I was unsettled listening to President Obama’s speech last night. Not only is the strategy against ISIS misguided (we elected him to end perpetual warfare, not expand it) but he publicly adopted a Bush foreign policy legacy that is a clear violation of the Constitution: that he, as president, has the power to act wherever and whenever he wants without Congressional approval.
While I generally support this president and his policies, what I have seen in the area of “national security” is as troubling now as it was under Bush: an expansion of executive power which now encompasses a dragnet surveillance system that treats all American citizens as suspected terrorists, indefinite detention, militarization of police, and a seemingly endless use of America’s military power. Instead of addressing the breadth of the national security state — which he once roundly criticized — President Obama has instead warmly facilitated its expansion.
In his speech last night, the president focused narrowly on a far-away threat that his administration admits poses no immediate threat to the US. The inconvenient truth is that we helped to create ISIS in the first place with American weapons, military intervention and radical war powers that have alienated us from the world (i.e. Guantanamo Bay, secret CIA prisons, and torture).
The president undoubtedly knows all of this and simply chose the path of least political resistance two months before an election rather than explain the reality to the American people. It is, nonetheless, disappointing that the president who promised to take America on a different path has instead doubled down on Bush’s failed foreign policy in more ways than one.
Let’s look at the totality of the situation: the US allied itself with Iraq in the 1980s to combat Iran, a regional adversary (and former US ally). Reagan supplied them with weapons, including chemical that they used on their own people — which we attempted to obfuscate blame onto the Iranians.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait, Bush Sr. decided to go to war, pushing Saddam’s forces back without removing him from power, noting that it would de-stabalize the region. In then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney’s own words, such an invasion would cause a “quagmire“.
Roughly ten years later, we invade Iraq again under completely fabricated pretenses. Once we successfully topple Saddam’s regime — and secure their oil with no-bid contracts for our own companies, including Dick Cheney’s Halliburton, where he previously served as chairman and CEO — we decide to hold the country together with a flimsy democracy between disparate groups who hate each other. We train the Iraqi military and supply them with weapons (which will be turned against them in a few years), pull out our troops, leaving behind a sizable force at one of the largest embassies in the world.
Meanwhile, our former ally Iran — whose elected government the CIA helped topple in the 1950s because they wanted to nationalize their own oil industry — is building a nuclear weapon. And to the west, Syria is breaking out into a civil war that we also support, supplying their “moderates” with weapons and support. Assad — who we propped up over the years to continue the region’s status quo — kills his own people as he attempts to cling to power.
War hawks in the US push for military supplies in Syria — where there is no obvious interest and in a region that we have already blown to pieces through reckless and self-centered foreign policy. We supply them anyway and those weapons likely end up in the hands of ISIS. Senator John McCain goes a step further, saying that we should directly intervene militarily.
Now that ISIS has taken control of large swaths of Syria and Iraq — pushing back Iraq’s military, who abandoned their American-made weapons and equipment, falling into terrorist hands — war hawks once again are calling for the same failed strategy. They want more arming of rebels in Syria, training of Iraq’s military (who may well defect), and direct US military intervention to remove what once again amounts to an admittedly horrible regime that we do not like and is killing its own people. And if we do not act, it is very likely that our oil supplies in the region will be disrupted.
The president’s claim of a limited mission may be his intention — although he has already gone back on his claim a few weeks ago that the attacks would be limited to Iraq — but these things can often spiral out of hand unintentionally. It is not difficult to imagine a ramp-up in the months to come.
Worse yet, it is as if we have learned nothing from our decades of needless (and harmful) wars. Further military action only creates more division, radicalism and feeds the military-industrial complex that guarantees continued US action in parts of the world where we have no business being. Our military has, in fact, become a tool to push our merciless war economy.
When does it ever end?
We are stuck in a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle of militarism. We must break this fever once and for all. No more war in the Middle East.