18.11.2014 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

Middle East: A War That Was to End!

23423426One of the most conspicuous aspects of Barak Obama’s election campaigns was the slogan of ending America’s longest military engagement—the so-called “war on terror” being fought in various parts of the world. However, instead of bringing this war to an abrupt end, as was promised in campaigns, Barak Obama has not only prolonged it, but also opened some major new fronts where this war is now being fought. During last three years, the “war on terror”, which is actually a “war of terror” the US has imposed upon the world, has greatly expanded across continents, and so has expanded the US’ own military presence in different countries followed by huge increase in the US’ revenue earned from the selling of hi-tech weapons to the states which are facing, or rather have been forced to face, the threat of “terrorism.”

As a matter of fact, Obama has engaged the US, directly or indirectly, in five relatively discreet wars since he took office. Although he inherited some of these wars, he continued to wage (for a time at least) the wars in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan. Although the US pulled out its forces from Iraq during his tenure, Obama has also started a new covert war in Iraq and Syria. From Libya and Mali in Africa to Iraq and Syria in the Middle East, the US has been at the heart of fabricating conflicts for last few years.

However, the question that one must be raising here is why Obama, in the first place, withdrew the US forces from Iraq? He could have kept some of the US residual forces in Iraq even after the formal withdrawal. However, he couldn’t. And, the reason for such an expedient withdrawal as this, perhaps, can be found in Obama’s domestic politics. The fact that the Iraq war had become deeply unpopular among the masses and that it was closely associated with Obama’s predecessor, upon whom Obama and the Democrats pile blame for virtually all the country’s woes, seems to explain why he decided to withdraw the US forces from Iraq. But that withdrawal could not help accomplish the long-term strategic objectives in the oil rich Middle East. On the other hand, he openly campaigned for the Afghan War because it was a politically popular war since it was being fought in the wake of 9/11.

However, what was left unaccomplished in the Iraq war as a result of withdrawal was, somehow, to be accomplished in order for securing long-term strategic advantage in the Middle East—hence, the emergence of the ISIS/ISIL. To understand the intricacies involved in this matter, we have to draw parallels between the US’ response to the war in Syria and the emergence of the ISIS. Since at least the beginning of the Syrian war, the US has been quite content with first creating such militias to topple Assad’s regime. However, as the ISIS/ISIL started changing gears, it suddenly was declared a “threat” to peace and development. There is a growing stockpile of evidence which suggests that the ISIS was deliberately allowed to expand in order for creating a political expediency for the US to resume its operation which was left unaccomplished when the US had to withdraw its forces from Iraq.

The US, however, is not going to be content with allowing the ISIL to expand; it has now decided to play more havoc by establishing the so-called “moderate” fighting groups to counter the ISIL. The US would provide them not only training but also weapons to fight the war. But the question that one must be asking here is why the US is sticking to a strategy that has already badly failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as also in Syria? For instance, the US first created an armed group in Syria called Al-Nusra front, which was later on declared a terrorist organization by the US itself. After that the US started funding the ISIS, which now has all of a sudden become a “definite threat” to peace and stability; and now, to counter the ISIL, the US is again going to create what the US press reports call “a home-grown, moderate counterweight to the Islamic State.” The announcement, to this effect, first came from Gen. Allen of the US, who himself has been at the heart of creating the ISIS/ISIL in the first place.

More particularly, proliferation of groups like the ISIS and Al-Nusra is a direct result of the policies which the US and its allies both in the West and the East have been following with regard to the Middle East since 9/11. As such, when Gen. Allen says that the US and its coalition partners aim to strengthen the political opposition and make sure it is associated with “a credible field force” that would be intensely vetted, he is actually alluding to an unspoken yet a central aspect of the US’ twenty-first grand strategy, that is, perpetuating a sort of controlled instability so as to enable the US to manipulate regional geo-politics, prevent its strategic competitors from expanding alliances in the region and to deny regional state’s any free will in deciding their domestic or foreign policy issues.

But this strategy, just like in previous cases, would fail to yield desired results. It would fail not because the US lacks financial or technical means, but because this strategy is based upon unrealistic and inappropriate geo-political assessments. For example, an analysis of the US’ geo-political maneuverings since 9/11 would show that it has been trying to topple old regimes and replace them with new regimes; however, the newly installed regimes not only fail in filling the vacuum but also directly pave the way for the emergence of such groups as the ISIS. The US toppled established regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been trying to do the same in Syria; however, not only has this strategy been counter-productive politically, but also socially; for, it has caused massive injuries to the social fabric of these states. The extent of its being counter-productiveness can be assessed by the fact that it has forced that US to return to the Iraq and engage militarily.

Although the US is, so far, trying to avoid sending its troops, but it would ultimately have to send troops not only because the Iraqi army is incapable of handling the ISIS but also because more chaos and devastation is going to follow as soon as the US trained new fighting groups hit the ground in Iraq. The combined failure of the Iraqi army and these groups would create a pretext for the US establishment to justify sending the US troops to Iraq and may be to Syria as well. However, the only purpose of this war would not be to eliminate the ISIS but to install another regime in Iraq, as also in Syria by finally defeating Assad’s army.

This, in simple words, is a diabolical plan. The fabricated violence is being used by the US to create an international legitimacy to intervene and place its own forces to control region’s resources; and, this is being accomplished at multiple levels. For example, as argued by one of the close observers of the Middle East, “by renewing and bolstering old alliances with Gulf sheikhdoms and autocratic Arab regimes to thwart democratic political change; overseeing the return to military coups and cloaking them with legitimacy, the US and its European allies have sent Arabs a clear resounding message: Ballot boxes are not for you! They are pointless as means of change. Their results are easily discarded and trampled upon. Violence and revenge are the way out of your bleak existence.”

And, it is this very strategy that seems to explain the all of a sudden rise of the ISIS from a small obscure group to a giant. Secondly, if we see the effects in the region of this rise of ISIS, it is abundantly clear that the governments of Saudi Arabia and other gulf states have become seriously threatened by the ISIS, and have consequently become heavily dependent upon the US’ military assistance and subservient to US’ political dictates. It reminds us of the fact that when Saddam Husain attacked Kuwait (after the US cheated Saddam by covertly indicating through its ambassador its ‘unconcern’ regarding Saddam’s plan to attack Kuwait), Saudi Arabia and other neighbouring states were seriously threatened. And that US’ scheme resulted in US’ politico-military dominance of this oil-rich region, besides compelling Saudi Arabia to purchase military wherewithal costing her a staggering amount of 50 billion US dollars. This is how the US has been manipulating the oil rich region and this is precisely how the US is still handling it. The war that was to end is going to remain on the ground for years to come regardless of the number of people die.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.