Obama has escalated the war
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By Simon Butler
October 31, 2008 -- In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, bombings of the World Trade Center and Pentagon, US President George Bush declared an open-ended, apparently indefinite “war on terror”.
Using the terrorist attacks as an excuse, the “war on terror” has meant a war drive to extend US global domination. The threats were free flowing — at one point as many as seven nations were part of the “axis of evil” and therefore potential military targets as Bush threatened “pre-emptive strikes” against US “enemies”.
The war drive began with the 2001 invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. In 2003, in the face of massive global protests, the US launched its invasion of oil-rich Iraq.
Facing sustained resistance from the Iraqi people, and increasingly unpopular at home, the failure of the Iraqi occupation has contributed to making the Bush presidency one of the least popular in history.
Campaigning for the White House, Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama has made much of his initial vote against the war in 2003.
Nonetheless, the mainstream media coverage of the Iraq war has changed noticeably in tone and content. Near-daily front page articles on widespread fighting between the US military and a popular Iraqi resistance movement have been largely replaced with more occasional reports, tucked away in later pages, emphasising the new “good news”.
Life for ordinary Iraqis is slowly inching towards a precarious normality, we are told. The impression given is that the US is gradually winning the war in Iraq.
But the helicopter strike on Syria by US forces on October 26, which killed eight people, reveals that the “war on terror” is a war with no end in sight.
The attack on the Syrian village of Sukkariyeh was launched from US bases inside Iraq. The Syrian government immediately condemned the US attack as “brutal, vicious American aggression”, according to the October 29 Los Angeles Times.
Meanwhile, the anything-but-slick PR department of the Pentagon immediately recycled its oft-used media statement to justify the attack: the strike was directed against insurgents hiding across the Syrian border; according to intelligence reports those targeted were terrorists known to have carried out attacks on troops and civilians in Iraq; and, what is more, Syria has not been doing enough to prevent the terrorists operating within their borders, forcing the US to act.
But an October 28 British Independent article by Patrick Cockburn featured an eyewitness account that contradicted the spin, claiming those killed were innocent civilians: “In Sukkariyeh, a villager named Juman Ahmad al-Hamad said he has seen four helicopters … when the helicopters had left, he and the other villagers had gone to the site and found the bodies of his uncle, Dawoud al-Hamad, and four of this uncle’s sons.”
Contrary to the good news stories, the incursion into Syria reveals a growing desperation on the part of the White House, as a result of the failure to stabilise Iraq under military occupation.
The dilemma the warmongers face is that the US forces are bogged down in a war they simply cannot win. The majority of Iraqis will never willingly accept a continued US presence in their country. Opinion polls have consistently showed majority support for the complete withdrawal of US troops among Iraqis.
In the similarly unwinnable occupation of Vietnam, US military strategists responded by extending the war across the Vietnamese border to Laos and Cambodia. The idea was that the Vietnamese resistance fighters could finally be defeated if only they were deprived of “safe havens” in bordering countries.
Estimates of civilian deaths from the US offensive against Laos and Cambodia exceed one million. Yet this brutal attempt at a “military solution” failed because it failed to alter the root problem: the Vietnamese people were unwilling to accept US occupation and determined to resist it at all costs.
The same imperial logic of “when in trouble, expand the war” has resulted in the attack on Syrian territory.
Likewise, the US strategy of escalating the Afghan occupation across the border into Pakistan can be seen in the same light — a consequence of imperialism’s failure to win the war in Afghanistan.
US bombing attacks of villages in Pakistan controlled by fundamentalist militias have intensified. On October 26, 20 people were killed in an attack launched from a drone Predator aircraft.
Eight people were killed in another drone strike on a Pakistani village in the border region on October 23.
The US has demanded its allies in the Pakistan military ramp up
military operations against claimed Taliban bases in the region. The
October 26 New York Times reported that the Pakistani military offensive is provoking yet another humanitarian disaster in the region.
More than 200,000 villagers have fled the attacks and are now displaced. Food, water and medical assistance for the refugees are scarce.
Not surprisingly, the US strategy of expansion of the war into Pakistan, with its resulting carnage, is resulting in the number of people supporting and joining the Taliban-led anti-occupation resistance. The war in Afghanistan is no closer to ending than the Iraq conflict. The puppet regime of President Hamid Karzai is more isolated and unpopular than ever.
