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10 Myths About Obama’s Latest War

Posted on Oct 1, 2014

By Reese Erlich

U.S. Navy/MC1 Trevor Welsh

Veteran foreign correspondent Reese Erlich was in northern Iraq at the start of the U.S. bombing campaign against Islamic State. He interviewed Kurdish leaders, peshmerga fighters and U.S. officials. He says the reality on the ground is far different from the propaganda coming out of Washington.

1. Islamic State presents an immediate threat to the people of the U.S.

In justifying air attacks on Syria on Sept. 23, President Barack Obama said, “We will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.”

I saw firsthand the tens of thousands of Yazidis forced to flee Islamic State fighters. IS is a vicious, un-Islamic, ultra-right-wing group that poses a real threat to the people of Syria and Iraq. But those people will defeat IS, not the U.S., whose motives are widely questioned in the region. IS poses no more of a terrorist threat to the American people than al-Qaida and its offshoots.

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In fact, within a matter of weeks, the Obama administration admitted that IS posed little terrorist threat to the U.S. mainland and focused instead on a heretofore-unknown group that the U.S. calls Khorosan. Now evidence is emerging that the Khorosan threat was exaggerated in order to justify expanding the bombing to Syria.

2. The U.S. is not waging war, but a “counterterrorism operation.”

Both the Bush and Obama administrations have managed to redefine war to mean only those conflicts in which Americans die and the fighting costs over $10 billion. But from inside northern Iraq, what I saw sure looked like war. U.S. bombs have already killed civilians, particularly in Syria, where the U.S. has limited or no on-the-ground intelligence.

Once again, the U.S. is waging an open-ended war with no concern for the long-term well-being of the people in the region.

3. The U.S. has no boots on the ground.

The United States already has combat troops in Iraq. A U.S. diplomat acknowledged to me that American spotters in the Kurdish region of Iraq provide coordinates for airstrikes. He said U.S. advisers are armed and would shoot if attacked. If insurgents down an American plane, armed U.S. helicopter teams would go into enemy territory to rescue pilots. By redefining “combat troops,” the U.S. not only wages war in the Middle East, but on the English language.

Just one week into the bombing campaign, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey said the U.S. might have to introduce ground combat troops into Iraq. The White House quickly disavowed the statement, but leading Democratic and Republican hawks are already pressuring Obama to formally introduce combat troops. As the air war proves incapable of destroying IS, the administration will likely introduce more ground troops, perhaps renaming them “limited, temporary, counterinsurgency advisers.”

4. The U.S. has formed a viable coalition to defeat Islamic State.

President Obama boasted of the formation of a broad coalition that includes Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, Jordan, Britain, Australia, France and Belgium. Israel remains a silent partner.

But the U.S. remains the main military power and directs the air strikes. Somebody will have to fight IS on the ground, and the coalition allies certainly won’t. In Iraq, the newly formed government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has little support from Sunnis and Kurds, two vital components of any future viable regime. Abadi’s cabinet actually has fewer Sunni ministers than the previous, discredited government of Nouri al-Maliki.

The American alliance with Israel and Sunni-led countries such as Saudi Arabia only angers the Iraqi government, which remains closely allied with Iran. This coalition, like the phony “Coalition of the Willing” in 2003, is doomed from the start. The U.S. will fund and fight this war until organized opposition stops it or the public becomes exhausted. The Obama administration has apparently forgotten that unrestrained military spending in the 2000s helped precipitate the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

5. The U.S. can fight IS and other extremists without simultaneously helping Bashar Assad, Iran and Hezbollah.

One year ago, the Obama administration was beating the war drums against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons. Now the U.S. is bombing insurgents opposed to Assad. At the moment the Syrian civil war is a zero sum game. Weakening Assad’s enemies strengthens Assad’s regime. Assad, and his allies Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah, are pleased with U.S. attacks on IS. But if ultra-right-wing rebels are weakened, pro-U.S. rebels won’t fill the gap. How long will it take for the U.S. to start bombing Syrian army targets?

6. The U.S. supports only moderate rebels.

Contrary to conservative criticism, the Obama administration has tried to create pro-U.S. civilian and armed groups. Obama has failed, not because of “lack of leadership” but because Syrians won’t accept U.S. policy. In my interviews inside Syria and neighboring countries, Syrian rebels and opposition activists made clear they opposed the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Washington’s total support for Israel. Every Syrian I ever met wants Israel to return the Golan Heights seized in 1967, for example, but the U.S. isn’t interested in having that discussion.

Meanwhile, American allies such as Saudi Arabia have armed extremists such as the al-Nusra Front, a group affiliated with al-Qaida. Saudi Arabia’s ultra-right-wing interpretation of Islam shares many ideological similarities with al-Nusra and IS. Yet the U.S. plans to have Saudi Arabia train “moderate” Syrian rebels, which is like asking Al Capone to train Chicago police cadets.


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