By JEFF MACKLER
In a short-lived but well-crafted move aimed at hyping President Obama’s credentials as a reasonable and democratic warmaker, the president submitted a resolution to Congress in mid-February requesting “authorization for use of force” to proceed full tilt with his administration’s now worldwide “war on [Islamic] terrorism.”
At first glance, what struck his contentious co-warrior Republican “adversaries” as strange was that the president appeared to be exercising a bit of self-restraint in limiting his request to three years. This was not to mention his asking permission from Congress itself to make yet another war, but this time on a global basis and not directly against any particular nation.
Obama sought to contrast his “democratic” (let Congress decide rather than the president) and time-limited approach to making war to the previous Bush administration’s request for blanket or unlimited authority to pursue terrorists everywhere.
As expected, in the circus-like atmosphere that characterizes congressional debate, Republicans beat the war drums even louder—attacking Obama for limiting his war, and thus future presidents’ war powers to just three years. But the media-promoted sound and fury attendant to the debate rapidly subsided when it was revealed that Obama’s purported self-imposed limitations were a fraud.
The Feb. 26 New York Times noted, “Mr. Obama did not ask Congress to repeal a 2001 [Bush-era] measure authorizing force against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, which would mean that he would still have wide discretion to wage war.”
Congressional approval of Obama’s legacy-burnishing gesture amounted to rubber stamping what he has been doing for the past six months and longer, including bombing Islamic State forces (ISIS or ISIL), or any other organization that the administration deems terrorist, in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, across Africa, and far beyond.
With this in mind, the heated Capitol Hill debate faded into oblivion as the bipartisan warmakers fully understood that U.S. imperialism recognizes no limits to its capacity to proceed with wars anywhere and everywhere in pursuit of power, profit, and global domination. Indeed, overt and covert wars, drone wars, privatized army wars, embargo, blockade and sanction wars, and U.S.-engineered coups and assassinations are the norm among U.S. imperialism’s top decision-making oligarchical elite—the .0001 percent.
Presidents, whether they be Obama-bright or Bush-not-so-bright, as well as posturing politicians of all capitalist parties, are mere agents, coated with a democratic veneer but pledged far in advance to fealty to capitalism’s exploits everywhere.
The month of February featured almost daily front-page headlines recounting horrific terrorist attacks and the rapid growth of ISIS. On the heels of the terror bombing of France’s racist and Islamophobic Charlie Hebdo magazine, after which 50 heads of state marched through the streets of Paris with more than 1.5 million misled and enthralled people behind them, one after another of the world’s top leaders declared their allegiance to this new war against “Islamic terrorism.”
The scene was set for the U.S. to take the lead in this effort. But before bombing “terrorists” around the world with impunity, Obama, the outwardly restrained and cool-headed U.S. imperial head of state, made sure that his planned warmaking was not perceived as directed at Arabs or Muslims or Islam—at least in the U.S.
His high-profile, three-day White House meeting on “Countering Violent Extremism,” attended by representatives of 60 nations in mid-February, heard the president state, “Labeling noxious beliefs and mass murder as ‘Islamic’ would play right into the hands of terrorists who claim that the United States is at war with Islam itself.”
Nevertheless, a number of U.S.-based human right groups boycotted the meeting, including the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, whose spokesperson, “Samer Khalaf, noted, “This focus only on Arabs or Muslims reinforces the stereotype of Arab and Muslim Americans as security threats and thus perpetuates hatred of the respective communities.”
Khalaf was undoubtedly referring to the 700,000 Muslim-Americans who had been subjected to FBI or NSA interrogation, surveillance, or arrest, not to mention provocateur infiltration of mosques, frame-up trials, and groundless convictions based on secret testimony of unnamed individuals or government institutions. As with the “great deporter’s” million-plus immigrants thrown out of the country or imprisoned in border detention camps, the president’s capacity to square words with deeds has not gone unnoticed by his victims, rhetoric notwithstanding.
The president’s disclaimers aside the screaming headlines recounting recent horrific attacks on Danish, Jordanian, Egyptian, and French citizens—as well as alleged terrorists ever mobilizing to join ISIS from England, the U.S., Egypt and elsewhere—consistently lack historical or present-day context.
The Jordanian pilot shot down and beheaded by ISIS, for example, was flying a U.S. aircraft to launch deadly missiles in Iraq to advance U.S. imperial interests. Denmark too, voted war credits to aid the U.S. slaughter. Its pilots fly U.S.-made F-18 fighter jets that bring death and destruction to Iraq and Syria.
When a dozen Assyrian Christian laborers in Libya were murdered by ISIS forces, Egypt retaliated by indiscriminately bombing civilian neighborhoods in the western Libyan city of Derna. Need we recall that the U.S.-backed general and now president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and his coup government removed Egypt’s elected president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and proceeded to slaughter an estimated 12,000 Muslim Brotherhood followers?
