ISIS is no threat to our existence whatsoever

America has grown cowardly: 

ISIL is no joke, but its potential for destruction pales in comparison to the danger once posed by the Soviet Union

America has grown cowardly: ISIS is no threat to our existence whatsoever

(Credit: Reuters)

This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

It’s time to panic!

As 2015 ended, this country was certifiably terror-stricken. It had the Islamic State (IS) on the brain. Hoax terror threats or terror imbroglios shut down school systems from Los Angeles to New Hampshire, Indiana to a rural county in Virginia. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, citing terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, cancelled a prospective tour of Europe thanks to terror fears, issuing a statement that “orchestra management believes there is an elevated risk to the safety of musicians and their families, guest artists, DSO personnel, and travelling patrons.” By year’s end, the Justice Department had charged an ”unprecedented” 60 people with terrorism-related crimes (often linked to social media exchanges).

While just north of the border Canada’s new government and its citizens were embracing the first of 25,000 Syrian refugees in an atmosphere of near celebration, citizens and government officials in the lower 48 were squabbling and panicking about the few who had made it here. (“Sid Miller, the Texas agriculture commissioner, compared Syrian refugees to rattlesnakes, posting on Facebook images of snakes and refugees and asking, ‘Can you tell me which of these rattlers won’t bite you?’”)

In the two presidential debates that ended the year, focusing in whole or part on “national security,” the only global subject worthy of discussion was — you guessed it — the Islamic State and secondarily immigration and related issues. Media panelists didn’t ask a single question in either debate about China or Russia (other than on the IS-related issue of whomight shoot down Russian planes over Syria) or about the relative success of the French right-wing, anti-Islamist National Front Party and its presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen (even though her American analog, Donald Trump, was on stage in one debate and a significant subject of the other). And that just begins a long list of national security issues that no one felt it worth bringing up, including the fact that in Paris 195 countries had agreed on a potentially path-breaking climate change deal.

As the Dallas Symphony Orchestra signaled, “Paris” now means only one thing in this country: the bloody terror attack on the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan theater and related assaults. In fact, if you were following the “news” here as 2015 ended, you might be forgiven for thinking that we Americans lived in a land beset by, and under siege from, Islamic terror and the Islamic State. The latest polls indicate that striking numbers of Americans now view the threat of terrorism as the country’s number one danger, see it as a (if not the) critical issue facing us, believethat it and national security should be the government’s top priorities, and are convinced that the terrorists are at present “winning.”

You would never know that, if you left out what might be called self-inflicted pain like death by vehicle (more than 33,000 deaths annually), suicide by gun (more than 21,000 annually) or total gun deaths (30,000annually), and fatal drug overdoses (more than 47,000 annually), this is undoubtedly one of the safest countries on the planet. Over these years, the American dead from Islamic terror outfits or the “lone wolves” they inspire have added up to the most modest of figures, even if you include that single great day of horror, September 11, 2001. Include deaths from non-Islamic right-wing acts of terror (including, for instance, Dylann Roof’s murdersin a black church in Charleston), a slightly more impressive figure in recent years, and you still have next to nothing. Even if you add in relatively commonplace mass shootings, from school campuses to malls to workplaces, that are not defined as “terror,” and accept the broadest possible definition of such shootings (a minimum offour killed or injured), you would still have the sort of danger that couldn’t be more modest compared to death by vehicle, suicide, or drugs — phenomena that obsess few Americans.

The Islamic State in Perspective

Still, as 2016 begins, terror remains the 800-pound gorilla (in reality, a marmoset) in the American room and just about the only national security issue that truly matters. So why shouldn’t I join the crowd? Who wants to be left in the lurch?  But first, I think it makes sense to put the Islamic State in perspective.

Yes, it’s a brutal, extreme religious-cum-political outfit, the sort of movement that probably could only arise on a shattered landscape in a shattered region filled with desperate souls looking for any explanation for, or solution to, nightmarish lives. There can be no question that it’s had remarkable success. Its self-proclaimed “caliphate” now controls territory the size of (to choose a common comparison) Great Britain with a population of perhaps a few million people. Since there are seldom reporters on the scene (for obvious reasons of health and well-being), we have no idea whether IS has 20,000, 30,000, 40,000, or 50,000 fighters and potential suicide bombers under arms. We do know that those arms (despite a couple ofcaptured tanks) are generally light and the bombs largely of the homemade variety.

