7 Reasons Bombing the Middle East (Again) is a Bad Idea

by Tim Holmes

6 October 2014

While ISIS continue to release videos of prisoners being murdered and the PKK fight the ISIS-led slaughter of Syrian Kurds, Obama seems intent on having his own George W. Bush moment, while the UK and now Australia have also answered the call. The situation isn’t simple, and expectedly for every cry of ‘imperialism!’ there is a report on how air strikes are boosting Kurdish morale. Here Tim Holmes gives seven reasons why the path Obama is leading the US-led coalition down is the wrong one.

1. It won’t work – and is likely to backfire.

Obama declares that his drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia will provide the template for his war against ISIS – yet in Yemen, the former US Head of Mission concludes, “the U.S. generates roughly forty to sixty new enemies for every [Al-Qaeda] operative killed by drones.” As Yemeni democracy and human rights activist Farea Al-Muslimi told a Senate hearing last year:

“I believe in America, and I deeply believe that when Americans truly know about how much pain and suffering U.S. airstrikes have caused, and how they are harming U.S. efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Yemeni people, they will reject this devastating targeted killing program.”

The FBI report an upsurge in ISIS recruits since the US started bombing. And Western attacks may be precisely what ISIS want: as Norwegian terrorism expert Thomas Hegghammer puts it, “Isis seems to be doing everything it can (short of attacks in the west) to draw the US into the conflict.” Former FBI counter-terrorism agent Ali Soufan states: “They are trying to suck the west into the war with them. … They want to fight the British and the Americans … to unify the extremists within and diminish any kind of meaningful threat within their support base.” We will be wading into an ugly sectarian war, then, on the side of those perpetrating atrocities against Iraq’s Sunnis.

2. It threatens endless war.

US and UK officials claim the war will last two or three years. But, as The Washington Post reports, not everyone is so optimistic:

“We’re not going to see an end to this in our lifetime,” said Charles F. Wald, a retired Air Force general who oversaw the start of the air war in Afghanistan in 2001. … “there isn’t going to be any time where we all of a sudden can declare victory. This is what the world is going to be like for us for a long time.”

3. It’s illegal.

“Obama’s legal arguments for unilaterally expanding a war expected to last years have shocked even his supporters”, the Guardian’s national security editor reports. Obama requires Congress’s blessing to extend conflicts beyond 60 days or to declare war. To evade this requirement, he cites the 2001 Authorisation for the Use of Military Force, which licences “necessary and appropriate force” against the perpetrators of 9/11 and those that harboured them. ISIS does not fall into this category. Law professor Ryan Goodman thus reports a “remarkable consensus of opinion” among diverse legal scholars that this legal basis does not stand.

Invited in by Iraq’s government, the US claims the right to “collective self-defence”. But this hardly licenses Obama’s plans to “destroy” and “eradicate” ISIS, or launch attacks in Syria. The US claims Syria is “unable or unwilling” to tackle ISIS, and that this makes its attacks there legal, again in “collective self-defence”. Yet the International Court of Justice has rejected the “unable or unwilling” argument three times, and Pentagon officials call the war “a shift to offense from defense.” The US is acting outside the law.

4. War must be our last resort. It isn’t.

“The United States seldom resorts to diplomacy in resolving major differences with other states,” notes its former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, but pursues “reflexive militarism”. “With regards to Syria,” Matt Hoh points out, “the president did not even attempt to make comments towards a political process to end the fighting and the killing.”

An alternative course is available: engage Iran in talks to clamp down on Iraq’s sectarian government; engage the region to tackle ISIS using “diplomatic power and financial pressures”; push Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to cut off support to Syria’s rebels; engage all parties, including Russia, to end the Syrian crisis; pursue a blanket arms embargo and WMD-free Middle East; and cut off the flow of Wahhabi ideology from Saudi Arabia.

5. The US has no concern for human rights or democracy.

Chas Freedman, former US Assistant Secretary of State for Defense for International Security Affairs and Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, writes: “It’s time to stop pretending the United States assigns any real importance to democracy, the rule of law, or human rights in the Middle East.” The US has engaged in terrorism, torture and prolonged detention without trial. It bankrolls Israel’s crimes against humanity in Gaza. Its allies the Free Syrian Army and Saudi Arabia have engaged in beheadings, the latter “with appalling regularity and in flagrant disregard of international law standards”, the UN reports, torturing suspects and executing people for smuggling and sorcery.

6. Bombing will create a threat where there is none.

The US government states that ISIS poses no threat to the US; so do counter-terror officials. It will likely become one if provoked. War “makes it more likely that we will be targeted by the people we are attacking” states National Counterterrorism Center deputy director Andrew Liepman. As MI6’s former counter-terror chief Richard Barrett puts it: “Their justification will be: ‘If it hadn’t been for air strikes we would be fine, establishing our caliphate … Why did you mess with us? Now we’ll mess with you.’”

7. It will divert public money that could be used to help people.

The War on Terror cost $4-6trillion – $2,000 for every person in absolute poverty. The result has been many hundreds of thousands of deaths, worsening global security and chaos across the Middle East. At long last, perhaps we should make a break with this dire record.



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