29.01.2015 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

Myth and Reality of the US War against ISIL

S342343A lot of official statements, media reports and analysis about the US led war against ISIL are coming out these days for public consumption, glorifying the ‘success’ of the US airstrikes in defeating and pushing back the ‘enemy.’ The narrative of ‘success’ has been systematically built on the ruins of the badly exposed US-trained and funded Iraqi army. Even if this narrative is taken on its face value, it turns out that it was the US itself who precipitated the emergence of ISIL. The US made ISIL the formidable military force that it is today, precisely by turning over billions of dollars of equipment to a corrupt and incompetent Iraqi army that has now collapsed and turned over much of its weaponry to the jihadist terrorists. However, notwithstanding the narrative being built through the media, it is a well-known fact that ISIL has not been or is being pushed back.

On the other hand, counter-narrative reports have contended that ISIL now controls large swathes of Syrian territory—in fact, much larger than it was holding in the recent past. The US airstrikes, on the contrary, are not only turning out to be futile against ISIL, but also being used to bomb Syrian areas, as also the Syrian army to weaken Assad’s regime. Even the US’ prime ally in region—Israel—is keen on taking full advantage of the situation, using it as a pretext to strike its arch enemy, Hezbollah in Syria. In a recent Israeli strike, at least 12 members of Hezbollah and Iran’s revolutionary guards were killed. If the US’ fight is against ISIL, why her allies are killing the enemies of the ‘enemy’ of the US?

Apart from the fact that the US-led military effort is aimed at “dismantling” the “Islamic State” as a threat to the stability of the Middle East and to US security, no independent military or counter-terrorism analyst believes that the military force that is being applied in Iraq and Syria has even the slightest chance of achieving that objective, partly due to the US’ covert alliance with ISIL and partly due to the fact that the US does not have support of any ally who can take control of the territory when it is actually freed from ISIL—hence, no war and no defeat of any ‘enemy’ whatsoever.

According to some reports coming out, the US diplomats freely acknowledged that the airstrikes that the Obama administration is carrying out will not defeat ISIL terrorists, nor does the US, Obama administration, intend to go too deep in this war because of domestic political concerns. However, it does feel the need to turn this anti-ISIL, anti-terrorism, operation into a war so that Obama administration can sell it to its key political constituencies. As the reported sequences of events shows, Obama administration gradually changed its discourse on ISIL issue, turning away from calling it a “counterterrorism operation” to a full-fledged war in the Middle East. The discourse of war, especially in the context of public mood in the West against the fast spreading radicalism, turns out to be a potential political tactic rather than a mere strategic decision.

It is not to suggest that this decision does not have external dimensions. As a matter of fact, it has been a long cherished dream of the US to have unilateral control over the Middle East since at least 1990s. The fallout of the Iraq war did not allow the US to keep its military on long-term, if not permanent, basis in the ME. The US’ withdrawal from Iraq, emergence of ISIS/ISIL, failure of the Iraqi army against ISIL and now the US’ airstrikes all form a coherent sequence of stages of the geo-political “game” the US has been playing in the Middle East since the first gulf war—a “game” that saw further intensification after 9/11 and now is being played in a number of countries that happen to be either on the energy transportation route or are themselves rich in resources. The US’ “occupation strategy” involves a cycle of invading a country of interest, turning it into a chaotic mess and then using the chaos as “a justification” for longer military presence in that country, says an American political commentator and peace activist Brian Becker.

The myth of the “effectiveness” airstrikes against ISIL now stands fully exploded since ISIL now controls much larger Syrian territory than it controlled before US’ bombardment commenced. To begin with, the most immediate objective that the US wanted to achieve was protecting the American strategic investment in Iraq by relieving the so-called jihadist pressure on Baghdad and pushing the ‘divisive’ Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, out of office. To the extent that prospective strikes in Syria were discussed, their narrow aim was defined in terms of what arrangement would better secure the US’ otherwise “lost-self” position in the Middle East. Nothing but extended and extensive chaos could enable the US to re-engage militarily in the Middle East.

That the US has been very selective becomes evident from the fact that the US’ strategy against ISIL in Iraq and ISIL in Syria has been markedly different. If we look at the entire scenario a bit more closely, it becomes evident that ISIL has been directly instrumental in giving that opportunity to the US she had been trying to get since at least 2012: an entry into Syrian “civil war.” These attacks by the US, with their implied ‘promise’ of close air support for non-jihadist fighters assailed by ISIL, have brought the US perilously close to full and formal entry into the Syrian “civil war.” Apart from ISIL, the US’ regional allies have also been instrumental in facilitating this entry. For instance, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s offer to send Turkish troops into Syria if the US would, in return, directly attack the Assad regime—and Ankara’s wrangling with the US over access to Turkish air bases—has not only added to the sustained pressure coming from the Gulf allies, but has also exposed the underlying Syria centric agenda of the US and the Western ‘concerns’ about the rapid emergence of ISIL.

Notwithstanding that the US does aim to dismantle Assad’s regime in Syria, this is by far the only objective the US aims to materialize. Further militarization, for instance, of the Middle East is another critical target the US has to achieve through the current crisis. As a matter of fact, the US has already started to beef up its military presence in the region. Not only did the US ramp up its already considerable economic and military aid to Jordan, for instance, but also went on to deploy, in 2014, 6,000 soldiers to Jordan for a supposedly “large-scale exercise.” While the notion of “large scale exercise” may have been given for public consumption, the reality is far from it; and, the undeniable reality is the US’ quest for unchallenged supremacy over the flow of energy resources from the Middle East to the rest of the world, including Europe, and to deny its real enemies any real opportunity to challenge that hegemony. The wars being fought since last three decades have not and will not establish peace; for, they were and are designed to create chaos and instability.

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