Thursday, September 11, 2014

It is No Accident 2.0

It is no accident that President Obama’s speech calling for war
          by another name was given on September 10 – the eve 
          of an anniversary of horror in the United States.

Last September 10, President Obama gave his address about Syria and its chemical weapons.  This year, the President again addressed a crisis of the Middle East on September 10, at the same time that he was saying, “ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim.”

At the same time that he decried, by implication, any broad-brush condemnation of Islam, President Obama engaged in appealing to the tendency to broad-brush condemnation of all things Muslim by the very date of his speech, timed so thoughtfully to coincide with but not usurp the commemoration of, September 11, 2001.

It was and is manipulative in the extreme.  And it is a calculated effort to stir the American people to again see unknown and unnamed forces from the Middle East as terrifying hordes about to descend upon our borders.

If the cause be just, there is no need or requirement for propaganda or manipulation.  Thus does the very use of such techniques in order to ‘convince’ us of the President’s ‘case’ suggest that it is a weak case at best.

It is no accident that President Obama mentioned Russia 
          in his speech.

“ It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny,” the President asserted as part of a laundry list of examples of supposed American moral superiority and claimed unique positioning in history as justification for his plan against ISIS (a.k.a. ISIL).

It is no accident that the President mentioned Russia, ally to Syria and global actor in its own right.  Russia perceives itself as having vested interests in the Middle East as well as we do.  Turkey, a NATO member, lies uncomfortably close geographically to Russia from its point of view.

Russia and the United States remain all too willing in the present global climate to continue to fire shots across each other’s proverbial bow and this was yet another from our side of the imaginary trench.

This, I read, as President Obama telling Russia to stay out of it.  Why Russia would listen to us any more than we listen to them I cannot think.

It is no accident that President Obama referred to “Kurdish” in
          addition to “Iraqi” forces – as something separate 
          and distinct.

All due respect to my many Kurdish friends, there is, at least technically, no such thing as “Kurdish forces”.  The President presumably refers to the Peshmerga, the fighting forces originating in the north of Iraq where the Kurds historically reside.

The Peshmerga have remained intact and visible since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, but in more recent years, have largely been absorbed into the Iraqi army in its various permutations, although they do see themselves largely as a separate entity from the rest of the Iraqi army.

But since August, various countries around the world have been arming the Peshmerga.

President Obama said these things last evening:  “These strikes (air strikes against ISIS to date) have . . . given space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim key territory.”  and “[These American forces] are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces . . .”

President Obama recognized Kurdish fighting forces as something separate and apart from Iraqi fighting forces, in effect recognizing the Kurdish semi-autonomous region of Iraq as its own separate country.

This gels nicely with the desires of the Kurds themselves.  But it will not end well for them.  Turkey has a substantial Kurdish population that desires to form a Kurdish nation.  The PKK, the Turkish-Kurdish resistance, has been labeled a terrorist organization by Turkey and by the United States.

Iran’s sister organization, PJAK, with similar intentions and tactics to PKK, is actually supplied arms by the United States in order to disrupt that regime.

President Obama glibly names the Kurds as a separate entity in a speech televised around the world, giving hope and quarter to the aims and desires of the Kurdish peoples who have long desired to have their own nation-state.  But he doesn’t mean it.  When Turkey complains, as it has in the past and surely will again, about the impact on its own internal politics with its Kurdish population, Washington will, as it has before, capitulate, for the simple reason that to not capitulate will unite Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey in common cause against the Kurds, which Washington will perceive that it can ill afford (remember Turkey’s strategic importance relative to Russia).

But the Kurds aren’t fools.  They’ve been down this road many times with the West.  Only time will tell what will become of their resolve, but make no mistake, this current violence is an opportunity for the Kurds.  Maybe it’s one they deserve.  I am in no position to judge; but I do know that it will be costly for all involved.

It always is when so many motives with so little power are on the table.

It is no accident that President Obama asserted his ‘authority’ to 
          act as he already has and clearly plans to continue to do, 
          congressional imprimatur or no.

In a December 20, 2007 interview with the Boston Globe, then Senator Obama said, “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

The only thing that has changed between then and now is that Mr. Obama himself is the one wielding the power.

The President’s assertion last night that he has the authority to act as he already has and plans to continue to do, with the expanded and ominous threat to invade another sovereign nation (Syria) to achieve his stated goals, with or without congressional approval, merely continues the actions of presidents in the aftermath of World War II (the last declared war under the provisions of the constitution that the United States has engaged in).

There is no virtue in announcing ones intention to violate the laws of one’s own nation.  But there is clarity.

And it might be good political strategy for the president to throw down on Congress in this manner, but it isn’t good governance.

It is no accident that President Obama referenced no direct 
          threat to the United States, but raised all of our 
          collective bogey men to stir our fear of what might come.
So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East – including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region – including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners – including Europeans and some Americans – have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.  -- President Obama's speech of last night

The language the President used was careful but revealing: the only Americans threatened are those living and working in those areas where ISIS/ISIL are located.

But they “could” threaten us.  And although there is no knowledge of any specific plots of attack, there could be.  And those of ISIS/ISIL who are from Europe or the United States “could” come home and attack us.  Just like on September 11.  Except not.

President Bush specifically abandoned any pretense at just war theory in his invasion of Iraq in 2003 and President Obama has never looked back from that dramatic shift in policy.

Everyone who doesn’t like us is a threat to us.  And we to them.  But every threat is not a justification for war or invasion.  And the distinction between ground and air attack is a distinction without a difference in terms of whether it is constitutional or proper.

The distinction between ground and air is simply to assure the American people that its children will not die in the numbers that the children of our enemies will.  In others words, it’s a tactical point rather than a legal or procedural one.  And I, for one, am not particularly interested in debating tactics.

I am interested in a national debate on whether to do this at all.  By simply doing it and then asking permission, our President has taken that privilege and responsibility of citizenship away from us.

And we are the poorer for it.

The shame, however, is ours as much as his, for we have let him do it.

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