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Greenwald writes: "It was not even a year ago when we were bombarded with messaging that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a Supreme Evil and Grave Threat, and that military action against his regime was both a moral and strategic imperative."

Glenn Greenwald. (photo: AP)
Glenn Greenwald. (photo: AP)

The Fun of Empire

By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

26 August 14


(updated below)

CBS News, August 18, 2011:

President Barack Obama officially demanded that Syrian President Bashar Assad resign for the sake of his own people, saying he was no longer fit to lead after “imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people” during a crackdown on pro-reform protesters.

New York Times, October 24, 2012:

Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats.

Barack Obama, August 31, 2013:

Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. . . . [W]e are the United States of America, and we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus.

New York Times, today:

President Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria, a precursor to potential airstrikes there, but a mounting concern for the White House is how to target the Sunni extremists without helping President Bashar al-Assad. . . . The flights are a significant step toward direct American military action in Syria, an intervention that could alter the battlefield in the nation’s three-year civil war. . . .

On Monday, Syria warned the White House that it needed to coordinate airstrikes against ISIS or it would view them as a breach of its sovereignty and an “act of aggression.” But it signaled its readiness to work with the United States in a coordinated campaign against the militants.

It was not even a year ago when we were bombarded with messaging that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a Supreme Evil and Grave Threat, and that military action against his regime was both a moral and strategic imperative. The standard cast of “liberal interventionists” – Tony Blair, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Nicholas Kristof and Samantha Power - issued stirring sermons on the duties of war against Assad. Secretary of State John Kerry actually compared Assad to (guess who?) Hitler, instructing the nation that “this is our Munich moment.” Striking Assad, he argued, “is a matter of national security. It’s a matter of the credibility of the United States of America. It’s a matter of upholding the interests of our allies and friends in the region.”

U.S. military action against the Assad regime was thwarted only by overwhelming American public opinion which opposed it and by a resounding rejection by the UK Parliament of Prime Minister David Cameron’s desire to assume the usual subservient British role in support of American wars.

Now the Obama administration and American political class is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the failed “Bomb Assad!” campaign by starting a new campaign to bomb those fighting against Assad – the very same side the U.S. has been arming over the last two years.

It’s as though the U.S. knew for certain all along that it wanted to fight in the war in Syria, and just needed a little time to figure out on which side it would fight. It switched sides virtually on a dime, and the standard Pentagon courtiers of the U.S. media and war-cheering foreign policy elites are dutifully following suit, mindlessly depicting ISIS as an unprecedented combination of military might and well-armed and well-funded savagery (where did they get those arms and funds?). Something very similar happened in Libya: the U.S. spent a decade insisting that a Global War on Terror – complete with full-scale dismantling of basic liberties and political values – was necessary to fight against the Unique Threat of Al Qaeda and “Jihadists”, only to then fight on the same side as them, and arming and empowering them.

Nobody disputes the brutality and extremism of ISIS, but that is a completely different question from whether the U.S. should take military action against it. To begin with, the U.S. not only ignores, but actively supports, all sorts of brutal and extreme parties in the region.

More important, what are air strikes going to accomplish? All one has to do is look at the horrific chaos and misery in Libya - the Successful Humanitarian Intervention™ - to know that bombing Bad People out of existence accomplishes little in the way of strategic or humanitarian value. If one really wants to advocate that the U.S. should destroy or at least seriously degrade ISIS, then one should honestly face what that actually entails, as detailed by the New America Foundation’s Brian Fishman:

No one has offered a plausible strategy to defeat ISIL that does not include a major U.S. commitment on the ground and the renewal of functional governance on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border. And no one will, because none exists. . . .

Bombing ISIL will not destroy it. Giving the Kurds sniper rifles or artillery will not destroy it. A new prime minister in Iraq will not destroy it. . . . [W]ar makes the jihadist movement stronger, even in the face of major tactical and operational defeats.

The conflicts in Syria and Iraq strengthen ISIL because war is the only force terrible enough to hold together a broad and extreme enough Sunni coalition to be amenable to ISIL. Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi recognized this in 2004 and built a strategy of provoking Shia militias in order to consolidate fearful Sunni groups. . .

