by Playthell Benjamin
In an extraordinary session of the UN Security Council chaired by President Obama, the question of Islamic Jihadist terrorism – specifically the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant aka ISIL – and what to do about it was explored. Due to the gravity and urgency of the matter, even governments that are not members of this omnipotent body were invited to participate in the deliberations if their countries were menaced by Islamic Jihadists. After discussion and comment Resolution 2170 was passed by the Security Council.
The Resolution was drafted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which authorizes “ACTION WITH RESPECT TO THREATS TO THE PEACE, BREACHES OF THE PEACE, AND ACTS OF AGGRESSION.“ The action that may be taken by UN member states is spelled out in articles 41 and 42 of the Charter which authorizes military action by “Land, Sea and Air.” A document of nearly 5,000 words, the resolution is titled “Condemning Gross, Widespread Abuse of Human Rights by Extremist Groups in Iraq, Syria,” was passed by the Council and details a plan of action which addresses issues ranging from “Terrorism,” “Foreign Terrorist Fighters,” “Terrorist Financing,” and Sanctions against those who give financial support to the Jihadists, taking the unprecedented step of naming individuals in the text of the resolutions.
In an earlier speech before the UN general Assembly, President Obama declared “There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.” This declaration will no doubt be viewed as self-serving apologia by many observers around the world, since the US is already bombing Syria without requesting the consent of the Syrian government. Indeed the Iranians and the Russians have already called these attacks a violation of international law.
This fact, coupled with the long history of the US unilateral intervention in the internal affairs of other nations – over a hundred times in the 20th century – often overthrowing legally constituted governments to impose its will such as in Iran and Iraq, must leave many delegations wondering who is the greater menace to their national security – the Jihadists or the US. Unfazed by this reality, and convinced that the horrors of ISIL are such that the motion of history is on his side the President declared a no holds barred war on ISIL.
After some opening remarks stating the reason for the Security Council session, President Obama turned the microphone over to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, who laid out the dimensions of the problem. At this top level meeting attended by Heads of State and Foreign Ministers, the various delegates spoke, giving their analysis of the crisis spawned by Islamic terrorism. It quickly became clear that there is a multiplicity of views on the phenomenon. For instance, while the US president only wanted to talk about the evils of radical Islamic Jihadists, the role of Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people was a recurrent theme among the other delegates.
For instance Christina Fernandez, the President of Argentina, expressed scepticism about the US approach to fighting Islamic terrorism. In an eloquent impassioned speech suffused with frustration and bewilderment, she pointed out that the American decision to arm the so-called “Free Syrian Army” is just old wine in new bottles. She recounted similar American actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, each time with a certainty that such actions would solve the problem of Islamic terrorism, but in each instance the Jihadists come back stronger. She pointed out that the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIL was born of such policies.
President Fernandez also pointed out that we really don’t know who the forces are fighting against the Assad government, and to arm them with sophisticated weapons might well result in a replay of past blunders. She also pointed out that the Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people was a major recruiting tool for the Jihadists, and expressed the view that military power alone would not defeat Jihadism; only addressing the underlying issues that feed the movement with new recruits can accomplish this.
The Russian Foreign Minister reiterated this theme, and called for a deep analysis of the problem that would address the root causes of Jihadist movements. Among the factors he cited for the dramatic growth of ISIL is the policies Israel imposes on the Palestinians. Herein lies the problem for President Obama, he cannot honestly discuss the role of Israeli policies in the radicalization of young Muslims everywhere who are then recruited into Jihadist movements like ISIL. Hence when the President passionately opines that the opponents of radical Islam must win the hearts and minds of young people in the Arab world it comes across as just so much hypocritical mumbo jumbo.
Thus we are once again confronted with the age old paradox, one man’s “terrorist” is another man’s “Freedom fighter!” To the Palestinians and their supporters the Israeli’s are the most dangerous terrorists in the Middle East, and they are by far the oldest; having seized their land by armed force and subjected them to a reign of terror for 60 years! Yet while the US blocks all criticism of Israel in the UN, it supplies the arms Israel used to kill Palestinians who are virtually defenseless. They also witness the US slaughtering Muslims everywhere under the banner or fighting tyranny, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan. When confronted with these facts by radical Arab youths, their elders have no convincing arguments.
