Twelve Years Later, We Know the Winner in Iraq: Iran

Iran should send America a fruit basket to thank it for setting the stage so perfectly for its ascent.
 

The U.S. is running around in circles in the Middle East, patching together coalitions here, acquiring strange bedfellows there, and in location after location trying to figure out who the enemy of its enemy actually is. The result is just what you’d expect: chaos further undermining whatever’s left of the nations whose frailty birthed the jihadism America is trying to squash.

And in a classic tale of unintended consequences, just about every time Washington has committed another blunder in the Middle East, Iran has stepped in to take advantage. Consider that country the rising power in the region and credit American clumsiness for the new Iranian ascendancy.

Today’s News — and Some History

The U.S. recently concluded air strikes in support of the Iraqi militias that Iran favors as they took back the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State (IS). At the same time, Washington began supplying intelligence and aerial refueling on demand for a Saudi bombing campaign against the militias Iran favors in Yemen. Iran continues to advise and assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington would still like to depose and, as part of its Syrian strategy, continues to supply and direct Hezbollah in Lebanon, a group the U.S. considers a terror outfit.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has successfully negotiated the outlines of an agreement with Iran in which progress on severely constricting its nuclear program would be traded for an eventual lifting of sanctions and the granting of diplomatic recognition. This is sure to further bolster Tehran’s status as a regional power, while weakening long-time American allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.

A clever pundit could undoubtedly paint all of the above as a realpolitik ballet on Washington’s part, but the truth seems so much simpler and more painful. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, U.S. policy in the region has combined confusion on an immense scale with awkward bursts of ill-coordinated and exceedingly short-term acts of expediency. The country that has most benefited is Iran. No place illustrates this better than Iraq.

Iraq Redux (Yet Again)

On April 9, 2003, just over 12 years ago, U.S. troops pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, symbolically marking what George W. Bush hoped was the beginning of a campaign to remake the Middle East in America’s image by bringing not just Iraq but Syria and Iran to heel. And there can be no question that the invasion of Iraq did indeed set events in motion that are still remaking the region in ways once unimaginable.

In the wake of the Iraq invasion and occupation, the Arab Spring blossomed and failed. (The recent Obama administration decision to resume arms exports to the military government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt could be considered its coup de grâce.) Today, fighting ripples through Libya, Syria, Yemen, the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa, and other parts of the Greater Middle East. Terrorists attack in once relatively peaceful places like Tunisia. There is now ade facto independent Kurdistan — last a reality in the sixteenth century — that includes the city of Kirkuk. Previously stable countries have become roiling failed states and home to terrorist groups that didn’t even exist when the U.S. military rolled across the Iraqi border in 2003.

And, of course, 12 years later in Iraq itself the fighting roars on. Who now remembers President Obama declaring victory in 2011 and praising American troops for coming home with their “heads held high”? He seemed then to be washing his hands forever of the pile of sticky brown sand that was Bush’s Iraq. Trillions had been spent, untold lives lost or ruined, but as with Vietnam decades earlier, the U.S. was to move on and not look back. So much for the dream of a successful Pax Americana in the Middle East, but at least it was all over.

You know what happened next. Unlike in Vietnam, Washington did go back, quickly turning a humanitarian gesture in August 2014 to save the Yazidipeople from destruction at the hands of the Islamic State into a full-scale bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq. A coalition of 62 nations was formed. (Where are they all now while the U.S. conducts 85% of all air strikes against IS?)  The tap on a massive arms flow was turned on. The architect of the 2007 “surge” in Iraq and a leaker of top secret documents, retired general and former CIA Director David Petraeus, was brought back in for advice. Twenty-four-seven bombing became the order of the day and several thousand U.S. military advisors returned to familiar bases to retrain some part of an American-created army that had only recently collapsed and abandoned four key northern citiesto Islamic State militants. Iraq War 3.0 was officially underway and many pundits — including me — predicted a steady escalation with the usual quagmire to follow.

Such a result can hardly be ruled out yet, but at the moment it’s as if Barack Obama had stepped to the edge of the Iraqi abyss, peered over, and then shrugged his shoulders. Both his administration and the U.S. military appear content for the moment neither to pull back nor press harder.

The American people seem to feel much the same way. Except in the Republican Congress (and even there in less shrill form than usual), there are few calls for… well, anything. The ongoing air strikes remain “surgical” in domestic politics, if not in Iraq and Syria. Hardly noticed and little reported on here, they have had next to no effect on Americans. Yet they remain sufficient to assure the right wing that the American military is still the best tool to solve problems abroad, while encouraging liberals who want to show that they can be as tough as anyone going into 2016.

At first glance, the American version of Iraq War 3.0 has the feel of the Libyan air intervention — the same lack of concern, that is, for the long game. But Iraq 2015 is no Libya 2011, because this time while America sits back, Iran rises.

Iran Ascendant

The Middle East was ripe for change. Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the last major transformational event in the area was the fall of that classic American stooge, the Shah of Iran, in 1979. Otherwise, many of the thug regimes in power since the 1960s, the height of the Cold War, had stayed in place, and so had most of the borders set even earlier, in the aftermath of World War I.

Iran should send America a fruit basket to thank it for setting the stage so perfectly for its ascent. As a start, in 2003 the United States eliminated Iran’s major border threats: Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to the west and the Taliban in Afghanistan to the east. (The Taliban are back of course, but diligently focused on America’s puppet Afghan government.) The long slog of Washington’s wars in both those countries dulled even the reliably bloodthirsty American public’s taste for yet more of the same, and cooled off Bush-era plans in Tel Aviv and Washington for air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. (After all, if even Vice President Dick Cheney couldn’t pull the trigger on Iran before leaving office in 2008, who in 2015 America is going to do so?)

Better yet for the Iranians, when Saddam was hanged in 2006, they not only lost an enemy who had invaded their country in 1980, launching a bitter waragainst them that didn’t end for eight years, but gained an ally in the new Iraq. As U.S. influence withered away with the failure of the March 2010 Iraqi elections to produce a broadly representative government, Iran stepped in to broker a thoroughly partisan settlement leading to a sectarian Shia government in Baghdad bent on ensuring that the country’s minority Sunni population would remain out of power forever. The Obama administration seemed nearly oblivious to Iran’s gains in Iraq in 2010 — and seems so again in 2015.

