Thursday, 2 October 2014

Don't be fooled by the West's 'noble' intentions in stopping Isis.

Barack Obama about to talk a heap of shite, presumably.

Last week, Fox News embroiled themselves in yet another scandal caused by a couple of their presenters being idiotic, discriminatory arseholes. Shocker, I know. The two guilty parties were anchors Greg Gutfeld and Eric Bolling from Fox's afternoon show The Five. The pair made a couple of incredibly sexist jokes about a female bomber pilot from the United Arab Emirates who had taken part in a bombing mission on Isis targets in Syria. Anybody even vaguely familiar with the pair will not be shocked by their latent misogyny. Indeed, it was something else said by their co-host Kimerbly Guilfoyle at the beginning of the video that caught my attention. As she heaps praise on the "remarkable" pilot she pointedly adds, "Very exciting, a woman doing this … I hope that hurt extra bad because in some Arab countries women can’t even drive." 

This astounding display of ignorance forcefully hammered home to me the falsity and the dubiousness of Western government and media's protestations against Isis. Because Guilfoyle is half-correct; there are Arab countries that forbid women from driving. Well, there's one country that does. Saudi Arabia. A country which is one of America's allies in the missions against Isis. Saudi Arabia is also one of only four countries in the world to carry out public executions. Like Isis, they too are fond of the odd beheading with Human Rights Watch claiming that the Saudi state decapitated 19 people last month (August 2014), for crimes ranging from drug trafficking to sorcery.

Some may argue, in attempt to legitamise the US's alliance with Saudi Arabia and other repressive regimes like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, that to stop a group as obviously barbaric as Isis, you sometimes have to get into bed with the devil. More likely however, is that the US is more concerned with regional hegemony and geopolitical dominance in the Middle East and the countries in this coalition with the US, which also include Qatar and Jordan, are convenient allies and interested parties. It's ludicrous that this even requires repeating. It's ludicrous that Western governments can drop bombs on Middle Eastern countries on the premise of protecting human rights when for the last couple of centuries, successive American and European governments have committed, aided and enabled countless human rights offences in this region. It's ludicrous that the media largely fail to question the motives of the governments, preferring instead to bang the drums of war and spout empty rhetoric about protecting lives and saving cultures. 

These bombing raids are the fourth time in just under 25 years that the US and its allies have attacked Iraq following the Gulf War in 1991, the "Lewinsky Strikes" in 1998 and of course the invasion of Iraq in 2003. An important difference this time that must be noted is that the government of Iraq have given the US and its allies permission to strike against Isis. That however, does not change the overall aim of the bombing raids.

When one is discussing the motives of Western intervention in the Middle East it's easy to stumble into cliche and witless ranting about Exxon Mobil, oil companies and the military-industrial complex. It's a bit more nuanced than all that but the fact remains that the US has sought to control the Middle East since the Second World War due to the enormous significance the oil reserves play in world economics. It's not just about the profits of oil companies. It's about currency as well. Just to give you a quick example; the world's default currency is the dollar and it is the currency oil is bought and sold in. In 1999, Iraq decided to sell its oil in the new euro currency and increased their profits. The US, naturally sensing a rival to the Dollar's dominant position in the world economy, were nonplussed and after the invasion of Iraq, Iraq began selling its oil again in dollars. Mission accomplished. 

I've digressed a small bit from Isis but it's important to discuss the wider context when it comes to the Middle East. Morally, the argument against Western bombing raids against Isis is that these raids, no matter how pin-point or efficient they are, will inevitably result in civilian casualties. In fact, they already have. But, if we're to ignore the moral arguments for a second, and ask whether these raids will achieve their aim - namely to stop the spread of Isis and combat rampant Islamic fundamentalism - is that probable? 

I would argue it is not. Well, let me unpack that. The raids will certainly have a negative effect on Isis's operations. The US have already began striking oil fields Isis controls and operates in southern Syria and northern Iraq which is having a crippling effect on Isis's profits. Isis previously made millions by illegally smuggling oil into Turkey to sell on the black market. They're producing substantially less oil now that the US have begun bombing them. Indeed, the US and its allies may very well succeed in destroying Isis but it will be a Pyrrhic victory. Just like it was often said that the British army were the IRA's best recruiting agent, US intervention in the Middle East has similar effect. It can help radicalise people. Isis are a group who came to prominence during the invasion of Iraq. They launched a counter-insurgency against the Americans. While claims that the US "created" Isis are exaggerated, they certainly created the conditions necessary for their birth. 

Let's look at another recent example of US interventionism. Take Yemen. Since the early noughties, the skies of Yemen have been dotted with US drones. They've killed anywhere between 673 and 1022 people. No one knows the exact figure; armies generally aren't the best at counting their victims. These drone strikes target militants but they've also killed anywhere between 88 and 153 civilians in that space of time. Last year, a young Yemeni named Farea al-Muslimi, whose village had been destroyed in a drone strike, appeared before a senate subcommittee on the impact drone strikes have on the general population. Al-Muslimi claimed that Yemenis once had a positive image of America but, since the drone strikes, that perception has altered radically. He commented, ", however, when they think of America, they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hover over their heads, ready to fire missiles at any time." 

This reaction is fairly typical. While it might be easy for Western politicians to justify collateral damage on the grounds that the overall mission was a success, it's less easy for people who have lost family members, friends or homes to accept. Isis might openly claim that their horrific executions of Western journalists is done to dissuade the US from intervening further in the Arab world but that couldn't be further from the truth. They want the US and its allies to continue with their incendiary policies in the Middle East. That way they can engender more sympathy from the wider Muslim world and recruit more young and disenfranchised Arabs. They want a long, dirty ground war. And the US and its allies just might give it to them. 

Another reason proffered for strikes against Isis is to protect the security of Western countries. David Cameron claims that "Isil pose a direct and deadly threat to Britain." Barack Obama has made similar statements regarding Isis's threat to US security. But this is ráiméis. If Obama and Cameron truly cared about the security of their countries they would terminate their inflammatory policy in the Middle East. Western intervention is an undeniable factor in the radicalisation and indoctrination of young Arabs into poisonous groups like Isis. It gives them a reason for existing and a modus operandi. It alienates young Arabs who rightfully view Western governments as aggressors.

Writing this, I do not aim to downplay the awfulness of Isis. They have committed some truly evil crimes. But it is important to 1) Note the West's role in creating the conditions in which Isis can exist and thrive 2) Note that the West's bombing raids will only create new enemies. When a new conflict emerges in the Middle East, people in the West often shrug their shoulders and make a comment something along the lines of, "Ah, sure they're always at that." But it's important to realise that the West's, and in particular the US's, policy in the Middle East is at least partly to blame for so much of the violence we see. And until the Middle East stops being, as Gordon Merriam of the US State Department said way back in 1945, "a stupendous source of strategic power", we're unlikely to see a meaningful shift in this damaging and dividing strategy.

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