In a remarkably frank article published in the October 20 Independent, British Conservative MP David Davis complained that “the regime that we are defending [in Afghanistan ] is corrupt from top to bottom”.
“Even more disturbing, the beneficiaries of this corruption are old-time warlords and faction leaders responsible for past atrocities. Today, they operate with impunity, even over acts of violence and attempted murder.
“Many public officials, from police chiefs to governors to ministers, have acquired multi-million dollar fortunes in office”, Davis complained.
Western support for this thoroughly corrupt regime is helping cement opposition to the occupation. Davis admits this, only to conclude that Britain should therefore send more troops to Afghanistan — showing off his skills at being long-sighted and irrational simultaneously.
The pro-US Iraqi government of PM Nouri al-Maliki — despite being under permanent US protection in the heavily fortified “Green Zone” in central Baghdad — was also quick to denounce the US attack on Syria.
The anti-occupation movement in Iraq is exerting an almost irresistible pressure on the puppet government, forcing it to distance itself from the US. On October 18, up to one million people marched across Iraq in protests called by Sunni and Shiite clerics. Their key demand was that the government reject a “status of forces agreement” proposed by the US that would “legalise” the continuing presence of US troops.
In response to Iraqi government reluctance to sign, the occupying forces presented it with the threat of ceasing to offer it protection from the armed resistance.
The al-Maliki government is being squeezed between an implacable anti-occupation struggle and an equally implacable imperial power. If it signs the agreement, it will bring the anger of Iraqi society down upon it, threatening its survival. If it doesn’t sign, it will bring the anger of its US protectors down upon it, threatening its survival.
The shocking destruction wrought by the invasion is a key factor driving the Iraqi resistance. In an October 23 article posted on the anti-war website TomDispatch.com, Michael Schwartz reported that the Iraqi economy collapsed following the invasion, resulting in unemployment figures of up to 60% in some areas.
The electricity grid has decayed to the point where residential areas of Baghdad still have less than two hours of electricity per day. Schools and hospitals remain desperately under-resourced, if open at all.
Government corruption is rife. Transparency International ranks “democratic Iraq” as the equal third most corrupt country in world.
The Euphrates and Tigris rivers have been contaminated as a result of the destruction of Baghdad’s sewerage system. The river “water can no longer be safely drunk by humans or animals, the remaining fish cannot be safely eaten, and the contaminated water reportedly withers the crops it irrigates”, Schwartz reported.
The destruction of Iraq’s sewerage system has led to cholera outbreaks in summer for the last two years. In the impoverished Sadr City Baghdad neighbourhood, Schwartz reports there “is now a lake of sewage clearly visible on satellite photographs”.
Add to this the more than one million Iraqi deaths, four million refugees and the sheer indignity of a proud people living under a foreign occupation, and US chances of “winning the hearts and minds” of an Iraqi majority are less than zero.
Opposition to the “war on terror” remains strong among the US population, with a majority supporting the withdrawal of US troops from the region.
Part of the success of Obama’s campaign is that he has given voice to this anti-war sentiment and raised hopes that the Bush doctrine of preemptive strikes and permanent war may be overturned if he wins the election.
However, Obama has made it clear this is not his intention. For instance, in a July 2007 Foreign Affairs article, Obama insisted that the “US must become better prepared to put boots on the ground in order to take on foes that fight asymmetrically and highly adaptive campaigns on a global scale”.
“I will not hesitate to use force, unilaterally if necessary, to protect the American people or our vital interests whenever we are attacked or imminently threatened”, he stated.
The “war on terror” was never driven purely by the ideological hang-ups of extremist neo-cons who had seized the White House, but rather “terrorism” served as an excuse for the drive by US corporate interests to secure control over natural resources (oil in Iraq).
Not only do the same corporate interests that Bush served also fund the Democratic Party, but with the global economic crisis that has originated in the US, the stakes of control over Third World economies and resources have risen even higher.
Whoever wins the November 4 presidential elections, the “war on
terror” will continue — unless a powerful global movement forces its
end. The welcome demise of the Bush administration should mark an
opportunity to build such a movement.
From Green Left Weekly issue #773