By Pater Tenebrarum at Acting Man blog
We cannot really call it “mission creep” anymore – president Obama’s “limited air strikes” against ISIS have become mission gallop, as within a few weeks, the war aims have continued to broaden so that a temporally limited air campaign has been transformed into a “war that could take years”. The continued insistence that it won’t involve ground troops is the next barrier that is likely to fall.
Readers may recall that we pointed out that all of this would happen in “ISIS and the Coming Escalation in Iraq”, posted on August 12. Admittedly, it was not exactly difficult to foresee this.
Originally, the air strikes were sold to the public as a humanitarian intervention that was required to save 40,000 Yazidis trapped on a mountain. We noted that saving the Yazidis could certainly be regarded as a positive side effect, but at the time we didn’t know it was actually lie. Apparently the lie was propagated by the Kurdish government, as the Peshmerga were suddenly beginning to lose badly against ISIS. When the Pentagon realized that there were actually barely any Yazidis stranded on the mountain (in addition to this, it was reportedly not predominantly ISIS, but other Sunni neighbors of theirs that were attacking the Yazidis), it dropped the unnecessary rescue plan and decided it had to look for other things to do in Iraq. One by one new goals were added: we must protect Arbil. We must protect Baghdad. We must protect some or other dam. Until we have arrived at “ISIS must be completely eradicated”.
This progression was achieved by various means. As Robert Wenzel reports here, the video showing the beheading of James Foley has been analyzed by experts and essentially found to be a fake. This doesn’t mean that he was not killed – only that it didn’t happen in that video. However, the videos of the execution of US journalists were a key building block in whipping up the war frenzy, so they have certainly served a purpose. In addition to this ever more hysterical pronouncements about the threat ISIS allegedly poses to the “homeland” have been made – which fly in the face of the actual analyses undertaken by the intelligence community. According to Jason Ditz at Anti-War.com:
“The Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that US intelligence currently has no indications of any current planning by ISIS to actually attack the US homeland, and told Congress as much. That didn’t sit well with Congress, which insisted that ISIS is “the biggest threat to the homeland” irrespective of the lack of any evidence to that effect, and dismissed the DHS assessment that they are at most a “remote threat.”
It could of course well be argued that the group was an even more remote threat before the US started bombing it. In the meantime, the president has made clear that the war will be expanded into Anbar province, quite likely into Syria, and that it will take years. Jason Ditz summarizes:
“What started out as an “emergency” humanitarian campaign to save people trapped on Mount Sinjar, most of whom weren’t trapped there to begin with, has escalated in a matter of weeks into an open-ended war with ISIS that even the most optimistic Pentagon planners say is going to take years . While he publicly hasn’t confirmed the plans yet, expanding the war from Iraq into neighboring Syria also seems a foregone conclusion at some point , as officials have been downplaying the idea that they could stop ISIS in one country without stopping them planet-wide.
A global war with no strategy for victory and no end in sight certainly wasn’t what the American public were presented with when the campaign began, but White House officials continue to deny that “mission creep” is occurring.”
They are right. As noted above, it isn’t “mission creep”, it is “mission gallop”. The escalation continues, and is by no means finished. As we pointed out in August: it is impossible to destroy ISIS with mere air strikes. And if the goal of wiping it out “planet-wide” is to be achieved, it clearly means that the war must be expand further.
ISIS controlled territory as of August
Ground Troops Needed, “Coalition” Not Prepared to Fight
An air force commander has now pointed out what we have also noted back in August: if one wants to wage an effective bombing campaign, one actually cannot do it without ground troops. The mooted expansion of the war into Syria will definitely require it. Meanwhile, the newest “coalition of the willing” seems totally unwilling to lift even one finger:
“A top Air Force commander has been quoted in USA Today tonight saying that any expansion of the ISIS air war into Syria is going to require US special operations forces on the ground, inside Syria. “It’s absolutely crucial that pilots are talking to an American on the ground” to verify what’s being targeted, the commander insisted. President Obama has repeatedly rejected the idea of boots on the ground, despite sending more and more troops to Iraq.
In last night’s speech, President Obama gave the impression that the “coalition” being assembled was going to be doing the heavy lifting on the ground. That’s not actually the case, however.
Secretary of State John Kerry, while trying to hype the “critical role” of the coalition members, today admitted that not a single member of this broad coalition was even talking about sending ground troops for the war”
Not only do no “coalition” members seem to be prepared to send troops, but NATO member and US ally Turkey won’t even let the US air force use its bases for combat missions in Iraq:
“Turkey will refuse to allow a US-led coalition to attack ISIS militants in neighboring Iraq and Syria from its air bases, nor will it take part in combat operations against militants, a government official told AFP Thursday. “Turkey will not be involved in any armed operation but will entirely concentrate on humanitarian operations,” the official said on condition of anonymity.”
