Why US air strikes on ISIS are right, and why the left should support them

It was right to oppose Israeli brutality in Gaza, but now it's right to support the use of force by the US in Northern Iraq.

The problem of ISIS won’t simply go away if we close our eyes to it

Overnight US President Barack Obama has ordered air strikes on Islamist militants in Iraq:

“Today I authorized two operations in Iraq — targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death.”

Meanwhile this morning PM David Cameron has made a statement in support of the action but has ruled out British military involvement in Iraq:

“…I fully agree with the President that we should stand up for the values we believe in – the right to freedom and dignity, whatever your religious beliefs.”

However a Downing Street spokeswoman added that the UK was “not planning a military intervention”.

The plight of the Yazidi community in Iraq is finally being taken seriously. More importantly, ISIS, the Islamist rabble that have taken over swathes of Syria and Iraq, are at last being seen for the civilisational threat that they are.

The left must in this instance put aside its reflex opposition to US military action (as a majority did over Rwanda and Kosovo) and try to ensure that Iraqis and Kurds are not left high and dry by Western governments out of sheer electoral expediency.

As seems quite clear, there is very little public appetite, both in the US as well as in the UK, for military involvement overseas. As such President Obama has ruled out the use of ground force against ISIS using the insular argument that ISIS are a problem for the Iraqis to sort out by themselves.

Yet the plight of the Yazidi should draw attention to the fact that, over the past 20 years, ‘keeping out’ has had consequences no less egregious than ‘going in’. For every Iraq and Afghanistan there has been a Srebrenica, a Rwanda and, more recently, a Ghouta.

Indeed, as many warned last year when the US and UK governments decided not to intervene militarily in Syria, there may come a point when an overspill of the Syrian civil war makes minding our own business impossible, just as the 9/11 attacks made a confrontation with the Taliban inevitable.

ISIS are probably best described as clerical fascists, and as the old left-wing slogan used to have it, fascism is war. In other words, and just as with European fascism during the previous century, there is no sitting on the fence on this one: when fascistic ideology is involved the war will invariably come to you.

The situation is such that the West either now helps the Kurds to hold ISIS (at the very least) or acquiesces in genocide – something that would offend any concept of international human rights.

As Sofia Patel has documented, there are around 500,000 Yazidisin living in northern Iraq along the Syrian border. The recent collapse of the Peshmerga defense (Kurdish defense forces) on Sunday means that both areas are now under IS control. 500 Yazidis have already been killed and ISIS forces are calling for the entire Yezidi people to be wiped out.

This is why President Obama has authorised air strikes as well as humanitarian assistance to those Yazidis currently stranded without food or water on Mount Sinjar, where they have fled to escape rampaging ISIS fighters.

Instead of dwelling on the rights or wrongs (mostly wrongs) of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, those who are usually so keen to ‘prove’ that ISIS are somehow a result of Western policy need now to decide how they want to deal with ISIS.

This means doing one of two things: either passively accepting what looks to be an imminent genocide and papering over any discomfort with unworldy pacifist slogans; or it means accepting the necessity of air strikes and persuading a reluctant electorate that international solidarity (in the form of decisive military force) is not simply another empty slogan.

We may live in another ‘low dishonest decade’, as W.H Auden called the 1930s, but if human rights are to mean anything there can be no sitting on the fence when it comes to the protection of the Yazidis in Northern Iraq. The question is not, ‘Will we end up in a quagmire/spend too much money aiding the Kurds and Yazidis?’ The question is, ‘do we put so little value on human life that we are willing to frivolously sit back and watch fascist forces exterminate it?’

Anti-fascism isn’t a purely negative idea that you can be vaguely ‘for’ without being in favour of any definite policy. If you say you are opposed to fascism then at some point you have to be prepared to fight it, rather than relying on other people in other parts of the world to do the fighting for you. Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq are being pushed back; now they need Western help.

It was right to oppose Israeli brutality in Gaza, but now it’s right to support the use of force by the US in Northern Iraq – even if you do find yourself on the same side as David Cameron. But then, if you really think that is the most important issue here you probably ought to reassess your priorities.

The challenge for progressives isn’t to ‘stop the war’ in Iraq – the war is happening whether we like it or not. The challenge is to make sure that war-weary electorates do not turn their backs on the people of Iraq as they have largely done with the people of Syria. The problem of ISIS won’t simply go away if we close our eyes to it.

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56 Responses to “Why US air strikes on ISIS are right, and why the left should support them”

  1. Lamia

    On the contrary, the birth and growth of what has become ISIS was facilitated not by the west but by Syria’s own Baathist regime, which changed its fierce anti-Islamist strategy after 2003, to one of accomodating them and encouraging them to go and disrupt Iraq. The idea was that so long as they didn’t crap on their own doorstep (Syria), they could be useful to frustrating US power.

    The terrorism experts were not entirely wrong [after 911], in believing that – for some time at least – Syria was outside al-Qaida’s orbit.

    This changed in 2003 when Assad allowed the jihadists in his country to link up with Zarqawi and become part of a foreign fighter pipeline stretching from Lebanon to Iraq, with way points, safehouses and facilitators dotted across the country. With the active help of Assad’s intelligence services, Syria was opened to the influx – and influence – of experienced and well-connected jihadists from Libya, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen and Morocco, who brought with them their contact books, money and skills. Within a few years, the country ceased to be a black spot on the global jihadist map: by the late 2000s it was familiar terrain to foreign jihadists, while jihadists from Syria had become valued members of al-Qaida in Iraq, where they gained combat experience and acquired the international contacts and expertise needed to turn Syria into the next battlefront.

