– Barack, We Hardly Knew Ye (David Stockman’s Contra Corner, Sep 11, 2014):
With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo
With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo
With your drums and guns and guns and drums
The enemy nearly slew ye
Oh my darling dear, Ye look so queer
Johnny I hardly knew ye…..
This memorable stanza from the classic anti-war song could not be more apt with respect to Barack Obama. He became President because he campaigned across the land draped in the garlands of peace. Yet he has now promised to spend his final three years in the White House smearing his face with war paint and strutting around the imperial city marshalling his “drums and guns and guns and drums”.
And let’s be clear. The President’s so-called “counter-terrorism” campaign—-that special kind of violent eruption which isn’t a “war”—-is not really about punishing some barbarians who have beheaded two innocent Americans and who have also recruited perhaps a dozen not so innocent Americans to join their blood-thirsty ranks. Civilized adults just do not start a war on the other side of the world on account of such thin gruel, as horrific as the actions involved might be.
Indeed, based on his stated reasons for war—beheadings and venomous rhetoric—Obama is on the same slippery slope that Woodrow Wilson stood on when he sent two million American GIs into the senseless slaughterhouse of northern France. It was to vindicate the freedom of Americans to sail into war zones, even on armed belligerent ships, he said.
In the cold light of history, Wilson’s misbegotten crusade in behalf of an utterly untenable principle accomplished nothing more than to prolong a war which was already over in the spring of 1917 due to the mutual exhaustion and bankruptcy of both sides; and in so doing, he spawned the Bolshevik tyranny in Russia, the punitive peace treaty of Versailles, the revanchist evil of Nazi Germany and the world wars and cold wars which followed.
That was “blowback” writ large—a chain of repercussions that shaped the very warp and woof of the entire next century. Yet in 1917, the safety and security of citizens in Lincoln NE or Spokane WA could not have been enhanced in the slightest by plunging into a pointless war in Europe to secure “freedom of the seas” during its final hours of carnage. Likewise, in 2014 the case for a war on the ancient battlegrounds of the Shiite/Sunni divide and numerous related tribal and ethnic enmities to avenge the murder of journalists who knowingly ventured into a zone of vicious civil war, anarchy and barbarism is no more compelling or rational.
No, what Obama’s war is really about is the capacity of the American Warfare State to co-opt any and all dissenting views and to transform cruel doings from virtually anywhere on the planet into a casus belli.
Accordingly, last night’s patter from the oval office about a plan to “degrade” and “ultimately destroy” ISIS is just so much beltway pettifoggery; its the kind of verbal smokescreen that the chattering politicians temporarily bivouacked along Pennsylvania Avenue are pleased to deploy as they go about implementing—unwittingly or otherwise— the agenda of Washington’s permanent imperial machinery.
Here’s the thing. Washington either means to eradicate the Islamic State root and branch in a Normandy style invasion and occupation of the Sunni-Euphrates valley or its just inviting vengeance and blowback that will pale into insignificance that which has occurred to date. Dropping bombs from high altitude aircraft, or launching Tomahawk missiles from distant ships or dispatching drone payloads via video counsels in Nevada may kill a few ISIS warriors and leaders along with thousands of innocent Sunni civilians in the territories they now occupy. But in the end it will amount to jabbing a hornets nest with a short stick.
Does ISIS’ menacing oratory and graphic videos really constitute a clear and present danger to the American homeland that can’t be handled with increased domestic vigilance and police protections? Does what little we actually know about a regime that has materialized almost overnight provide sufficient cause for launching hell-fire from the skies on a territory bigger than the state of New Jersey and occupied by roughly 8 million Sunni Arabs who in the main are not at all fond of the “indispensable nation” that has appointed itself to rescue them from their new rulers?
After all, just hours before the President delivered up his 13 minutes of vaporous rhetoric, double-talk and self-contradiction, the Homeland Security Department had testified on capitol hill that it had no evidence that ISIS was planning an attack on US territory or had the capacity to accomplish one. The closest it could come to identifying a tangible ISIS threat was chatter on Twitter.