Iran in Iraq

In Tikrit, Iranian-led Shia forces recently drove the Islamic State from the city. In charge was Qassem Suleimani, the leader of the Qods Force (a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards), who had previously led the brutally effective efforts of Iranian special forces against U.S. soldiers in Iraq War 2.0. He returned to that country and assembled his own coalition of Shia militias to take Tikrit. All of them have long benefited from Iranian support, as has the increasingly Shia-dominated Iraqi army.

In addition, the Iranians seem to have brought in their own tanks and possibly even ground troops for the assault on the city. They also moved advanced rocket systems into Iraq, the same weapons Hamas has used against Israel in recent conflicts.

Only one thing was lacking: air power. After much hemming and hawing, when it looked like the assault on Tikrit had been blunted by well-dug-in Islamic State fighters in a heavily booby-trapped city, the Obama administration agreed to provide it.

On the U.S. side, the air of desperation around the decision to launch air strikes on Tikrit was palpable. You could feel it, for instance, in this statement by a Pentagon spokesperson almost pleading for the Iraqi government to favor Washington over Tehran: “I think it’s important that the Iraqis understand that what would be most helpful to them is a reliable partner in this fight against IS. Reliable, professional, advanced military capabilities are something that very clearly and very squarely reside with the coalition.”

Imagine if you had told an American soldier — or general — leaving Iraq in 2011 that, just a few years later in the country where he or she had watched friends die, the U.S. would be serving as Iran’s close air support.  Imagine if you had told him that Washington would be helping some of the same Shia militias who planted IEDs to kill Americans go after Sunnis — and essentially begging for the chance to do so. Who would’ve thunk it?

The Limits of Air Power 101

The White House no doubt imagined that U.S. bombs would be seen as the decisive factor in Tikrit and that the sectarian government in Baghdad would naturally come to… What? Like us better than the Iranians?

Bizarre as such a “strategy” might seem on the face of it, it has proven even stranger in practice. The biggest problem with air power is that, while it’s good at breaking things, it isn’t decisive. It cannot determine who moves into the governor’s mansion after the dust settles. Only ground forces can do that, so a victory over the Islamic State in Tikrit, no matter what role air strikes played, can only further empower those Iranian-backed Shia militias. You don’t have to be a military expert to know that this is the nature of air power, which makes it all the more surprising that American strategists seem so blind to it.

As for liking Washington better for its helping hand, there are few signs of that. Baghdad officials have largely been silent on America’s contribution, praising only the “air coverage of the Iraqi air force and the international coalition.” Shia militia forces on the ground have been angered by and scornful of the United States for — as they see it — interfering in their efforts to take Tikrit on their own.

The victory in that city will only increase the government’s reliance on the militias, whom Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi now refers to as “popular volunteers,” rather than the still-limited number of soldiers the Americans have so far been capable of training. (The Pentagon might, by the way, want to see if Iran can pass along any training tips, as their militias, unlike the American-backed Iraqi army, seem to be doing just fine.) That also means that the government will have no choice but to tolerate the Shia militia atrocities and acts of ethnic cleansing that have already taken place in Sunni Tikrit and will surely follow in any other Sunni areas similarly “liberated.” Claims coming out of Washington that the U.S. will be carefully monitoring the acts of Iraqi forces ring increasingly hollow.

What Tikrit has, in fact, done is solidify Iran’s influence over Prime Minister al-Abadi, currently little more than the acting mayor of Baghdad, who claimed the victory in Tikrit as a way to increase his own prestige. The win also allows his Shia-run government to seize control of the ruins of that previously Sunni enclave. And no one should miss the obvious symbolism that lies in the fact that the first major city retaken from the Islamic State in a Sunni area is also the birthplace of Saddam Hussein.

The best the Obama administration can do is watch helplessly as Tehran and Baghdad take their bows. A template has been created for a future in which other Sunni areas, including the country’s second largest city, Mosul, and Sunni cities in Anbar Province will be similarly retaken, perhaps with the help of American air power but almost certainly with little credit to Washington.

Iran in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen

Tehran is now playing a similarly important role in other places where U.S. policy stumbles have left voids, particularly in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.

In Syria, Iranian forces, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Qods Force, and their intelligence services, advise and assist Bashar al-Assad’s military. They also support Hezbollah elements from Lebanon fighting on Assad’s side. At best, Washington is again playing second fiddle, using its air power against the Islamic State and training “moderate” Syrian fighters, the first of whom refusedto even show up for their initial battle.

In Yemen, a U.S.-supported regime, backed by Special Forces advisers and a full-scale drone targeted assassination campaign, recently crumbled. The American Embassy was evacuated in February, the last of those advisers in March. The takeover of the capital, Sana’a, and later significant parts of the rest of the country by the Houthis, a rebel Shiite minority group, represents, in the words of one Foreign Policy writer, “a huge victory for Iran… the Houthis’ decision to tie their fate to Tehran’s regional machinations risks tearing Yemen apart and throwing the country into chaos.”

The panicked Saudis promptly intervened and were quickly backed by the Obama administration’s insertion of the United States in yet another conflict by executive order. Relentless Saudi air strikes (perhaps using some of the $640 million worth of cluster bombs the U.S. sold them last year) are supported by yet another coalition, this time of Sudan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and other Sunni powers in the region. The threat of an invasion, possibly usingEgyptian troops, looms.  The Iranians have moved ships into the area in response to a Saudi naval blockade of Yemen.

No matter what happens, Iran will be strengthened. Either it will find itself in a client relationship with a Houthi movement that has advanced to the Saudi border or, should they be driven back, a chaotic state in Yemen with an ever-strengthening al-Qaeda offshoot. Either outcome would undoubtedly discombobulate the Saudis (and the Americans) and so sit well with Iran.

To make things even livelier in a fragmenting region, Sunni rebels infiltrating from neighboring Pakistan recently killed eight Iranian border guards. This probably represented a retaliatory attack in response to an earlier skirmish in which Iranian Revolutionary Guards killed three suspected Pakistani Sunni militants. Once started, fires do tend to spread.

For those keeping score at home, the Iranians now hold significant positions in three Middle Eastern countries (or at least fragments of former countries) in addition to Iraq.

Iran Ascending and the Nuclear Question

Iran is well positioned to ascend. Geopolitically, alone in the region it is a nation that has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically stable and religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, Iran has seen evolving democratic electoral transitions at the secular level. Politically, history is on Iran’s side. If you set aside the 1953 CIA-backed coup that ousted the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and put the U.S.-backed Shah in power for a quarter of a century, Iran has sorted out its governance on its own for some time.

