When President Obama said on August 8, 2014, that: “with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale . . . when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” you might have thought that he was talking about the current situation in Gaza. However, as you may or may not be aware, we are once again back to talking about Iraq.
Considering that the US government is ultimately responsible for the scale of death and destruction in Gaza through its sponsorship and unfaltering support for the state of Israel, it might be prudent to ask why, in this part of the world, at this point in time, the US government is considering airstrikes “to prevent a potential act of genocide” while supporting another one in a completely different location. Bear in mind that last year, Iraq saw its most violent year without so much as a comment from Western powers.
So, Why Is the US Conducting Airstrikes Now?
The difference this time is that the United States (with the support of some of its allies) is fighting a new enemy known to us in the West as ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). The key part of that title is the latter two words: and Syria. When questioned on June 19, 2014, whether the US government was considering extending the operation against ISIS to Syria, the response was: “The president’s made clear time and again that we will take action as necessary, including direct US military action, if it’s necessary to defend the United States against an imminent threat . . . But the group again, operates broadly and we would not restrict our ability to take action that is necessary to protect the United States.”
Note that the US president has already warned of a long campaign, despite the administration initially stating that it would be short and to the point; and note also this article in Politico Magazine entitled: “Why Obama Will Bomb Syria.” Perhaps before we commence a bombing campaign in any country, we should be asking: Where are these groups receiving their funding and weapons from? And why is it that they have been able to make such strong advances in such a short amount of time?
Either the Obama administration wants to destabilize the Syrian regime and create a context in which these jihadists can thrive or it wants to sponsor these jihadists to overthrow the Syrian regime, or both. But they cannot be fighting both jihadists and the Syrian government – at least not in the long term. By claiming that they are fighting a terrorist organisation based in Iraq and Syria, they will have reason to cross the border into Syria and do what they tried so very hard to seek permission from the public and the international community to do last year. A few tactical airstrikes here and there will be enough to either (a) significantly weaken the Syrian regime and allow certain groups to take control or (b) elicit a response from Syria, Hezbollah and/or Iran and create the pretext for a full-on military invasion.
This all might sound like mere conjecture, but consider this. Last year, John Kerry went on a media offensive to convince us that he had “clear evidence” that Bashar al-Assad was behind the chemical weapons attack constituting a crossing of the red line that Obama had stipulated previously – although Kerry never presented any evidence at all. This media campaign did not go to plan and in the meantime the United States has stepped up its support for the Syrian rebels whilst Israel has been providing them with free air support.
Are we to believe that the US government moved on from these previous aspirations? Perhaps it has. But when a government turns a blind eye to one brutal massacre which cannot take place without its support and sponsorship only to use terms like “genocide” as an excuse to become militarily involved in a country relatively close-by, we should all be asking questions as to motive – especially when one looks at the potential blowback of these operations.
What Happens Next?
When the United States proposed a war with Syria last year, it needed support from the international community and from the public. Nuclear giants Russia and China strongly opposed military intervention as Putin diplomatically outplayed his counterpart to divert the war. Unfortunately, this time, the administration has not asked for Congressional approval to go back into Iraq and the United States will likely not be requesting public or international approval before it extends its operations into Syria. However, the most important move on this chessboard is the fact that the United States and NATO countries have very tactfully created a situation to weaken, slander and completely preoccupy Russia (and have done the same to China as well, to some extent).
The future of this conflict will therefore be unpredictable at best. Any way we analyze this situation, it is unlikely there will be a happy ending to this narrative.
Darius Shahtahmasebi has completed a Double Degree in Law and Japanese from the University of Otago, with an interest in human rights, international law and journalism.