Cartoonists in the United States and Britain are giving a spit and polish to Barack Obama’s claim that there won’t be American boots on the ground. One cartoonist depicted two Iraq-bound US soldiers in conversation while they were putting a pair of new golf shoes on, with one soldier exclaiming, “Golf shoes” while the other responds, “President Obama promised there won’t be boots on the ground in Iraq.”
The cartoon highlights how forked-tongue politicians circumvent their own words that spell out highest idealistic principles to implement their sinister plans. This reminds us of the story of a king who told besieged enemy troops that if they surrender he would spare their heads. Believing his words, the enemy force surrenders. But the wicked king orders his soldiers to stab the prisoners of war in their chests. When the surrendees asked the king why he was reneging on his promise, the king said, “Well, as I promised, I am sparing your head, but I did not say I will not stab you in the chest.”
Fables apart, realpolitik reeks of double-dealings and double-standards. In May 1961, President John F Kennedy sent 400 troops as advisors to Vietnam to prop up the pro-West regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam. But when the war reached its peak in the mid-1970s, there were half a million US troops in Vietnam fighting against Vietnamese freedom fighters or Ho Chi Minh’s barefoot warriors.
President Obama was emphatic in his recent speeches that US troops would not get involved in combat operations either in Iraq or Syria. They would play the role of advisors. Early this month, some 400 US military advisors were despatched to Iraq. This number has since increased fourfold and is likely to go up in the weeks and months to come.
Yet Obama is drawing criticism from neoconservative hardliners who accuse him of not heeding President George W. Bush’s advice and prematurely withdrawing US troops from Iraq in December 2011. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen told Fox TV last week that Iraq was in a mess today because Obama did not heed Bush’s warning.
President Bush, who apparently built on the sandcastle of ‘might is right’, had believed that withdrawing troops before US commanders gave the green light would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for the United States.
In a 2007 warning, Bush had said a premature withdrawal “would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al Qaeda. It would mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It would mean we allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. It would mean we’d be increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.”
Bush hardliners may strut about saying ‘didn’t we say so” but will not see that Bush himself was in a way acknowledging that it was US policies and invasions that had given rise to groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State a.k.a. Islamic State in Syria/Levant (ISIS/ISIL).
There was no al-Qaeda presence in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. In fact, the Iraqi dictator Bush ousted after the 2003 invasion loathed political Islam whether it came from the Shiite community or the Sunni community to which he belonged.
It was only after the American soldiers committed excesses in Iraq’s Sunni areas such as Fallujah, Haditha and Ramadi that there emerged in Iraq an al-Qaeda presence led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
There are two theories regarding the emergence of the IS – both pointing towards the US. One is that the IS was created by the mistakes the Bush administration made in Iraq, just as Ronald Reagan’s mistakes -- arming Arab fighters during the Afghan war from 1979 to 1989 -- created al-Qaeda. The other theory claims that the neoconservatives and their Zionist friends engineered events to create a monster so that the US and Israel could achieve their political objectives.
Whatever the truth is, the IS by acting barbarically and committing crimes such as beheading three westerners supplies the excuse the US has been waiting for to enter the Syrian war and to re-establish a military presence in the Gulf region.
The Obama administration is getting Congressional support to arm and train Syrian rebels to take on IS. For the same purpose, Washington is also building up a coalition. Already the six Gulf countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain – and Iraq and Egypt are in the coalition that also includes US allies such as France, Britain and Australia. If the fight is against the IS, one may ask why not rope in Iran and even Syria itself? After all, Iran and Syria are also against the IS. Besides, Iran has said it is willing to extend support for the war against IS, though Teheran also believes that the IS would not have come to such prominence and strength, had it not been for Saudi money and
But Washington would have none of it. Because, the ultimate aim of the coalition is not the IS. It is Syria and probably Iran itself. Questions are being asked why the US airstrikes on IS so far have not been on the scale of Washington’s notorious Shock-and-Awe bombings that demolished Saddam Hussein’s military might. Is the US handling the IS with kid gloves?
The US military attacks on IS targets in Iraq appear to be a cosmetic exercise. The real action will be when the US targets IS positions in Syria. Surely there will be provocation when US fighter jets, ostensibly on a mission to attack IS positions, fly over Syrian military installations. Already unidentified surveillance planes are flying over Syria. On Monday, the Associated Press quoted senior Obama administration officials as saying that the US would attack Syrian air defences if they fired on US warplanes. If this happens, soon we will see the US and its allies implementing the same strategy that got rid of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi – providing air support to the rebels to march towards Damascus. But unlike Gaddafi’s Libya, Syria has strong friends such as Russia and Iran – friends who are willing to come to the defence of Syria. All this portends that dangerous times are ahead for the region.