Somehow, despite decades of sanctions, Iran, with the fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves on the planet, has managed to hold its economy together, selling what oil it can primarily toAsia. It is ready to sell more oil as soon as sanctions lift. It has a decent conventional military by local standards. Its young reportedly yearn for greater engagement with the West. Unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran’s leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one — 36 years ago.

Recently, the U.S., Iran, and the P5 (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) reached a preliminary agreement to significantly constrain that country’s nuclear program and lift sanctions. It appears that both the Obama administration and Tehran are eager to turn it into an official document by the end of June. A deal isn’t a deal until signed on the dotted line, and the congressional Republicans are sharpening their knives, but the intent is clearly there.

To keep the talks on track, by the end of June the Obama administration will have released to the Islamic Republic a total of $11.9 billion in previously frozen assets, dating back to the 1979 Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. In addition to the straight-up flood of cash, the U.S. agreed that Iran may sell $4.2 billion worth of oil, free from any sanctions. The U.S. will also allow Iran approximately $1.5 billion in gold sales, as well as easier access to “humanitarian transactions.” Put another way, someone in Washington wanted this badly enough to pay for it.

For President Obama and his advisers, this agreement is clearly a late grasp (or perhaps last gasp) at legacy building, and maybe even a guilty stab at justifying that 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The urge to etch some kind of foreign policy success into future history books that, at the moment, threaten to be grim reading is easy enough to understand. So it should have surprised no one that John Kerry, Obama’s once globetrotting secretary of state, basically took up residence in Switzerland to negotiate with the Iranians. He sat at the table in Lausanne bargaining while Tikrit burned, Syria simmered, his country was chased out of Yemen, and the Saudis launched their own war in that beleaguered country. That he had hardly a word to say about any of those events, or much of anything else going on in the world at the time, is an indication of just how much value the Obama administration puts on those nuclear negotiations.

For the Iranians, trading progress on developing nuclear weapons for the full-scale lifting of sanctions was an attractive offer. After all, its leaders know that the country could never go fully nuclear without ensuring devastating Israeli strikes, and so lost little with the present agreement while gaining much. Being accepted as a peer by Washington in such negotiations only further establishes their country’s status as a regional power. Moreover, a nuclear agreement that widens any rift between the U.S., Israel, and the Saudis plays to Tehran’s new strength. Finally, the stronger economy likely to blossom once sanctions are lifted will offer the nation the possibility of new revenues and renewed foreign investment. (It’s easy to imagine Chinese businesspeople on Orbitz making air reservations as you read this.) The big winner in the nuclear deal is not difficult to suss out.

What Lies Ahead

In these last months, despite the angry, fearful cries and demands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Saudi royals, and neo- and other conservatives in Congress, Iran has shown few signs of aspiring to the sort of self-destruction going nuclear would entail. (If Iran had created a bomb every time Netanyahu claimed they were on the verge of having one in the past two decades, Tehran would be littered with them.) In fact, trading mushroom clouds with Israel and possibly the U.S. never looked like an appealing goal to the Iranian leadership. Instead, they preferred to seek a more conventional kind of influence throughout the Middle East. They were hardly alone in that, but their success has been singular in the region in these years.

The U.S. provided free tutorials in Afghanistan and Iraq on why actually occupying territory in the neighborhood isn’t the road to such influence. Iran’s leaders have not ignored the advice. Instead, Iran’s rise has been stoked by a collection of client states, aligned governments, sympathetic and/or beholden militias, and — when all else fails — chaotic non-states that promise less trouble and harm to Tehran than to its various potential enemies.

Despite Iran’s gains, the U.S. will still be the biggest kid on the block for years, possibly decades, to come. One hopes that America will not use that military and economic strength to lash out at the new regional power it inadvertently helped midwife. And if any of this does presage some future U.S. conflict with an Iran that has gotten “too powerful,” then we shall have witnessed a great irony, a great tragedy, and a damn waste of American blood and resources

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Sixty Percent of Global Drone Exports Come from Israel

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Drones developed by the Israeli firm Elbit have been tested in attacks on Gaza’s children. (Flickr)

Israel has supplied 60.7 percent of the world’s drones since 1985, according to new data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

As a result, Israel is the single greatest source of drone proliferation in the world.

In second place is the United States, which accounts for 23.9 percent of global drone exports, followed by Canada at 6.4 percent, France at 1.6 percent, Austria at 1.4 percent, Italy at 1.1 percent, Germany at 1 percent and China at 0.9 percent.

Conversely, the United Kingdom is the world’s number one importer of drones. Between 2010 and 2014, the UK bought 55 drones from Israel and six armed drones from the US, which accounted for one third of global drone deliveries in that time period.

The vast majority of the drone market is comprised of surveillance drones,

The US, UK and Israel are the only countries in the world known to have used armed drones, deployed exclusively against nonwhite predominantly Muslim populations in nations and territories that have been pillaged and destroyed by Western conquest.

The besieged Gaza Strip has served as the leading testing ground for both armed and surveillance drones.

Tested on Palestinians

Over the last decade, Israel’s use of robotic warfare against Palestinians has escalated dramatically, with each new military assault on Gaza relying more heavily on drones than the last.

Last summer, Israel’s 51-day bombing campaign against Gaza killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, including more than 500 children.

Based on data collected by the Al Mezan Center for Human rights, a Corporate Watchinvestigation found that at least 37 percent of those killed, or 840 people, died in drone strikes alone.

Corporate Watch chart of drone deaths in Gaza by year.

Lost in the numbers is the psychological terror inflicted on the people of the Gaza ghetto, especially children, by the constant presence of drones buzzing overhead with the capacity to rain death on those below at any moment.

This has been wildly lucrative for Israeli arms companies, which exploit Israel’s frequent military assaults as opportunities to expedite the testing of their products on human subjects.

Easy access to a captive Palestinian population to experiment on allows Israeli arms producers to market their products as “combat proven,” a coveted seal of approval that gives Israel a competitive edge in the international arms trade. Israel’s repression technology is then exported to regimes that are similarly invested in subjugating the poor and marginalized.

This dystopian arrangement has paved the way for Israel, a country the size of New Jersey, to rank among the globe’s top arms exporters.

A case in point is Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest military technology firm, which produces85 percent of the drones that make up the Israeli army’s vast arsenal.

The Hermes 900, a drone manufactured by Elbit, was deployed operationally for the first time against Palestinians in Gaza last summer, even though it was still undergoing testing. Nicknamed the Kochav — which is Hebrew for “star” — the Hermes 900’s blood-soaked performance garnered widespread praise at Israel’s annual drone conference, held less than a month after the Gaza slaughter.