Without war, ISIL is a fringe terrorist organization. With war, it is a state. . . .This is where I am supposed to advocate a brilliant strategy to defeat ISIL by Christmas at some surprisingly reasonable cost. But it won’t happen. The cost to defeat ISIL would be very high and would require a multi-year commitment. . . .

The country must be ready to accept the sacrifices necessary to achieve grand political ends. Until then, any call to “defeat ISIL” that is not forthright about what that will require is actually an argument for expensive failure.

If you like running around sermonizing on the need to destroy ISIS, at least be honest enough to acknowledge what that will really require and then advocate that. Anything short of that is just self-glorifying deceit: donning the costume of Churchillian Resolve and Moral Purpose without any substance.

It seems pretty clear at this point that U.S. military action in the Middle East is the end in itself, and the particular form it takes – even including the side for which the U.S. fights – is an ancillary consideration. That’s how the U.S., in less than a year, can get away with depicting involvement in the war in Syria – on opposite sides – as a national imperative. Ironically, just as was true of Al Qaeda, provoking the U.S. into military action would, for the reasons Fishman explained, help ISIS as well.

But the only clear lesson from all of this is that no matter the propagandistic script used, U.S. military action in that region virtually never fulfills the stated goals (nor is it intended to do so), and achieves little other than justifying endless military action for its own sake. How long before we hear that U.S. military action is needed (again) in Libya to restrain the chaos and extremism unleashed by the NATO intervention in Libya? Does anyone really believe that “limited” bombing of Syria and Iraq in a rage against ISIS will result in anything other than more justifications for military action in that region?

UPDATE: The U.S. “is sharing intelligence about jihadist deployments with Damascus through Iraqi and Russian channels,” the Agence France-Presse reports today, citing one source as saying: ”The cooperation has already begun.”

From The New Hitler (back) to U.S. Partner in less than a year: an impressive feat for both Assad and U.S. propaganda. your social media marketing partner


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+60 # RMDC 2014-08-26 14:53
Thanks Glen. This is a great summary look at how insane US media and politicians are. They never seem to know what they are saying from one day to the next.

The most important point to emphaize always is that ISIS is a US creation, just like al Qaeda and the Taliban are. The US works with the gangster states in the middle east of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and others to create mercenary armies that can be used to overthrow the governments of other nations. this is classic colonialism.

There is ZERO chance that Obama will really do anything against ISIS. He may blow up a few trucks and kill a few dozen ISIS fighters so the TV has something to show. Actually the trucks he blows up and the people he murders don't even have to be ISIS. they can be anyone. The media will report that they were ISIS fighters killed in the war against terrorism.

Obama is preparing ISIS for a final assault on the Assad government of Syria. The US will be ISIS's air force just as it was the air force for the KLA -- another terrorist band -- in Yugoslavia in the 90s. The US did not bomb the KLA. It bombed the Serbian government.

Read this from Mother Jones on who supports and arms ISIS. It is not as good as the work on globalresearch. ca but Mother Jones is mainstream.
+4 # makinghay 2014-08-27 10:12
Great analysis of the problems but what of a solution? If we as a species are serious about solving these problems we need to use a new approach; one that we know will work.

Bombing and killing have shown us over and over again to not only not work, but in fact, only worsens the situation. What will it take for our peoples to wake up? To try something new?

The past decades have seen a revival, testing and verification of an ancient technology that works; works unbelievably well. The unbelievable aspect seems to be the problem. Too many narrow, closed minds.