The Islamic State has shown quite a knack for generating a stream of revenue from black market oil sales, ransoms from kidnappings, the ransacking of the region’s archeological heritage, and wealthy Sunnis elsewhere in the region. In addition, it’s been skilled at promoting its “brand” in other parts of the Greater Middle East and Africa, from Afghanistanto Libya, Yemen to Nigeria, where local populations are also facing shattered landscapes, failed states, oppressive governments, and desperation. Finally, thanks to the talents of its social media militants, it’s shown a facility for attracting disaffected (and sometimes whacked-out) young Muslims from Europe and even the United States, as well as for inspiring “lone wolves” to acts meant to unnerve its enemies in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere.

So give credit where it’s due. Compared to a few training camps in Afghanistan — the al-Qaeda model before 2001 (and again recently) — this is no small thing. But the Islamic State should also be put in some perspective.  It’s not Nazi Germany. It’s not the Soviet Union. It’s not an existential threat to the United States.  It’s a distinctly self-limited movement, probably only capable of expanding its reach if even more of the region is laid to waste (as is, for instance, happening in Yemen right now, thanks in large part to a U.S.-backed Saudi war on the Iranian-inclined Houthi rebels).

IS is so deeply sectarian that it can never gain the support of a single Shia, Christian, Alawite, or Yazidi.  Its practices, religious and political, are too extreme for many of the Sunnis it might want to appeal to.  It is also an embattled movement.  It has already lost some of the lands it captured to U.S.-backed Kurds in both Syria and Iraq and to the U.S.-backed, U.S.-equipped, and U.S.-trained Iraqi Army as well as Shiite militias.  Its extremity has clearly alienated some of the Sunnis under its control.  It’s unlikely to take seven decades, as in the case of the Soviet Union, to implode and disappear.

On the other hand, if the Islamic State, at least in its present form, is crushed or driven into some corner and the region is “liberated,” one thing is guaranteed — as images of the rubble and landscapes of skeletal buildings left behind at the “victorious” battle sites of Kobane, Sinjar, Homs, and Ramadi will tell you.  Combine the massively bomb-laden, booby-trapped urban areas under Islamic State control,American air power (or, in parts of Syria, the barrel-bombing air force of the government of Bashar al-Assad and now the firepower of Russia), and fierce urban combat, and what may be left in the moment of “victory” could be a region in utter ruins.  One expert suggests that it may take decades and cost $200 billion — three times Syria’s prewar gross domestic product — to rebuild that country, bringing to mind the famed line from Tacitus: “They make a desert and call it peace.”

And just remind me, who’s going to help with the reconstruction of that shattered land?  Donald Trump?  Don’t count on it.  And don’t for a second believe that from such devastated worlds nothing worse than the Islamic State can arise.

While we may be talking about a terror machine, IS represents a far more modest and embattled one than its social media propaganda would indicate.  Its ability to threaten the U.S. bears little relation to the bogeyman version of it that at present occupies the American imagination.  The sole advantage the Islamic State has when it comes to this country is that it turns out to be so easy to spook us.

“A Republic of Insects and Grass”

Still, don’t for a second think that terror isn’t on the American agenda.  You really want terror?  Let me tell you about terror.  And I’m not talking about 14 dead (San Bernardino) or 130 dead (Paris).  What about up to 140,000 dead?  (The toll from Hiroshima.)  What about 285 million dead?  (The official estimate of the dead, had the U.S. military’s Single Integrated Operational Plan, or SIOP, of 1960 been carried outvia more than 3,200 nuclear weapons delivered to 1,060 targets in the Communist world, including at least 130 cities — and that didn’t include casualty figures from whatever the Soviet Union might have been able to launch in response.)

Or what about — to move from past slaughters and projected slaughters to future ones — a billion dead?  Despite the recent surprise visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his Pakistani counterpart, that remains a perfectly “reasonable” possibility, were a nuclear war ever to develop in South Asia.  India and Pakistan, after all, face each other across a heavily armed and fortified 1,800 mile border, having fought three major wars since 1947.  Small armed incidents arecommonplace.  Imagine that — to take just one possible scenario — extreme elements in the Pakistani military (or other extremist elements) got their hands on some part of that country’s ever-expanding nuclear arsenal, now believed to be at about 130weapons, and loosed one or more of them on India, starting a nuclear exchange over issues that no one else on Earth gives a damn about.