The Hermes 900 is a more advanced version of the Hermes 450, an aerial attack and surveillance drone that was used by the Israeli army to deliberately target civilians in Gaza during Israel’s previous onslaught in late 2008 and early 2009, according to Human Rights Watch.

The Hermes drone was also used to kill civilians in Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006, including Red Cross workers, ambulance drivers and dozens of people fleeing their homes in a desperate search for safety from Israeli bombardment.

Marketed in the company brochure as “combat-proven” and “Fighting terror for over a decade,” the Hermes 450 boasts “a class-leading safety and reliability record.”

Apparently impressed by the aircraft’s capacity for bloodshed, the Brazilian government purchased a fleet of Hermes drones to help crush the massive protests that erupted across Brazil against the 2014 World Cup.

Thales UK — a subsidiary of the French company, Thales, which is ranked as theeleventh largest arms producer in the world — signed a $1.6 billion joint venture with Elbit Systems in 2011 to develop a new drone fleet called Watchkeeper for the British military.

The Watchkeeper is being modeled on the Hermes 450, which has been deployed by the British army in Afghanistan.

Elbit might be Israel’s largest drone producer, but it’s hardly the only Israeli company selling equipment tested on Palestinians to regimes around the world.

According to an investigation by Drones UK, Israel has exported drone technology to at least fifty different countries, enabling atrocities and fueling war.

With America’s blessing, Israel sold drones and fighter jets to Sri Lanka, which were used to commit atrocities against Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamil minority.

South Korea recently purchased the Heron drone, which is produced by Israel Aerospace Industries and has been deployed for surveillance and target acquisition in Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Gaza.

In addition to helping crush World Cup protests, Israeli drones have been used by Brazilian police to invade the nation’s favelas.

In certain instances, Israel has sold drones to both sides in a given conflict. Both Russia and Georgia — between whom a conflict took place in 2008 — were armed with Israeli drones. Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have reportedly both  used Israeli drones.

Meanwhile, Israel’s drone exports to India have provoked a drone “arms race” with neighboring Pakistan, according to the organization Drones UK.

Israel invented drones

Israel was instrumental in pioneering the modern drone due largely to the ideology at its core.

Israel’s creation as a majority Jewish state was precipitated by the pre-meditated ethnic cleansing of 750,000 indigenous Palestinians by Zionist militias in 1948 — which Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or catastrophe. Israel has spent every day since then consolidating and expanding its Jewish majority in historic Palestine, which has required tremendous levels of violence, including the ongoing containment and exclusion of the native Palestinian inhabitants still under its control.

The Israeli economy has been built around advancing this goal, giving rise to a booming “homeland security” industry that caters to the designs of Zionism and then repackages occupation-style repression for export and profit.

Drone technology has been crucial to this endeavor.

After suffering heavy losses in its 1973 war with Egypt, the Israeli regime, for the first time in its existence, was met with backlash from an Israeli Jewish public unaccustomed to high soldier casualties.

It was in the aftermath of the 1973 war that the Israeli government began investingheavily in drone technology, minimizing the risk to its soldiers, effectively pacifying future opposition to endless war, expansion and conquest.

Israel Aerospace Industries, known as Israel Aircraft Industries at the time, and the Israeli company Tadiran were tasked with designing drones for real-time intelligence collection in the occupied Sinai.

Soon enough, IAI invented the Scout drone, which was deployed in 1982 to coordinate targeting during Israel’s deadly invasion of Lebanon. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Israel tested and refined a variety of drones on the people of southern Lebanon in an attempt to crush armed resistance to its occupation. With each operation came another wave of advancements in drone technology.

With the start of the second intifada and Israel’s forced withdraw from southern Lebanon in 2000, the occupied West Bank and Gaza became Israel’s primary testing grounds for drone warfare.

Israeli drones provided hidden attack helicopters with coordinates to fire on during Israel’s ruthless 2002 attack on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. As early as2004, Israeli drones were raining down missiles on the Gaza Strip in targeted assassinations of Palestinians fighters.

Though the US started utilizing and investing in drone technology before Israel, Israel was always one step ahead.

It’s no coincidence that Abraham Karem, an Israeli citizen, designed the Predator drone, which has been deployed by the US military and the CIA to carry out targeted assassinations that have left hundreds of innocent people dead. The Iraqi-born Karem received a degree in aeronautical engineering at the Haifa-based Israel Institute of Technology — better known as the Technion —  and got his start at IAI before immigrating to the US after he was blackballed by the Israeli government for starting his own drone company.

Today, Gaza is surrounded with Israeli drones by air, land and sea.

In addition to the surveillance drones that hover overhead, the walls of the Gaza cage will soon be reinforced by Border Patroller, an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), or land drone, armed with remote-controlled weapons. Designed by the Israeli company G-NIUS, a joint venture between Elbit Systems and IAI, the Border Patroller, like the walls it fortifies, will prevent the Palestinian refugees of Gaza from escaping their cage.

The Protector, produced by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, is an unmanned sea vehicle (USV), or boat drone, that roams Gaza’s coast to obstruct Palestinian fishermen from making a living.

If the proliferation of Israel’s aerial drones is any indication, it won’t be long before land and sea drones spread to all corners of the globe.

As long as Israel’s economy is shaped by the subjugation and elimination of Palestinians, it will continue to function as a factory for cutting-edge repression technology that sustains racism and inequality around the globe.

Germans Riot Over Central Banks

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In Frankfurt Germany, over 10,000 people were expected to join anti-austerity protests during the inauguration ceremony of the European Central Bank’s new headquarters in Frankfurt. The protestors are part of the Blockupy Alliance.

During the demonstration, riots erupted which resulted in police cars being destroyed, fire crackers being thrown into the street, one police officer was injured via thrown stones and “street wars” as well. Over 8,000 police in riot gear were deployed to control the protestors and reportedly 500 demonstrators were arrested by the police officers.

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Police were forced to put up barricades and barbed wire around the ECB bank’s headquarters, the ECB also said they would operate normally during the protests, although some workers would work from home.

In June 2014, Luke Rudkowski went to Berlin, Germany to meet the anti-Federal-Reserve groups who demonstrate against the banks on a weekly basis. Could the Frankfurt group be the foretelling of more to come?

