In clinical Psychology, déjà vu is defined as “the experience of perceiving a new situation as if it had occurred before. It is sometimes associated with exhaustion or certain types of mental disorder”. ‘A certain type of mental disorder’ seems like an apt description of US President Obama’s decision to carry out yet another round of ‘humanitarian’ air strikes on Iraq, with symptoms including short term memory loss and high levels of cognitive dissonance: short term memory loss, because Western governments seem to have conveniently forgotten that it was the bombing of Iraq in 2003 that precipitated the crisis today; and cognitive dissonance, because while the US is fighting the Islamic State in Iraq, it is funding and arming them by proxy in Syria.
A nightmare without end
To be sure, the situation that the masses in Iraq face is dire, and the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) offers nothing but reactionary terror and turmoil in the country. Life for the ordinary people of Iraq is seemingly a nightmare without end, with the horrors of the invasion by US and British troops over a decade ago now followed by the spread of the jihadist terror of ISIS. The sight of thousands of Yazidis – a Kurdish minority – fleeing into the mountains to avoid IS forces is a tragedy. Over 150, 000 refugees have been created by the crisis, most of them flooding into the Kurdish heartlands. Some have even been compelled to flee to Syria, a fact which gives you some idea of just how desperate the humanitarian situation in northern Iraq really is.
But the cause of a problem is never the solution, and Obama’s commitment to targeted air strikes on Iraq is only going to make the situation worse. The newly founded Islamic Caliphate only exists today because of a shocking series of US foreign policy decisions, starting with the 2003 invasion and culminating with the decision to leave Iraq in the hands of a corrupt set of gangsters. Most people now concede that the Iraq war was a mistake; but not enough people concede that the murder of over half a million Iraqis constituted one of the most flagrant and illegal acts of unprovoked aggression in the last half century. To quote Atoine Boulay on the execution of the Duke of Enghien in 1804, ‘it was worse than a crime, it was a blunder’.
The biggest blunder of all was the appointment of Nouri Al-Maliki as Iraq’s Prime Minister in 2006. In many ways, Maliki was just the other side of Saddam’s sectarian coin. The Iraq state’s repression and discrimination against the Sunni populations of the north helped pave the way for ISIS, who received an uncharacteristically warm reception in this region due to the hatred of the vast majority towards the corrupt and despised Maliki government. It is only by understanding this hatred within Iraq of the Shia-dominated Maliki government that one can explain the rapid spread of ISIS, whose growth and rise has only been possible in the context of a general rebellion amongst the Sunni population against the repressive Maliki regime.
With Maliki now isolated following the election of Haider al-Abadi, it appears that Obama has decided to drop the Shia-dominated puppet government. It is, however, too little too late. The prospect of a stable government in Iraq looks increasingly uncertain and unlikely. Western military intervention, with the almost certain civilian casualties that would ensue, will only drive the Sunni population further into the hands of the IS, creating even greater sectarian rifts between Sunnis and Shias. Despite all the intentions of the US, imperialist intervention in the Middle East has created a Frankenstein’s monster that is beyond their control. Centrifugal forces are now developing, threatening to tear Iraq apart and plunge it into civil war.
Public wary of “mission creep”
Having invaded Iraq in 2003 under the completely false pretext of finding “weapons of mass destruction”, and having seen the mess that interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have left behind after more than a decade of fighting, the general public in Britain, Europe, and the US is understandably sceptical of any further military intervention in the Middle East. At a time when capitalist governments are carrying out vicious austerity programmes, there is little mood for potentially being sucked into yet another expensive war, despite the assurances that any intervention this time would be kept at a minimum with “no boots on the ground”.
The public’s scepticism can be seen by the defeat of the Coalition government in Britain last year regarding intervention in Syria, which resulted in the complete isolation of the Obama administration with regards to an interventionist Middle Eastern foreign policy.
Unsurprisingly, there is a great concern of “mission creep” associated with any “humanitarian intervention” in Iraq. As the BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner notes:
“Western politicians are fond of saying ‘there will be no boots on the ground’ but in practice there are already growing numbers of US military personnel deployed to Iraq behind the scenes.
“What if advice and air power alone are not enough to prevent the IS from taking more towns in Iraq and Kurdistan? What if Baghdad itself or the cities of Kirkuk or Irbil look threatened?
“The risk of a mission's objectives shifting away from their original confines increase substantially when you are not in control of events on the ground.”