Imagine that, in the course of the war that followed, each side released “only” 50 Hiroshima-sized weapons on the other’s cities and industrial areas (“0.4% of the world’s more than 25,000 warheads”).  One study suggests that, along with the 20 million or so inhabitants of South Asia who would die in such an exchange, this “modest” local nuclear conflagration would send enough smoke and particulates into the stratosphere to cause a planetary “nuclear winter” lasting perhaps a decade.  The ensuing failure of agricultural systems globally could, according to experts, lead abillion or more people to starve to death.  (And once you’re talking about a crisis of that magnitude, one humanity has never experienced, god knows what other systems might fail at the same time.)

I hope by now you’re feeling a little shudder of fear or at least anxiety.  Perhaps not, though, since we’re remarkably well protected from thinking about the deeper terrors of our planet.  And mind you, if you’re talking terror, that South Asian war is penny ante compared to the sort of event that would be associated with the thousands of nuclear weapons in the arsenalsof the United States and Russia.  Since the Cold War ended, they have more or less been hidden in plain sight.  Call it an irony of sorts, then, that nuclear weapons have loomed large on the American landscape in these years, just not the ones that could truly harm us.  Instead, Americans have largely focused in the usual semi-hysterical fashion on a nuclear weapon — the Iranian bomb — that never existed, while Russian and American arsenals undoubtedly capable of destroying more than one Earth-sized planet have remained in place, heavily funded and largely unnoted.

When you look at what might be posssible under unknown future conditions, there is no reason to stop with mere millions or even a billion dead human beings.  A major nuclear exchange, it is believed, could lead to the shredding of the planetary environment and a literal liquidation of humanity: the wiping out, that is, of ourselves and the turning of this country into, in the phrase of Jonathan Schell, “a republic of insects and grass.”  As he explained so famously in his international bestseller of 1982, The Fate of the Earth, this became a genuine possibility in the post-Hiroshima decades and it remains so today, though given scant attention in a world in which tensions between the U.S. and Russia have been on the rise.

Apocalypses, Fast or Slow-Mo

It’s not that we don’t live on an increasingly terrifying planet.  We do.  It’s that terror fears, at least in our American world, are regularly displaced onto relatively minor threats.

If you want to be scared, consider this unlikelihood: in the course of just a few centuries, humanity has stumbled upon two uniquely different ways of unleashing energy — the burning of fossil fuels and the splitting of the atom — that have made the sort of apocalypse that was once the property of the gods into a human possession.  The splitting of the atom and its application to war was, of course, a conscious scientific discovery.  Its apocalyptic possibilities were grasped almost immediately by some of its own creators, including physicist Robert Oppenheimer who played a key role in the Manhattan Project that produced the atomic bomb during World War II.  As he witnessed its awesome power in its initial test in the New Mexican desert, this line from the Bhagavad Gita came to his mind: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

The destroyer of worlds indeed — or at least, potentially, of the one world that matters to humanity.

The other method of wrecking the planet was developed without the intent to destroy: the discovery that coal, oil, and later natural gas could motor economies.  It was not known until the final decades of the last century that the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of such forms of energy could heat the planet in startling ways and undermine the very processes that promoted life as we had always experienced it.  It’s worth adding, however, that the executives of the giant oil companies knew a great deal about the dangers their products posed to Earth way before most of the rest of us did, suppressed that information for a surprisingly long time, and then investedprodigioussums in promoting the public denial of those very dangers.  (In the process, they left the Republican Party wrapped in a straightjacket of climate change denial unique on the planet.)  Someday, this will undoubtedly be seen as one of the great crimes of history, unless of course there are no historians left to write about it.

In other words, if enough fossil fuels continue to be burned in the many decades to come, another kind of potential extinction event can be imagined, a slow-motion apocalypse of extreme weather — melting, burning, flooding, sea-level rise, storming, and who knows what else.

And if humanity has already managed to discover two such paths of utter destruction, what else, at present unimagined, might someday come into focus?

In this context, think of the Islamic State as the minor leagues of terror, though at the moment you wouldn’t know it.  If we are all now the children of the holocaust — of, that is, our own possible extinction — and if this is the inheritance we are to leave to our own children and grandchildren, perhaps it’s understandable that it feels better to fear the Islamic State.  Its evil is so specific, so “other,” so utterly alien and strangely distant.  It’s almost comforting to focus on its depredations, ignoring, of course, the grotesquelylarge hand our country had in its creation and in the moregeneral spread of terror movements across the Greater Middle East.

