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Obama and ISIS

David McReynoldsVia Edge Left:

Edgeleft is an occasional commentary from David Mcreynolds which may be resent or used in any way, without further permission

Obama and ISIS by David McReynolds

We can all agree that ISIS (or ISL) is a dreadful organization which has committed grievous crimes in Iraq, crimes which extend far beyond the beheading of American journalists to include mass executions of civilians.The problem is that, as always happens in these cases, there is a certain “selective outrage”, a kind of “willed amnesia” about our own role in such matters.

Let me leave aside ancient history such as Vietnam, and, just looking at Iraq, remind ourselves that the US supported Saddam Hussein for a long period of time, including his war against Iran which lasted nine years, during which he used poison gas against the Iranians with no comment from the White House. Or, after the first Gulf War, when Saddam had agreed to the terms of surrender and was withdrawing his troops from Kuwait, our planes machine gunned the retreating troops who, under any possible definition of the terms of surrender, should have had safe passage.

Then, the US encouraged an uprising among the Iraqis against Saddam, but provided no support, and stood by when Saddam slaughtered them by the thousands. Or perhaps to remember the massive loss of civilian lives in Iraq after our inglorious “Shock and Awe” invasion. Or the torture chambers we set up, photographs of which horrified the world.

Not all of the sins of America, taken together, justify the beheading of a single journalist – but memory may help us understand the roots of that horror.

Obama’s speech tonight went out of its way to chide Russia, at precisely the moment we need the help of Russia (and Iran) in dealing with ISIS. He stoked the old fires of the Cold War by reference to the troubles of Ukraine – for which the US is primarily responsible. And, most tragic of all, instead of offering some hope of ending the bloodshed in Syria, he is now going to extend further aid to one side in the civil war there, which will prolong and deepen it.

If ISIS is indeed the enemy, then, in Syria, the most natural ally is Assad, brutal as his dictatorship is. Let’s remember the US has relied on Syria before, as an ally against Hussein, and as a convenient place to send suspects we wanted tortured in the most professional way possible. This may well be, for the Syrians, a choice between Hitler and Stalin, with ISIS playing the role of Hitler.

The roots of ISIS are in part in Syria, where it has been a bitter enemy of Assad, and in large part now in Iraq, where it has made an appeal to the Sunni population. The Sunnis are the minority religion, but, under Saddam Hussein, they ruled Iraq. As a result of the US invasion, the Sunnis were driven from power and the government turned over to the Shiites (which have close ties to Iran). The US-sponsored government in Baghdad used its power to wreck vengeance on the Sunnis, excluding them from any share of power, and, in far too many cases, using control of the State to murder and imprison them.

Now the Sunnis have turned to ISIS for their revenge. And ISIS has used the weapons the US sent to the Iraqi army, which turned and fled, leaving behind their tanks and heavy artillery. The chances are good that more American aid will end in the same way – and the history of this is instructive. In the Chinese Revolution in the last century, Mao’s army equipped itself with the weapons the US sent to the Kuomintang. In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh’s army equipped itself with the weapons the US had sent to Saigon.

The one exception in Iraq is the Kurdish area. Contrary to media reports, the Peshmerga broke in their first encounter with ISIS – but they have a real stake in setting up their own territory and there is a good chance that, unlike the Iraqi army, they will stand and fight once they have caught their breath. (I feel guilty, as a pacifist, to even suggest aspects of military strategy and tactics – I am only trying to offer an analysis). It is true that a Kurdish “state” in Iraq will create new problems, but they are the one group that might prove a match for ISIS.

Meanwhile, one has to wonder why American intelligence was caught so totally off guard by ISIS and its sweep into Iraq. Just as our sources failed to alert us to this impending disaster , they may be over-estimating the power of ISIS, which will be subject to internal strains.

