The Mainstream Media, ISIS, and Iraq War Déjà Vu
By Stephen J. Sniegoski
The Founders of the United States believed that it was essential for citizens to be well informed in order to have a workable self-government. Being schooled in the classics, in which the socio-political views of Plato and Aristotle held sway, they believed that the popular governments of the ancient world had foundered due to the common people’s lack of knowledge and thus their inevitable tendency to be deceived by demagogues. As James Madison, known as the father of the US Constitution, put it: “Democracy is the most vile form of government . . . democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention . . . incompatible with personal security or the rights of property.” John Adams, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the second US President, stated: “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” And Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, who is generally portrayed as being the Founder most favorable toward the common people, opined: “The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and … breaks up the foundations of society.”
Because the American people would have a prominent role in the new republic, leading figures such as Jefferson saw education to be a major means by which the problems that had plagued popular rule in the past could be overcome. But while the American people today have far more formal education than ever before, the dominant political discourse, adhered to by most respectable people, is set by the mainstream media, and much of its information is misinformation, if not actual disinformation. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the realm of foreign policy, a subject in which common, everyday wisdom has only marginal applicability, thus requiring the American people to depend on what they receive from the mainstream media.
Moreover, as the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) radical jihadists sweep through Iraq, who should appear in the mainstream media providing advice on proper US Middle East policy but the neocons who masterminded the war on Iraq that created the very conditions for the success of ISIS. Once again they are arguing for American military intervention in that country. Ignored is the fact that the neocons managed to be uncannily wrong in virtually all of their prognostications made during the run-up to the war on Iraq. They were wrong about Saddam’s alleged huge stockpile of WMD and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), which supposedly could deliver that WMD not only against America’s friends in the Middle East but even against the US homeland. They were wrong about Saddam having a close connection to the al-Qaida terrorists, to whom he might provide WMD. They incorrectly claimed that the war would be a “cakewalk” requiring few American troops since the Iraqi army and people in general would purportedly join in the fight to liberate themselves from Saddam. They maintained that once the Saddam regime was overthrown Iraqis of all backgrounds would form a new democratic government that would provide a model for the rest of the Middle East to follow. And they held that the cost to America for this utopian result would be easily covered by a bonanza of oil that would benefit the American government and consumers.
The result, of course, approached the polar opposite–a dystopia where American troops would occupy the country for over eight years, suffering multitudinous casualties and causing the deaths of far more Iraqis, with the result being a country fragmented along ethno-sectarian lines, which has ignited a Sunni-Shiite conflict encompassing the entire Middle East. Moreover, Islamic radicals, far more powerful than the original al-Qaida, have taken over large swaths of Iraq and its Levantine neighbors and threaten to conquer even more. And the cost involved in that military fiasco, which President Obama terminated at the end of 2011, exceeded a trillion dollars, contributing mightily to America’s massive national debt and its overall economic doldrums.
Defenders of the neocons sometimes claim that one cannot judge the neocons’ current views by their mistakes in the past. As John McCain put it in 2008, while campaigning for the presidency: “Well, that’s history. That’s the past. That’s talking about what happened before. What we should be talking about is what we’re going to do now.”
But while the fact that the neocons were totally wrong in the past does not necessarily guarantee that their advice for the present would be likewise wrong, this is a basic way to assess future developments, since there are no crystal balls enabling one to actually see into the future. Obviously, no one would rely on a surgeon whose last ten patients died on the operating table because of his own mistakes, nor would anyone patronize an airline whose planes have consistently crashed upon take-off.
But the neocons, when providing their take on the current situation in the Middle East, are never even asked by their mainstream media hosts to account for their past errors. Rather, all of this inconvenient history seems to have been flushed down the Orwellian memory hole.