It’s so much more comfortable to fear extreme Islamist movements than to take in two apocalyptic terrors that are clearly part of our own patrimony — and, to make matters harder, one of which is likely to unfold over a time period that’s hard to grasp, and the other under as yet difficult to imagine political circumstances.

It’s clear that neither of these true terrors of our planet and our age has to happen (or at least, in the case of climate change, come to full fruition).  To ensure that, however, we and our children and grandchildren would have to decide that the fate of our Earth was indeed at stake and act accordingly.  We would have to change the world.

 

http://www.salon.com/2016/01/10/in_the_shadow_of_the_iron_curtain_why_isis_is_the_minor_leagues_of_terror_partner/?source=newsletter

 

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Rojava: only chance for a just peace in the Middle East?

By Jeff Miley On March 3, 2015

Post image for Rojava: only chance for a just peace in the Middle East?The democratic confederalism of Rojava is an attempt to transcend borders and build a participatory alternative to the tyrannical states of the region.

By Jeff Miley and Johanna Riha. Photo by Erin Trieb.

Since the descent into civil war in Syria, revolutionary forces have seized control of the Kurdish region of Rojava. The mainstream media has been quick to publicize who the revolutionary forces in Rojava are fighting against — the brutality of Islamic State (IS) — but what they are fighting for is often neglected. In December 2014, we had the chance to visit the region as part of an academic delegation. The purpose of our trip was to assess the strengths, challenges and vulnerabilities of the revolutionary project under way.

Rojava is the de facto autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria. It consists of three cantons: Afrîn in the west, Kobani in the centre, and Cizîre in the east. It is, for the most part, isolated and surrounded by hostile forces. However — despite the brutal war with IS, the painful embargo of Turkey and the even more painful embargo of Barzani and his Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq — systems of self-governance and democratic autonomous rule have been established in Rojava, and are radically transforming social and political relations in an emancipatory direction.

As Saleh Muslim, co-president of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) representing the independent communities of Rojava, explained in an interview in November 2014:

[We are engaged in the construction of] radical democracy: to mobilize people to organize themselves and to defend themselves by means of peoples armies like the Peoples Defense Unit (YPG) and Women’s Defense Unit (YPJ). We are practicing this model of self-rule and self-organization without the state as we speak. Democratic autonomy is about the long term. It is about people understanding and exercising their rights. To get society to become politicized: that is the core of building democratic autonomy.

At the forefront of this politicization is gender equality and women’s empowerment, with equal representation and active participation of women in all political and social circles. “We [have] established a model of co-presidency — each political entity always has both a female and a male president — and a quota of 40% gender representation in order to enforce gender equality throughout all forms of public life and political representation,” explains Saleh Muslim.

The revolutionary forces in Rojava are not fighting for an independent nation state, but advocating a system they call democratic confederalism: one of citizenry-led self-governance through the formation of neighborhood-level people’s councils, town councils, open assemblies, and cooperatives. These self-governing instruments allow for the participation of diverse political, ethnic, and religious groups, promoting consensus-led decision-making. Combined with local academies aimed at politicizing and educating the population, these structures of self-governance give the populace the ability to raise and solve their own problems.

During our nine day trip to Cizîre canton, we visited rural towns as well as cities, where we met with representatives and members of schools, cooperatives, women’s academies, security forces, political parties, and the self-government in charge of economic development, healthcare, and foreign affairs.

Throughout the visit, we witnessed discipline, revolutionary commitment and impressive collective mobilization of the population in Cizîre. Despite the isolation and difficult conditions, a perseverance and even confidence seemed to dominate the collective mood among representatives and members of all the diverse groups we met. This collective optimism and willingness to sacrifice was in the pursuit of an admirable ideological program and genuine steps towards collective emancipation. We were particularly struck by the emphasis on education, politicization, and a consciousness-raising of the general population in accordance with a grassroots democratic transformation of social and property relations.

An obvious and striking strength of the revolution clearly on display throughout our trip were the strides towards gender emancipation. Our meetings with government representatives, members of academies, women’s militias, and people’s councils all demonstrated that women’s empowerment is not mere programmatic window-dressing but is in fact being implemented. This, in the context of the Middle East and in sharp contrast to both the IS as well as the KRG, was most impressive.

