Dennis Loo interviewed Revolution writer Larry Everest about Iraq, ISIS, US plans for the region, and the implications for those of us seeking to mobilize opposition to the continuing destruction wreaked by the US military.
There has been a sharp escalation by the US government in rhetoric, in policy, and in the urgency with which they are responding to ISIS, with a US general calling them an “apocalyptic, end of days” movement. What is behind this?
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the U.S. was taking action because ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) is “an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else.” Those “interests” that Hagel is talking about are the interests of America’s imperialist rulers, whose system is based on exploiting and suppressing hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Controlling the Middle East has been a key link in this global empire for over 60 years. This region is home to enormous oil and natural gas resources. Controlling their flow gives the U.S. leverage over the global capitalist economy and other powers. The Middle East connects Europe, Asia, and Africa, making it militarily crucial real estate and home to key trade routes.
The U.S. and imperialists before it have built up a whole system for dominating the region. It involves installing and backing up ruthless tyrants beholden to the U.S. who suppress their own people—like in Egypt. It involves backing the settler state of Israel and building it up into an American attack dog. And it includes violently attacking or waging war against any forces or regimes that threaten this setup.
This is what Hagel means when he calls ISIS a “threat to every interest we have.” ISIS has rapidly spread and now controls much of northern Iraq and Syria. If ISIS continues to spread, it could threaten the entire U.S.-dominated order by shattering states like Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. This could give openings to other regional powers and imperialist rivals to advance their interests at U.S. expense. And an ISIS-controlled region could become a magnet for many more anti-U.S. jihadist fighters.
So now the U.S. feels compelled to get more fully back into Iraq in order to stop ISIS and roll it back. Obama declares the U.S. goal is ultimately “rooting out” ISIS, and that this “won’t be easy and it won’t be quick.” Forget all their talk about humanitarian missions or freeing hostages—the U.S. is using this crisis to try to deal with a whole host of problems they’re facing in their region and to try to keep their grip on a region where more than any other factor, it is the problem not the solution.
Why has ISIS been advancing so rapidly and what does this say about the larger conflict between US imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism? What are the dangers and the opportunities inherent in this rapidly evolving situation?
This crisis is rooted in the dynamics of capitalism-imperialism, the history of its domination of the Middle East, and the actions the U.S. rulers have felt compelled to take to maintain that dominance. Imperialism has colonized, dominated, strangled, twisted and suffocated the Middle East for over 100 years. After World War 2 ended in 1945, the U.S. became the dominant imperial overlord. No disruption of this setup was to be tolerated.
But by the dawn of the new millennium, tensions and contradictions were cracking the edifice of U.S. control. The 1979 Iranian revolution ended up bringing Islamic fundamentalists to power. The 1979-1988 war in Afghanistan spawned organized jihadists hostile to both the former Soviet Union and to the West and its regional clients. The 1989-1991 collapse of the Soviet Union (by then an imperialist power) was a geopolitical earthquake that shifted the whole global terrain. The savaging of Iraq during the 1991 U.S. war and then 13 years of sanctions sent tremors throughout the region. This and Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians stirred anger and discontent across the Middle East. The 1976 overthrow of socialism and the restoration of capitalism in China had profound ideological and political reverberations and created a void of genuine opposition to imperialism which Islamic fundamentalists move into (though they do not fundamentally oppose imperialism).
So in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the imperialists felt it was necessary to radically restructure the region, and they launched a “global war on terror” – in reality a war for greater empire – starting in Afghanistan in October 2001, but shifted quickly to Iraq with the March 2003 invasion. The U.S. rulers had grand ambitions, but things did not go according to plan. They shattered two states and provoked enormous anger. This combination fueled Islamist and other opposition (ISIS was born in the cauldron of Sunni anger at the crimes of Iraq’s U.S.-installed Shi’ite government), and the US quickly found itself bogged down, its plans in shambles.
These events, the 2008-2009 global financial and food crises, and the 2011 “Arab Spring” have all jolted the region and greatly increased the suffering there. The battle in Syria has devolved into a nightmarish civil war dominated by reactionaries on both sides, creating unimaginable horrors for the Syrian people. This is a major crime of U.S. imperialism, which has both stoked the carnage, and—along with all that’s been described above—added jet fuel to reactionary Islamic Jihadism – including ISIS – giving it big openings in which to organize, grow, and become battle-hardened. What we see in Iraq today is the result.
So overall, their “war on terror” has failed to achieve its objectives; it was designed to strengthen U.S. imperialism, instead it’s created new problems and difficulties, not just in the Middle East but globally as well. All this has the potential to turn into major crises, forcing the imperialists to act in ways that are very risky for their power and legitimacy.
The situation is very urgent—pregnant with possibilities and but also big challenges and dangers. Things can happen very quickly. So it’s urgent that we step up our resistance to and exposure of U.S. crimes around the world, and for revolutionaries and others to hasten the day when a whole different system can be brought into being.
More: Iraq Background: What’s Behind the Escalating Sectarian War and U.S. Intervention? Where Could It Go? Where Do Our Interests Lie?
Dennis Loo is a member of the Steering Committee of World Can’t Wait.