Likewise, isn’t it breathtaking that in the blood-soaked wreckage of the non-nation of Syria, which was scribbled on a map by dandies in the British and French foreign offices in 1916, we are now attempting to eliminate two regimes at the same time? Never mind that the Assad-Alawites in the southwest and the ISIS-Sunni in the north and east between them control 90 percent of Syrian territory.
So instead of boots on the ground to secure the dusty villages, bleak desert expanses and other pointless redoubts which will be bombed back into the stone age by Obama’s aerial campaign, we will arm and train the Free Syrian Army to do the job of killing off the stragglers. That is, mop-up the fanatical ISIS fighters before they can regroup and launch furious campaigns of revenge throughout the region or even at the American homeland.
That’s right. The silly, naïve man in the oval office has signed up to a bombing campaign which will enrage the hordes of medieval butchers encamped in the Islamic State, hoping that a rag-tag bunch of buccaneers that mostly issue press releases from Turkey, and which recently sold one of the beheaded Americans to ISIS for $50,000 according to the public testimony of his best friend and confidant, will keep them contained and finish off the job.
In a sane world, this would be considered an impeachable madness. In today’s Washington, however, Obama’s ludicrous “no boots, all air” strategy amounts to a three week placeholder. It will be soon engulfed in escalation as Admiral McCain and the rest of the war party demands stepped-up retribution for the next string of beheadings and grizzly media stunts by ISIS in response to the bombings.
Indeed, just consider the stunning emptiness of Obama’s four-point strategy. Most grating was his claim that he could now act more aggressively because Iraq has formed a new government. Now that’s a whopper if there every was one. Their new leader is a life-long Shiite militant who spent his adult life in London passing out anti-Sunni pamphlets, and who has not yet assembled a cabinet or demonstrated that his government will last until even year-end.
The reason that their will be no Iraqi government and war-capable Iraqi Army is that there is no Iraqi nation—–just the Sykes-Picot borders. Yet the latter were long ago irreparably shattered by the Bush war of shock and awe against the last dictator who corralled the Sunni, Shiite and Kurds into a temporary polity at the end of a sword.
The truth is, the brief and vanished nation of Iraq is already partitioned. The Kurds have already created a de facto Kurdistan in the northeast and will play governance games in Baghdad only to buy time to consolidate their regime and make the political and economic deals with Turkey and others needed to insure viability of their new state.
Likewise, the Shiite south is already a de facto province of Iran. So be it. The greater Shiite polity on the north and east of the Persian Gulf is a more certain barrier to ISIS expansion than any imaginary coalition of the unwilling that Washington might concoct.
But here’s the giant flaw in Obama’s incendiary strategy. The Peshmerga can be counted upon to ferociously defend Kurdistan against ISIS encroachment, and the Shiite militias will doubtless accomplish the same in their own territories. But no one with a modicum of historical knowledge would think it sane to send them up into the Sunni lands of the Euphrates valley to mop-up after the American bombs, missiles and drones.
In short, once Washington is in full bombs away mode there will be no Free Syrian Army or reconstituted Iraqi army to finish the job. And the idea of meaningful boots on the ground from a regional coalition amongst the enmity ridden nation’s of Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE is too preposterous to even merit discussion.
So what Obama actually launched last evening was Operation Blowback—Washington’s stupidest military campaign yet from among a long list that stretches back through two previous wars in Iraq, countless cold-war coups and interventions and grand disasters like Vietnam.
Needless to say, there is a better way. The best safeguard and only real protection against the theoretical threat of the Islamic State is vigilance and enhanced public security at home. And coupled with it, an end to pointless bombing campaigns in Muslim lands that mainly succeeds in destroying American tanks, artillery pieces and other equipment left behind in earlier delusional campaigns.
And, yes, let ISIS try to govern 8 million people in the dusty villages and impoverished desert expanse of the Euphrates Valley by means of the sword and medieval precepts of Sharia law. The resulting “blowback” from the bestirred people of the ISIS occupied lands will do more for the safety and security of the American people than all the drones and bombers that Washington could send to forge puppet nations within the Syrian and Iraqi “borders” that have already been deposited in the dustbin of history.
The peace candidate of 2008 might have seen the sensibility of that course of action. But after six years at the throne of power in the imperial capital, Barack, as we listened last night, we hardly knew ye.