Thursday, June 12, 2014

Like Something Out of James Bond or a Call of Duty Video Game: Semi-Open Thread. Do Help Me Understand. What the Heck is Going on With ISIS in Iraq?

Once more, I would like to thank the folks who have donated to WARN's fundraising drive.

I want to thank the kind friends and supporters of the site and my work who threw in some monies today and yesterday. We have cut the amount remaining for the donation drive down to 100 dollars--so cool--and with a few more acts of generosity and kindness, if folks are able and willing, we can end our fundraiser.

I went for a walk yesterday. I started listening to Artie Lange's great--and very depressing, raw, and honest second audio book--while strolling near Lake Michigan. My legs carried me towards downtown Chicago. I channeled my inner Forrest Gump and kept propelling myself forward. At some point, I had reached a point of no return, 4 miles in, it was easier to keep on walking. By mile 8.5 I was reminded that my 38-year-old body ain't 23 anymore and that walking such a distance while wearing boots does not make for the most comfortable of experiences. 

When I returned home, invigorated but a bit tired, burrito in hand, Coca-Cola in pocket, excited about the prospect of using a pilfered hand me down free bus pass for the next few days, I turned on the TV. The talking heads were all giddy about the prospect of a new war in Iraq, yammering about some group named "ISIS", and joyous because they found a new "if it bleeds it leads" story, one with international consequences, so that they would not have to talk about the Las Vegas shootings and the Right-wing media's culpability for domestic terrorism.

The breakdown of civil authority in Iraq is a function of a State which has no legitimacy with its people. The roots of the new insurgency/people's uprising/governmental collapse has its origins in the near history that was the horrible decision by George W. Bush to invade in 2003. 

The ethnic conflict in Iraq can be traced even farther back to World War One, and how the British, with the swipe of a pen and a few seemingly arbitrary marks, created countries out of various peoples who have little to no use for one another. 

While it may be a betrayal of my secular humanist beliefs, the pragmatic and realist perspective on foreign affairs and war which I adhere to, demands that I acknowledge, at least partially, the "wisdom" that maybe Saddam was a "son of a bitch"...but he was "our son of a bitch" and kept a lid on the boiling over cauldron on top of which he sat.

The march of ISIS across Iraq and how strategic cities and other locales are being overrun reads like something from James Bond, a G.I. Joe cartoon, the movie Iron Man 2, a video game, or Tom Clancy novel. 

[I often wonder if at some later date, 50 years from now, the American and world public will be let in on the joke that James Bond and G.I. Joe cartoons were in fact a way for elites to propagandize and prepare the general public for the world as it actually was/is, as opposed to the world as depicted by the "serious" news media. Maybe I have read Behold a Pale Horse too many times and its author's claim that movies like E.T. were based on real events and the public has been trained in preparation of the announcement that first contact was made years ago.]

It is unbelievable that a group of a few thousand (maximum?), without air support, heavy artillery, armor, or other integrated, organic elements could repeatedly route the Iraqi military and police. Yet, the unbelievable is apparently taking place. Alas, an event is termed "impossible" until it actually transpires.

While acknowledging that yes, the New York Police Department is one of the largest paramilitary forces in the world, they would be able to contain such a force with a modest amount of effort. 

How can a national military not stop a few hundred (or thousand) insurgents, marching and driving across the country like something out of Mad Max?

I have a few questions and thoughts that I hope that folks can help me to sort out. Do teach me a thing or too if you are so inclined.

1. I am very suspicious of the claim that there is a well-armed and coordinated group called "ISIS" which is running ramshackle all over Iraq. Is this a coherent group made up of formally organized fighters with coherent leadership and top down strategy? An ad hoc alliance

2. Is the battle for Iraq really just a reflection of deeper troubles, i.e a failed government, inter-ethnic conflict, and a public that wants to separate itself along sectarian lines? Thus, ISIS is a symptom and not a cause of the turmoil; their intervention is functioning as an excuse for a decision by the Iraqi military and police to melt which they made some time ago.

3. The American public should be skeptical and cynical about the claims made by the talking head "experts" who are offering up their analyses of the still developing "crisis" in Iraq. Pundits are business people who are personally and financially interested in advancing a given narrative. Their narrative may have nothing to do with offering up an accurate depiction of the events as they are transpiring in Iraq (or elsewhere). 

For example, many of the most popular and called upon experts in the lead up to the second Iraq war (and Syria) were stakeholders in the companies that make the weapons of war.

The moral hazard and conflict of interest is readily apparent: said expert advocates for war then get paid when a company hands him or her a bonus or dividend check. I have long advocated that when an expert or pundit is featured on a news show that there should be a disclosure of their professional and financial relationships to the topic being discussed.

