ISIS is a monster, perhaps a jutting-forth from the infernal realm. There is no doubt about that. It is the Khmer Rouge of the 21st-century. A war against it would clearly satisfy Just War criteria, and I am glad that it is suffering defeat after defeat at the hands of the Syrian Arab Army, Hezbollah, and Russia. Yet a US attack on ISIS should be opposed. In a word, any attack on ISIS will actually be an attack on the Syrian government, and we will have all spent our time debating the morality of the military action on false premises, just as we did in 2003 with Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, and just as we almost always do.
We simply cannot rely on our own government to tell us the truth when it comes to its foreign policy machinations. In the case of Syria, the stated aim is to defeat ISIS, but this is only a pretext.
Consider the wider picture. In 2000, Qatar proposed to build a natural gas pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey. This would have undercut Iran, longtime opponent of the US and rival of the Gulf State monarchies. Qatar is the US’s major ally in the region, home to military bases and headquarters of the US Middle East Central Command. The Qatar pipeline is also extremely attractive to the EU since it will no longer be dependent on Russia for natural gas.
Russia and Syria are traditional allies, and so in 2009 President Assad declared that for the sake of Russia’s national interest, he would not allow the pipeline to run through his country. Instead he endorsed Russia’s proposal, which is to create a rival pipeline from Iran through Syria and out into Lebanon. This would not only greatly enhance Iran’s regional influence, undermining Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, but strengthen Hezbollah and Hamas. And so, as WikiLeaks revealed [i], the US, Israeli, and Saudi Arabian intelligence services began to work to stoke social unrest in Syria with a view to overthrowing Assad in order to make way for the pipeline. US diplomatic cables explicitly propose working with Saudi Arabia and Egypt to foment Sunni-Shia tensions in order to provoke just the kind of civil war we have seen unfold. The CIA began funding oppositions groups, as it has a long history of doing on behalf of US corporate power.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia, along with Turkey, started funding Jihadist groups in 2012, with the CIA training and arming what was called the “Free Syrian Army,” which we know by now turned out to a be a propaganda invention. When ISIS, a direct result of the disastrous US military intervention in Iraq, crossed the Syrian border to enter the fray in 2013, many US trained fighters defected from the FSA and joined their ranks. A large number of the jihadist militias making up the FSA are led by al-Nusra, a branch of al-Qaeda. As they were in Afghanistan in the 1980s, al-Qaeda has once again become a US proxy, despite 9-11. According to a report by the DIA, the intelligence community even suspected that ISIS was likely to form a caliphate in Syria and Iraq, the borders of which encompass the proposed route of the Qatar pipeline. The entire human tragedy of the Syrian civil war has unfolded almost entirely according to plan.
The result has been hundreds of thousands dead, millions forced to become refugees, the sickening crimes of the Western-backed jihadi proxies, an entire nation plunged into a post-apocalyptic nightmare of chaos and murder. This is, briefly, the backdrop against which US intervention in Syria must be considered. Since the White House and foreign policy establishment have as their overarching goal only the ouster of Assad for the reasons characterized above, we can expect any operation against ISIS to be, ultimately, nothing more than an occasion to attack the legitimate government of Syria.
The US government has been attempting to attack Syria under various pretexts for the past five years. But despite massive propaganda efforts, it has been unable to muster public support. After the 2013 chemical weapons attack on Ghouta, almost certainly perpetrated by the “rebels” but attributed to Assad, only 10 percent of the population supported the White House’s proposed bombing campaign [ii]. Today, much is being made in the mainstream media about the 51—out of 13,000!—foreign service employees who penned a letter to President Obama demanding the bombing of Assad’s forces. One way or the other, the constant throughout the tangled threads is that Assad be removed.
The US has brought destruction to Syria and Iraq. Its actions created ISIS, which nearly took over all of Iraq, despite billions spent training and arming the Iraqi Army (which threw down its arms and ran away in the face of the approaching ISIS fighters). The US-led NATO attack on Libya has left that country looking like something out of Mad Max and overrun by ISIS militias. The puppet regime in Afghanistan is tottering on the brink of being retaken by the Taliban, despite many billions spent and many lives lost. And in the midst of all this and more, the proposal is to get more deeply involved in Syria.
Maybe if we could debate the latest war on real terms—whether we should bomb and kill and overthrow a government for an oil pipeline—our democracy would at least be functioning as it should. But the American people, the majority of whom are good and decent, would reject it. The military-industrial-intelligence complex knows this, and that is why we will debate it only in the terms in which the public relations machine spells it out for us. We’ll debate about the nature of Islam. We’ll debate about the “clash of civilizations.” As with Iraq in 2003, we’ll debate it in humanitarian terms. One prominent Catholic writer compared Orlando with Pearl Harbor and demanded an attack on ISIS in Syria in response! [iii] This is typical, unfortunately, but it reflects the way in which public opinion is managed in the US.
Who would kill or die, or ask their sons and daughters to kill or die, for an oil pipeline?
[i] http://www.truth-out.org/progressivepicks/item/33180-wikileaks-reveals-how-the-us-aggressively-pursued-regime-change-in-syria-igniting-a-bloodbath. See also Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s excellent account of the Syrian civil war and the analysis of its causes at http://ecowatch.com/2016/02/25/robert-kennedy-jr-syria-pipeline-war/
[ii] See my “Obama, the Media, and the Truth about Ghouta,”
[iii] RR Reno, “Orlando Was Not a Tragedy” in First Things, http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2016/06/orlando-was-not-a-tragedy