In the same vein, but earlier, the U.S.-NATO “humanitarian war” in Libya, which destroyed that nation’s infrastructure and murdered countless thousands, ended in chaos with Libya degenerating into innumerable warring factions, secular and otherwise, backed by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and other predators vying for Libya’s significant oil reserves. President Obama cynically noted last year, “We made a mistake in Libya. We didn’t have a plan for the day after.”(!) Obama failed to mention that the U.S. and its allies had handpicked the entire Libyan Transitional National Council and assigned it to “govern” that stricken nation.
Similarly, following the U.S. invasion, destruction, and occupation of Iraq, U.S. diplomat Paul Bremer was appointed by President Bush as head of state—the supreme authority—to govern that conquered nation until the new Nouri al-Maliki regime [since deposed under U.S. pressure] could be installed in elections supervised by the U.S. military. The Maliki regime proceeded to hound and persecute Iraq’s Sunni minority while stealing Iraq’s resources for its own business elite—with the largest cut to U.S. oil corporations to be sure.
Times are tough for the U.S. behemoth when its trusted allies, as with the Saudi monarchy, are implicated in the infamous 2001 bombing of the World Trade Center. The Feb. 5, New York Times couldn’t resist pointing to the still classified 28 pages of a 2002 Senate Intelligence Committee report on the 9/11 bombing that pointed to “high level Saudi government funding” of the al-Qaeda bombers, the large majority of whom were Saudi citizens.
Massachusetts House Democrat Stephen Lynch unsuccessfully placed a motion on the Senate floor to declassify these 28 pages of the government’s 2002 9/11 bombing report. George Bush ordered this embarrassing material classified. President Obama today concurs. Senator Bob Graham of Florida, who then chaired the Senate intelligence Committee, observed recently that the classified material “pointed a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier of 9/11.”
One congressional observer noted, “Proponents of releasing [the 28 page] Part 4, titled, ‘Findings, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain National Security Matters,’ suggested that “the Bush and Obama administrations have held it back for fear of alienating an influential military and economic partner rather than for any national security considerations.”
This astonishing statement and the emerging evidence that the Saudis were key funders of the 9/11 bombing blows a gaping hole in the entire U.S. rationale for waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq—a war that has taken the lives of more than a million innocents and a war that was launched under a mountain of lies! Yet in the twisted logic of U.S. imperialism and its loyal media, the truth is subordinate to the needs of the .0001 percent—the unbridled and real leaders of the U.S. “Empire.”
Saudi Arabia, with the world’s largest oil reserves and a dominant player in setting the world price of oil, is no newcomer to political intrigue. Its elite and top-level business moguls, if not the government itself, were central to the organization, financing, and political orientation of ISIS. The Sunni-based Saudis, with their own policy objectives driving their actions, saw ISIS as critical to their efforts to remove the Assad government of Syria and simultaneously weaken Syria’s Iranian ally.
U.S. intelligence agencies originally calculated that Syria’s government could be brought down with the small group of defecting Syrian officers coupled with “moderate rebels” consisting of secular and “reliable” sectarian forces that the U.S. organized into the so-called Free Syrian Army—today greatly reduced in its role as a participant in the civil war.
As with Libya, the Obama administration openly orchestrated through a series of meetings in Turkey, with Secretary of State John Kerry present, a coalition of these forces to serve as Syria’s post-Assad government. In the end, a combination of both ISIS and its rival al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra or the the al-Nusra Front, combined to fight Assad, only to later turn their attention, at least in part, to fighting the U.S.-installed Iraqi government.
Such are the exigencies of imperialist war. No alliance is permanent, and minor players, like the Saudis and their monarchial allies in the Middle East, and as with Zionist Israel, at times and within limits, pursue their own interests separate and apart from the U.S.
To buttress a further escalation of U.S. war moves, the Feb. 15 New York Times headlined information received from U.S. intelligence sources regarding the scope of ISIS operations. The Times headline and subheads read: “Islamic State Sprouting Limbs; Groups Form in Africa; With New Assessment Some in U.S. Fear Unending War.”
The article estimated that ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria numbered some “20,000 to 31,500.” With this data in mind and accompanied by the daily demonization of ISIS, imperialism’s solution aimed at intensifying the bombings of Iraq by its “coalition partners” while once again sending unknown numbers of “advisers” to lead and direct ground operations by the Iraqi Army and associated Iraqi Kurdish forces for a ground assault on Tikrit and then on to Iraq’s second largest city—ISIS-occupied Mosul.