Another feature of the programmatic agenda we found admirable was the insistence by the revolutionary government in Rojava that it is committed to a broader struggle for a democratic Syria, and in fact a democratic Middle East, capable of accommodating cultural, ethnic and religious diversity through democratic confederalism. In this vein, we witnessed proactive attempts by the revolutionary forces to include ethnic and religious minorities into the struggle underway in Rojava, including the institutionalization of positive discrimination, quotas, and self-organization of minority groups, such as the Syriac community, which even formed their own militias.

Listen to Jeff Miley’s talk on Rojava and the Kurdish revolutionary movement

That said, the integration of the local Arab population into the revolutionary project remains a critical challenge, as does coordination and the formation of alliances with groups outside of the three cantons. Extra-Kurdish coordination and alliances are certainly prerequisites for ensuring the survival of the revolution in the medium and long term and are especially critical if democratic confederalism is to spread across Syria and the Middle East.

Such a task is as difficult as it is urgent. It is crucial that the revolutionary authorities do everything in their power to assuage Arab fears of a Greater Kurdistan agenda, and include them in this struggle. Avoiding a Kurdish-centric version of history, literature and even the temptation to push for a Kurdish-only language educational system will help prevent the alienation of ethnic and religious minorities.

Revolutionary symbols like flags, maps and posters are particularly important when it comes to integrating ethnic and religious minorities, as well as publicizing the revolution across the world. More inclusive imagery would certainly facilitate the task of winning support and sympathy — both in the Middle East and more globally. References beyond the Kurdish movement were strikingly absent from the symbols we saw. The positive side of the Kurdish revolutionary symbols cannot be ignored and certainly plays a significant role in facilitating the mobilization of the Kurdish population. However, at the same time it is likely to alienate non-Kurds and Kurds who might misidentify the struggle as one for a Greater Kurdistan.

Our biggest concern is that the revolution will be compromised — if not sacrificed — by broader geopolitical games. The current close alliance between the KRG and the United States, and the recent US-led airstrikes in Syria, fuel the suspicions of many, especially Sunni Arabs, that the Kurds are but pawns to yet another imperialist intervention in the region in pursuit of oil.

The politics of divide and conquer employed by the imperialist powers have a long, bloody and effective history in the Middle East and beyond. This sad reality reinforces how crucial it is to build alliances, and to transcend the Kurdish nationalist imaginary within the ranks of the movement. Indeed, one of the principal strengths of IS has been its ability to mobilize militants both locally and globally in seemingly implacable opposition to imperialist powers.

It is especially important for the Kurdish revolution to appeal to the Turkish left, and to encourage them to denounce and fight against the crippling embargo enforced by the Turkish state on Rojava. The effects of and challenges created by the embargo were all too evident with respect to the basic health needs of the population we encountered. Unexpectedly, it was not a lack of medical expertise but rather a lack of medicine and medical equipment that most threatens population health.

The effects of the embargo also reach beyond the immediate needs of the population in Rojava. The environmental toll was evident, most notably in the oil-seeped soil around the rigs. Given the circumstances, it is certainly understandable and indeed inevitable that the revolutionary authorities are nearly exclusively preoccupied with the tasks of providing for immediate energy and food needs of the population while searching for financial assistance to keep the revolutionary project afloat. Nevertheless, the revolution offers a unique opportunity to carefully establish an environmentally sustainable and democratically managed economy.

In the broader context of tyranny, violence and political upheaval rocking many countries in the Middle East, it is highly unlikely that problems can be understood in isolation or solved on a country-by-country basis. One of the best things about the model of democratic confederalism institutionalized in Rojava is that it is potentially applicable to the entire region — a region, it should be recalled, the borders of which were largely drawn in illegitimate fashion by imperialist forces a century ago. The sins of imperialism have yet to be forgotten in the region.

Democratic confederalism, however, is not about dissolving state borders, but transcending them. At the same time, it allows for the construction of a local, participatory democratic alternative to tyrannical states. Indeed, the model of democratic confederalism promises to help foster peace throughout the region, from the Israeli-Palestine conflict, through Turkey, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, etc. If only this democratic revolution could spread.

The long siege on Kobani, facilitated by the criminal complicity of the Turkish state, constituted not just an assault on the Kurdish people but on a revolutionary democratic project. The region is being torn asunder in a destructive process protagonized by a variety of reactionary brands of political Islam. The revolutionary project of Rojava, based on democratic participation, gender emancipation, and multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and even multi-national accommodation, represents a third way — perhaps the only way — for achieving a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

For these reasons the recent liberation of Kobani should be hailed by progressives, indeed, by all advocates of peace, freedom and democracy around the world.

