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had not excluded everybody in the government who knew anything about Iraq from the planning.

But when I think that, I am just fooling myself.  I am fooling myself when I think that the U.S. government had any goal in Iraq other than getting control of Iraq’s oil supply and establishing military bases on Iraq’s soil.

And even if American intentions were wholly good, democracy and freedom are not something that any country can give another country.  Every free country has to win and maintain freedom for itself.


“Humanitarian bombing” is self-contradictory

August 9, 2014

If you believe it is your duty to protect people from their enemies, the only way to do it is to go stand by them.  Dropping bombs from the air in the hope you will hit some of their enemies will not do the job.  You’ll kill bystanders and create more enemies for yourself and them; you’ll very likely kill some of the people you’re trying to protect.

ISIS-Iraq-AttackSome of us Americans are concerned about the fate of Christians and other minorities in Iraq, currently under attack by the fanatical Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists.  But our concern does not reach the level of being willing to send Americans to fight the ISIS in person.  So it is tempting to many people, myself included, to think we can accomplish the same purpose, without risk, by dropping bombs instead.

But giving in to that temptation would be a big mistake.

  • The ISIS is a fanatic Sunni movement in rebellion against the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq and the non-Sunni government of Syria.  The only way to defeat ISIS is to separate it from the Sunni population of those two countries.  Bombing will kill Sunni bystanders, solidify Sunni support for ISIS and bring ISIS closer to Al Qaeda.
  • Intensive bombing of Fallujah and other parts of Iraq during the U.S. occupation never brought about any decisive victory.  Iraq in fact has an air force if it wants to use it.  There is no reason to think that an American bombing campaign will change anything.
  • Persecution of Christians and other minorities has been going on a long time.  More than half of Iraq’s Christians were killed or driven into exile during the American occupation.  Bombing ISIS will not bring them back or end persecution.
  • Once the initial small-scale bombing campaign fails, past history indicates the government will escalate U.S. military intervention rather than admit failure.

I admire the people of Kurdistan.  They are willing to fight for their own freedom and to allow people of other religions (they’re mostly Sunni Muslims) and heritages to live in peace.   I want the U.S. government to make sure they get all they need to defend themselves.  But I don’t want to make their war an American war.


A bombing campaign in Iraq

August 8, 2014

I want to see the murderous Islamic State fanatics in Iraq stopped before they massacre more Christians and members of other minority groups in Iraq.

I guess I sort of more-or-less support President Obama’s decision to bomb the ISIS forces and drop supplies to the valiant people of Kurdistan.   [Update 8/10/14.  I’ve changed my mind.]

Given the experience of the past 10 years, I don’t want American ground troops being sent back to Iraq.

A bombing campaign, against an enemy without an air force or effective anti-aircraft weapons, is appealing as a virtually risk-less way to wage war.

But the experience of history shows that bombing campaigns don’t necessarily achieve their objective, and bombing campaigns conducted in isolation seldom do.   The ISIS forces aren’t going to gather in the open so as to be good targets.   They are going to mingle with the people we are supposedly trying to protect.

Now I understand that President Obama doesn’t think that bombs alone will do the trick.   The idea is to slow down and weaken the ISIS advance and put the Kurdish fighters and Iraqi government army in a better position to resist.

But what happens if ISIS keeps advancing?  Does Obama step up the bombing campaign?  Does he order ground troops back into Iraq?  Or does he at some point decide there is nothing more he can do?

I remember I supported the Vietnam intervention in its early stages because I thought the South Vietnamese could be saved from totalitarian Communism.   I supported the invasion of Iraq in its early stages because I thought the Iraqis could be liberated from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

I wasn’t wrong about Communism, nor about Saddam Hussein, but I was wrong about what it is possible to accomplish by invading another country (and also wrong about my government’s intentions, but that’s another issue).

So now I hesitantly kind-of in-a-way support intervention against ISIS, because I hate to think of my country standing by and doing nothing, and at the same time I think of all the ways in which things could go wrong.

I imagine President Obama has the same thoughts.  I don’t think I will criticize him on this one.


Why ‘strategic’ bombing doesn’t seem to work by Ian Buruma for the Toronto Globe and Mail

The passing scene: Links & comments 7/15/14

July 15, 2014

BRICS against Washington consensus by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

The BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—have agreed to create a development bank as an alternative to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other institutions dominated by the United States, western Europe and Japan.

The new bank may be a constructive alternative for nations who want to escape debt bondage to western financial institutions.  It will be a vehicle for China and Russia to extend their soft power into Latin America and other parts of the world.

The War Nerd: I.S.I.S. and the Western Media by Gary Brecher for PandoDaily.

Iran-Saudi Deal Is Crucial to Resolve Iraq-Syria Civil War by Bob Dreyfuss for The Nation.

The vicious self-described Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is a menace to unarmed civilians, especially Shiite Muslims and Christians, but does not endanger the Baghdad or Damascus governments or anybody else able and willing to fight back.

What’s needed is for the governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia to give up financing proxy war between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and unite to suppress their avowed enemies, the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.

Digital identity cards: Estonia takes the plunge by The Economist.

The government of Estonia will provide every citizen from birth a digital identity card that can be used to access government services and to allow verification of their identity over the Internet.  Estonia also will provide digital ID cards, for a fee, to non-citizens who want a reliable means of guaranteeing ID over the Internet.  This could be the start of something important.

There’s nothing the U.S. can do to save Iraq

June 20, 2014

Here’s the lineup of forces in Iraq:


ISIS militia.  Photo credit: Christian Science Monitor

 A  jihadist force known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria  is conducting a successful rebellion against the Al-Maliki government in Iraq.

The Al-Maliki government is supported by the United States and the ayatollahs of Iran, and is hated by Sunni Arab Muslims in Iraq.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was supported by the United States and the monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait when it was fighting the government of Syria, and is hated by the ayatollahs of Iran and by Shiite Arab Muslims in Iraq.

So the choices for President Obama are to align with a despised, corrupt (though legally elected) government under the influence of Iran, or to stand aside and do nothing to stand in the way of a murderous jihadist group sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

He either alienates the Shiite Muslims, who are the majority of Arabs in Iraq, or he alienates the Sunni Muslims, who are the majority of Arabs in the world.

And the only means he has to influence the situation are to provide military equipment to one side or the other or to wage war by means of killer drones.  We know how that has worked out.

I sympathize with President Obama in this situation.   He inherited the Iraq conflict, just as President Nixon inherited the Vietnam conflict.   Everything that has happened is a playing out of decisions made during the George W. Bush administration.  Even the timetable for withdrawal of American troops was set during the last days of the Bush administration.

I don’t know what the President thinks he can accomplish at this point, besides “security theater”—creating the impression he is doing something even though the actions are futile.  Whatever he does or doesn’t do, he will be blamed for “losing” Iraq.   Whatever he does or doesn’t do, the poor Iraqi people will suffer.

That’s how it seems to me.  What do you think?


Why America Can Never Win in Iraq by Peter Van Buren for The Dissenter.

Who finances ISIS? by Andreas Becker for Deutsche Welle.   ISIS gets its money from bank robbery, extortion and sale of oil from wells in the regions it controls, but also reportedly from Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf states.

The Gall of Dick Cheney by Charles M. Blow for The New York Times.  Hat tip to Hal Bauer for this link.

There Are No Good Guys in Iraq by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.  Well, there are good people in Iraq, as anywhere else, but none of them are in charge of the factions contending for power.

The Guns of Folly by Tom Engelhardt for TomDispatch.

ISIS Iraq Offense: Can the Empire Reassert Control of the Jihadists? by Glen Ford for the Black Agenda Report.