Congress backs Obama’s ‘war on Islamic State’

Washington slid further down the slippery slope toward a new major war in Western Asia as Congress voted support for arming and training 5,000 troops from the “moderate opposition” in Syria. Meanwhile the top military brass expressed their skepticism that U.S. goals would be reached without U.S. “boots on the ground.”

“Yes” votes came from both Democrats and Republicans, with the vote 273-156 in the House on Sept. 17 and 78-22 in the Senate the next day, giving President Barack Obama a green light to escalate the war. The House and Senate members pledge to hold a serious debate on the war — but only after the November election.

This desire to avoid discussing war tactics before the election shows that elected officials are aware that voters oppose a war involving massive commitment of U.S. troops. There is a contradiction between the officials’ loyalty toward the U.S. ruling class they serve — who gain from the expansion of U.S. financial and strategic interests — and their need to win votes from the workers — who pay in sweat and blood for those interests.

The pro-war vote was substantial in Congress from both parties. Still, it showed a big change in attitude since before the war against Vietnam. Consider the vote for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution 50 years ago that gave President Lyndon Johnson a blank check to expand the war. That vote was 416-0 in the House and 98-2 in the Senate.

It is remarkable that even the capitalist media bombardment showing U.S. citizens decapitated by Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) agents was unable to arouse the knee-jerk patriotism that existed in the U.S. in 1964. The bitter lessons of the war against Vietnam still reinforce a popular anti-war mood.

No one can expect, however, that mere skepticism and anti-war sentiment will stop the war. Active resistance will be needed.

The generals challenge Obama

Even before the votes in Congress, the Pentagon brass began to challenge the Obama program for carrying out a “war on ISIS.” Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 16, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairperson Gen. Martin Dempsey said his view was that if Obama’s plan was falling short, “then I, of course, would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces.” (New York Times, Sept. 16)

Dempsey’s statement was a direct challenge to Obama’s repeated promises to avoid putting U.S. ground troops back in the region. Obama answered Dempsey the next day at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. “But I want to be clear,” said Obama. “The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission.”

A similar dispute erupted between the White House and the generals in 2009, when Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal pushed for a massive “surge” in U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan, against Obama’s wishes. In the end, Obama sent another 30,000 troops.

Just today, Sept. 22, the New York Times reported a major revamping of the U.S.’s nuclear arsenal, under a president who campaigned for “a nuclear-free world.”

The two examples above make it clear that whatever the program expounded by the White House or whether or not its attitude is sincere, the militarists decide.

Obama’s strategy toward the Islamic State is so filled with contradictions that one can expect it won’t accomplish what the White House promises. As we have shown in previous articles, Washington and its major allies in the region — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Emirates — have armed, funded and tried to use forces like the Islamic State against the more independent and secular governments, as in Afghanistan in the 1980s and those in Libya and Syria more recently.

Can the administration, even if it wants to cut down this self-created enemy, really expect to line up these forces against ISIS?

There is a big question as to whether a “moderate Syrian opposition” even exists. And it seems like a bad joke that this opposition force is being trained in Saudi Arabia, which is the ideological homeland of the al-Qaida ideology.

The only land forces that are seriously fighting the Islamic State in the region are the Syrian government forces — which the U.S. has demonized as an enemy — and Kurdish guerrilla forces from Syria and Turkey, and Hezbollah from Lebanon — all of whom Washington calls “terrorists.”

It seems likely that unless the anti-war movement can stop the U.S. ruling class from trying to impose its will on that region, there may well be an introduction of U.S. ground forces on a massive scale, that is, another costly and disastrous war ofU.S. aggression.