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Fear of ISIS Used to Justify Continued Military Intervention in Middle East

Why was the US public willing to tolerate new US war-making in Iraq and Syria in 2014-2015, after having opposed it in 2013?

US Army tanks line up for a training exercise in a photo taken on February 10, 2009. (Photo: US Army)

Why do we seem to be trapped in an endless cycle of war, with each new military adventure promised to be different than the last? David Swanson’s War Is A Lie takes apart and thoroughly refutes every major argument that has been used to justify wars, especially those wars most widely trumpeted as just and good. Order the new edition of this vital antiwar handbook by making a donation to Truthout today!

The following is an excerpt from War Is A Lie:

Why was the US public willing to tolerate new US war-making in Iraq and Syria in 2014–2015, after having opposed it in 2013? This time the advertised enemy was not the Syrian government, but terrorists scarier than al Qaeda, called ISIS. And ISIS was shown to be cutting the throats of Americans on videos. And something switched off in people’s brains and they stopped thinking — with a few exceptions. A few journalists pointed out that the Iraqi government bombing Iraqi Sunnis was in fact driving the latter to support ISIS. As if to hammer this point home, ISIS produced a 60-minute movie depicting itself as the leading enemy of the United States and virtually begging the United States to attack it. (When the United States did attack, recruitment soared, just as ISIS had expected.) Even Newsweek published a clear-eyed warning that ISIS would not last long unless the United States saved it by bombing it. Matthew Hoh warned that the beheadings were bait not to be taken. And of course I shouted the warnings of this book everywhere I could. But the US government and much of the public took the bait.

The fomenting of fear, and the characterization of ISIS as evil seem to have been key here in gaining the support of the American public to combat ISIS. Videos of beheadings were characterized as “barbaric” by the US media, while killing done by the United States is considered necessary and often characterized as “surgical strikes” or “collateral damage.” As if the US government didn’t kill people, as if the dictatorships it arms didn’t kill people, as if ISIS had invented murder and something had to be done about it, even if that something was murder on a larger scale that would produce more murder by ISIS as well, people fell in line like obedient servants to their master, War.

And to make their war support more respectable, along came the supposed need to rescue civilians trapped on a mountaintop and awaiting death at the hands of ISIS. The story wasn’t completely false, but its details were murky. Many of the people left the mountain or refused to leave the mountain where they preferred to stay, before a US rescue mission could actually be created. And the US seemed to drop bombs more with a goal of protecting oil than protecting people (four air strikes near the mountain, many more near oil-rich Erbil). But, whether it helped those people or not, a US war was created, and the war planners never looked back.

The world, as represented at the United Nations, didn’t fall for it and didn’t authorize this war or the proposed attack a year earlier, in large part because the UN had authorized a supposed humanitarian rescue in Libya in 2011 and seen that authorization predictably and swiftly misused to justify a wider war and the overthrow of a government.

In addition to the dubious claims about people needing to be rescued on a mountain, the United States also pulled out that old standby of saving US lives, namely the lives of Americans in the oil-rush town of Erbil, all of whom could have been put onto a single airplane and flown out of there had there been a real need to rescue them.

Completely false, on the other hand, was another story about evil. Just in case people were not sufficiently scared, the White House and Pentagon actually invented a non-existent terrorist organization, which they named the Khorasan Group, and which CBS News called “a more immediate threat to the US Homeland.” While ISIS was worse than al Qaeda and al Qaeda worse than the Taliban, this new monster was depicted as worse than ISIS and plotting the immediate blowing up of US airplanes. No evidence of this was offered, or apparently required by “journalists.”

If you weren’t frightened enough, and if you didn’t care enough about people on a mountain to drop bombs on people in a valley, there was also your patriotic duty to overcome “intervention fatigue,” of which US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power began writing and speaking, actually warning that if we paid too much attention to what bombing places like Libya had done to them we’d fail in our obligation to support the bombing of new places like Syria. Soon enough, the US corporate media was hosting debates that ranged from advocacy for launching one type of war all the way to advocacy for launching a little bit different type of war. A study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that inclusion of antiwar guests in the major US media was even more lacking in the 2014 buildup to war than it had been in the 2003 run-up to the Iraq invasion.

On September 23, 2014, I went on the Ed Schultz show on MSNBC, and this happened:

Ed Schultz: Has the President overstepped his Constitutional authority in your opinion?

