Saturday, September 13, 2014

Editorial: Don’t Bite Terrorist Bait

One of the favorite words Republicans use to describe President Obama’s foreign policy is “feckless,” as if his refusal to rush US military forces into foreign conflicts to satisfy foreign-policy hawks makes him a weak leader.

We’re glad President Obama has taken the time to develop a strategy and build a broad coalition of potential allies — including Iran — who will help the US pursue the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as ISIL and the Islamic State) as the murderous gang that they are.

It’s depressing that a recent poll conducted for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal showed only 32% approval for President Obama’s foreign policy. Some 47% of Americans believe the US is less safe than it was before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And poll respondents favored Republican over Democrats as the party best able to handle foreign policy, by a 41-23 margin.

If the polls are to be believed, terrorism works. Joan Walsh noted that the single biggest factor behind the surge of fear is the videotaped beheadings of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. “In the NBC poll, 94% said they’d heard news of the beheadings, which is higher than any other news event polled in the last five years. They accomplished what they were intended to: make Americans feel vulnerable, angry and ready to fight. Mission accomplished, ISIS!”

But ISIS couldn’t succeed in drawing the US into another land war in Iraq without “useful fools” such as former Vice President Dick Cheney who, in a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill on Sept. 9, urged House Republicans to take a hard line in the fight against ISIS. The meeting was basically a GOP pep rally, and Cheney spent most of the time bashing “isolationists” and talking about how the Bush administration put the US in a position to “win” in Iraq.

In fact, there would be no opening for a militant Islamic extremist group to control large sections of Iraq and Syria and conduct ethnic cleansing of Shi’ite Muslims, Christians and other minorities if the Bush-Cheney administration had not invaded and dismantled the secular Ba’athist regime of Saddam Husseinbased on the trumped-up threat of weapons of mass destruction.

As the New York Times noted, “[Cheney] did not discuss the fact that many ISIS leaders were former Iraqi military officers who were imprisoned by American troops, nor did he dwell on the sectarian divisions and bloodletting since the 2003 American invasion.”

When President Obama was slow to arm the Syrian rebels as urged by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) last year, McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) encouraged the Saudi and Qatari governments to get the job done — and arms did move to Syrian rebel groups. “Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar,” McCain told CNN’s Candy Crowley in January 2014. A month later, McCain said once again, at the Munich Security Conference, “Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar, and for our Qatari friends.”

But the arms apparently didn’t just go to the Free Syrian Army, the “moderate” armed opposition in the country that is backed by the US, Turkey and Western allies. Shortly after McCain’s Munich comments, Steve Clemons noted at (June 23), Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah relieved Bandar of his Syrian covert-action portfolio, which was transferred to Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. By mid-April, just two weeks after President Obama met with King Abdullah on March 28, Bandar also was removed from his position as head of Saudi intelligence.

It turned out that two of the factions fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who received arms from Qatar and Saudi Arabia are Islamic extremist groups, Jabhat al-Nusra, which is affiliated with al Qaeda, and the ISIS which was expelled as too extreme for al Qaeda. Qatar’s military and economic largesse had made its way to Jabhat al-Nusra, Clemons was told. But ISIS was another matter. As one senior Qatari official told him, “ISIS has been a Saudi project.”

Clemons concluded, “John McCain’s desire to help rebel forces toss off a brutal dictator and fight for a more just and inclusive Syria is admirable. But as has been proven repeatedly in the Middle East, ousting strongmen doesn’t necessarily produce more favorable successor governments. Embracing figures like Bandar, who may have tried to achieve his objectives in Syria by building a monster, isn’t worth it.”

Thom Hartmann wrote, “This is history repeating itself in the worst possible way. Back in the 1980s, the CIA, the Saudis, and the Pakistanis worked together to fund the mujahideen in Afghanistan. The mujahideen were radical Islamists, but we thought it was worth it to support them because it was the Cold War and they were fighting the Soviets, who had invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

“Here in the US, the guy most responsible for getting us to support the mujahideen was a playboy Texas Congressman named Charlie Wilson, who, like John McCain, thought he was just trying to help people fight for ‘democracy.’ ...

“Whatever good intentions Charlie Wilson may have had, his plan backfired and it backfired badly. Our support for the mujahideen against the Soviets — just like our support for the Khmer Rouge against the Viet Cong and our support for the Contras against the Sandinistas — had a huge blowback effect. You see, one of the people who we and the Saudis armed back in the 1980s was a rich Saudi named Osama bin Laden, who, like a lot of Muslim radicals from all over the world, saw the fight against the Soviets as a chance to prove his worth as a holy warrior.

Hartmann concluded, “Bin Laden went on to form a group known as ‘The Base’ out of the remnants of his Saudi-backed mujahideen force. You probably know ‘The Base’ by its Arabic name: Al-Qaeda. The rest, as they say, is history.”

President Obama is taking a wiser course in providing airstrikes against ISIS forces; assistance to reliable moderate allies where they can be identified, such as the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Free Syrian Army and the reconstituted Iraqi army; counterterrorism intelligence and activities to prevent ISIS attacks; and humanitarian aid.

Obama vowed to wage “a steady, relentless effort” to wipe out ISIS. “Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy,” he said. “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” he said. “That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

He was clear that the United States would not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq, but at least 475 more military advisers will be sent in, pushing the total to about 1,700.

After the speech, John McCain blamed ISIS on Obama for withdrawing American troops from Iraq and his refusal to intervene in Syria. He said additional US special forces and advisers will be needed to direct precision air strikes, advise foreign partners on the ground and possibly conduct targeted operations against ISIS leadership.”

House Speaker John Boehner said “the president appears to view the effort against ISIL as an isolated counterterrorism campaign, rather than as what it must be: an all-out effort to destroy an enemy that has declared a holy war against America and the principles for which we stand.”

Our conclusion: Obama has plenty of feck. He has enough sense to deny ISIS the reinvasion of Iraq by American troops that the jihadis want. And he has an air force to supply cover for any native army that proves to be worth covering. And once again, thank goodness John McCain isn’t making the call. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2014
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