4. Imagine if the post 9/11 invasion of Afghanistan was treated as a matter to be handled by covert operatives and F.B.I. agents as opposed to a nation building operation? Imagine if the United States never followed George W. Bush's eschatology End Times Christian Dominionist impulses to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein? Would the United States be safer? What would our lives be like if all that gold and treasure had never been spent on such an ill-advised adventure of misplaced vengeance? 

5. Whose interests are being served if the war hawks in the Republican Party who are clamoring for the United States to intervene in Iraq have their way?

6. Am I so wrong to suggest that the Iraqis should fight it out, create their own ethnic conclaves, and the United States should wash their hands of the whole mess?


chauncey devega said...

Osama won. Maybe Saddam will win too. Isn't history a trickster. You have lived an interesting life. What are some other issues that we should be keeping an eye on based on your expertise on these matters?

And thank you for the great and thorough comment.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I trust Stratfor, a legitimate policy analysis organization. I get emails from them for their free services.

My personal thoughts (very uneducated)? ISIS is probably at least loosely organized to operate in such an extensive manner. However, the type of liberties its various groups take with terrorizing local citizens leads me to think that there is relatively little control from any hierarchy. I've seen videos of them beheading people after forcing them to declare allegiance to God by their definition, just brutal and unnecessary violence.

I believe it is a symptom of many conflicts in that society, in their history, both the recent invasion as well as the original imperial design, but also many of the ancient conflicts of the society. Modern terrorism, I believe, is a revival of Wahhabism
I think we would have been safer if we hadn't invaded Iraq.

Should the Iraqis fight it out? Certainly this is their conflict. However, the US does have a responsibility for causing destabilization. There is a need in the globe for state sovereignty in handling their affairs with justice. The US in the post WWII era has acted as a unilateral hegemonic state. Fear of a Black Planet comes to mind. The US doesn't trust other countries to both handle their own affairs and serve the interests of our elite at the same time. We support dictators while hiding that we support them, we topple dictators that we cannot work with.

The world needs to be able to topple its own dictators. I think that is what the administration is trying to navigate. A world that has global American dominance and a world that needs less global American dominance.

Look at the map via Stratfor of the workings of ISIS, they are such a loose group, but their presence of being everywhere but nowhere makes it difficult to stop them.
"Worsening Violence in Iraq Threatens Regional Security is republished with permission of Stratfor."

Lewis Orne said...

Iraq will most likely turn into another Iran. Recall how U.S. and British forces over through the Democratic govt of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 (a dispute over oil control), put the Shah of Iran in power. Then 26 years later the Shah was overthrown by the Iranian Revolution, then Reagan made that backdoor deal to rescue the embassy hostages.

It seems Iraq is ripe for the radicals to take over.

This ISIS story seems a bit of a tail wagging the dog story, I have a feeling the military industrial complex needed another excuse to ramp up production again.

Much of the worlds pain and suffering has to do with the meddling of Western powers.

balitwilight said...

ISIS is a Sunni militia borne of regional conflict in Syria, and fanned by the sense of rage and humiliation of Iraqis Sunnis. It is a categorical error to juxtapose ISIS vs. "Iraq police/army". Many of the police and army seem themselves also primarily as Sunnis - due in no small part to the USA's imperial divide-and-conquer shenanigans and death-squad politics.

You can trace this all back to the US's 2003 invasion and attack of Iraq. When some Iraqis fought back, the US resorted to the practices that had been so fruitful in 1980s Central and South Americ: death squads. This was signified by the appointment of John "Shallow Grave" Negroponte (Ambassador to Baghdad, previously Reagan's Ambassador to Honduras in the early 80s). Negroponte brought his Central America death-squad tactics to Baghdad. If the Sunnis would not submit to American rule, their leaders would be exterminated. So the American army selected and trained Shia death squads called "Wolf Brigades" to assassinate leaders of the Sunni resistance. American-sponsored Shia death squads roamed Baghdad in the night doing what death squads do. This is how the civil war caught fire, and how bitterness and injustices that already existed between Shia and Sunni in Iraq was unleashed as fully militarized blood vengeance. This is how Sunni groups like ISIS metastasized into pan-nationalist pseudo liberation armies. We did it.

ISIS is just the latest in the whirlwind of domino consequences that the US unleashed though its 13 year-long bombs-and-bullets berserker rage in the Middle East and Asia after 2001.

Afghanistan was never a "nation-building" operation. That was just the polite name spoon fed to complacent Americans for an exercise in revenge, hegemony and resistance-crushing. The mess that exists today in Afghanistan and Iraq isn't something for the US to "wash its hands of". It is a mess we created, and which we have no right spreading even further with our savage, clumsy and bloodstained hands.

chauncey devega said...