The neocons themselves, however, are not averse to using history in a twisted form to blame their adversaries, most notably President Obama, for the dire situation in the Middle East. They constantly pontificate that the ISIS danger was caused by America’s failure to intervene enough. It should be noted that this tactic makes their position empirically unfalsifiable, since no matter how much the US might intervene, it conceivably could always intervene more. Of course, this argument is also completely contrary to what the neocons’ position was in the run-up to the war in 2003, which was outlined above.
It is the neocons’ specific storyline that ISIS would not have taken over Iraq if Obama had not withdrawn the remaining American troops. But if the US treated Iraq as a colonial dependency, it would have generated even greater anti-American hatred from Iraqis and the Middle East region as a whole. Instead of having a Sunni-Shiite conflictthere, it is likely that the entire Middle East would have been aflame against the US and any governments that remained friendly to it, while the US government poured in more and more men and money in the hopeless effort to maintain an occupation force against the increasingly hostile inhabitants and outside “terrorists”—or “freedom fighters,” as would have been the opinion for a majority of the inhabitants of the Middle East. Such a condition would have had a terrible effect on America’s image in the world, making it a veritable pariah state like Israel (which would seem to be a goal of the neocons), and would be virtually impossible to maintain politically in the US. Moreover, since the ethno-sectarian divisions in Iraq are endemic, which American military forces only served to hold in check, not solve, they were bound to emerge sometime in the future.
An additional part of the neocon rendition of history is that if the US had supported the Syrian resistance to the Assad regime earlier, it would not have been co-opted by the radical Islamists, thus precluding the rise of ISIS. But the neocons, liberal “humanitarian” interventionists, and other assorted war hawks were calling for US bombing of Assad’s forces long after the Islamist element had become dominant in the resistance. And it is not apparent when, if ever, American military attacks on Assad would not have primarily benefited the radical Islamists. So it is quite likely that had the US attacked Syria, it would have eliminated a major opponent of ISIS. And if ISIS controlled Syria, it would be much less difficult for it to take over territory in Iraq. Furthermore, if the US had bombed and destabilized Iran, as the neocons sought, there would be even less effective resistance to ISIS in the Middle East, though even then it is not apparent that ISIS would have been able to consolidate a unified Islamic caliphate, as opposed to bringing about a jumble of warring mini-states, as envisioned and sought by Oded Yinon and, likely, the Israeli Right.
As a result of the constant drumbeat for intervention in the mainstream media and the worsening situation in Iraq, President Obama, with his characteristic willingness to bend under pressure from respectable opinion, opted for what he claimed was a limited engagement restricted to airstrikes for a humanitarian cause, as well as protecting American citizens in the nearby city of Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan. The humanitarian justification provided by President Obama to save the Yazidis, who profess a syncretistic religion based in significant part on Zoroastrianism (the pre-Islamic religion of Iran), from possible genocide seems like a strong rationale since previous American interventionist policies are the cause of their dire plight. It should be noted, however, that Obama’s humanitarian instincts are quite selective—predicated on American politics–since he was quite willing to resupply ammunition to the Israelis so they could continue their democidal onslaught against the civilian population of Gaza.
It turns out that the danger to the Yazidis seems to have been much exaggerated. When American Special Forces actually reached Mt. Sinjar, where the Yazidis were said to be penned in and dying, the alleged huge numbers of people were simply not there and those who were did not seem to be suffering great hardship and preferred to stay where they were. The best that can be said about this piece of war propaganda is that unlike Saddam Hussein’s non-existent threatening WMD and the totally fabricated Iraqi army massacre of the incubator babies in Kuwait in 1990 (used to generate public support for the Gulf War), the Yazidis really do exist and ISIS has killed civilians for religious reasons, but there is nothing approaching the genocidal conditions that would arouse the American people to support war.