The engagement of U.S. imperialist allies is seen as a critical element in this effort. Last week, for example, an unusual report prepared by a sub-committee of the House of Lords scored the British government for flying only a paltry 3-4 percent of the air strikes launched against ISIS. The French, in contrast, sent an aircraft carrier to Iraq a few months ago to carry out its “duty” to its coalition partners.
Referring to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s declaration last year that ISIS sought to become a caliphate (religious state) formed in the tradition of the prophet Mohammed, who died in 632, one blustering U.S. Congressman retorted, “If they want a caliphate we’ll bomb them back to the stone age.”
Those who demonize ISIS always fail to mention the present-day religious-based Middle Eastern monarchies that are allied with the U.S., including the Saudi billionaire monarchs, whose record of beheadings—between 79 and 82 a year for the last five years—make ISIS’s beheadings seem inconsequential by comparison. Like ISIS, Saudi Arabia imposes the penalty beheading for “crimes” such as homosexuality or religious blasphemy.
Indeed, if one considers the hundreds of thousands—or better, millions—slaughtered with the world’s most sophisticated weapons of mass destruction under the direction of the U.S. and its allies, ISIS’s actions amount to the proverbial drop in the bucket.
While ISIS’s reactionary views and practices can never serve as a model for any serious challenge to imperialist arrogance and mass murder, serious activists must understand that its origins stem from the policies and practices of U.S. imperialism and allied reactionary capitalist forces in the Middle East. We heard no objections to ISIS’s methods when its Saudi-provided weapons were aimed at the Syrian government, with U.S. knowledge, if not consent. Similarly, there were no voices raised when the “terrorist” al-Qaeda-associated forces aimed to bring down the Assad government.
Undoubtedly, the U.S. government knows no ideological limitations when it comes to allies, including its support for the fascist-led coup in Ukraine that aimed to ally that nation with the European Union and U.S. imperialism. Need we mention the bloody dictators around the world who were and continue to be armed and financed by the U.S. under every administration for over a century?
ISIS’s appeal today can best be explained by the failure of previous mass movements that headed national liberation struggles in a distorted and inadequate manner. These included the struggles of decades past across Africa and the Middle East, where victorious bourgeois nationalist parties, while ending overt colonial rule, continued to uphold capitalist states that defended capitalist property and power as against the interests of the masses who had served as the motor force fighting foreign rule.
ISIS today, as well as a growing number of reactionary forces around the world—including far-right parties across Europe, India, and elsewhere—is the product of previous efforts to reform capitalism rather than to struggle for its abolition.
In times of great economic and social stress, as with the present super-austerity conditions attendant to the world capitalist economic crisis, revolutionary forces are presented with new opportunities to coalesce the growing discontent into significant revolutionary parties and associated formations. But the same holds true, as history tragically demonstrates, for reactionary elements to gain a hearing by employing populist-sounding rhetoric or appeals to religious fundamentalist conceptions that promise salvation from oppression but always in the framework of continued capitalist exploitation.
Today U.S. imperialism is planning a major military offensive to reverse ISIS’s territorial gains in Iraq and Syria. Few suffer under any illusions that this will not be followed by renewed efforts to bring down the Syrian government and install a more U.S.-complicit regime. Thus, the new and extended “war on terror” is today seem by the U.S. ruling class as a long-term effort to rid the Middle East of any and all forces that might challenge its hegemony, that it, its freedom to exploit and plunder at will.
For the past 14 years—since the 9/11 bombing provided the pretext for the Afghan War—the entire Middle East region has experienced a state of perpetual war and associated chaos. “Stability,” or better, the unimpeded freedom to extract resources and exert total control through imposed client regimes by U.S. warmakers, remains out of reach, perhaps forever.
Yet the endless quagmire remains sufficient for imperialism, even for the longer term. Never-ending wars bring on associated and welcome massive increases in war spending that bloat the banks of the war profiteers with endless trillions while the lion’s share of the region’s oil, albeit limited in extraction to one degree or another by the restrictive conditions of war, remains under the control of the world’s largely monopolized oil corporations, for whom all such wars are fought.
Today’s new U.S. global “war on terrorism” is inseparable from its war on working people everywhere. The systematic building of revolutionary socialist organizations, however limited the immediate opportunities might seem, will prove central to providing a lasting and effective alternative to imperialist war and exploitation. This task remains on the order of the day.
A top priority at the same time is the building of united coalitions to mobilize massive protests in the U.S. and around the world against all U.S. imperialist wars and interventions.
The March 18-21 mobilization in Washington, D.C., marking the 12th year of the war against Iraq and called by a broad range of antiwar and social justice groups, is an important contribution to this effort. The events will culminate in a march, beginning at Lafayette Park at noon on March 21, and proceeding to the Capitol. Contact the United National Antiwar Coalition at unacpeace.org for more information.
Photo: Tony Savino / Socialist Action