Meanwhile, missing entirely from Obama’s speech was any recognition of the dangerous role Saudi Arabia and Qatar have played in creating ISIS. If there is a hidden card in this deck, it is in the military and financial support these states gave to the Islamist forces in Syria – the very forces which evolved into ISIS. It is surely ironic that Obama and his advisers would go out of their way to chide Russia – which might actually be of help in dealing with ISIS – and remain silent on the countries which have played so ominous a role in creating the current problem. (Keep in mind that the funding for Al Queda came in large part from wealthy Saudis).

ISIS, dreadful as it is, is not a threat to the United States. It is part of the civil war which has emerged in Iraq now that the US has withdrawn. Massive bombing campaigns will not solve a problem which has its roots in the internal tensions and religious conflicts in Iraq. For diplomacy to have a chance, the US will need consultation with Iran, just as it needs to avoid deepening the civil conflict in Syria.

Obama’s speech failed to deal with the real problems. He seems unaware that the American Empire has ended, that while, like King Canute, he may command the tide to stop, the tides obey other forces over which the US has no control.

(David McReynolds is a former staff member of the War Resisters League, was twice the Socialist Party’s candidate for President, and served a term as Chair of War Resisters International. He is retired, lives on Manhattan’s Lower East Side with his two cats, and can be contacted at: davidmcreynolds7@gmail.com. He was the subject of the dual biography by Martin Duberman: The Radical Lives of Barbara Deming and David McReynolds)

Linkification

The last article is also good advice for dogs, cats, goldfish, or any small helpless living beings of any species, really.

Wednesday, 4/30, from 8-10 a.m. Kim Bobo of Interfaith Worker Justice Speaks in Ithaca: Working and Still Poor: What’s Going on in America and What We Can Do About It

From Tompkins County Workers’ Center:

Labor-Religion Coalition of the Finger Lakes & Catholic Charities
16th Religious Leaders’ Breakfast Briefing
“WORKING and STILL POOR: What’s Going on in America and What We Can Do about It” featuring KIM BOBO of Interfaith Worker Justice
Wednesday, APRIL 30, 2014, breakfast beginning at 8am
TEMPLE BETH EL, 402 No. Tioga St, Ithaca

PLEASE RSVP if you can make this event

Kim Bobo is the author of Wage Theft in America and co-author of Organizing for Social Change. She is also the Founder/Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice (iwj.org), a national labor rights organization supported by many national labor unions and faith-affiliated organizations. Her work has greatly raised awareness of the prevalence of wage theft in America, particularly among low income workers. Bobo has also been working closely with the TCWC and Just Economics in Asheville, NC, to take our Living Wage Employer Certification Program nationally. The TCWC is also an affiliate of Interfaith Worker Justice’s Workers’ Center Network.

Bobo will also be appearing in the afternoon at SUNY Cortland on April 30th and Binghamton on May 1st (see details on Binghamton visit at http://www.cnylabor.org/index.cfm?action=article&articleID=d9afec95-28ca-4ac1-9687-fd6e7647879e

Awesome links from awesome people

reverend billy

From Rev. Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir: “Buzz with our HoneyBeeLujah campaign. We will conduct media-genic ‘bee-swarmings’ in and around the property of Monsanto, Bayer, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland. We will perform inside big big box stores where bee-killing chemicals are sold to domestic gardeners from the shelf. The Bee-stinger-singers will follow the EXECUTIVES OF THE ABOMINABLE MONOCULTURE – into their lobbies, the parking lots and restaurants. The workers in these hedge funds and chemical companies must be gently exposed to the truth about their pesticide poisons.” Photo credits: John Quilty, Bees by Savitri D with Stop Shopping Choir volunteers, David Yap (tenor), Laura Newman (soprano and soloist) and Dragonfly (soprano and soloist). More info