As is usually the case for US Middle East policy in recent years, there is an Israel angle here, for Israel has a close relationship with the now-threatened Kurds. As the ever-perspicacious Justin Raimondo writes: “Remember that the Kurds are Israel’s best – and only – allies in the region. Israeli trainers have been integrated into the pershmerga, and the first oil extracted from the newly-Kurdified regions of collapsing Iraq went straight to the Jewish state. . . . ISIS is at the gates of Irbil, the Kurdish regional government’s capital city. This is why we hear the War Party loudly demanding US military intervention – not to save the Yazidis, but to save a key Israeli ally.”
From the Israeli perspective, ISIS probably has already done enough to destabilize Israel’s enemies in line with Yinon’s plan and needs to be reined in before it becomes too powerful. (As an analogy, it should be pointed out that Israel initially supported Hamas as a counterweight to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, whereas now it is more opposed to Hamas, at least in public, than the now weakened Palestinian Authority.)
Neocons and other war hawks claim that Obama’s limited airstrikes are not sufficient and that it is necessary for the US not simply to contain but to defeat ISIS, and thus roll back its territorial gains. War hawks in Congress are going so far as to claim that if something is not done to defeat ISIS, it will attack the United States.
For example Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican—South Carolina), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told “Fox News Sunday” that ISIS is a “direct threat to our homeland.”
“Mr. President, be honest with the threat we face,” Graham said. “They are coming.”
Congressman Peter King (Republican–New York) stated on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “They [ISIS] have 10 times, 20 times more money than Al Qaeda ever had. They have much more weapons than Al Qaeda ever had. And ISIS has hundreds of foreign fighters with them, available to come to the United States to attack us.” And the ever-warlike John McCain trumpeted: “This ISIS is metastasizing throughout the region, and their goal, as they’ve stated openly time after time, is the destruction of the United States of America.”  A somewhat attenuated variant of this ISIS meme has been picked up by Obama’s Defense Department, with both Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and Secretary of State Chuck Hagel expressing the need for greater American military involvement, though still adhering to the President’s no-ground-troops-in-combat position.
It is true that it would likely require much greater American involvement not only to stop ISIS advances and consolidation of its existing territory but also to truly provide long-term humanitarian protection to the Yazidis and other non-Sunni minorities. Consequently, the United States could quite easily be drawn into full scale involvement in the conflict, which would entail the insertion of American ground forces and the occupation of Iraq—in short, Iraq war, déjà vu. And Obama has already moved beyond the humanitarian defense of the Yazidis to providing the Kurds with arms and sending more military “advisers” to the area. The slide down the slippery slope has already begun.
But let’s step back from panic mode. How dangerous is ISIS to the United States? ISIS has largely been successful in taking over areas that are sympathetic to it in Iraq, where Sunnis had grievances toward the central government run by Shiites. ISIS did not win any large-scale battles in Iraq; the Sunnis in the Iraqi army simply refused to fight. ISIS did not dare to push on to Baghdad where it would have to fight Shiites and maybe draw Iranian forces into the war. And ISIS has not been widely successful fighting the Syrian army. In short, while ISIS obviously consists of many fanatical soldiers, it has yet to demonstrate that it has the prowess to defeat a major army.
Obama’s much maligned high school sports analogy dismissal of ISIS as a “JV [junior varsity] basketball team” has yet to be shown to be false. For ISIS has not yet faced stiff military competition, in large part because large neighboring countries don’t treat it as a dangerous threat.
For example, it should be pointed out that Israel, which is reputed to have the best intelligence operation in the world regarding the Middle East, does not act fearful of ISIS despite being in close proximity to its newly-acquired territory. Israel still perceives Iran as its greatest external enemy and wants to make sure that the US does not improve its relationship with that country by working with it against ISIS. (Needless to say, this is also the neocon position.) And instead of focusing on ISIS and trying to build up an anti-ISIS alliance, Israel has taken advantage of the situation to kill and terrorize masses of Palestinians in Gaza. From Israel’s actions, as well as the words of Prime Minister Netanyahu, one can readily infer that it considers the threat of Iran (because of its support for the Palestinian resistance) and the Palestinians (in terms of demography) to be far more dangerous to Israel than ISIS.
