Truth, Responsibility and Reconciliation in Iraq

American officials are hailing the handfuls of European and Arab nations who have belatedly joined the anti-ISIL coalition. Yes, it’s important to defend Yazidis, Kurds, and other populations at risk, and there is no one in their immediate vicinity that needs aerial dismemberment more than ISIL.

Predictably, critics are pointing out that air strikes aren’t sufficient to control the situation on the ground. So the US is sending more weapons to those shy Syrian “moderates,” and will begin training as many of them as it can herd onto bases in Saudi Arabia. At the same time, Turkish troops may defend safe havens within Syria.

But beginning with the US invasion in 2003, ISIL was created by US air strikes. Even though American boots weighed heavily on that soil from the start— and even with their surge in 2007—extremism in Iraq and Syria has only grown exponentially.

That’s because extremism and radicalization feed on instability, trauma, and grievance. Estimates suggest that at least 20 percent—and up to seventy percent—of those killed by American drone attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia are non-combatants, and not “suspected terrorist” (defined as a fuzzy male figure glimpsed on a screen in a windowless room on the other side of the globe).

With every dead innocent, America radicalizes an extended family and mints a whole new set of militants. Cited by Obama as a model of America’s airborne “anti-terror” campaign, Yemen has seen an isolated east-provincial militancy morph into a full-scale civil war (complete with the capture of its capital) due in no small part to the slaughter of innocents by American drones.

And the slaughter of innocents is inevitable. Urban militants such as ISIL blend into dense civilian populations, where explosions mean that women and children are killed. We see the gun-camera shots that go straight through the center of a roof, but we don’t see the rockets that go awry, nor do we know everyone who’s in those buildings. ISIL looks ill-equipped, but this is also their advantage since it enhances their ability to blend into the crowd and provides fewer clear targets from the air.

Airstrikes will only add to instability and anger on the ground. Nominal Turkish defensive deployments and hastily trained “moderate rebels” will manage that ground no better than their American predecessors.

And that’s the least of it!

Arms that America sends to the region have a tendency to wind up in the hands of its enemies. Some weapons are captured; some are sold and bartered by impoverished, unenthusiastic fighters. Such is the way of wars in the Muslim world.

And where are we gathering these reclusive “moderates” to provide them with training and weapons? Saudi Arabia. Let’s avoid the murkier depths of the Kingdom’s role in 9/11. Even by official accounts, it was resentment against American military activity on Saudi soil that led to the Riyadh barracks bombing in 1996, and that motivated the 9/11 hijackers.

ISIL is brutal and savage; savagery feeds upon instability and trauma, and we’re breeding more of it now. What little strategy America has in Iraq and Syria is doomed to fail. Five years on, we’ll be fighting the genuine terror to which we are now contributing.

Any real solution to problems in this region—and any real solution for US foreign policy—must begin with truth, responsibility and reconciliation. America must start by acknowledging its snowball of blunders– beginning in 1953 when the CIA joined with British intelligence to overthrow the democratically elected, pro-American government of President Mohammed Mossedegh in Iran. Until they do so, Americans will not find a solution to the problems that they have created for themselves in the Middle East, because they will never understand the cause. Until Americans acknowledge the truth and accept responsibility for themselves, they will not be forgiven by those who have suffered for their complacency. Until Americans acknowledge the truth, they cannot begin to recover their core American values that they have forsaken in the Middle East for the last sixty years.

In his address to the United Nations last week, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran called upon the US to acknowledge and apologize for its blunders in Iraq. He’s right.

If Americans want to solve their problems in the Middle East, the single best thing that they could do is to investigate Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Barack Obama for war crimes and crimes against the American people.

Americans who can consider such solutions are Americans who can save themselves.