But check the peer reviewed research and the successes demonstrated in the past. Time to do more than demonstrate; time to implement on a permanent basis.
+8 # wrknight 2014-08-27 10:41
It's interesting to note that the U.S. solution to all conflict is "Bomb them". Bomb Iraq. Bomb Iran. Bomb Syria. Bomb Afghanistan. Bomb Vietnam. Bomb Libya. Bomb Russia. Does this say something about the mentality of U.S. policy makers?
+1 # Doubter 2014-08-27 17:38
Don't worry about it.
"We" are not running out of bombing targets, and if we run short, it is real easy to improvise new ones. All we have to do is decide our present "clients" aren't the goody goodies we claimed they were and start calling them "evil" and "target worthy."
'And don't forget we can always "Bomb bomb bomb Iran!" WHEN we run out of lesser/easier training targets.
That should keep the corporate cash registers clinging and clanging for a while and MAYBE even leave a little loose change for the rest of the economy. (us)
(anybody have some M.I.C. stock they want to get rid of?)
+5 # wantrealdemocracy 2014-08-27 21:26
"Try something new"---like get the hell out? The United States needs to take care of problems at home and get the hell out of these foreign involvements. Bring our troops home and stop sending weapons to any foreign nation---especi ally not to Israel.
+2 # RMDC 2014-08-28 07:05
The "something new" would be for the US to renounce its empire. I don't think this has ever happened -- or it did during the Ming Dynasty in 14th century China, but there may have been other reaasons. Empires collapse. They are not rational enough to change. The US will collapse someday. that will be a great day for the world.
-1 # lcotler 2014-08-27 11:05
All this is perfectly explained in the short hard-hitting videos of

Give these vids to kids to learn from.
+2 # Caliban 2014-08-28 00:18
RMDC--No, the President is already putting a very different plan into action. We have it from Glenn himself: The U.S. “is sharing intelligence about jihadist deployments with Damascus through Iraqi and Russian channels,” the Agence France-Presse reports today, citing one source as saying: ”The cooperation has already begun.”

"Cooperation" between rivals and antagonists--th e first step to peace in the Middle East?
+1 # RMDC 2014-08-28 07:08
""Cooperation" between rivals and antagonists--th e first step to peace in the Middle East?"

well, I hope this is true. Syria and Assad are not enemies of the US but they are enemies of Israel. The US is the military of Israel in the middle east.
+58 # Bolduc619 2014-08-26 19:56
Thank you, Glenn Greenwald, for clearly stating the absolute madness of American foreign policy.

This is not simply the usual hypocrisy one would expect of a dying empire. No, we are in Michele Bachmann bat-shit crazy territory. Awesome!
+49 # Erich_von_Dalkenshield 2014-08-26 21:39
As always, the 1% don't care about "achieving their stated goals," because their real goal is making money by war.
+20 # Walter J Smith 2014-08-26 22:05
There is a problematic issue with suggesting that Barack Obama get honest with us.

Honesty is not exactly his long suit. Indeed, since when has he shown any concern for it? He has systematically thrown his lot into the same file as GWB: non-entity made over into a seemingly decent man by merely professional handlers.

A parrot is a parrot, no matter what color its parachute.
-17 # barbaratodish 2014-08-26 22:57
It's official from Glen Greenwald: whatever President Obama says, President Obama is projecting about "himself"! Now if only poor, sad, distressed President Obama HAD a HUMAN self TO project about! Unfortunately, President Obama only has his racial identity, his gender identity, his ethnic identity, his political identity, his religious identity, his parental identity, his presidential identity, his performance identity, his ego identity, his drama identity, etc. He seems to have lost his human identity, Oh! And President Obama seems to have also lost his sense of humor, too!
+10 # rockieball 2014-08-27 08:10
It's to bad you and the rest of the right wing didn't say the same thing about G.W. Bush and his thugs. You remember them don't you. The lies about illegally invading Iraq,the "Mission Accomplished," sign. Which way to many thought it meant in Iraq when it really meant "Mission Accomplished in destroy the American economy, and letting the corporations, the bank rob the country blind."
But then again lets not talk about the Republican congress the do nothing SOB's who objected and voted against anything that Obama supported even when it was their idea. The Congress who wants to sue him because he failed to implement fully the Affordable Health Care Act of which they are against and have voted WHAT about 60 times to repeal. I suggest you watch something different besides FOX.
+2 # dbrize 2014-08-27 13:12
Shorter version:

"So's your old man!"
+1 # rockieball 2014-08-28 09:01
I doubt it he died in Korea when I was 3 1/2.
0 # dickbd 2014-08-27 14:18
Yeah, but it's not about personalities; it's about principles. That's what we need to stress, the principles. I wanted Obama to do well, and I still do.

But it is quite difficult to take his hawkish policy and going along with what the system has been all along. I think the worst thing about him is that he has used the Espionage Act more than any other president. And he has cracked down on whistle blowers more than any other president.