Something similar can be said for Turkey with its large, well-equipped standing army. Yet Turkey has provided Sunni jihadists, including ISIS, with arms and sanctuary, in the war against the Assad regime. If Turkey saw the need to stop ISIS it would seal its border to ISIS supporters and send its powerful army against it.
Despite claims that ISIS’s acquisition of oil wells in western Iraq will make it self-sufficient, it is unlikely that this religious group will have the skilled people who can run the requisite high technology. Moreover, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been supplying ISIS and other radical jihadist groups with modern weaponry to fight Syria. How long could ISIS go without such supplies? It is hard to believe that the loot taken from the Iraqi army could be long lasting—after all, sophisticated equipment needs to repaired and ammunition is gone after its use. Furthermore, will the Sunni tribes in Iraq accept rule by ISIS? They rose up against al-Qaida in the Sunni Awakening of 2007 and are starting to do so again.
Stephen Walt, the co-author of the much-talked-about book, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” poignantly observes that “if the history of the past twenty years teaches us anything, it is that forceful American interference of this sort just makes these problems worse.” Note that this is a key point to refute the mainstream internationalists’ claim that US involvement is indispensable for the good of the world and thus it should eschew a policy of non-intervention. This, however, is clearly not the perception of the US in the Middle East, nor in most of the world, where the US is seen as something of a rogue nation because its unilateral military interventions frequently skirt, if not openly violate, the basic tenets of international law.
Moreover, for the US to attack ISIS would certainly make things worse for itself, since it would draw the latter’s focus upon it, which is unnecessary since ISIS’s neighbors have not yet shown an inability to dispose of the problem. If the US stands back, the surrounding countries would likely use their much greater power to defeat ISIS, if it really posed a threat to them. And if ISIS does not pose a recognized threat to its neighbors, why would the US need to become militarily involved? The only thing American intervention could achieve would be to make the US a key target for ISIS and other jihadi terrorists, as well as inflaming even more the populace of the Middle East. In short, US military involvement in Iraq is apt to bring upon itself the very terrorist attacks that it purportedly intends to prevent.
Unfortunately, instead of presenting these obvious facts, the mainstream media is engaged in disseminating the war hysterics of the neocons and other war hawks, albeit in a less strident, more palatable form. It is beginning to approach what was done during the run up to the war on Iraq. Average American people are weary of war but the one-sided propaganda might still be sufficient to bamboozle them once again. It might not be possible to fool all the people all the time, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, but the record shows that enough of the people can be fooled enough of the time to achieve the desired result. Only time will tell what the outcome here will be.
 “McCain continues Iraq back and forth with Obama,” Political Ticker Blog, CNN, February 28, 2008, http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/02/28/mccain-continues-iraq-back-and-forth-with-obama/
 One of the paeans to the benefits of war is Eliot A. Cohen, “Obama does not accept war for what it is,” Washington Post, July 31, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/eliot-cohen-obama-does-not-accept-war-for-what-it-is/2014/07/31/8f27346e-1830-11e4-9e3b-7f2f110c6265_story.html Neocon Eliot Cohen coined the term “World War IV” for the neocon-desired war against the major states in the Middle East.
 Jason Brownlee, “Was Obama wrong to withdraw troops from Iraq?,” Washington Post, June 26, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/06/26/was-obama-wrong-to-withdraw-troops-from-iraq/; Stephen J. Sniegoski, “The unfolding of Yinon’s ‘Zionist Plan for the Middle East’ The crisis in Iraq and the centrality of Israel’s national interest,” The Last Ditch, July 12, 2014, http://www.thornwalker.com/ditch/snieg_yinon_unfolding.htm
 “The Zionist Plan for the Middle East,” translated and edited by Israel Shahak, Belmont, Mass.: Association of Arab-American University Graduates, Inc., 1982.
