7 October 2014

Obama’s extremism spares no-one

. @hjbentham. #Iraq. #Syria. #imperialism. #aggression. #analysis.

If we look at its actions and its rhetoric, the Obama administration seems destined to make the same errors as the previous administration, this time in both Iraq and Syria.

Based on the same ominous neoconservative extremist rhetoric and ineffective diplomacy that characterized the shamed George W. Bush administration before it, the Obama administration’s Syria policy is maturing into a true disaster. The result is likely to be remembered as the downfall of the Obama administration, and the most significant moral and political defeat of the United States in the Middle East to date.

When trying to gather public support for his so-called “strategy” against the ISIL insurgent group, Obama anchored his military campaign in the ideas of neoconservative fantasists who led the US to disaster in Afghanistan and Iraq in the first decade of the Twenty-First Century. “This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven”, he said. This approach is based on ignorance of international law, and the construction of illegitimate “coalitions of the willing” – a bizarre brainchild of the Bush administration that we have seen resurrected in the so-called anti-ISIL coalition.

Step by step, every approach taken by the Obama administration towards the crisis in Syria has been negative, rooted in outright lies and fantasies, or at the very least based on a deeply flawed and propagandized analysis. We have now watched the US approach to the crisis in Syria deteriorate from the more nuanced position of supporting what were called “Arab Spring” uprisings, to the outright violent and offensive claim that crisis in Iraq and Syria will only be solved through overt US aggression. Let us not be shy about using the term “aggression”, as this is precisely what the US did when it threatened military force against Syria in 2013, and it is what we are seeing again in 2014.

The Obama administration’s façade of supporting popular forces in the region, as we saw broadcasted in the early days of the Syrian Conflict, when the extremist Takfiri violence was conflated with uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, is gone. In its place, we are left with overt US threats to flatten everything and every faction in the region to rubble, in line with the neoconservative worldview that peace and security are reliant on the brute use of US military force to subjugate everyone. This is the same approach taken by the discredited Bush administration regarding Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. That aggression is continued by the executioner-President Obama, to the disadvantage of hundreds of thousands who still suffer for the sake of the US regime’s extremism and vendetta.

Little more than a year after the Obama administration failed to build a coalition to hide the true nature of its aggression against Syria in 2013, Obama has taken the even more destructive and callous position of threatening all sides in the now four-year old crisis. While ostensibly targeting ISIL in Syria, Obama has not only attacked the territory of Syria without any valid legal justification. He also threatened to “wipe out” and “overthrow” the Syrian government if it resists the US, escalating his violence to target the Syrian state if it attempts to keep its airspace closed to external aggression.

It must be reiterated that every US intervention into the conflict in Syria, without the United Nations Security Council’s approval, is an act aggression. The best understanding of the crime of aggression by the United Nations is based on Article 2, Paragraph 4 of the Charter, where the “threat or use of force” are both forbidden to be used against any state. The Charter of the United Nations therefore rules the “threat” of force as completely unacceptable in international relations, which means even the barbaric remarks by Obama and British PM Cameron about striking Syrian territory without permission by the host country are forbidden in the Charter.

For the last few months, the United States has claimed to stand by the legal understanding of aggression above, at least when it thinks Russia is the offender, due to its alleged role in supporting separatists on the territory of Ukraine. So, while the administration was discrediting Russia’s humanitarian arguments for delivering baby-food to the starving people of Donetsk and Lugansk in Ukraine, it was presenting the very same arguments to “wipe out” entire nations. To argue in turn that US citizens like Steven Sotloff were under threat and needed US military support is no good, since Russian citizens like Andrey Stenin were just as arguably in need of Russian military support at the same time in Ukraine.

As bizarre as it sounds, Obama’s reckless and wanton idea of threatening all sides to a conflict with attacks by US warplanes is not limited to senior warmongers in Washington, but is also consistent with the suggestions of senior British and French politicians. French President Francois Hollande, in August, described Syrian government forces as the “objective” allies of the so-called Islamic State, despite the fact that Syrian government forces are leading the offensive against the militants on the ground and continue to be the primary targets of IS attacks in turn. In an equally lethal display of comedy, senior UK MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who vocally called for bombing Syrian government forces in 2013, just as vocally called for bombing the other side in 2014. What this shows is an apparent need to blow someone up, but confusion as to who the target should be.

There are many ways that we can compare Obama’s erroneous policies to those of Bush. Arguably, Obama is trying to exploit public angst over the tragic deaths of US journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, just as Bush exploited public feelings after the 9/11 attacks to justify his military aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, while it is one thing to get a rush of public support at a time of mourning for lost American citizens, it is another thing entirely to maintain this support for a prolonged military aggression – especially as the bodies begin to mount due to this aggression.

US public opinion is a very faulty basis on which to model feasible military objectives, and relying on emotional excuses for involvement leads to a lack of politically nuanced objectives. Inability to calibrate military objectives to political ends always leads to “mission creep”, as the US fails to follow any concrete objective and is blown off course by random, emotionally highlighted events as they occur. The fact that the US public is willing to support some form of military action after the killings of US journalists does not, in the long-term, mean that the Obama administration is going to be remembered any more fondly than the Bush administration.

In the end, Obama’s hawkish eagerness to threaten both sides in Syria with punitive military strikes, while presenting no political solutions to the crisis, just bolsters the US’s vain image of itself as a military superpower, but leads to a de facto political defeat for the US. There is no contingency in which both sides to the conflict will be destroyed by the US military action and the US will be left in charge of Syria’s future. There is only the contingency in which the United States will be responsible for causing thousands of deaths, calibrated to meet no political objectives other than revenge for Sotloff and Foley’s deaths, before withdrawing from the region in shame once again.

The most obvious factor that has been surprisingly overlooked by many analysts is that US military intervention is seldom clean, especially when it relies solely on air power, and the primary victims of the US campaign against ISIL militants in Syria will surely be civilians. As the pictures of the dead and the dismembered circulate on social media, even the people who had staunchly opposed Assad will begin to call out Obama himself as an assassin and a hypocrite, and any State Department arguments for deepening intervention will collapse.

With the victims of Obama’s bombing of Syria most likely to be civilians, and more ISIL radicalization and recruitment likely to be byproducts of the aggression, where will these radicals vent their anti-American frustration? The people of Syria, in both government and militant-held areas, will most take out their anger on the US-backed “moderate” opposition, who will lose all moral standing and be recognized as the real killers of their own people. As a result of this, it is likely to be the “moderate” opposition and its US backers themselves, who will be most severely “degraded” and “dismantled” by Obama’s reckless and ill-conceived bombing of the country.

Another factor that has been ignored in a great deal of analysis is that the US is behaving no more morally than ISIL, and shares many of the same features as the terrorist group. Both are extremist, blinded by their rage and their obsession with revenge and vendetta. Both ignore the will of the people, insisting that their narrow and dogmatic ideology will prevail with the actions of a small, vetted vanguard of dedicated extremists in Syria. Both engage in extrajudicial executions and assassinations to further their aims, and try to justify these actions with their respective dogmatic and extremist ideologies. In sum, any objective analysis of the conduct of the US and the ISIL group would reveal they are equally immoral, equally extremist, and equally ignorant of the wishes of the Iraqi and Syrian peoples. Neither has a moral leg to stand on, they cannot compensate for this by making adversaries of one another.

All moves to intervene heavily in Syria will backfire on the United States in numerous ways, and bring the downfall of the administration’s Syria policy, just as the idiotic and groundless campaign in Iraq was the Bush administration’s downfall.

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