To this it should be noted that the countries neighboring Iraq should have the greatest interest in getting rid of ISIS. In fact, if the war against ISIS is anyone’s business, it is theirs. Naturally, they all prefer to let the US do their work for them. In fact, several of them, like e.g. Qatar and Saudi Arabia, may not even be overly interested in stopping ISIS, in spite of paying lip service to the idea.
They have after all funded ISIS to begin with, perhaps not realizing that it would eventually acquire dynamics of its own. While this amounts to playing with fire from the point of view of the Saudis and other Middle Eastern supporters of ISIS (the group takes their money, but plans to eventually take their heads as well), they are all blinded by their hatred of Shia Muslims and their desire to curtail the influence of Shia-dominated Iran. As a result of this, the situation is extremely complex. This is nowhere more obvious than in Syria itself.
The “Vetted” Rebels Hillary Wants to Arm
Hillary Clinton, who is hoping to snatch the Democratic nomination for the presidential race, recently decided that in order to look more presidential, she should add her two cents to the ISIS/Syria debate. According to her, the “vetted” non-Islamic Syrian rebels should receive even more arms and funding, so as to be able to defeat both Assad and ISIS. She even offered the absurd theory that if these rebels had been armed properly to begin with, ISIS would never have come into existence. The problem is that these vetted non-Islamists only exist in the fevered imaginations of Westerners who know absolutely nothing about the region. It has turned out now that the so-called “Free Syrian Army” is in fact an ally of ISIS as well as of the Al Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front, and is supplying both of them with weapons and other help:
“On Monday, the Daily Star in Lebanon quoted a FSA brigade commander saying that his forces were working with the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate — both U.S.-designated terrorist organizations — near the Syrian/Lebanon border.
“We are collaborating with the Islamic State and the Nusra Front by attacking the Syrian Army’s gatherings in … Qalamoun,” said Bassel Idriss, the commander of an FSA-aligned rebel brigade.
“We have reached a point where we have to collaborate with anyone against unfairness and injustice,” confirmed Abu Khaled, another FSA commander who lives in Arsal.
“Let’s face it: The Nusra Front is the biggest power present right now in Qalamoun and we as FSA would collaborate on any mission they launch as long as it coincides with our values,” he added.
[…] the bipartisan conventional wisdom amongst the foreign policy establishment was that the bulk of the Syrian rebel forces were moderates, a fiction refuted by a Rand Corporation study published last September that found nearly half of the Syrian “rebels” were jihadists or hard-core Islamists.
As Jason Ditz notes in this context:
“Fighting at the border crossing in Qalamoun is a joint FSA-ISIS operation, and Abu Fidaa, the head of the local Revolutionary Council, says that a “very large number ” of FSA fighters have joined ISIS outright.
The US has been funding and arming the FSA for many months now, and recently, reports are that a lot of those arms are ending up in ISIS hands. It wasn’t clear how that was the case, but overt alliances between the two makes it more obvious.”
The complexity of the current situation in the Middle East is also underscored by the fact that Israeli government officials have recently expressed concern that the US war against ISIS could end up dampening US hostility against Iran. Iran is obviously one of the countries in whose interest it would be to counter ISIS. Iran’s government is probably quite happy as well that the war is fought by the US instead. It is spared the expense of a lot of blood and treasure that way.
Members of the Free Syrian Army, waving their organization’s flag. According to press reports in Kuwait, “the FSA are reportedly welcoming the Kuwaiti fighters for jihad operations” – which is an interesting choice of words.
(Photo credit: alarabiya.net / Archive)
The Propaganda War
Many major internet companies like Twitter and You-Tube are trying to curb the ISIS propaganda machine by deleting accounts that are held to belong to the group or its supporters (recently, even the ISIS anthem which we posted mainly as a musical curiosity has been deleted by You-Tube). As soon as one account is deleted, another one springs up, so it is a bit like fighting the mythical hydra.
The US government has recently joined the propaganda war actively, by creating a video that is supposed to dissuade potential ISIS recruits in the West from joining the jihad in Iraq and Syria:
US anti-ISIS video
We’re not sure how the grisly images shown in the video are supposed to dissuade people who evidently find the grisly images of ISIS’ own propaganda videos quite attractive. The brutality and ruthlessness of ISIS is unlikely to repel them. We are not the only ones harboring doubts, and as noted here, the propaganda war is an “uphill battle”:
“I just thought it was bizarre,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told Fox News, dismissing the video as a symptom of “press release foreign policy” that is “fundamentally unserious.”