ACLU files new lawsuit over Obama administration drone ‘kill list’

Top civil liberties group calls for greater transparency regarding ‘targeted killing program’ and how officials handle possibility of civilian deaths

Boys gather near the wreckage of car destroyed last year by a US drone air strike targeting suspected al Qaeda militants in the southeastern Yemeni province of Shabwa in 2013.
Boys gather near the wreckage of car destroyed last year by a US drone air strike targeting suspected al Qaeda militants in the southeastern Yemeni province of Shabwa in 2013. Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

As the US debates expanding its campaign against the Islamic State beyond Iraq and Syria, the leading US civil liberties group is intensifying its efforts to force transparency about lethal US counterterrorism strikes and authorities.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will file a disclosure lawsuit for secret Obama administration documents specifying, among other things, the criteria for placement on the so-called “kill list” for drone strikes and other deadly force.

Information sought by the ACLU includes long-secret analyses establishing the legal basis for what the administration terms its “targeted killing program” and the process by which the administration determines that civilians are unlikely to be killed before launching a strike, as well as verification mechanisms afterward to establish if the strike in fact has caused civilian deaths.

The suit, to be filed in a New York federal court, also seeks basic data the Obama administration has withheld about “the number and identities of individuals killed or injured” in counterterrorism strikes, according to the ACLU filing. In February 2013, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who favors the drone strikes, estimated they had killed 4,700 people.

“Over the last few years, the US government has used armed drones to kill thousands of people, including hundreds of civilians. The public should know who the government is killing, and why it’s killing them,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the ACLU, told the Guardian.

The ACLU suit proceeds after the Obama administration disclosed none of the lethal counterterrorism documentation through a Freedom of Information Act request the civil liberties group launched in October 2013. According to the new lawsuit, the departments of state, justice and defense, as well as the CIA, have stonewalled the ACLU’s requests for nearly 18 months.

Recent legal history suggests the ACLU is in for an uphill court struggle. The Obama administration, which has called itself the most transparent in history, has thus far repelled or delayed ACLU lawsuits for disclosure around drone strikes and the 2011 assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen and al-Qaida propagandist. Additionally, the administration is fighting the ACLU on the legality of its bulk surveillance activities and to prevent the release of thousands of graphic photographs detailing Bush-era torture by the CIA and military.

Yet the administration has seen the courts chip away at its blanket denials of documents sought by the ACLU. Most of the intelligence community’s disclosures of surveillance memos since Edward Snowden’s revelations have followed the administration’s courtroom losses to the ACLU and other civil-liberties groups. In June, the second circuit court of appeals forced the Department of Justice to release much of a critical 2010 memo blessing the killing of Awlaki. (The ACLU is seeking the release of 10 more major intelligence memos related to targeted killing.)

Colleen McMahon, the federal judge who initially denied that memo’s release in 2013, ruled against the ACLU with regret, writing that loopholes in transparency laws benefitting the government left her “stuck in a paradoxical situation” that she likened to Alice in Wonderland. Since the new lethal-force lawsuit is related to the Awlaki one, McMahon may be the federal judge who hears it.

The new ACLU suit seeks to pierce the veneer of assurances by President Obama that the drone strikes and other lethal counterterrorism practices his administration has embraced have been restricted.

Obama announced he was raising the still-undisclosed standards for launching drone strikes in May 2013 and insisting on “strong oversight of all lethal action”. He said future strikes would require “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured”.

His White House portrayed the acknowledgment of the strikes as a transparency milestone, but the administration still refused to disclose the processes and legal memoranda underpinning the speech.

While estimates indicate that the drone strikes, launched by both the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, have declined since Obama’s speech, a November report by the human-rights group Reprieve found that Obama’s drone strikes had killed 1,147 people in pursuit of only 41 men, prompting questions about the rigor of the process employed by the administration to launch attacks.

Obama’s 2013 speech and the drone-strike decline also occurred before the 2014 rise of the Islamic State and the renewed US war in the skies over Iraq. Not only are Predator and Reaper drones used in airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, but the administration’s desired legal authorization against Isis would permit global targeting of the jihadist army and its far-flung affiliates – which now include Boko Haram in Nigeria as well as allies in Libya, the Sinai peninsula and beyond.

That authorization “wisely does not include any geographical restriction”, argued the new defense secretary, Ashton Carter, in congressional testimony last week, “because [Isis] already shows signs of metastasizing outside of Syria and Iraq”.

Jaffer told the Guardian there could be no “legitimate justification” for persistent official stonewalling on civilian casualties and the procedures by which people, including US citizens, can find themselves on a secret government “kill list”.

“The categorical secrecy surrounding the drone program doesn’t serve any legitimate security interest. It serves only to skew public debate, to obscure the human costs of the program, and to shield decision-makers from accountability,” Jaffer said.

The #1 Threat to Peace in the World — It’s U.S.

World polling is unanimous on this point: The US is behind an arc of violence stretching from Latin America to the Middle East.

The highly controversial speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s to Congress had one purpose: to convince U.S. officials and the Israeli and American public that Iran and its nuclear energy program poses a dire threat. “Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world,” Netanyahu said.

The U.S. Congress certainly agrees with Netanyahu. But much of the rest of the world thinks Iran has a right to enrich uranium, which is at the heart of the dispute between the U.S. and Israel and Iran. More importantly, the rest of the globe thinks the United States is the biggest threat to peace. In early 2014,Gallup International/WIN released its annual global survey based on research conducted the previous year. The most striking statistic was that 24 percent of people around the world believe that the U.S. poses the greatest threat to peace. The runners-up were far behind: eight percent of respondents thought Pakistan was the greatest threat, while six percent thought it was China. And only five percent of those surveyed thought Iran was a threat to world peace. The numbers are based on interviews with 1,000 people in 65 different nations. (The survey published this year did not contain the same question.)

Those numbers are an important window into how the rest of the world views U.S. foreign policy—a view in stark contrast to how Americans think of themselves. The end of WWII marked the beginning of the U.S.’ superpower status. Since 1945, the U.S. government has meddled, intervened, overthrown and/or invaded the governments of dozens of foreign countries. U.S. actions have created an arc of violence and chaos stretching from Latin America to the Middle East and beyond.

In the Cold War era, this intervention was justified by the threat of communism. In 1954, the CIA colluded with right-wing Guatemalans to overthrow the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz. In subsequent decades, the right-wing leaders of Guatemala waged a vicious campaign against leftist opponents, resulting in what many consider to be a genocide in which hundreds of thousands of people died. (In 2013, a Guatemalan court ruled that U.S.-backed General Rios Montt, the former leader of the country, was guilty of genocide for his role in the killings of 1,700 indigenous people. The ruling was overturned 10 days after the conviction on procedural grounds.)