 Justin Raimondo, “Iraq: The ‘Humanitarian Catastrophe’ That Petered Out,” Antiwar.com, August 15, 2014, http://original.antiwar.com/justin/2014/08/14/iraq-the-humanitarian-catastrophe-that-petered-out/
 Justin Raimondo, “Sneaking Back Into Iraq,” Antiwar.com, August 8, 2014, http://original.antiwar.com/justin/2014/08/07/sneaking-back-into-iraq/
 “Graham: Islamic State will attack on US soil, Obama must stop terror group’s rise,” Fox News, August 10, 2014, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/08/10/graham-islamic-state-will-attack-on-us-soil-obama-must-stop-terror-groups-rise/Rep
Erin Durkin and Bill Hutchinson, “Lawmakers say ISIS is capable of attack on U.S. soil: ‘They are more powerful than Al Qaeda was on 9/11’,” New York Daily News, August 11, 2014, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/lawmakers-isis-threat-u-s-soil-article-1.1898810
 “ISIS poses a danger to America, lawmakers from both parties say,” Associated Press, August 10, 2014, Aug. 10, 2014, 8:45 p.m., http://triblive.com/usworld/nation/6593776-74/militants-iraq-lawmakers#axzz3AE1wDd3w
 Jason Ditz, “Pentagon Pushes Iraq, Syria Escalations,” Antiwar.com, August 21, 2014, http://news.antiwar.com/2014/08/21/pentagon-pushes-iraq-syria-escalations/ETKT 016 5247692642
 “‘JV’ terrorists? Obama under fire for having ‘underestimated’ militant threat in Iraq, Syria,” Fox News, August 11, 2014, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/08/11/jv-terrorists-obama-under-fire-for-having-underestimated-militant-threat-in/; “Obama’s Kobe Bryant-Al Qaeda Flap,” Daily Beast, January 22, 2014, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/22/obama-s-kobe-bryant-al-qaeda-flap.html
 Frederick W. Kagan and William Kristol, “What to Do in Iraq,” The Weekly Standard Blog, Jun 16, 2014, http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/what-do-iraq_795057.html; Max Boot, “Getting Fooled by Iran in Iraq,” Commentary, June 15, 2014, http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2014/06/15/getting-fooled-by-iran-in-iraq/
 Marcy Kreiter, “Netanyahu Warns U.S. against Working with Iran to Halt ISIS Advance in Iraq,” International Business Times, June 22, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/netanyahu-warns-us-against-working-iran-halt-isis-advance-iraq-1608454; and Michael Wilner, “Netanyahu suggests pinning ISIS against Iran,” Jerusalem Post, June 24, 2014, http://www.jpost.com/Breaking-News/Netanyahu-suggests-pinning-ISIS-against-Iran-360183
 Jeremy Bender, “These Reports Signal The Beginning Of The End For ISIS In Iraq,” Business Insider, July 31, 2014, http://www.businessinsider.com/mosul-residents-have-started-clashing-with-isis-2014-7
 Stephen M. Walt, “Do No (More) Harm, Foreign Policy,” August 7, 2014, Foreign Policy, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/08/07/let_it_bleed_iraq_isis_syria_airstrikes_israel_palestine_gaza_iran
 See, for example: Richard Cohen, “The Result of Obama’s Do-Nothing Policy? Iraq,” Washington Post, June 16, , 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/richard-cohen-iraq–the-result-of-obamas-do-nothing-policy/2014/06/16/4b176070-f579-11e3-a606-946fd632f9f1_story.html; Editorial Board, “The Middle East’s mounting danger,” Washington Post, June 11, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-middle-easts-mounting-danger/2014/06/11/bda10008-f180-11e3-bf76-447a5df6411f_story.html; Editorial Board, “ISIS must be defeated: Our view,” USA Today, August 10. 2014, http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/08/08/isis-editorial/13782773/; “The war over Iraq,” New York Daily News, August 12, 2014, http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/war-iraq-article-1.1899923;