Their radicalized children see them as spineless cowards who have surrendered in the face of western aggression in Muslim lands, which they regard as disgraceful and wish to regain the honor of the Islamic world. That’s why young Muslims of all classes are flocking to join the global Jihad. Now the US is leading the fight against the ISIL Caliphate, the first Sunni state based on Sharia Law with a territorial base larger than Great Britain, which once ruled much of the world. Given this fact, I wouldn’t bet the farm on Obama’s chances of “winning the hearts and minds” of radical Arab Youths.
Alas, as I have pointed out in a previous essay, President Obama’s actions does not match his rhetoric, he has promised to destroy the ISIL Caliphate while quickly assuring the American people – who have demanded that he “do something” to retaliate for the Americans who were beheaded on the internet by ISIL executioners while essentially saying “fuck you pussy!” to the American President and people – that there will be no American boots on the Ground.” Instead Mr. Obama has restricted America’s military actions to air strikes, intelligence gathering and drones. But no military expert that I have heard – and I’ve heard aplenty – believes that ISIL can be destroyed with this strategy: degrade maybe….destroy, not too much.
Given the fact that Barack Obama, like Jimmy Carter, is real swift on the cap, a genuine intellectual, there is no way he does not see the limitations of his program. If I can peep the flaws in his game plan based on the limited information I can glean from public sources, it’s a safe bet that given the multi-billion dollar world-wide intelligence services that produce the intelligence “product” he reads at the beginning of each day, Barack can see it too. Yet we have no reliable ground forces, without which it is impossible to destroy ISIL. When Hillary Clinton and John McCain first suggested that President Obama arm the so called “Free Syrian Army,” the President called the idea “a fantasy.”
Now he has done an about face and announced that the US will arm and train the Free Syrian Army as a “moderate Islamic” force to fight both the Jihadist In ISIL and the Al Nusra Front and the Assad government in Syria. The projection is that 8000 of these summer soldiers will be ready to take the field and wage a war on three fronts against seasoned combat forces armed with state of the arts weapons and employing a scorched earth policy. I put their chances of success as being less than the chances of a snowball in a pizza oven! So what’s the real deal here, why is Barack selling woff tickets to the world?
After pondering this enigma I concluded that he must be taking a page from the political playbook of Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, whom he is known to admire. After meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and getting the low down on the Nazi’s, with whom the British were already at war, Roosevelt came away convinced that Hitler was a murderous mad man who must be stopped and the US had to enter the war to stop him. However he was up for reelection and needed the vote of Irish Catholics to win. But memories of their troubles under British rule were so fresh and bitter they would oppose any effort to save Britain, let alone go to war.
So Roosevelt lied to them in order to serve the greater goal of defeating the Nazi’s: He swore he would never send their sons to war in Europe….while all the time planning to do just that. Since I believe Barack Obama is the most honest, humane and honorable man to ever occupy the Oval Office, a peacenik in his heart of hearts, it seemed to me that Barack had chosen a similar path and is prepared to send American ground troops if that’s what the defeat of ISIL requires.
However, University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole, one of the world’s most thoughtful scholars on the Middle East and a careful student of American foreign policy in the region, suggests another scenario:
What if Obama is a sharper reader of the Middle East than his critics give him credit for? He knows ISIL is likely not going away, just as, after 13 years, the Taliban have not. US military action may even prolong the lifetime of these groups (that is one argument about Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) even as it keeps them from taking more territory. Don’t listen to his expansive four-stage program or his retooled, stage-managed John Wayne rhetoric. Look at his metaphors. He is telling those who have ears to hear that he is pulling a Yemen in Iraq and Syria. He knows very well what that implies. It is a sort of desultory, staccato containment from the air with a variety of grassroots and governmental forces joining in. Yemen is widely regarded as a failure, but perhaps it is only not a success. And perhaps that is all Obama can realistically hope for.
Perhaps Dr. Cole’s analysis in the present war will prove as prescient as his predictions regarding the Bush Invasion of Iraq. Whichever scenario proves to be true we are in yet another war in the Middle-East; this time with cheers and well wishes from around the world, as none of the delegates at the Security Council meeting opposed Resolution 2170.
Benjamin is a veteran political journalist out of Harlem NY. His essays can be read on his blog site Commentaries on the Times.