In 1961, the CIA tried, and failed, to overthrow the Cuban government, which underwent a communist revolution in the 1950s. And in 1973, the U.S. backed the overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende, which ushered in a brutal dictatorship run by General Augusto Pinochet. By the time Pinochet’s reign was over, he had killed at least 4,000 people and tortured tens of thousands.

The contemporary era has been marked by the U.S. “war on terror.” After the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration embarked on a violent war that destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq. Thousands of civilians were killed by the U.S. military, and thousands more as a result of the power vacuum and chaos that arose in those states after the U.S. deposed Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. Concurrently, the Bush administration implemented a global torture regime with the help of dozens of other countries. The CIA and U.S. military systematically tortured hundreds of people, many of them innocent of any serious crime. The Obama administration’s drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen have further destabilized those nations and killed hundreds of civilians while enraging the local population.

Another striking statistic from the Gallup International/WIN poll is the country that most fears the U.S.: Russia. Fifty-four percent of Russians told the pollsters that the U.S. is the biggest threat to global peace. This feeling is rooted in a real fear of NATO expansionism, a fear that has only increased since the start of the Western-Russian conflict over Ukraine. As John Mearsheimer wrote in Foreign Affairs last year, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO—composed of the U.S. and European allies—has steadily crept eastward in Europe toward Russia. NATO came to encompass states like Poland, the Czech Republic and Latvia. NATO had designs on states even closer to Russia, Georgia and Ukraine, though those two countries never formally joined NATO.

This naturally raised tensions with Russia. And so when the pro-Russian leader of Ukraine was deposed, a move backed by the West, Russian leader Vladimir Putin exploited the opportunity to invade Crimea, setting up an explosive new conflict with the U.S. and Europe. Now there is real fear of an escalation of the war in Ukraine.

No wonder Russians view the U.S. unfavorably. Nor is it surprising that the rest of the world, which witnessed the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, continues to see the U.S. as a threat to peace.

So when Netanyahu and his congressional allies crow that Iran is the biggest threat to the world’s peace and security, the rest of the world snickers. The world will continue to see the U.S. as a threat as long as it continues its aggressive interventionism around the globe.

FAA Won’t Allow Drone Users To Post On Youtube

Gadget Show

The Federal Aviation Administration has limited drone usage in the past, but now it seems that simply posting your drone footage on Youtube will be restricted.

Whether shooting down Amazon’s attempt at drone delivery service or sending cease-and-desist letters to many commercial drone users – limiting drone use is nothing new to the FAA. Jayson Hanes, a Tampa-based drone hobbyist has been sent a letter by the FAA to end “commercial” use of his drone. How was he “commercially” using his drone? By posting his videos on Youtube – with ads.

A segment of the letter read …

“This office has received a complaint regarding your use of an unmanned aerial vehicle (aka drone) for commercial purposes referencing your video on the website youtube.com as evidence … After a review of your website, it does appear that the complaint is valid.”

So, if someone is “commercially” using a drone – just by posting videos on Youtube, where is the line in the sand? What if a news agency takes someone’s drone footage and runs it with ads? Is that person still liable? The FAA has full legal ability to send letters to drone users if they are flying in an unsafe manner, but Haynes’ case demonstrates that the FAA has an agenda to regulate drones in an unspecified manner. One also has to ask – what are they going to do to the thousands of other drone users who post on Youtube? Also, as civilians are being limited in drone usage, police departments are being given access to use them in investigations.

This may have opened the door to a regulation nightmare.

https://www.scribd.com/embeds/258492727/content

Keeping the Middle East Safe for Profit-Makers: Obama’s New “War on Terrorism”

by JEFF MACKLER

In a short-lived but well-crafted move aimed at hyping President Obama’s credentials as a reasonable and democratic warmaker in mid-February the president submitted a resolution to Congress requesting  “authorization for use of force” to proceed full tilt with his administration’s now worldwide “war on [Islamic] terrorism.” At first glance, what struck his contentious co-warrior Republican “adversaries” as strange was that the president appeared to be exercising a bit of self-restraint in limiting his request to three years, not to mention his asking permission from Congress itself to make yet another war, but this time on a global basis and not directly against any particular nation.

Obama sought to contrast his “democratic” (let Congress decide rather than the president) and time-limited approach to war making to the previous Bush administration’s request for blanket or unlimited authority to pursue terrorists everywhere. As expected, in the circus-like atmosphere that characterizes congressional debate, Republicans beat the war drums even louder – attacking Obama for limiting his war  and thus future president’s unlimited war-making powers to just three years. But the media-promoted sound and fury attendant to the debate rapidly subsided when it was revealed that Obama’s purported self-imposed limitations were a fraud. The Feb. 26 New York Times noted, “Mr. Obama did not ask Congress to repeal a 2001 [Bush-era] measure authorizing force against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, which would mean that he would still have wide discretion to wage war.”

Congressional approval of Obama’s legacy-burnishing gesture amounted to rubber stamping what he has been doing for the past six months and longer, including bombing Islamic State forces (ISIS or ISIL), or any other organization that the administration deemed terrorist, in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, across Africa, and far beyond.

With this in mind the heated Capitol Hill debate faded into oblivion as the bi-partisan warmakers fully understood that U.S. imperialism recognizes no limits to its capacity to proceed with wars anywhere and everywhere in pursuit of power, profit and global domination. Indeed, overt and covert wars, drone wars, privatized army wars, embargo, blockade and sanction wars and U.S.-engineered coups and assassinations are the norm among U.S. imperialism’s top decision-making oligarchical elite – the .0001 percent. Presidents, whether they be Obama-bright or Bush-not-so-bright, as well as posturing politicians of all capitalist parties are mere agents, coated with a democratic veneer but pledged far in advance to fealty to capitalism’s exploits everywhere.

Revving up for new wars for profit, the month of February featured near daily front-page headlines recounting horrific terrorist attacks and the rapid growth of ISIS. On the heels of the terror bombing of France’s Islamophobic “satirical” Charlie Hebdo magazine, after which 50 heads of state marched through the streets of Paris with more than 1.5 million mis-led people enthrall, one after another of the world’s top leaders declared their allegiance to this new war against “Islamic terrorism.”

The scene was set for the U.S. to take the lead in this effort. But before bombing “terrorists” around the world with impunity, Obama, the outwardly restrained and cool-headed U.S. imperial head of state, made sure that his planned warmaking was not perceived as directed at Arabs or Muslims or Islam – at least in the U.S.

His mid-February a high-profile three-day White House meeting on “Countering Violent Extremism,” attended by representatives of 60 nations, heard the president state, “Labeling noxious beliefs and mass murder as ‘Islamic’ would play right into the hands of terrorists who claim that the United States is at war with Islam itself.”