I do notice that progressives are willing to call out people for violating their principles, instead of toeing a particular line.
+2 # Doubter 2014-08-27 17:46
I never understand why people so often downvote you. When I sometimes disagree with you, it is usually to the degree of simply not voting for or against you.
+12 # cordleycoit 2014-08-26 23:01
New bugger man replaces the old ones. Sadam was killed Bin Ladin shot, a whole slug of civilians killed by us but now we have an even worse pack of thugs that only more American lives lost will cure or they their duty as demons and kill every non Muslim the see. The more we kill the more they hate us.
+8 # Archie1954 2014-08-26 23:21
Are you only now discovering that?
+15 # 2014-08-27 05:47
And the Military Industrial Complex (thanks, Ike!) makes their money through never-ending war. Doesn't matter the enemy, doesn't matter the cost in lives or lost production, only that we have to buy more tanks and bombs...
+1 # Caliban 2014-08-28 10:09
Cordleycoit--IS IS apparently kills plenty of Muslims as well as non-Muslims, so I would think an effective coalition effort could be put together to control and eventually shut them down without a major US ground force.

In particular it is past time for us to formally reconcile with both Syria and Iran.
0 # phrixus 2014-08-27 06:24
Obama has been looking for his "signature" war for awhile now. Doesn't matter where it is as long as he gets it for his legacy.
0 # RMDC 2014-08-27 07:24
phrixus == yes, signature war is good. This is about Obama's legacy. It is hard to believe but it is getting clearer and clearer that all presidents want to have been the "war president." They must think that way. There's no place in the kind of history they admire for a "peace president." I"m sure that nobel peace prize that Obama won has been a great embarrassment to him for 5 years now.

I wish there were some rule that said Obama had to send his two daughters right to the front line. Let them fight ISIS -- or pretend to fight ISIS while actually overthrowing the Syrian government and killing 1000s of Syrians.
+1 # ThorunnPS 2014-08-28 07:41
That Nobel Peace Prize must have its bestowers writhing in an agony of embarrasment these days...
0 # ThorunnPS 2014-08-28 07:41
Sorry, accidentally sent this twice.
0 # tedrey 2014-08-27 08:04
He might have just got his "signature war" in Ferguson.
0 # Kootenay Coyote 2014-08-27 08:33
0 # Caliban 2014-08-28 10:18
"Signature war"? Clever thought--and certainly true of Bush 1 and 2.

But Obama? A handful of air attacks on ISIS does not counter-balance the continued drawdown of troops in the Middle East and central Asia. No "signature war" (beyond a short term air war on ISIS) is coming for Obama, though a "signature peace" may be on his mind.
+10 # Far Left vanishing point 2014-08-27 06:29
The US is the biggest double standard, unaccountable hypocrite in the world. When is Israel going to pay for testing our weapons on Gaza? But ISIS will pay. Saddam is hung. Iran will pay until they are good buddies like Assad seems to be now. We have almost no moral standing in the world. We prop up despots and let them kill their civilians with our arms and advisors. Then go after Saddam because he is a lot like us. It defies the ability to think about. I guess we want never ending wars like Israel. Out "defense" complex needs a raison d'être.
0 # MidwesTom 2014-08-27 06:38
I am always suspicious that the only reason for war is to keep the defense industry humming. As proof of this I offer the following idea. We have somewhere in Arizona thousands of older mothballed fighters and bombers. In the middle east we are fighting far less sophisticated enemies. Instead of using our newest $15 billion each aircraft, why not use our old surplus ones?

Ah, but this would not bring jobs back to the distracts; I forgot.
+6 # fredboy 2014-08-27 06:41
The ultimate sign of empire is hubris: Distorting or recreating the truth.