I had heard rumors about the death squad angle. We reap what we sow. No? What is your take of the msm meme that "we have to fight them over there to keep them from coming over here!"

Reeks of the logic that got us into this debacle to being with.

chauncey devega said...

Stratfor is a very good resource. They had some great analysis of the War on Terror and the 2nd Iraq War if I remember correctly. What other resources have you been using?

Michael Varian Daly said...

The Kurds have occupied Kirkuk after the Iraqi Army bailed. And there are now Iranian Revolutionary Guard units fighting ISIL forces north of Baghdad. El Oh El Akbar!

Myshkin the Idiot said...

History books, mostly. I used to get Z Magazine. When I want to learn about a global topic, I will research as much as I can on the Internet, newspapers if I can get my hands on one. Researching is never over.

Michael Varian Daly said...

The only piece left to complete this tableau is US air strikes in support of Iranian troops.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

This looks like a continuation of the civil war that was already going on at the height of the American occupation. The Iraqi army won't fight ISIS for reasons others have given, but I think we'll see the Shia and Kurdish militias involved. I've heard ISIS threaten to destroy Shia shrines, if that happens you can expect pogroms on Sunnis in Shia territory. The current Iraqi government is already considered a Shia institution anyway, so we can probably expect a long, bloody sectarian civil war, which is what I figured was going to happen back in 2005-2006.

balitwilight said...

Good question. Let's examine the "Fight Them Over There" propaganda. The condemnable Sep. 2011 terrorist attacks were a horrific lesson in blowback and a crime. The hijackers were 15 Saudis, 2 Egyptians, 1 Lebanese and 1 from United Arab Emirate. The plot leaders were Saudi (Bin-Laden) and Egyptian (Zawahiri). Anybody with a historical (as opposed to a propagandistic) eye will note that these countries are all client-states of the US led by strongmen who tortured and repressed their citizenry for decades, or were occupied by US armies. Predominantly they came from a despotic kingdom (Saudi) propped up by a Praetorian Guard of US troops that occupied their country and enraged millions. These were the unsurprisiing roots of the horrific terrorist crimes: globalised militarism and occupation.

Instead of bringing the perpetrators (Bin-Laden et al) to criminal justice then addressing the root causes, the US kakistocracy exploited a "shock doctrine" opportunity to double down with this Orwellian "War-on-Terror". War is profitable. War gives politicians a Caesar-like shield against criticism. War cowers the press and citizens into jingoism and conformity. War unleashes the controlling drug of Fear. War favours the powerful (so they always think). The only problem was that the "war" part of "War on Terror" was an abstraction. So the US kakistocracy set about hypostatising the abstract - making the war REAL (bombs, tanks, planes, boots) for as long as possible. 2001-2014 and counting. were deployed to short-circuit thiking. Were it not for the drug of War, crude propaganda like "Fight Them Over There Not Over Here!" would make even a 12-year old with an analytical mind giggle at the sheer stupidity, silliness and manipulativeness.

13 years into "The War on Terror": with the US now bombing, kidnapping, assassinating and torturing across the Middle East, Central Asia, North, East and West Africa and spreading conflict like dragon's teeth, and simultaneously turning America itself into a nightmare "Homeland" police state - any person or system that isn't actually invested in these outcomes would realise that "Fighting Them Over There!!!" is just another phrase for "set the world on fire and profit from the arson".

The USA does not own the world, and has no more right to determine other nations' fates than Spain or Britain did hundreds of years before it. But don't be surprised if - with the ISIS developments today, what you will likely hear is some variant of: "We're not sure what the question is - but the answer is more Herrenvolk meddling, and more War."

Nina Flowers said...

The old white folks in power in the USA (military, intelligence, et al) have made it clear that they will use our vast resources to ensure that other nations (the predominantly people of color ones) do not prosper. There is an absolute policy of obstruction and interference in Central and South America. There is no way that democracy can be allowed in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, etc. because that means western corporations do not get to keep on stealing the oil. National security = corporate profits. The book "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" reconfirm this.

Nina Flowers said...

The Iraqi army was actually disbanded. There's yet another brilliant move by the United States. It was the world's largest Arab army. Hmmm... Do we need to even wonder about who was pushing for disbandment? Even Michael Kinsley wrote about the elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss in this whole mess.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

Thanks for your comment. I followed the war in Bosnia & Herzegovina from start to finish, read numerous scholarly studies of the conflict, and worked the post-war era as an intelligence analyst. I lived four years in Sarajevo as an intelligence analyst and traveled the country widely. I i visited every major city. I talked to international folks, Bosniaks (Muslims), Croats (Catholics), and Serbs (Orthodox). What I found is that common people do not suddenly wake up one day and decide to kill their neighbors and drive them from their homes. Yes, there can be cause of social tensions--lingering animosities, social slights, and a declining standard of living accompanied by large layoffs. But, to get people to kill each other takes a prolonged, sustained, intensive propaganda campaign from multiple vectors--political, scientific, religious--claiming that (1) you are an intended victim of genocide, (2) your neighbors are an Other wholly unlike you or your values, and (3) you need us to protect you. And, then the ruling elites get or create the opportunity. They create the impression that the country cannot be governed because the enmities between religious, ethnic, or racial groups are deep-seated and unbridgeable.

