Friday, September 12, 2014

Why, exactly, are we starting another war in the Middle East?

Two days ago, President Obama gave a speech outlining his Administration’s plan for launching an attack against ISIS (or ISIL, if you want to go with a more accurate translation of the Arabic), an organization of Sunni militants seeking to remake much of the Muslim world into an Islamic Caliphate. The Obama Administration’s plan, in simplest terms, is to launch airstrikes against ISIS and to arm so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels in an effort to diminish and eventually eliminate ISIS as a power in the Middle East. This is, first of all, an absurd product of the same kind of pie-in-the-sky oversimplification that the Bush Administration used to sucker the American people into a long, expensive, and deadly war in Iraq. But, even more troubling, this represents the beginning of another open-ended war in the Middle East that has little to nothing to do with a direct threat to America’s national security.

Now, unlike the Bush and Obama Administrations, I’m not going to pretend to fully (or even mostly) understand the complex political environment of the Muslim world, which has as much to do with sectarian and tribal divisions as it has to do with nationalist ones. But this is what I do know. When we invaded Iraq in 2003, we toppled a Sunni regime under Saddam Hussein and left a pretty big power vacuum. We attempted to nation-build by filling that vacuum with a quasi-nationalist, Shiite-dominated government in Iraq that has all but completely fallen apart as of today. Why? Because the Sunni minority in Iraq found ISIS to be the perfect counterweight to what they perceived to be the overly sectarian rule of Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Thus, Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime in Iraq found a natural successor and the power vacuum found a formidable replacement.

So, if I’m not making myself clear enough, what I’m asserting is that the rise of ISIS is the United States’ fault as much as anyone else’s. And now, the Obama Administration would have us believe that the prospective successor to the Hussein regime—which we toppled despite it not being a direct threat to our national security—is a direct threat to our national security. This is utterly bogus, folks. Yes, ISIS is unquestionably a reprehensible organization. Yes, we should be outraged that ISIS has barbarously beheaded two American journalists. But that does not mean that we need to engage ourselves in yet another stupid war in the Middle East.

What, exactly, does the White House hope to achieve here? ISIS is too busy trying to conquer the Muslim world to turn its attention to attacking the United States. Peter Beinart at The Atlantic quotes Michael Morrell, a former acting CIA director, saying that although ISIS could very well refocus toward attacking the United States in the future, bombing them now is more likely to increase the chances of that happening than anything else. Beinart also marvels, just as I do, at the overwhelming narrative in the media and among America’s political elite that ISIS poses some immediate terrorist threat to the United States. Never mind that President Obama openly admitted in his speech that our intelligence agencies “have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland.” Apparently it’s time to go to war anyway.

Perhaps the most troubling implication of the Obama Administration’s fantastical construction of events in the Middle East is the plan to arm Syrian rebels. These rebels, as The New York Times points out, are “a diverse group riven by infighting, with no shared leadership and with hard-line Islamists as its most effective fighters.” Indeed, arming these rebels against ISIS may even benefit the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria that has been fighting alongside the rebels in the Syrian Civil War. That seems smart, doesn’t it? Aiding the one terrorist organization that has the greatest ability to attack the American mainland while expending resources against one that doesn’t? The White House seems to have the idea that there actually exists a unified Free Syrian Army that is composed of human-rights-loving moderates who have a coherent command structure and are just waiting for us to train and supply them. The reality, though, is that the rebels are a hodgepodge of apolitical rural dissidents who come from all sorts of nationalist and jihadist groups. Honestly, I’m not sure how we could even know where the guns we send them end up.


Thomas Friedman, himself a pretty big Obama apologist, penned an op-ed in the New York Times a week before President Obama announced his intentions regarding ISIS. In it, he warned against the kind of “‘fire, ready, aim’ approach [that] led George W. Bush to order a ground war in Iraq without sufficient troops to control the country, without a true grasp of Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite sectarian dynamics, and without any realization that, in destroying the Sunni Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Sunni Ba’athist regime in Iraq, we were destroying both of Iran’s mortal enemies and thereby opening the way for a vast expansion of Iran’s regional influence.” Well, given that line of analysis, I wonder what Mr. Friedman thought of the President’s speech two days ago? Because it sounds like “fire, ready, aim” all over again to me. 

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Why do we do this to ourselves?