Thomas Jeffrey Miley is Lecturer of Political Sociology in the Department of Sociology at Cambridge. His research interests include comparative nationalisms, the politics of migration, and democratic theory.

Johanna Riha is an epidemiologist who recently finished her PhD at the University of Cambridge. Johanna was part of an academic delegation that visited Rojava in December 2014. 

This article was originally published at the website of the University of Cambridge, and has been republished here with the authors’ permission.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/03/rojava-kurdish-revolution-academic-delegation/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

The Islamic State: a monster US empire created

by Jerome Roos on August 18, 2014

Post image for The Islamic State: a monster US empire created

The rise of fundamentalism is a decidedly modern phenomenon in which US imperialism has always played a major role. The Islamic State is no exception.

As the jihadi militants of the Islamist State — IS, formerly known as ISIS — rampage through Syria and Iraq, wantonly beheading infidels and sending hundreds of thousands scurrying for safety, many in the West are still all too eager to reduce the rapidly escalating conflict to a sectarian struggle between Sunnis and Shias, or a broader clash of civilizations between Muslims and everyone else — between Islam and other religions, between Islam and non-believers, or between Islam and the modern world.

But, its own practices and ideological narratives aside, the Islamic fundamentalism of IS is not some kind of barbaric relic from an unenlightened religious past, nor can the ongoing wars in the Middle East be reduced to a simplistic binary narrative. Like European fascism, Islamic fundamentalism is a decidedly modern phenomenon, and wherever we look in modern history, we find that the Western powers have always played a major role in its rise. The Islamic State is no exception.

The jihadists of IS and its antecedent groups initially rose to prominence in the vacuum left by the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. When the US toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, they did not only purge the state apparatus of his Baathist allies, but they purged it of the entire Sunni minority of which Saddam himself had been a part. Most dramatically, large parts of the majority-Sunni army were disbanded, leaving tens of thousands of combat-savvy and frustrated young men without pay and without any meaningful influence on the new Shia-dominated and US-backed political establishment in the country.

As was already obvious to many observers back then, the US invasion thus set the stage for a disastrous backlash. Many of Saddam’s former Sunni soldiers ended up joining the jihadist insurgency against the US occupation, giving Al Qaeda a new foothold in Iraq — a country where it had previously had no real influence to speak of. The bloody sectarian strife that subsequently broke out, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and preparing the ground for further radicalization, was not the cause but the outcome of the destabilization of the Iraqi state at the hands of the occupying forces.

In fact, the link between the US occupation and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq is more direct than most realize. Last week, the New York Times ran a fascinating background article about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Muslim cleric and ruthless leader of IS who just crowned himself Caliph of the Islamic world, which noted that, “at every turn, Mr. Baghdadi’s rise has been shaped by the United States’ involvement in Iraq — most of the political changes that fueled his fight, or led to his promotion, were born directly from some American action.”

When the US army first detained Baghdadi in Fallujah in early 2004, he was considered little more than a “street thug.” But according to the Hisham al-Hasimini, an Iraqi scholar who studied Baghdadi’s background for Iraq’s intelligence agency, the current IS leader underwent a process of radicalization during his five years’ imprisonment in a US detention facility. “Iraqi to the core,” the Times writes, “his extremist ideology was sharpened and refined in the crucible of the American occupation.”

In subsequent years, Baghdadi surrounded himself with former members of Saddam’s Baathist party, who — despite their lack of credentials as radical Islamists — turned out to be key allies in the establishment of Al Qaeda in Iraq (the immediate antecedent to ISIS) as an insurgent movement and para-state, replete with its own army of jihadists, its own base of taxation (or extortion), its own oil revenues from the fields it managed to capture in Syria (and now Iraq), and increasingly its own public services (like local transport and religious education) in the areas under its control.

But while the world’s morbid fascination with IS stems from its lightning advances and its campaign of brutality in western Iraq last June, it was in Syria — as the world largely looked the other way — that the jihadist group groomed its warrior feathers, gaining a strategic stronghold, mopping up moderate Islamist groups to significantly expand its own numbers, rooting out the Free Syrian Army, besieging the Kurdish resistance, and obtaining various additional sources of income that were to prove crucial in  its further campaigns and its efforts to cement itself as a self-sustaining para-state.