Nevertheless, a number of U.S.-based human right groups boycotted the meeting, including the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Coalition, whose spokesperson, “Samer Khalaf noted, “This focus only on Arabs or Muslims reinforces the stereotype of Arab and Muslim Americans as security threats and thus perpetuates hatred of the respective communities.”

Khalaf was undoubtedly referring to the 700,000 Muslim-Americans who had been subjected to FBI or NSA interrogation, surveillance and/or arrest, not to mention provocateur infiltration of mosques, frame-up trials and groundless convictions based on secret testimony of unnamed individuals or government institutions. As with the “great deporter’s” 1.5 million immigrants thrown out of the country and/or imprisoned in border detention camps, the president’s capacity to square words with deeds has not gone unnoticed by his victims, rhetoric notwithstanding.

The president’s disclaimers aside the screaming headlines recounting recent horrific attacks on Danish, Jordanian, Egyptian and French citizens as well as alleged terrorists ever mobilizing to join ISIS from England, the U.S., Egypt and elsewhere consistently lack historical or present day context.

The Jordanian pilot shot down and beheaded by ISIS, for example, was flying a U.S. aircraft to launch deadly missiles in Iraq to advance U.S. imperial interests. Denmark too, voted war credits to aid the U.S. slaughter. It’s pilots fly U.S.-made F-18 fighter jets that bring death and destruction to Iraq and Syria. When a dozen Assyrian Christian laborers in Libya were murdered by ISIS forces, Egypt retaliated by destroying major parts of the western Libyan city of Derna. Need we recall that the present U.S.-backed general, now President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his coup government removed Egypt’s elected president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and proceeded to slaughter an estimated 12,000 Muslim Brotherhood followers.

In the same vein, but earlier, the U.S.-NATO “humanitarian war” in Libya, that destroyed that nation’s infrastructure and murdered countless thousands, ended in chaos with Libya degenerating into innumerable warring factions, secular and otherwise, backed by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and other predators vying for Libya’s significant oil reserves. President Obama cynically noted last year, “We made a mistake in Libya. We didn’t have a plan for the day after.”! Obama failed to mention that the U.S. and its allies handpicked the entire Libyan Transitional National Council and assigned it to “govern” that stricken nation.

Similarly, following the U.S. invasion, destruction and occupation of Iraq, U.S. diplomat Paul Bremer was appointed by President Bush as head of state – the supreme authority – to govern that conquered nation until the new Nouri al-Maliki regime [since deposed under U.S. pressure] could be installed in elections supervised by the U.S. military. The Maliki regime proceed to hound and persecute Iraq’s Sunni minority while stealing Iraq’s resources for its own business elite – with the largest cut to U.S. oil corporations to be sure.

Times are tough for the U.S. behemoth when its trusted allies, as with the Saudi monarchy, are implicated in the infamous 2001 bombing of the World Trade Center. The Feb. 5, NYT couldn’t resist pointing to the still classified 28 pages of a 2002 Senate Intelligence Committee report on the 9-11 bombing that pointed to “high level Saudi government funding” of the al-Qaeda bombers, the large majority of whom were Saudi citizens. Massachusetts House Democrat Stephen Lynch unsuccessfully placed a motion on the Senate floor to declassify these 28 pages of the government’s 2002 9-11 bombing report. George Bush ordered this embarrassing material classified. President Obama today concurs. Senator Bob Graham of Florida, who then chaired the Senate intelligence Committee, observed recently that the classified material “pointed a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier of 9-11.”

One congressional observer noted, “Proponents of releasing [the 28 page] Part 4, titled, ‘Findings, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain National Security Matters,’ suggested that the Bush and Obama administrations have held it back for fear of alienating an influential military and economic partner rather than for any national security considerations.” This astonishing statement and the emerging evidence that the Saudis were key funders of the 9-11 bombing blows a gaping hole in the entire U.S. rationale for waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq – a war that has taken the lives of more than a million innocents – a war that was launched under a mountain of lies! Yet in the twisted logic of the U.S.’s non-religious “caliphate” the truth is subordinate to the needs of the .0001 percent – the unbridled and real leaders of the U.S. “Empire.”

Saudi Arabia, with the world’s largest oil reserves and a dominant player in setting the world price of oil, is no newcomer to political intrigue. Its elite and top level business moguls, if not the government itself, were central to the organization, financing and political orientation of ISIS. The Sunni-based Saudis, with their own policy objectives driving their actions, saw ISIS as critical to their efforts to remove the Assad government of Syria and simultaneously weaken Syria’s Iranian ally. U.S. intelligence agencies originally calculated that Syria’s government could be brought down with the small group of defecting Syrian officers coupled with “moderate rebels” consisting of secular and “reliable” sectarian forces that the U.S. organized into the so-called Free Syrian Army – today less than a bit player in the present civil war.

As with Libya, the Obama administration openly orchestrated through a series of meetings in Turkey with Secretary of State John Kerry present, a coalition of these forces to serve as Syria’s post-Assad government. In the end, a combination of both ISIS, a rival, (the one-time Al Qaeda-affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra or the the al-Nusra Front), combined to fight Assad, only to later turn their attention, at least in part, to fighting the U.S.-installed Iraqi government. Such are the exigencies of imperialist war, wherein no alliance is permanent and minor players, like the Saudis and their monarchial allies in the Middle East, as with Zionist Israel, at times and within limits, pursue their own interests separate and apart from the U.S.

Another case in point might be the Saudi refusal to raise the world market price of oil based on it’s intention to undermine the use of the more expensive fracking extraction for natural gas under in the U.S. and elsewhere.

With regard to the Middle East’s multi-billionaire monarchs or the U.S. trillionaire oligarchs (ruling class) no tactic, however heinous, is excluded in the pursuit of profit.

New light on sarin gas

The Feb. 16, NYT headline, “CIA IS Said to Have Bought And Destroyed Chemical Weapons” is instructive with regard to shedding additional light on the likely false flag accusations launched by Obama to justify the direct and massive bombing of Syria. The Times reported that the CIA and associated U.S. military intelligence groups in Iraq, during their 2005-2006 occupation, surreptitiously purchased rockets containing sarin gas from an Iraqi arms dealer – weapons supposedly destroyed by the U.S. but some at least “unaccounted for.” These were weapons built by the Saddam Hussein government during the ten-year Iran-Iraq War during which time the U.S. touted Saddam as its trusted ally and armed the Iraqi government to the teeth as it pursued its efforts to demonized and overthrow the Iranian government that in Iran’s 1979 revolution removed the U.S.-installed regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi. The Iranian government at that time nationalized the nation’s oil resources that were previously largely under the domain of U.S. and British imperialist oil corporations.