But a State Department spokesperson said the work is vital “given how violent extremists are increasingly exploiting the suffering caused by global conflicts to lure susceptible youth” to join. “We believe countering our adversaries in this space is critical. We must contest the space by confronting distortion with reality and lies with truth,” the spokesperson told FoxNews.com. The video is part of the State Department’s “Think again. Turn away” campaign aimed at convincing would-be recruits not to join.
On its “Think again. Turn away” Twitter account, the feed pumps out a slew of news stories highlighting negative headlines about ISIS and other terror groups, including Somalia’s al-Shabaab.
The department is in an uphill battle to compete against the Islamic State’s online reach. The department Twitter account has roughly 7,000 followers, while the Facebook page has just under 6,000 “likes.” The latest YouTube video has been viewed more than 600,000 times.
But according an analysis by intelligence firm Recorded Future, despite efforts by Twitter to shut down affiliated accounts, as of early September there were still over 27,000 “pro-ISIS accounts” tweeting since American journalist James Foley was beheaded by ISIS militants. Recorded Future, in collaboration with Sky News, found supporters are creating new accounts almost as soon as their old ones are suspended.”
It may certainly be worth trying to counter ISIS’ well-oiled propaganda machine, but as Jason Ditz remarks, “The US government simply isn’t very good at these sort of marketing campaigns that try to manufacture a positive view for US war efforts, or a negative view for their enemy of the moment.”
As other critics note, it simply isn’t that easy to convince radicals or potential radicals to change their views, as worthwhile as that goal may be:
“Another central problem for the U.S. in the current anti-terror fight is that U.S. foreign policy lacks a central theme that can be easily explained and have appeal to potential terrorist converts, some critics say.
“If we don’t persuade some kid trying to decide whether or not to strap on a suicide vest in the boonies of Yemen or Iraq not to do it, he’s going to do it…. So, where’s a narrative that will persuade these folks?” former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) asked at the Aspen Security Forum in July.
“I’m not saying it is U.S. foreign policy, but the perception of our foreign policy in much of the Middle East is: ‘Don’t Do Stupid Stuff, plus use drones,’” she said. “I don’t think that’s winning any heart or mind or any mind or heart.”
Some warn that coming up with a narrative about the U.S. that appeals to Muslims in Europe or the Middle East could be difficult or impossible without major changes to American foreign policy that don’t currently seem to be in the cards.
“There isn’t a narrative because our policy sucks,” said James Zogby of the Arab American Institute. “We’re flying drones….We forget Abu Ghraib. We forget rendition. They don’t. You can’t alter the narrative if you keep doing bad stuff….They don’t dislike our values, they just don’t think they apply to them.”
Many analysts argue that much of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 effort at counterterrorist propaganda — largely messages about how integrated and respected Muslims are in American public life — fell flat because it focused on the U.S. rather than the weaknesses of Al Qaeda and its allies. Trying to sell the average man on the street in many majority-Muslim countries is a fool’s errand that isn’t the easiest way to undercut terrorist groups like ISIL, those experts say.
“CVE fails when it’s about selling us. It’s not about selling us, it’s about countering the jihadis’ narrative,” said one ex-official, who asserted that $1 billion has been spent on trying to sway Pakistani public opinion — to little avail. “The idea that the Pakistanis are going to like us anytime soon is just preposterous. It’s the wrong message.”
As unfortunate as that is, ISIS will likely continue to have the upper hand in this propaganda war. Many youngsters who follow the call of radical groups like ISIS will probably regret this decision later in life, if they live long enough, that is. It is a bit surprising that a group that preaches a such a medieval retro-philosophy apparently appeals to many young people. Its religious aspect quite possibly represents its greatest vulnerability in the propaganda department. Some studies suggest that a great many members of radical Islamist organizations are actually not all that religious, or are not really motivated by religion. Deep down, the Sharia is probably not especially popular with them. That may be an aspect worth exploring if one wants to counter the propaganda of ISIS effectively.
Western ISIS members appearing in one of the group’s recruitment videos aimed at youth in Western countries.
(Photo via NBC News)
As expected, the operation against ISIS continues to escalate. Quite likely it will eventually turn into yet another full-scale war, in spite of the assurances to the contrary. However, given the fact that Syria’s Assad regime is also a declared enemy of the West and that some of Assad’s enemies whom the West supports are allied with ISIS, while the group in turn is reportedly funded by yet other Western allies, it appears to be an especially complex undertaking.
If, or rather when, ground troops are eventually sent to Iraq and Syria, they will have a really hard time distinguishing between friend and foe. To this is should be added that Western interventions in the region have so far never succeeded in anything but making a given bad situation even worse. The fact that many of Iraq’s Sunnis continue to regard the government in Baghdad as a far bigger threat to their well-being than ISIS adds an additional layer of complexity. ISIS is certainly an odious group, but it would probably not even exist had “we” never meddled with Iraq and Syria in the first place.