    That is why ISIS/ISIL is based in Eastern Syria. it’s where the Baathists helped them set up. Even until recently, Assad’s regime and ISIS have hardly fought each other, and have even colaborated agaisnt the SFA. ISIS is the lodger that the Baathists let grow too large and now cannot evict.

    Initially it seemed as if it was it was a tap that could be safely turned off when needed:

    Practically overnight [in 2003], Syria became the principal point of entry for
    foreign jihadists hoping to join the Iraqi insurgency. Inside the country, Assad’s intelligence services activated their jihadist collaborators. The most prominent among them was Abu al-Qaqaa, a Salafi cleric from Aleppo who had studied in Saudi Arabia and whose sermons attracted hundreds – sometimes thousands – of people. Before the invasion of Iraq, Abu al-Qaqaa’s followers acted as religious vigilantes, meting out punishments for ‘indecent behaviour’ and stirring up hatred against the infidel governments of Israel and America. After the invasion, his group turned into a hub which provided Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq with Syrian recruits. Qaqaa’s efforts were so successful that for most of 2003 Syrians constituted the largest foreign fighting contingent of the (emerging) insurgency. Four years later, when the political calculus had changed and the Syrian government wanted to slow down the traffic, Qaqaa was shot dead in mysterious circumstances. His funeral was attended by members of the Syrian
    parliament along with thousands of Islamists. According to a Lebanese
    media report, ‘his coffin was draped in a Syrian flag and the affair had
    all the trappings of a state occasion.’


    It is no longer possible to control them, partly because while the Baathists had once eradicated home grown Syrian Islamists, the more recent ones they have let in are mostly foreigners, including very experienced and dangerous jihadis.

    Whatever the debated make-up of the FSA, the west most certainly has not been arming or aiding ISIS and it did not create them. So much as any party did, it was Baathist Syria. For some time it has been unable to control it, and looks as if it may now be dawning on Assad and co that ISIS really is not interested in cohabitation and that the lodger in the basement is going to have to go or he will pull the entire house down.

    Which is why any supporter of Assad or the FSA or Iran or Iraq or even the US and anyone in the rest of the Middle East or indeed the world, who is not a raving Sunni Islamist, has an interest in the defeat of ISIS.

  2. Lamia

    Couldn’t the UN send a force to northern Iraq, preferably comprised of
    countries who don’t go around invading and bombing countries for their
    natural resources? Isn’t that more likely to protect people than another
    imperial ‘humanitarian’ intervention?

    That would be wonderful.

    Meanwhile back in the real world, in the absence of the dependable, humanitarian UN, the US and the UK are the only countries that actually are helping those refugees. They are actually saving lives. I’m sure they would be more than happy for other countries to step up or even take over, because a lot more help is needed. Nothing is stopping the UN or other groups of countries from doing so, apart from their own indifference.

    Maybe you should get on the phone to the UN or the embassises of other countries instead of just carping about the immediate saving of lives because you don’t approve of the people doing the saving.

  3. Suada

    “Couldn’t the UN send a force to northern Iraq, preferably comprised of countries who don’t go around invading and bombing countries for their natural resources? Isn’t that more likely to protect people than another imperial ‘humanitarian’ intervention?”

    Yes, the UN has such an exemplary record with this sort of thing.

  4. Guest

    We didn’t leave quickly. We spent eight years in Iraq. We’re still in Afghanistan after 13 years and nothing is getting better. The Afghan public supports the Taliban, not the Karzai government that we back.

    We spent all this time training the Iraqi Army and it just collapsed in the most pathetic, unprofessional way. Whether we left in 2011 or 15 years later, the bloody collapse of Iraq was inevitable.

  5. Bret

    Actually when you at things from the appropriate historical perspectives, you’ll see that indeed we did leave very quickly.
    And not only did we leave quickly, we announced well before the exact dates we would leave on/ A bad mistake in itself. Because it tells the enemy ‘Don’t waste your fighters right now… wait until –/–/—- after we’ve left.”

    In May 1945 we defeated fascist Europe, Hitler was dead, war criminals either in captivity awaiting trial or were being hunted down.
    Today our forces still hold bases in Europe 70+ years later.
    In 1953 we reached a cease fire between North Korea and South Korean forces at the 38th parallel. 60+ years later we still have protective forces there to enforce the cease fire.

    We don’t have weak kneed liberals who hate America demanding they be returned in mass. We rotate and replace forces in and out of Europe and Asia.

    The situation in Iraq and Afghanistan would have been well served to do the same there. As it would take at least 2 to 3 generations of the indigenous people to reform from Fascist Islamic Extremism to a more civil Islamic country. Like Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, etc.

    One just needs to look at the latest news to see how Iraqi forces along with Kurdish fighters quickly took back control of the critical Mosul Dam in Iraq. When America offered to lend them some backbone with air strike covering forces. They are ready to fight, but still require our presence and assurance of success to do so.

    The summary is: It is a mistake to sacrifice our national ‘blood and treasure’. And not be willing to invest appropriate time and services to keep and protect that costly investment from enemy control.

  6. LeRoy Matthews

    You can’t get peace by making war.
    You can’t destroy a religion by killing off the people who believe in it.
    Islam, by definition, means submission to the will of God.
    There is no such religion as submission to the will of God.
    If people insist that God is Omnipotent, All-powerful,
    & admit that people have been Refusing to submit all along,
    Islam has to be False.

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