ISIS and Empire Follies

Dennis Loo | September 12, 2014

US policies, and more specifically, its "War on Terror," created ISIS. Obama now proposes to destroy that which US policy created by using the same fundamental logic that created ISIS and which guides the "war on terror." This can only produce a more virulent and widespread response, even more dramatic blowback than 9/11 was.

I say this not because the US government set out to create ISIS and had a hand via covert intel in bringing it into being. It's not that simple. ISIS (or ISIL), however, did come about as an offshoot of al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda in turn was created by the US's policies in Afghanistan when the Russians were occupying Afghanistan in the 1980s. The initial form of al-Qaeda was the mujahideen, which the US government funded and supported, as a counter to the Russian occupation. The mujahideen became al-Qaeda subsequently as a form of "blowback" when the US abandoned them when the specific goal of the Russians leaving Afghanistan was achieved, and when more importantly, the US continued to occupy the holy land of Saudi Arabia (Mecca and Medina) with troops, prop up widely despised dictators in the Arab world, and support Israel in its policies aimed at annihilating the Palestinian people.

For more on blowback, see this beginning to a 2005 Foreign Affairs article (published by the Council on Foreign Relations) by Peter Bergen and Alex Reynolds entitled "Blowback Revisited":

When the United States started sending guns and money to the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, it had a clearly defined Cold War purpose: helping expel the Soviet army, which had invaded Afghanistan in 1979. And so it made sense that once the Afghan jihad forced a Soviet withdrawal a decade later, Washington would lose interest in the rebels. For the international mujahideen drawn to the Afghan conflict, however, the fight was just beginning. They opened new fronts in the name of global jihad and became the spearhead of Islamist terrorism. The seriousness of the blowback became clear to the United States with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center: all of the attack's participants either had served in Afghanistan or were linked to a Brooklyn-based fund-raising organ for the Afghan jihad that was later revealed to be al Qaeda's de facto U.S. headquarters. The blowback, evident in other countries as well, continued to increase in intensity throughout the rest of the decade, culminating on September 11, 2001.

The current war in Iraq will generate a ferocious blowback of its own, which -- as a recent classified CIA assessment predicts -- could be longer and more powerful than that from Afghanistan. Foreign volunteers fighting U.S. troops in Iraq today will find new targets around the world after the war ends. Yet the Bush administration, consumed with managing countless crises in Iraq, has devoted little time to preparing for such long-term consequences. Lieutenant General James Conway, the director of operations on the Joint Staff, admitted as much when he said in June that blowback 'is a concern, but there's not much we can do about it at this point in time.' Judging from the experience of Afghanistan, such thinking is both mistaken and dangerously complacent.

Publications such as Foreign Affairs are where franker and more sophisticated debates go on among those who actually make foreign policy. "Blowback Revisited" is a clear example of this, warning of the wide-ranging ramifications of unintended consequences. 9/11 was the most spectacular example of blowback but a contender for that title now would be the rapid spread of ISIS in Syria and Irag.

As Jill McLaughlin of World Can't Wait pointed out in "Does Reactionary US Imperialist Intervention Actually Stop Islamic Fundamentalist Extremism?":

[I]f we are to look at ISIS objectively we would understand that ISIS was created because of U.S. interventions in that region.

The reason I call Obama's plan "empire follies" is because even by the US government's own standards - i.e., the imperialist logic of defending and expanding their far-flung empire of plunder and domination - Obama's relentless air attacks plus on the ground support from allies will not and cannot work. They will kill many people, both those they are explicitly targeting in ISIS and innocents who they are inevitably going to be mostly killing, and destroy infrastructure that supports people's lives on the ground, and this will produce some losses to ISIS. But any gains in the US's air campaign against ISIS, even leaving aside the far bigger issue of tremendous increased suffering of the masses in Syria and Iraq (and who knows where else), will be far outweighed by the intense hatred against the US that the "war on terror" (including the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the ongoing use of drones to kill thousands, torture, etc.) has generated, directly fueling the rise of even more virulent versions (if that is possible) of religious fundamentalism than ISIS.

ISIS is the logical result of the "war on terror" and the longer-range US policies that morphed into the WOT. If you side with either imperialism or its putative adversary in religious fundamentalism, you end up reinforcing both of them. The only way out of this is to not be drawn into the killing logic of that dynamic and instead see and act clearly on the side that all lives, American and non-American alike, are equally precious.

In his speech yesterday Obama declared: "As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people." In so doing, he is explicitly adopting the Bush Doctrine of elevating security over the defense of the US Constitution, which is in fact the highest duty of the President of the United States, according to the president's official oath of office: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The oath does not say: preserve, protect and defend the security of the American people. It says the Constitution. But I am not here to say that the solution is that the POTUS start doing what he officially says that he's supposed to do. I am merely pointing out the deceit.

The colossus has feet of clay.

The unleashing of the dogs of war on the world by the US will tremendously increase the level of suffering worldwide and will also dramatically generate more disorder, more destruction, more blowback, and more instability in the world. Those who lead us do not have a solution to the whirlwind they are generating. Obama seeks to avoid the Vietnam Syndrome in which the American people in part turned against the war because of mounting casualties by Americans by committing (relatively) few ground troops and using US air power primarily. This is behind his use of drones as well. But as a study by Patricia Sullivan, professor of international affairs at the University of Georgia concluded, "a major power is much more likely to fail when its war aim requires some sort of co-operation on the part of the adversary or the citizens on the ground." Yet this is precisely what the US government is attempting to do. It can only do so since empires operate by a constrained logic. They cannot do what is humanitarian as that contravenes empires' fundamental nature. You do not become an empire by being well-liked and respected. You become and remain an empire through domination, plunder, and terror. The dressing up that Obama and others in the US government and media are giving to this new development is designed to at all costs conceal and obscure that basic truth. But the reality of its policies' consequences will continue to play out unless and until another path is forged by, initially hundreds and thousands, and eventually, millions who declare that "humanity and the planet come first."

Part 2 of this article is here.

Dennis Loo is a member of the Steering Committee of the World Can't Wait. This article was first posted at under the title "Empire Follies."