Meanwhile, as it brandished its anti-Shia credentials, ISIS received lavish financial support from one of the United States’ main allies in the region: Saudi Arabia. The other Gulf states — Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates — are also implicated in directly or indirectly financing various extremist groups in Syria, including Jabhat al-Nusra, the official Al Qaeda affiliate in the country and second biggest faction after ISIS. But as one senior Qatari official affirms, “ISIS has been a Saudi project.” Patrick Cockburn, a long-term Middle East correspondent, notes that “Saudi Arabia has created a Frankenstein’s monster over which it is rapidly losing control.”

Given the United States’ historical support for extremist groups — most notably its sponsoring of the mujahideen in their struggle against communism in Afghanistan, which directly paved the way for the rise of the Taliban and Al Qaeda — it should not come as a surprise that, this time around, the US has also been directly involved in enabling the rise of ISIS. In fact, it turns out that leading US lawmakers, including Republican Senator John McCain, have been actively pressing their allies to support the Syrian opposition and oust Assad. “Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar, and for our Qatari friends,” McCain exclaimed as as recently as February 2014. (Prince Bandar is alleged to be the Saudi point man behind the funding of ISIS.)

At the same time, another important US ally in the region, Turkey — a NATO member — has been a crucial hub for ISIS by deliberately opening its 500-mile border to allow Syrian rebels to fall back onto Turkish territory and to permit Western jihadists – alienated young Muslim men from Europe, Australia and the US – to join their comrades in Syria. Consistent rumors have been doing the rounds that the head of Turkey’s intelligence services, Hakan Fidan, a key confidante of Prime Minister Erdogan, was personally responsible for the country’s covert support for ISIS.

Greatly strengthened by Gulf financing and an influx of foreign fighters, with Turkey providing a much-needed back-base and thoroughfare, and with the Obama administration actively refusing to support the democratic Syrian resistance, ISIS quickly destroyed and eclipsed the moderate opposition, solidly growing into the main rebel group in Syria and finishing off the last-remaining strongholds of the Syrian revolution — until it deemed itself powerful enough to launch back into Iraq and march right up to Tikrit without encountering any serious resistance.

Now, in one of the greatest ironies of all, the United States finds itself back in Iraq, eleven years after its original invasion, bombing its own tanks, its own artillery pieces, and its own armored personnel vehicles — once provided to the Iraqi army during the eight-year occupation and summarily seized by ISIS as it sacked deserted bases across western Iraq — to stem the advances of an extremist enemy that its own imperial misadventures gave rise to. Once again, the US and its allies have created a monster they can no longer control. Once again, they will go to war to try to eradicate it. And once again, they will probably end up making an even bigger mess in the process.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. This article was written as part of his weekly column for TeleSUR English.

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America Helped Make the Islamic State

By Charles Davis

ISIS social media image of ISIS fighters parading with captured Iraq security forces vehicles

History seems to start just before every humanitarian intervention, the full and often compromising account of what led to the latest war in some place where they are always fighting—the record of who killed who with weapons from which government—lost amid the deafening roar of Western self-satisfaction, the world’s ostensibly do-gooding imperial powers relishing the opportunity to be admired as simple concerned bystanders who could stand by no more. Whenever an altruistic set of airstrikes begins, the average news consumer—and I called my mother to check—is left with the impression that bombs are being dropped on bad people who are doing bad things (no one really knows why) by good people trying to do their best.

So it is with Iraq, where once again the dropping of explosive ordinance is being reported on in humanitarian terms with little in the way of historical context. “Obama authorizes airstrikes in Iraq to stop genocide,” reports a headline in USA Today, the newspaper you read when on vacation. The story provides some basic facts on the Islamic State, the Sunni extremist group that has taken over much of Northern Iraq and nearly all of Syria’s oil fields, but we learn little about its motivations, how it came to be and what role those who now want to bomb it may have played in its creation. What we learn, courtesy of President Barack Obama, is that “America is coming to help.”

It warms the heart, this altruistic offer of help from the leader of a nation-state motivated by rational self-interest, but what’s left out—what’s always left out—is any real context. What led us to this particular moment in time? Was there anything that the benevolent governments in the West maybe did before, like perhaps kill a half-million or more people in Iraq, that would drive so many people to an Islamic militant group? To ask is to be anti-American, or at least a huge buzzkill, but the answer is unequivocal: yes, yes, at-least-half-a-million-times yes. The US absolutely created the problem it’s now courageously “coming to help” solve, and that it created that problem by dropping lots of bombs should trouble those who now argue that dropping some more is somehow a serious solution.