The hypocrisy of Obama and the rest of the bourgeois politicians calling for an intervention to avoid a "humanitarian disaster" is truly astounding. Today these leaders weep over the plight of the Yazidis, but where was their concern for the thousands of civilians killed due to the years of bombing and fighting by US and British forces in Afghanistan and Iraq previously? Such civilian casualties are conveniently ignored under the category of “collateral damage”.
Meanwhile, Obama is supposedly (in words) intervening in Iraq now to prevent a potential genocide. Simultaneously, however, the US administration does nothing to stop the massacre of thousands in Gaza; in fact, they openly declare their support for Israel’s “right to defend itself” – i.e. for the criminal attacks by the Israeli military against defenceless Palestinians.
The most extreme hypocrisy of the US response in Iraq can be found across the Syrian border. Here the Islamic State is not the enemy of the US, but its ally, and receives indirect support via America’s client states in the region. As early as March last year, the New York Times exposed the CIA’s role in helping the Arab governments and Turkey arm the Syrian rebels. Syrian opposition leaders expressed concern at the time, telling the New York Times “whoever was vetting which groups receive the weapons was doing an inadequate job”. Granted, ISIS couldn’t procure all of its weapons from the West and its clients. Luckily for them, they soon gained access to the huge quantities of arms left by the US in Iraq from the previous conflict, another unforeseen consequence of America’s decision to arm Maliki.
As ever, the intervention by the US is clearly not being conducted in order to avert a “humanitarian disaster”, but for their own imperialist interests. Having lost control of the situation in Syria, and in the process helped to create and strengthen the monster that is ISIS, US imperialism is wary of losing its grip on Iraq also. The Maliki government was a useful puppet for the Obama administration, helping to ensure that American interests were maintained following the withdrawal of its military presence. But with Maliki gone, the Sunni population in rebellion against the government, and the IS gaining ground, Obama and US imperialism face the threat of losing all influence and control in the region.
The hypocrisies of the imperialists may be clear, but what is the solution? Further Western intervention will only reinforce the hatred of the masses in the Middle East towards US and British imperialism, which have brought nothing but misery to workers and youth in the region, and which have played no small part in creating the current crisis in the first place.
Behind the smiling mask of “humanitarian concerns” always lies the malicious face of imperialism. The intervention of the US, Britain, France, Russia, Iran, or any other major power in the Middle East will only ever be for their own imperialist interests. Meanwhile, the intervention of UN or NATO forces is equally designed to only serve the interests of those capitalist governments that hold the purse strings to such organisations – in particular, the interests of US imperialism.
The masses in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and the rest of the Middle East should trust in no one but themselves. Meanwhile, the most effective solidarity that workers and youth in the West can show is to fight to bring down our own imperialist governments, who are responsible for supporting reactionary and repressive regimes and groups across the region.
The potential power of the masses was demonstrated clearly in 2011, when millions came out on the streets across the Arab world, toppling one authoritarian regime after another. Due to a lack of any genuinely revolutionary leadership, these movements have since temporarily subsided. In Syria, the imperialists and other regional powers, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, have intervened to maintain a state of chaos and civil war; across the region, the revolutionary masses have been pushed to the side and reactionary forces have gained ground.
For a second Arab revolution!
The root causes of the 2011 Arab revolutions – of declining living standards, with high inflation and mass unemployment – have not been solved however. The anger and desire for change has not gone away, but simmers and boils beneath the surface. The Arab revolution has immense reserves of energy and could explode again at any time. It is this – a second Arab revolution – that offers a solution to the problems of the masses in the Middle East. A powerful and strong working class exists in countries such as Egypt, Iran, and Turkey; with the correct leadership, revolutionary movements in any one of these countries has the potential to completely change the balance of forces in the region, turning the current wave of reaction back into one of sweeping revolutionary change in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and the rest of the Middle East.
A future of capitalism offers nothing to the masses in the Middle East other than the poison of sectarianism and nationalism in the region, artificially dividing the population in order to allow the imperialists to maintain their rule and plunder the loot. What is needed is for a movement divided not by nationality, ethnicity, or religion, but along class lines, with a common struggle of workers and youth to overthrow repressive regimes and capitalist governments and fight for the socialist transformation of society. Only a Socialist Federation of the Middle East can offer lasting freedom, peace, unity, and prosperity to the masses in the region.
- No to imperialist intervention!
- For a second Arab revolution!
- For a Socialist Federation of the Middle East!