Last year, the Obama administration went to the Congress seeking authorization for war against Syria on the “proof positive” grounds that President Assad has crossed Obama’s “red line” and used sarin gas against his opponents. The majority of the U.S. population stood opposed to Obama in this move as did most of its European allies. At that time this newspaper presented significant evidence based on the reports of Pulitzer Prize investigative journalist Seymour Hirsch countering Obama’s sarin gas claim. The world’s people had come to be wary regarding U.S. claims of its enemies possessing “weapon of mass destruction,” especially following the U.S. occupation of Iraq, where none of the latter had been found. The revelation that the CIA was in sole possession of sarin gas rockets further undermines Obama’s motivation for yet another U.S. ground-troop and saturation bombing war in the Middle East.

To buttress a further escalation of U.S. war moves, the Feb. 15 NYTheadlined information received from U.S. intelligence sources regarding the scope of ISIS operations. The Times headline and subheads read: “Islamic State sprouting limbs – Groups Form in Africa – With New Assessment Some in U.S. Fear Unending War.”

The article estimated that ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria numbered some “20,000 to 31,500.” With this data in mind and accompanied by the daily demonization of ISIS, imperialism’s solution aimed at intensifying the bombings of Iraq by its “coalition partners” while once again sending unknown numbers of “advisers” to lead and direct ground operations by the Iraqi Army and associated Iraqi Kurdish forces for a ground assault on Tikrit (with the leadership and support of Iranian militias!) and then on to Iraq’s second largest city – ISIS-occupied Mosul.

The engagement of U.S. imperialist allies is seen as a critical element in this effort. The essentially collaborating Iranians, yesterday demonized as an emerging nuclear threat, are a political embarrassment but seen as necessary to buttress the weak Iraqi army, currently being “re-trained” yet again by U.S. advisers.

But the pressure to engage in air strikes in Iraq,  the world’s great imperial powers continues.  Last week, for example, an unusual report prepared by a sub-committee of England’s House of Lords scored the British government for flying only a paltry 3-4 percent of the air strikes launched against ISIS. The French, in contrast, a few months ago, sent a fighter plane loaded aircraft carrier to Iraq to do its “duty” to its coalition partners.

Referring to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s declaration last year that ISIS sought to become a caliphate (religious state) formed in the tradition of the prophet Mohammed, who died in 632, one blustering congressman retorted,  “If they want a caliphate we’ll bomb them back to the stone age”

Those who demonize ISIS always fail to mention present day religious-based Middle Eastern monarchies allied with the U.S., including the Saudi billionaire monarchs whose record of beheadings – a routine punishment there at close to 100 yearly – make ISIS’s atrocities seem inconsequential by comparison. Indeed, if one considers the hundreds of thousands, or better millions, slaughtered with the world’s most sophisticated weapons of mass destruction under the direction of the U.S. and its allies, ISIS’s actions amount to a proverbial drop in the bucket.

While ISIS’s reactionary views and practices can never serve as a model for any serious challenge to imperialist arrogance and mass murder, serious activists must understand that its origins stem from the policies and practices of U.S.  imperialism and allied reactionary capitalist forces in the Middle East. We heard no objections to ISIS’s methods when its Saudi-provided weapons were aimed at the Syrian government, with U.S. knowledge, if not consent. Similarly, there were no voices raised when the “terrorist” al-Qaeda-associated forces aimed to bring down the Assad government.

Undoubtedly, the U.S. government knows no ideological limitations when it comes to allies, including its support for the neo-fascist-led coup in Ukraine that aimed to ally that nation with the European Union and U.S. imperialism. Need we mention the bloody dictators around the world who were and continue to be armed and financed by the U.S. under literally every administration for over a century?

ISIS’s appeal today can best be explained by the failure of previous mass movements that headed, in a distorted and inadequate manner, national liberation struggles. These included the national liberation struggles of decades past across Africa and the Middle East where victorious bourgeois nationalist parties, while ending overt colonial rule, remained capitalist states that defended capitalist property and power as against the interests of the masses who were the motor force fighting foreign rule.

ISIS today, as well as a growing number of reactionary forces around the world, including the rising far right parties across Europe, India and elsewhere, is tragically the product of the failure of all previous efforts to reform capitalism rather than struggle for its abolition. In times of great economic and social stress, as with the present super austerity conditions attendant to the world capitalist economic crisis, revolutionary forces are presented with new opportunities to coalesce the growing discontent into significant revolutionary parties and associated formations. But the same holds true, as history tragically demonstrates, for reactionary elements to gain a hearing by employing populist-sounding rhetoric and/or appeals to religious fundamentalist conceptions that promise salvation from oppression but always in the framework of continued capitalist exploitation.

Today U.S. imperialism is orchestrating a major military offensive to reverse ISIS’s territorial gains in Iraq and Syria. Few suffer under any illusions that this will not be followed by renewed efforts to bring down the Syrian government and install a more U.S.-complicit regime. Thus, the new and extended “war on terror” is today seem by the U.S. ruling class as a long-term effort to rid the Middle East of any and all forces that might challenge its hegemony, that it, its freedom to exploit and plunder at will.

For the past 14 years – since the 9-11 bombing provided the pretext for the Afghan War –  the entire Middle East region has experienced a state of perpetual war and associated chaos. “Stability,” or better the unimpeded freedom to extract resources and exert total control through imposed client regimes by U.S. warmakers, remains out of reach, perhaps forever. Yet this endless U.S. quagmire situation, however disconcerting to those imperial leaders who  believe that peace can be imposed by mass murder, nevertheless remains sufficient for imperialism, even for the longer term.

Never-ending wars bring on associated and welcome massive increases in war spending that bloat the banks of the war profiteers with endless trillions while the lion’s share of the region’s oil, albeit limited in extraction to one degree or another by the restrictive conditions of war, remain under the control of the world’s largely monopolized oil corporations, for whom all such wars are fought.

Today’s new U.S. global “war on terrorism” is inseparable from its war on working people everywhere. The patient and systematic organization of deeply-rooted socialist organizations prepared to challenge the capitalist status quo, however limited the immediate opportunities, will prove central to providing a lasting and effective alternative to endless imperialist war and exploitation. This daunting task remain on the order of the day.