When I say the United States “created” the Islamic State (or “ISIS” as it’s sometimes known), one may very well think I’m also about to tell you that jet fuel can’t melt steel and that Bush knocked down the towers. But this is no convoluted conspiracy involving holograms and crisis actors. It’s quite simple and tragic: The United States invaded Iraq, killed an ungodly amount of people who had friends and family who loved them, unleashed a wave of terrorism across the Middle East—turns out, watching one’s mother die in a US airstrike does not nurture moderation—then installed and armed a sectarian Shiite leader in Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, who proceeded to kill, torture, and generally alienate the Sunni population of Iraq, which is now, not coincidentally, lending support to the Islamic State’s vicious brand of Sunni extremism.

By arming Iraq’s military, the United States also effectively armed ISIS, which captured much of Iraq’s high-powered weaponry when it swept through the north of the country. The US also facilitated the shipment of weapons to a hodgepodge of rebel groups fighting in Syria, with some of those weapons no doubt finding their way into the hands of those whose commitment to liberal democracy is no stronger than dictator-for-life Bashar Assad’s. Add all that up and you have, as with the Taliban and al-Qaeda before, another instance of the United States arming a future foe and then creating the conditions necessary for them to thrive.

“What a mess,” said Peter Van Buren, a former State Department official who oversaw reconstruction efforts in Iraq (an experience that turned him into a whistle-blower). When I asked him if he agreed that the US government helped create ISIS, Van Buren was blunt: “Absolutely.” The 2003 invasion turned Iraq into a training ground for radical Islamic groups—and gave legions of young men a reason to fight for them, a recipe for disaster compounded by US support for a sectarian strongman. “Maliki has been our man in Iraq, or at least we have believed that, since the US installed him in 2006,” he told me. “From day one, Maliki has alienated and persecuted the Sunnis,” so it should come as no surprise that many would prefer a Sunni extremist group to a repressive Shia state.

Photo via WhiteHouse.gov

There are some figures in the mainstream blaming America for ISIS, but for all the wrong reasons. Hillary Clinton, the once and future presidential candidate, told a former Israeli prison guard turned journalist at The Atlantic that America had created ISIS by not sufficiently committing itself to the war in Syria.

“The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton said. An editor at The Wall Street Journal likewise suggested that ISIS was empowered by a failure to take “decisive action” in Syria, never mind that the “decisive action” politicians like Clinton had in mind was aimed at taking out Assad, not ISIS, one of the groups fighting his regime.

President Obama has also been busy massaging recent history with the help of a compliant elite press. In an interview with a mustachioed horse’s ass at The New York Times, Obama rejected the idea that insufficient American arms-peddling created ISIS, arguing that the “idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms” to the Syrian opposition and have that lead to something good “was never in the cards.”

What Obama didn’t mention, and his interviewer didn’t deign to go into, was that the United States did in fact arm the Syrian opposition, mostly by proxy. In March 2013, the Times itself reported that, “With help from the CIA, Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters.” The “scale of shipments,” according to government officials quoted in the piece, “was very large,” though some in the Syrian opposition expressed uneasiness at the time, telling the Times that “whoever was vetting which groups receive the weapons was doing an inadequate job.”

But those details are lost in the rush to humanitarian war since they suggest that a past intervention sold on humanitarian grounds failed to prevent the evil that exists today—and probably made it worse—to the point that the President of the United States won’t even rebut his hawkish critics by pointing out that he actually did arm Syria’s rebels.

“Be that as it may, professor, what do we now?” a concerned citizen might ask. “Do we let people die because you hate America?”

Well, friend: there is a genuine humanitarian crisis in Iraq and, since it helped create the disaster that is now unfolding, the United States does have a duty to help out. But—and this is really important, guys—bombing Iraq has never once made the situation there better. It has actually made things a lot worse, leading to body counts beyond the most committed jihadist’s wildest dreams (while creating loads of new jihadists, the presence of which can be cited to justify the next intervention).

The absence of a good answer to a problem like ISIS is not a good reason to embrace a snake-oil cure that has proven time and again to be worse than the disease. The US military is not a humanitarian organization, nor should it be expected to behave like one. If America wants to help, it should offer those fleeing the violence in Iraq the ability to seek refuge in the United States—and promise those who stay behind that it will never ever bomb them again.

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http://www.vice.com/read/america-helped-make-the-islamic-state-812