Words can kill. Or, they lead to killing.

I learn when I come to your website. You take words and frameworks seriously. You glimpse the dangers. On many occasions I have my subconscious background assumptions challenged. I read one of your articles and I think, "Why didn't I think that?" It's not because I could not have thought it, but that the deep thinking software prevented it. That is a good thing to discover what your blindspots are.

For example, your article asking how the media would react to black militiamen commandeering roads and asking residents for identification. That question challenges the background assumptions of our perceptions which are rooted in white supremacy.

I have been doing more research on the deep background of the Bundy confrontation. Based on your insight I offer this problem to consider.

What is really going on is that major energy corporations want states to demand that the federal government give to them hundreds of millions of acres of land containing trillions of dollars of minerals. They are using ranchers and other folks to put a human face on it. But, it is a straight forward corporate robbery.

The national and state Republican parties support it and the Democratic Party is oblivious to this deep conflict.

But, what if it were black and/or black-brown militiamen and a black and/or black-brown political party demanding this land be turned over to them so they could exploit it for their own benefit? Do we think that the GOP and Dems, and mainstream media would have a different take on secession and robbery?

And, so, if I've learned anything it is that America is not immune to history. If political elites really want to destroy a country for their own political, financial, and social benefit, they can. And, they are. And, at the root of it is white supremacy.

Most progressive analysts do not see the great danger and Democratic political elites and commentators do not see the great danger because they are blinded by the fact that their antagonists are white, just like them. They go to church, just like them. Like the NFL and MLB, just like them. And yet, one side of the political divide in this country perceives liberals, the insufficiently religious, Muslims, non-whites as something less than citizens and something less than human.

Keep up the good fight, Chauncey.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

I took a break to find two quotes that have always haunted me and provided a warning to me. The quotes comes from Richard Holbrook's book, To End A War (page 24), in which he quotes from Warren Zimmerman's and Noel Malcolm's books regarding the importance of propaganda fueling hatred which led to genocide.

Zimmerman, the last US ambassador to Belgrade, wrote: "The virus of television spread ethnic hatred like an epidemic throughout Yugoslavia...An entire generation of Serbs, Croats, and Muslims were aroused by television images to hate their neighbors."

Malcolm wrote, "I can understand why simple Bosnian Serbs came to believe they were under threat, from Ustasa hordes, fundamentalist jihads, or whatever....It was as if all television in the USA had been taken over by the Ku Klux Klan."

Now, read studies of Fox News, conservative talk radio, Christian talk radio, and the right-wing blogosphere. I worry for this country.

chauncey devega said...

Z mag was great. Most of their issues are now online too.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

Consider this quote from Mike Vanderboegh, a long-time constitutional militiaman from Alabama (who opposed neo-Nazis and the Klan). The quote comes from his Sipsey Street Irregulars blog (aka Three Percenters). Vanderboegh is one of the Christian Right's leading practioners of Fourth Generation Warfare. He himself is a "Christian libertarian." The money quote from August 10, 2009, regarding Obama, Pelosi, and the Democratic Party:

"The only question is, whose
America will be standing at the end of the conflict? Theirs? The Founders? Or something worse?

Pick a side, pick a country, because Billy's right. The civil war is coming."

This is not about health care or marginal tax rates. This is existential conflict.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

O snap! I thought you had to pay for it and I stopped being able to afford a subscription a few years ago.

Gable1111 said...

ISIS is the inevitable result of a foreign policy based on greed and the foolish belief in American exceptionalism in the extreme. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see in 2003 that there were no "weapons of mass destruction" and that Hussein had nothing to do with 911. You didn't need to be an "expert" but just someone with a basic knowledge of world history and geography, and an understanding of the peoples in the region to realize that the war would inevitably lead to where it has.

Bottom line, wars are

joe manning said...

If the $75 billion spent on foreign intelligence was instead spent on improving the intelligence of the public it would have known better than to allow its leaders to engage in such military adventurism.

joe manning said...

It was obvious from the get go that Americans hated Iraqis and were just out for blood and exploitation. You can't nation build on that.

joe manning said...

Yes propaganda is the proper focus.

joe manning said...

The lunatic fringe is pathological and the degree to which the elite enables them is a measure of their own desperation and pathology.