From the September-October 2014 issue of News & Letters
The explosive advances of the army of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS), crossing from Syria into northern and central Iraq, have brought deeper miseries to the Iraqi people who might have expected they had already endured the worst, including the effects of U.S. imperialist policy. Atrocities from mass shootings and beheadings to systematic kidnapping and rapes of women—that the world and U.S. foreign policy ignored when IS carried them out against anti-Assad revolutionaries in Syria—in Iraq no longer remained hidden.
As well armed as IS forces were in Syria, thanks to Saudi and other fundamentalist support, they are now equipped like a state power courtesy of the U.S.-supplied Iraqi army. Iraqi troops fled in the face of a small IS force around Mosul, abandoning their bases and the city. With those heavy weapons IS threatened approaches to Baghdad, overran strategic Iraqi towns, and began carrying out a convert-or-die genocide of the Yazidi people.
UPSHOT OF U.S. STANCE ON SYRIA
The ineffective political choices, limited by pragmatism, that Obama made in the face of the Syrian Revolution since 2011 haunt him now. In Egypt, the U.S. supported Mubarak, not the Arab Spring revolutionaries of Tahrir Square, until Mubarak no longer represented stability. And while the U.S. offered early criticism of Assad’s regime, there were only empty words of encouragement but no meaningful material support to anti-Assad revolutionaries.
But as the victims of Assad’s counter-revolution exceeded 100,000 dead and counting, even that fig leaf of U.S. opposition to Assad disappeared—and at the very moment last year that he “crossed the red line” and used chemical weapons on civilians, especially children, in a Damascus suburb.
Forced to respond to war crimes, the U.S. and Russia actually certified Assad’s legitimacy in return for his promise to turn over his stockpile of chemical weapons. But Assad continued mass killings the conventional way—with guns, artillery and barrel bombs—massacres world leaders pretended not to notice.
Once Obama was invested in Assad’s survival, it was only logical to tolerate the Islamist forces that nominally opposed Assad, but in practice targeted authentic revolutionary groups. Even now, both Assad and IS are again attacking Aleppo.
U.S. HUMANITARIAN HYPOCRISY
To gain backing for finally using air strikes against IS, Obama led with the humanitarian mission: the rescue of thousands of Yazidi people. If successful, this would make one in a row for the U.S. confronting genocidal attacks in Iraq. Reagan did not even blink at Saddam Hussein’s use of poison gas against thousands of Kurds in 1987; George H. W. Bush exhorted Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq to rise up in 1991, but then stood by and watched Saddam massacre them.
Obama assured a war-weary nation that he could wage war without U.S. “boots on the ground.” It could only help him that war criminals like Cheney again spoke out to counsel a return to total war, and Sen. McCain wanted full-scale attacks on IS.
Obama’s public opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq paved the way for his election in 2008, yet in office he has continued Bush’s policy there. Sticking to Bush’s timetable for leaving Iraq arbitrarily stretched out the bloodshed until 2011. He continued backing Noury al-Maliki, the man Bush had installed in 2006 to run Iraq, despite U.S. aid and arms that never made it to Sunni Arab and Kurdish areas. Only now has he forced a new face to lead the U.S. client state of Iraq: Haider al-Abadi, from al-Maliki’s own Islamic Dawa Party.
After IS forces pushed back Kurdish peshmerga forces equipped with Saddam-era light weapons, both the European Union and the U.S. agreed to send arms to the Kurds directly for the first time. That ties in with Obama’s other two stated objectives for air strikes that he threatens might last for months: retaking the Mosul Dam over the Tigris River and defense of the U.S. Consulate in Erbil. Clearly the boots on the ground he has in mind are the peshmerga, hoping that their determination to defend Kurdish autonomy could be useful to U.S. interests.
SUPPORT THE REVOLUTIONARIES, NOT ISLAMIC STATE
Some activists seem willing to forgive IS all their atrocities and counter-revolutionary acts because they are fighting U.S. imperialism. Others have given IS credit for fighting imperialism 100 years later, because the map of the proposed Caliphate rips up the arbitrary borders that imperialists in World War I drew to carve up the Ottoman Empire.
We already know that the counter-revolution can cross borders. Our concern is to let revolutions freely cross borders, as movements from Tunisia to Egypt to Syria to Spain have done during Arab Spring in opposing state-capitalist rulers who consistently choose order over the threat of a revolution that might be the beginning of a new human world.
To understand the Middle East today, read
Crossroads of History: Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East
by Raya Dunayevskaya