  • “On April 18th the film 1971 directed by Johanna Hamilton, and produced by former Arts Engine team members, Katy Chevigny and Marilyn Ness, will have its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.”(More)
  • “Sustainable Tompkins is launching The People’s Salon: Conversations that Matter to Your Future with a shared public inquiry into the climate dilemma. ‘The Climate, the Market, and the Commons’ will be the theme for a series of conversation salons held on Thursday evenings, 7-9 pm, on April 17, May 8, June 5, and June 19 at the Sustainability Center, 111 N. Albany St., Ithaca.” (More)
  • “The moral agency of the Black church must never abandon its claim on an apology and reparations for the protracted crimes against African humanity, during and as a result of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.” (More)

From Astraea: “Watch our new video to find out how Astraea’s new global campaign Fueling the Frontlines will bolster grassroots movements for LGBTQI rights and justice. Astraea Executive Director J. Bob Alotta and grantee partner Jabulani C. Pereira, co-founder of Iranti-Org, will tell you about how we are working together towards a world that is safe for LGBTQI people around the globe.”

Intersectional linkiness

Events:

  • Left Forum 2014: Reform and/or Revolution: Imagining a World with Transformative Justice (May 30-June 1, 2014, NYC):

    “Pressing questions loom for justice-seeking social forces: What is to be done today when a reform brings us one step forward, while leaving other important struggles worse off in the process? What type of movements will it take to overcome such challenges? What type of institutions, systems and societal conditions are possible when transformed conditions of justice no longer take the forms of, ‘the aggrieved speaking to the grievance alleviators’? How do these issues raise the question of the relation of reform to revolution? More than ever, people know that a new and different world is urgently needed. How do we get there from here: reforms, revolution, or strategic combinations of both?”

  • People Links Digital Gatherings (online):

    “Join us on Thursday, March 27th from 6-7pm EST and 4-5 CT-MexDF to discuss technology related violence against women and the tensions that exist between combating hate speech versus the right to freedom of expression.”

  • Socialist Campaign in New York? A Discussion, Hosted by Campaign for a United Socialist Party – CUSP, April 17, 2014, The Brecht Forum, NYC (via Edge Left):

    “Previous meetings focused on the theory; this one is about concrete options. How do campaigns work? Should we learn by working on Howie Hawkins’ campaign for governor? Should we run open socialists? Now, in a few years, or when? What opportunities to run exist between 2014 and 2018? Will running candidates interfere with important movement work? How do we approach nationwide formations? This event is an open discussion and organizing meeting, so it will involve “audience” participation more than typical events. Bring your thoughts, listen to others, and focus on the nuts-and-bolts of what we will actually do.”

  • A New York that works for all of us Rally in Albany, NY, March 20, 2014 (via Edge Left):

    “We stand for a NY that works for all of us but today, Albany works for the super-rich and powerful corporations. If it favors the wealthy and CEO campaign contributors, it’s sure to pass in Albany. On the other hand, common sense legislation the majority of New Yorkers believe in, is stalled by politics. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can do better. On March 20th we are going to hold our elected officials in Albany responsible for putting people ahead of campaign contributors. We demand that our basic democratic rights be respected.”

Things to read:

  • Edward Snowden’s Testimony to the European Parliament on NSA Spying and its Consequences:

    Snowden’s testimony is vitally important for every citizen in every country to understand, yet it has barely been covered by the commercial or (non-commercial) global media. At stake is the possibility of individuals and organizations (not just the media) to function as checks on executive power. It also demonstrates the ability of a secret agency to become an executive power, able even to control the spy services of foreign countries.

  • Heroic Imagination Project:

    “Headquartered in San Francisco, California, The Heroic Imagination Project was founded by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University. At HIP, we translate the extensive research findings of social psychology and related fields into meaningful insights and tools that individuals can use in their everyday lives to transform negative situations and create positive change. Dr. Zimbardo’s work has studied the psychological foundations of negative forms of social influence (such as conformity, obedience, and the bystander effect) and is now refocused on understanding the nature of everyday heroism and they psychology of personal and social growth.”