That's also a sign of crumbling empires--check history.
+3 # REDPILLED 2014-08-27 07:56
Remember when Syria was a Bush ally, allowing Bush/Cheney to send kidnapped suspects to black site prisons there to be tortured? How will Israel's Zionist government react to the US cooperating with Assad?
0 # rockieball 2014-08-27 08:02
I say the F%#K out of the Middle East. All we are doing is the dirty work for Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Gulf one was the Sauai's and Kuwait. These people look down on us. we are fodder for what they are cowards to do and that field an army and go in and do the job themselves. They believe that they can solve their problems by either throwing money at the West or the threat of cutting off the oil. Until this country and other countries realize that the West will be the blame of everything that happens in the Middle East. Sure get rid of the Syrian government and what will you get? Radical Extremist of which we are already seeing in Iraq and Northern Syria.
Maybe we should go in with troops, but into those countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait. Freeze their assists and say: "Hey you want it done the go the F@#K in and do it yourself, we will not sacrifice one more American life, one more American dollar and all that we are suppose to stand for just to do your durty work."
+1 # jamander4 2014-08-27 08:53
When I read this very interesting article it occurred to me that we should look at the next step in this process. In the near future the Russians will have to talk to the Syrian government about ending the Syrian civil war. At the same time the US will have to talk to the Free Syrian Army about the future of Syria. Both the Syrian government and the Free Syrian Army are non sectarian. They share a common cause and are unable to defeat their enemies in battle. A united front against ISIS is the logical path going forward. Attacks by such a combined force would help concentrate ISIS forces making bombing much more effective.
+1 # Anonymot 2014-08-27 09:03
"...what that will require is actually an argument for expensive failure."

Our failures have ALL received the backing of our politicians based on our intelligence departments with the grotesquely incompetent CIA/NSA in the lead: Chile, Cuba, Honduras, Panama, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. Each was a total failure. We're pushing hard to do the same in Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and the Ukraine. We have not won a war since WW II. We are trying to outdo Hitler.

Our best friends seem to produce a lot of drugs: Afghanistan, Columbia, Burma (Myanmar) and Mexico.

We only have 2 allies left, England who produces oil and Australia, who is very dependant on oil production. Even those who were once dependant on our money for their enormous wealth, like Saudi Arabia, are busy undermining our interests.

And American billionaires are plentiful, millionaires are a dime a dozen. Most of them are on the far right.

Could we have a systemic problem? Have we permanently quit even the pretenses of democracy? Analyzing the people & the problems is one thing. What we need most is a broad, serious study of potential and realistic systemic change. If we don't change and soon, it will be jack boots, brown shirts, and the goose step.

And the winners will be extremist Islam, because those who manage our wars are either stupid, incompetent or both.
0 # 2014-08-27 15:27
Did our President ever return that Nobel Prize he won several years ago??? I was under the impression that he didn't feel deserving.....a nd returned it. No?'d have thought he'd do the right thing.
0 # Pikewich 2014-08-28 16:45
I think Glen has hit the nail.

The only possible reason to supply and switch sides, destroy governments and social structures leaving sectarian civil wars in it's wake, is to simply fuel the destruction of the entire region.

Why anyone would think that is a good idea is a mystery, but it seems to be the only logical conclusion.
+1 # ahollman 2014-08-28 20:56
I admire Greenwald, but am disappointed at his criticism, lack of solutions, and statements implying malice at the top, e.g. suggesting that the US always wanted to fight in Syria but needed time to figure out whom to fight.

Neither Greenwald, Obama, Maliki, nor others are stupid. The lack of a good solution suggests neither malice nor incompetence, but a moral dilemma, where, in the absence of good solutions, one is forced to choose among bad ones.

During WW2, we allied with the USSR, an enemy, to defeat Hitler. We may similarly ally with some enemies to defeat ISIS.

It's reasonable to suggest the US withdraw from the mid-east because we can't improve things. The mujahideen we armed to fight the Russians in Afghanistan later turned on us. We went into Iraq, broke it, and can't fix it. Neither can Iraqis, because they lack national unity; they identify first as Sunni or Shia and then by clan or tribe. Perhaps British-created Iraq is obsolete. Perhaps not. It's a nasty neighborhood. Splitting Iraq into Kurdistan, Sunnistan and Shiastan diminishes all 3 groups' future prospects; imagine ISIS conquering them one by one.

I disagree with Greenwald's assertion that "U.S. military action in the Middle East is the end in itself"; boots on the ground are coffins in the news. Despite huge military contractor profits, our means and public support are dwindling, and we no longer import significant oil from there. I agree the US wants to continue military sales to all.

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