SEATTLE – Everyone seems to have a theory on how to obliterate Islamic State. However, two points are rarely raised: One concerns the origins of the group and the other whether there are genuine intentions to defeat it in the first place.
We must boldly address the first to unravel the enigma behind the rise and growth of IS — otherwise, how else can the group be dismantled? We must contend with the second point before engaging in superfluous discussions about the most appropriate war strategy — that is if war is even the answer.
The questions are urgent and yet somehow they are frequently overlooked, glossed over through some disingenuous logic or by placing the blame somewhere else.
Now that the Americans have launched yet another aerial war against Libya, purportedly to target IS positions there, the discussion is being carefully geared toward how far the United States must go to defeat the militant group.
In fact, “can airstrikes alone win a war without ‘boots on the ground’?” has morphed, somehow, to become the crux of the matter, which has engaged a large number of intellectuals on both sides of the debate. U.S. media gurus, split between two equally war-mongering parties, love to jump at such opportunities to discredit one another, as if waging wars in other countries is an exclusively American domestic affair.
The days are long gone when the U.S. labored to establish coalitions to wage war, as it did in Kuwait and Iraq in 1990-1991 and, to a lesser extent, again in Iraq in 2003. Now wars are carried out as a matter of course. Many Americans seem to be oblivious to the fact that their country is actually fighting wars on several fronts, and is circuitously involved in others.
With multiple war fronts and conflicts fermenting all around, many people are becoming desensitized. Americans in particular have, sadly, swallowed the serum of perpetual war, to the extent that they rarely mobilize in any serious way against it. In other words, a state of war has become the status quo.
Although the administration of President Barack Obama has killed thousands, the majority of whom were civilians, there is no uproar nor mass protests. Aside from the fact that the Obama brand was fashioned to appear as the peaceful contrast to the warmonger George W. Bush, there has been no serious change in U.S. policies in the Middle East that could suggest one president is “better” than the other.
Obama has simply continued the legacy of his predecessor, unhindered. The primary change that has occurred is tactical: Instead of resorting to massive troop buildups on the ground assigned to topple governments, Obama has used airstrikes to target whoever is perceived to be the enemy, while investing in whoever he deems “moderate” enough to finish the job.
Like Bush’s preemptive “war on terror,” Obama’s doctrine has been equally disastrous. His wars were designed to produce little or no American casualties, since they were almost entirely conducted from the air and via unmanned drones operated by remote control. That approach has proved less taxing politically. However, it worsens the situation on the ground, and instead of ending war, it expands it.
While Bush’s invasion of Iraq revived al-Qaida and brought it to the heart of the region, Obama’s aerial wars forced al-Qaida to regroup and employ a different strategy. It rebranded itself, from militant cells to a “state,” sought swift territorial expansion, used guerrilla warfare when facing an army or being bombed from the sky, and carried out suicide bombings throughout the world to break the morale of its enemies and to serve its propaganda efforts aimed at keeping recruits coming.
Considering that enemies of IS are themselves enemies of one another, the group is assured that its existence, at least for the foreseeable future, is tenable. The truth is that IS thrives on military intervention because it was born from previous military interventions. It is expanding because its enemies are not in unison, as each is serving agendas that are rarely concerned with ending war, but rather seeing war as an opportunity to realize political gains.
With this logic in mind, one cannot expect the U.S. military’s Operation Odyssey Lightning, which officially began Aug. 1 in Libya, to achieve any results that could end in stabilizing the country. How could such “stability” be realized given that the U.S. and other NATO members’ war on Libya in 2011 largely dismembered a once rich and relatively stable Arab country?
Indeed, it was the vacuum left by subsequent conflicts that brought IS to Moammar Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte and other areas. Now, the U.S. — and other Western powers, led by the French — are applying military tactics to stave off a messy crisis they had created themselves when they waged the 2011 war.
Even if IS is driven out of Sirte, it will find some other unstable environment where it will spawn and wreak havoc. Sirte, in turn, will likely fall back into a state of bedlam where various militias, many of them armed by NATO in the first place, will turn their guns against each other.
Without a whole new approach to the problem, such conflicts will certainly keep multiplying.
According to airwars.org, which keeps track of the war on IS, 14,405 coalition airstrikes against the group have been carried out in Iraq and Syria over 735 days. An estimated 52,300 bombs and missiles were used, although the number must be much higher since numerous strikes have not been claimed by any party and thus are not officially recorded. And this figure does not take into account Russia’s aerial bombardments, or any party that is not officially part of the Western coalition.
But what good has this campaign done, aside from killing many civilians, destroying massive infrastructure and spreading IS further into the abyss of other vulnerable Middle East and North African spots?
There are few voices in the U.S. media and government that seem serious about changing the perspective completely on the Bush-Obama war on terror. Sensible calls by the likes of Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president, that the root causes of terror must be addressed to end terrorism, rarely register in the halls of the U.S. government or Congress.
In January, the cost of the war on IS, as estimated by U.S. Defense Department data, had jumped by $2 million a day to $11 million. “The air war has cost the U.S. about $5.5 billion total since it began in August 2014,” Business Insider reported. The military escalation in Libya is likely to produce new, more staggering numbers soon.
In the end, this is a great time for business for those who benefit from war. Concurrently, the cycle of war and violence is feeding on itself with no end in sight.
“Hope in aerial bombardment as the prophylactic for peace is absurd,” Vijay Prashad, a professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, wrote recently about the futility of air wars. “It has given us instability and chaos. Other roads have to be opened. Other paths seeded.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net
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