Friday, September 12, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Sept 13, 2014

9/11 and today The thirteenth anniversary of 9/11 passed with the annual ritual of commemorating the victims of that tragedy in the US. President Barack Obama led the remembrance by observing moments of silence for the thousands killed that day at New York’s World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field where one of the three hijacked planes came down. The US president rallied his people by declaring that America stands tall today, despite the attacks on the homeland by “small, hateful minds”. However, there was scarcely a mention of the millions of people all over the world struck by equal, if not greater tragedies as a result of the war on terror initiated by his predecessor to avenge the 9/11 attacks. Starting from the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 2001, former president George Bush pushed his neo-con agenda to invade and occupy Iraq in 2003, reducing both countries to the chaos and anarchy from which they have yet to recover. Yet it is insufficient to dwell merely on what Bush wrought when his ‘liberal’ successor militarily helped overthrow and brutally murder Gaddafi in Libya, which reduced that country to a dog-eat-dog militia civil war, and then went on to stoke the Syrian civil war through support for Bashar al-Assad’s Islamic fundamentalist opponents. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto may have initiated the embryonic Afghan Mujahideen in 1973, but since then, the genie of fanatical religious extremism and terrorism has incrementally transmogrified into the Taliban, al Qaeda and now Islamic State (IS). The US-led west therefore cannot evade responsibility for pushing large parts of the world into the maelstrom of religious fanaticism, an unintended consequence of its desire to first beat Soviet communism in Afghanistan and later anti-imperialist Arab nationalist regimes in Iraq, Libya and (unsuccessfully so far) Syria. The latest avatar of religious fanaticism, IS, is only the logical incremental development of religious extremism and terrorism towards more and more barbaric forms. IS is today’s most extreme form of the Frankenstein’s monster created, nurtured, armed and funded by the myopic policies of the west. IS may be inviting the most attention today because of its recent lightning capture of large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, but many countries are still reeling from the impact of similar movements all the way from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, amongst others. IS has raised most alarm of late because of the presence of hundreds of western young men and women flocking to its banner and anticipated to return battle hardened to their home countries to wreak terrorist havoc there at some point. But unfortunately, Washington seems to have learnt nothing from the experiences of the last decade or so and seems bent upon repeating the mistakes that have landed it and the rest of the world in the present day terrorist-induced state of chaos. Obama now seems to be preparing for a bombing campaign against IS in Iraq and, precariously, Syria. Aerial bombing avoids putting boots on the ground, for which there appears little appetite in the US or the west generally after the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan were, or are in the process of, being wound up. Obama’s ‘cut-and-run’ policy in those two countries while opening up new fronts in the arc from Libya to Syria is beset with myriad contradictions. The US is perforce being dragged back into conflict in Iraq and as a consequence into Syria. Any unilateral strikes inside Syria will constitute aggression and a blatant violation of international law (not that that has bothered Washington in the past). The US president believes he does not need his Congress’ approval for conducting action against IS, particularly after the beheading of two American journalists by IS. However, he still feels the political need to drum up support in Congress, especially to get an additional $ 500 million in aid for the so-called ‘moderate’ opposition groups in Syria, who have already received ramped up US aid and will now be bestowed the ‘gift’ of training facilities in Saudi Arabia. The latter country has joined hands with other Arab countries to support the US campaign against IS after Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to put together another ‘coalition of the willing’. The internal contradictions between the Arab monarchies in that coalition with other Arab countries and amongst themselves have been papered over for the moment but could easily burst forth again to weaken the coalition as the war drags on, something most analysts believe is inevitable, particularly since air power alone cannot turn the tide easily against IS in the absence of troops on the ground. Finding partners to do the ground fighting for them, as Obama and Kerry are trying to do, is fraught with the problem that the so-called moderate Syrian opposition is hardly an effective fighting force, Washington refuses to countenance the logic of a tactical alliance with Assad and Iran to counter IS, and scepticism and anti-war sentiment informs Congress and the American people respectively. A more unlikely beginning for a major war effort that could drag on and become another quagmire for Washington could not be imagined.

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