The White House may have been unable to convince the American public to support an American military intervention in Syria a year ago, but, after a stunningly effective fear-mongering campaign in the media (rivaling the one that lead up to the 2003’s ‘Shock and Awe’ in Iraq) and a little convenient help from the unprecedentedly media-savvy ISIS terrorist group (whose penchant for public beheadings rivals that of the U.S.’s regional ally Saudi Arabia, where a majority of ISIS’s funding originates), the U.S. military began bombing large swaths of Syria just last night. For the White House, it’s no problem that the U.S., by targeting Syrian opposition groups like ISIS and others, is now directly entering the ongoing Syrian Civil War effectively on the side of that country’s brutal Assad regime; the name may sound familiar given the fact that Assad’s government was to be the target of U.S. bombing in last year’s aborted campaign. They’re not concerned by the fact that ISIS, ironically the successor organization to the group Al-Qaeda in Iraq (sectarian fighters that ran circles around occupying American troops in Iraq in 2006), was practically begging the Obama administration to re-deploy militarily in the region; in-keeping with past trends, ISIS’s ranks have swelled with some 6000 new recruits since the U.S. began bombing in Iraq again a few weeks ago. The important thing is that America is now militarily re-engaged, in a direct and serious way, in the Middle East. For many in American foreign policy-making, that, in and of itself, is prize enough.
The U.S. economy is, and has since World War II been, disproportionately war-oriented. In the last decade alone, even while excluding war costs, the military baseline budget has grown by about 50 percent. Strikingly, defense costs eat up about 60 percent of the U.S.’s overall discretionary spending (at a time when austerity hawks are relentlessly howling to do away with or reduce various social programs) and equal the total combined defense expenditures of the next 10 highest military spending countries in the world, most of which are U.S. allies. The U.S. also has the unfortunate distinction of being the top supplier of weapons in world, providing 30% of the world’s arms trade. All too often, as in the current case of ISIS, U.S. solders and allies find themselves getting shot at by the same materials that the American government previously introduced into a conflict zone. The arms that congress just agreed to supply to Syria’s so-called moderate opposition groups, most of which are fronts for more radical organizations and are designed to attract foreign aid, will very likely find their way into the hands of ISIS and similar groups. In terms of intelligence, the U.S. government spent an estimated $52.6 billion in 2013 on its “black budget,” classified and often illegal intelligence programs, alone. Overall the U.S. maintains a whooping 16 spy agencies, with a combined 107,035 employees. With so may organizations fighting for prominence and the increased funding that comes with it, it’s no wonder that bizarre and impractical policies and practices, like the NSA’s controversial domestic data-mining program, result.
In an increasingly post-industrial, financial economy like the U.S.’s, where un/underemployment and eroding wages/standards of living are the norm, embracing the booming defense and counter-terrorism industry, though it is almost wholly dependent on tax dollars and lucrative government contracts, is the only apparent way for many lawmakers to secure and protect jobs for their constituents (the industry already provides jobs for millions of people across the country). Doing so just happens to be exponentially profitable for American elites as well, with the wealth management and capital firm Morgan Keegan assuring capitalists in 2013 that investments in homeland security companies could be expected to yield 12 percent annual growth (way more than most investments in what was, and continues to be, a generally sluggish economy). With the U.S. government spending $550 million in the first ten days of its 2011 intervention into Libya (a country which nearly three years later finds itself in distinctly undemocratic and violent chaos), this latest military adventure in Syria promises to yield significant profits for many.
And let’s not forget oil! It was ISIS’s attacks into the northern, largely independent, Iraqi region of Kurdistan this summer that prompted the U.S.’s recent military re-deployment in Iraq more than anything else. While the American public was bombarded with images of besieged starving Yazidis (a minority group living in northern Iraq) on a Kurdish mountaintop facing certain genocide at the hands of ISIS, several multi-national energy companies, ExxonMobil and Chevron foremost among them, were panicking over the threat posed by ISIS to the lucrative drilling contracts that they’d secured in Kurdistan. Subsequently, a highly televised American humanitarian mission was launched to help the Yazidis (though most of them where ultimately saved through the efforts of local Kurdish groups [the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a left-wing political organization designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, arguably the most significant among them]) and, most importantly, a bombing campaign was initiated to push ISIS out of Kurdistan and away from ExxonMobil and Chevron’s facilities. Were the Yazidis in serious danger at the hands of ISIS? Without a doubt. Was that the main impetus for the government’s decision to re-deployment militarily in Iraq? No. While there are many in foreign policy-making who sincerely believe that the U.S.’s overwhelming military might can and should be utilized to carryout such humanitarian missions, history shows that such ventures only occur when there is also a significant interest among American elites in the region in question (i.e. African genocides are ignored while Middle Eastern ones warrant military intervention).
Every U.S. president since Bush I has intervened in Iraq. Every time they’ve done so, the country has been left worse off. The U.S. may now find itself similarly drawn into Syria. There is no reason to believe that Obama’s bombs, regardless of how desperately one clings to the increasingly ridiculous notion that he is a good and sensible person, will be any less destabilizing and horrific than Bush II’s. Obama’s illegal drone bombing campaign, by indiscriminately killing countless innocents, has arguably done more to fuel anti-Western radicalization and swell the ranks of groups like ISIS than Bush II’s inane and costly 2003 invasion ever did. As long as policy makers continue to favor policies designed to kill every Middle Eastern radical (a hopeless and immoral venture) rather than addressing their often legitimate grievances (i.e. America’s support for brutal Middle Eastern regimes like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, etc.) with the the Western world, the all-encompassing and purposefully ill-defined “War on Terror” will expand and persist. Then again, given the aforementioned war-orientation of the U.S.’s economy, that may be exactly what many in the American government want.
Sources: 1) John Hall “ISIS signs up more than 6,000 new recruits since American airstrikes began, as France makes ruling on groups name and says it will start calling them derogatory ‘Daesh cutthroats'” The Daily Mail (September 18, 2014): accessed September 23, 2014 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2760644/ISIS-signs-6-000-new-recruits-American-airstrikes-began-France-says-start-calling-group-derogatory-Daesh-cutthroats.html
2) Jonathan Turley “Big money behind war: the military-industrial complex” Aljazeera (January 11, 2014): accessed September 23, 2014 http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/01/big-money-behind-war-military-industrial-complex-20141473026736533.html
3) “The ‘Big Six’ arms exporters” Amnesty International (June 11, 2012): accessed September 23, 2014 http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/big-six-arms-exporters-2012-06-11
4) Martin Hart-Landsberg “Still the World’s Top Military Spender” Reports From the Economic Front (July 17, 2014): accessed September 23, 2014 http://blogs.lclark.edu/hart-landsberg/category/military-spending/
5) Ishaan Tharoor “A U.S.-designated terrorist group is saving Yazidis and battling the Islamic State” The Washington Post (August 11 2014): accessed September 23, 2014 http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/08/11/a-u-s-designated-terrorist-group-is-saving-yazidis-and-battling-the-islamic-state/
6) Steve Coll “Oil and Erbil” The New Yorker (August 10, 2014): accessed September 23, 2014 http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/oil-erbil
7) Veronique de Rugy “The Invincible Military-Industrial Complex: Leon Panetta’s dream is Eisenhower’s nightmare” Reason (March 2012): accessed September 23, 2014 http://reason.com/archives/2012/02/14/the-invincible-military-industrial-compl