Obama's Admission Not Enough: US Spin on Middle East Violence Must Change
06 March 2015
By Ramzy Baroud
Truly, US President Barack Obama's recent call to address the root causes of
violence, including that of the so-called ''Islamic State'' (IS) and al-Qaeda
was a step in the right direction, but it is still miles away from taking the
least responsibility possible for the mayhem that has afflicted the Middle
East since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
''The link is undeniable,'' Obama said in a speech at the State Department on
19 February ''When people are oppressed and human rights are denied –
particularly along sectarian lines or ethnic lines – when dissent is
silenced, it feeds violent extremism. It creates an environment that is ripe
for terrorists to exploit.''
Of course, he is right. Every word. However, the underlying message is also
clear: it's everyone else's fault but ours. Now, that's hardly true, and
Obama, once a strong critic of his predecessor's war, knows it well.
Writing at MSNBC.com, Sarah Leah Whitson went a step further. In ''Why the
fight against ISIS is failing,'' Whitson, criticised the anti-IS alliance for
predicating its strategy on militarily defeating the group, without any
redress of the grievances of oppressed Iraqi Sunnis, who, last year welcomed
IS fighters as ''liberators''.
''But let's not forget how Iraq got to that point,'' she wrote, ''with the
US-led Iraq war that displaced a dictator but resulted in an abusive
occupation and destructive civil war, leaving more than a million dead.''
Spot on, well, almost. Whitson considered ''displacing of a dictator,'' as a
plus for the US war, as if the whole military venture had anything to do with
overcoming dictatorship. In fact, the ''abusive occupation and destructive
civil war'' was very much part of the US strategy of divide and conquer. Many
wrote about this to the extent that that the argument itself is in fact,
At least, however, both arguments are a significant departure from the
pseudo-intellectualism that has occupied the larger share of mainstream media
thinking about terrorism and violence. Not only does the conventional wisdom
in US media blame the bloody exploits of IS on the region itself, as if the
US and western interventionism are not, in any way, factors, at least worth
pondering. (In fact, for them US intervention is a force of good, rarely
self-seeking and exploitative.) Even worse, no matter how they unravel the
argument, Islam somehow ends up being the root of all evil – a reductionist,
silly and irresponsible argument, to say the least.
It is also a dangerous one, for it infers the kind of conclusions that will
constantly point the arrow to the direction of a self-destructive foreign
policy, the kind that has set the Middle East ablaze in the first place.
But that is not your everyday diatribe. The constant injection of all sorts
of bizarre arguments, like that of Graeme Wood's recent piece in the
Atlantic, is aimed at creating distractions, blaming religion and its zealots
for their ''apocalyptic'' view of the world. Wood's argument, designed to be
a methodical and detached academic examination of the roots of IS is
misconstrued at best, disingenuous at worst.
''That the Islamic State holds the imminent fulfilment of prophecy as a
matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to
cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when
surrounded, that it will receive divine succour if it stays true to the
Prophetic model,'' Wood concluded with the type of liberal positivism that
has become as galling as religious zeal.
Mohamed Ghilan, an Islamic law scholar, dissected Wood's argument with
integrity based on real, authentic knowledge of both Islam and the Middle
East region. ''An analysis of what ISIS is about and what it wants that looks
to Islam as a causal source of their behaviour is not only misguided, but
also harmful,'' he wrote.
''It obscures the root causes for why we have an ISIS, an al-Qaeda, an Ansar
Bayt al-Maqdis, and any of the other groups that have risen and continue to
arise. It creates further confusion and contributes to a rising Islamophobic
sentiment in the West. And when given the guise of academic rigour, it
accomplishes all of this rather perniciously.''
Indeed, the age-old ailment of shallow, lacking writing about the complex and
involved reality in the Middle East persists, even after 25 years of full
American military engrossment in the region.
Since the first Iraq war (1990-91) until this day, America's mainstream
intellectuals and journalists refuse to accept the most prevalent truth about
the roots of the current crisis; that military intervention is not a virtue,
that war begets chaos and violence, that military invasion is not a harbinger
of a stable democracy, but invites desperately violent polices predicated on
winning, regardless of the cost.
Nonetheless, that very admission came from former United Nations Secretary
General, Kofi Annan, who, by virtue of his previous position should indeed be
able to assess the link between the US war on Iraq and the current upheaval.
Although he rightly blamed regional powers for exasperating the conflict, he
laid the blame where it surly belongs: the Iraq war, invasion and the way the
occupation was handled afterwards. ''I was against this invasion and my fears
have been founded. The break-up of the Iraqi forces poured hundreds if not
thousands of disgruntled soldiers and police officers onto the streets,'' he
That was indeed the backbone of the initial home-grown resistance in Iraq,
which forced the US to shift strategy by igniting the powder keg of
sectarianism. The hope then was that the ''disgruntled soldiers'' of Iraqi
resistance would be consumed in a civil war inferno involving Sunni-based
resistance against Shiite-based militias, themselves working for or allied
with the US and US-imposed Shiite government in Baghdad.
''The aim of creating democracy without the existing institutions ushered in
corrupt sectarian governments,'' Annan said. For Annan, the war and invasion
come first, followed by the sectarian-mismanagement of Iraq, also by the
Americans, an admission that is rarely echoed by US officials and media as
demonstrated by the obstinately deficient media coverage.
One is rarely proposing to ignore existing fault lines in Middle Eastern
societies, standing sectarianism, fundamentalism, brewing, unresolved
conflicts, and of course the monster of authoritarianism and corruption. None
of this should be unheeded, if indeed a peaceful future is to be made
possible. On the other hand, the argument that desperately seeks every
possible pretence – from blaming Islam and believers of some strange
apocalypse to everyone else but the US and its allies – is a poor attempt at
escaping a heavy moral, but also political responsibility.
The danger of that argument lies in the fact that its promoters don't mind
seeing yet another war, like the one that was visited upon the Middle East a
decade or so ago, the one that wrought al-Qaeda to the region, and
orchestrated the rise of IS, and the bloodbath that followed.
- Ramzy Baroud – www.ramzybaroud.net – is an internationally-syndicated
columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of
PalestineChronicle.com. He is currently completing his PhD studies at the
University of Exeter. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).