David Swanson: Oh, there’s no question. I agree with Congressman Garamendi and my own senator, Kaine. This is a blatant violation of Article I Section 8 of the Constitution. But even if Congress comes back and votes for it, it’s a blatant violation of the UN Charter. This is illegal, to go into another country and bomb it. But more importantly it’s counterproductive, it’s almost knowingly counterproductive. There is no military solution, they keep saying that. And, by the way, candidate Barack Obama strongly agreed with everything I’ve just said; it’s President Obama who’s changed his mind. And we have to bring him back to that desire to end the mindset that gets us into war, because there are numerous useful nonmilitary actions here that don’t involve doing what ISIS openly explicitly wants the US military to do. And it’s almost guaranteed to be counterproductive. Look at the disaster in Libya. Look at the past quarter-century and the past several years and the past six weeks in Iraq. It makes things worse to go in and bomb a bad situation…..

Ed Schultz: Dissenting voices, such as yourself, what are your expectations as all of this military action unfolds?

David Swanson: I think the public support for it is exaggerated and is likely to be short-lived. I think it’s driven by irrational fear based on slick beheading videos and reports on beheading videos. I think people are going to realize that bombing the opposite side of the side they were told they had to bomb a year ago and arming the other side at the same time is madness, that this is benefitting ISIS, it’s benefitting the weapons companies. It’s not benefitting the people of Iraq or Syria or the world. And it’s tearing down the rule of law, which we would like to uphold for this nation and every other nation going forward. And they are unwilling to say how many years and what cost in any measurement of the cost. People are not going to stand for this very long, and the Congress members have given themselves a little bit too lengthy of a vacation, I think. They’re going to start hearing pressure from people who want this ended.

I have yet to be invited back on MSNBC.

2016 0421pp2(Image: Just World Books)Congress has begun hearing the opposition from people that I mentioned in that interview, and yet Congress has avoided ending or authorizing the war, allowing the president to go on waging it illegally. And the propaganda has never let up. Headlines about ISIS attacking within the United States have been relentless, despite such attacks not existing. The FBI has arrested some 50 people in locations all over the United States who communicated with FBI agents pretending to be ISIS and who in most cases were pushed into planning acts of terrorism by FBI plants — usually people hoping to see criminal charges dropped against themselves in exchange for setting up “ISIS terrorists.” Meanwhile the FBI has publicly warned of imminent ISIS attacks some 40 times, and not once has any attack materialized. On June 28, 2015, CNN reported that a black and white flag with odd symbols on it in a London gay pride parade was an ISIS flag indicating ISIS presence in London. Closer examination showed the flag to be one depicting a variety of sex toys.

The US “intelligence” agencies have always admitted that ISIS was no threat to the United States, but that fact hasn’t seemed to matter. Reference to the fictional Khorasan Group, by the way, was abandoned as soon as the war started and has hardly been heard of since.

In June 2015, a white supremacist shot and killed nine people in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina. This was followed by a number of black churches being burned across the US South. The media made no effort to create widespread panic. In truth, your chances of being shot or burned remained tiny compared to other dangers. But even more true, your chances of being killed by someone claiming allegiance to ISIS were also tiny, much less than dying of “a lightning strike on your birthday,” as Stephen Kinzer put it, but panic was everywhere, at least to believe your television. Some people scared of ISIS are no doubt handling their fear right now by stuffing down food that contributes to heart disease and puffing on cigarettes that contribute to cancer. Diseases don’t make good horror movies the way the wind of hate does, but they are what we should be most scared of. And of course the chance of being shot by an American imitating his federal government’s manner of solving problems, while small, is far greater than that of being killed by a foreigner.

Being scared of foreign, dark-skinned, Arabic-speaking Muslims doesn’t just come more readily than being scared of Americans, or of heart disease or Alzheimer’s or nuclear war or climate change. It also allows the pretense that ISIS arose out of the irrational evil of those people. In fact, it arose out of the destruction, sectarian division, poverty, desperation, and an illegitimate government in Baghdad created by a US war and the prior US sanctions. It arose out of the disbanding of the Iraqi Army by Paul Bremmer. It arose out of the brutalization of its future leaders in US prison camps. It arose out of the proliferation of US weapons. It arose out of the arming and training of Syrian rebels by the United States in Turkey and Jordan. It arose out of the hell fire of the Hellfire missiles the United States kept giving the Iraqi government to use against its own people.

The creation of ISIS and its barbarous violence are directly related to the barbarous violence of others, including the Saudi government, the Iraqi government, and the US government. When President Obama blew up a 16-year-old American boy whom nobody had ever accused of so much as jaywalking, and blew up six other kids who were too close to him at the time, we cannot imagine the boy’s head remained on his body. And does it matter how a person is killed? Is murder by bomb more righteous than murder by a blade?

Copyright (2016) by David Swanson. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, Just World Books.