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Surprise, Surprise: ISIS and the US

Surprise, Surprise: ISIS and the US

By Dennis Loo (10/1/14)

In the September 30, 2014 NY Times you can find this quote about ISIS from a senior US Army general with combat experience in Iraq:

“We were surprised by their regional ambitions, the speed of their advance into Mosul and the collapse of the Iraqi security forces."

"Who dropped the ball?" is the question being asked in "Many Missteps in Assessment of ISIS Threat."

I am reminded when reading this of the 1950’s "Who lost China?" debate in US government circles, as if the Chinese taking back control over their own country from foreign imperialists was some kind of unnatural event. How come you American mandarins think that you had a right to China in the first place, and that your controlling and plundering China was the way it's supposed to be? These internecine recriminations contributed to the McCarthy Red Scare: there must have been communists in the US government who secretly led to the US and other "Great Powers" losing China to the Chinese! How else to explain it? Certainly the Chinese people, those pajama-wearing barbarians, could not have done this!

I am further reminded of the US government being taken by surprise by the shock they felt when the 1979 Iranian Revolution occurred. After all, the US had been in the driver’s seat in Iran for decades since the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew the popularly elected nationalist Mossadegh, installing in his place the brutal tyrant the Shah. The CIA was all over Iran under their local torturer and murderer the Shah but somehow the CIA with all its spies and listening posts didn't foresee this revolution happening. They thought that massacring protesters and communists, including 5,000 protesters on a single day during the 1979 uprising, would make people stop from rising up.

At a certain point a very small number of Iranian soldiers refused to continue the slaughter of their fellow Iranians and instead turned their guns on their officers. It was at that point that the much vaunted and heavily subsidized and armed Shah’s army that did the US godfather’s bidding began to crack. Iran went from Reliable Ally and Attack Dog #1 to Public Enemy #1, and Israel became the sole Reliable Ally and Attack Dog in the Middle East. That is why the US has no problem with Israel possessing nuclear weapons and every problem with Iran developing non-military uses for nuclear energy.

Now in the instant case of Iraq and Syria, the rise of ISIS is not comparable to either the 1949 Chinese Revolution or even the 1979 Iranian Revolution. ISIS is a reactionary Islamic fundamentalist movement that is in no way liberatory to the people they are taking control over. But what is most interesting about this senior US general's comments is the striking way that the imperialists keep getting surprised by their adversaries’ peculiar ambitions and success.

“We were surprised by their regional ambitions, the speed of their advance into Mosul and the collapse of the Iraqi security forces."

In the immediate aftermath of the Nigerian briefs bomber’s unsuccessful suicide attack on Xmas Day 2009 on a Northwest flight into Detroit from Amsterdam, the US government tried to explain how it let a known terrorism suspect onto the Northwest flight.

As I wrote in Globalization and the Demolition of Society:

When the 2009 Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab (aka Abdulmutallab) failed to ignite his exploding underwear on board the Northwest flight bound for Detroit, The New York Times reported in the aftermath,

Qaeda operatives in Yemen were caught discussing an “Umar Farouk” who had recently been in contact with Mr. Awlaki about volunteering for terrorist operations, one official said. American intelligence officials learned of the conversation in November, although it had been intercepted by a foreign intelligence service in August, an administration official said. [They had his first name and knew this Umar Farouk was going to carry out a terrorist action.—DL]

The National Security Agency intercepted a second phone conversation in November involving Qaeda members in Yemen, in which they discussed an unnamed Nigerian man who was being groomed for an operation. (Mr. Abdulmutallab is Nigerian.) The next month, intelligence officials eavesdropped on Qaeda operatives who talked of sending a militant toward the West to carry out a strike. [They also knew, mentioned in previous news stories, that Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab’s father, a prominent banker, had urgently told the US embassy in Nigeria that his son was involved with terrorists and had told the family that they would not see him again.]

Other intercepted conversations mentioned a significant event on Christmas Day, although it was unclear if the event concerned a strike against an American target or a movement of Qaeda backers, perhaps motivated by the deadly raids that Yemeni forces began in mid-December, officials said. [Corroboration that a terrorist incident would happen on Xmas.]

In the final weeks of the year, American intelligence officials, using spy satellites and communication intercepts, were intently focused on pinpointing the location of Qaeda fighters so the Yemeni military could strike them. By doing so, the American officials hoped to prevent attacks on the United States Embassy in Yemen, personnel or other targets in the region with American ties. [They thought that the best way to deter this Xmas attack was by a military strike upon Qaeda fighters, if they could find out where they were concentrated, not by trying to locate and detain Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, a Nigerian identified by his father as a terrorist.]

Yet they had unwittingly left themselves vulnerable, American officials now concede. Counterterrorism officials assumed that the militants were not sophisticated or ambitious enough to send operatives into the United States. And no one shifted more intelligence analysts to the task, so that they could have supported the military assaults by Yemen while also scrutinizing all incoming tips for hints about future attacks against Americans, one administration official said. [Emphasis added]

So, though intelligence analysts had enough information in those days before Christmas to block the suicide bomber on the Northwest flight, they did not act.

We didn’t know they had progressed to the point of actually launching individuals here,” Mr. [John] Brennan said on Jan. 4 at a White House briefing. An administration official added, “The puzzle pieces were not being fitted to any type of homeland plot.”

Counterterrorism officials’ conclusion that no terrorists were “ambitious” enough to send operatives to the US can be countered simply by saying two things, (1) 9/11, remember that one? and (2) sending operatives into the US is as ambitious as buying a plane ticket. Some people reading the reports of this intelligence debacle conclude, understandably, that US officials cannot possibly be as stupid as they appear to be and that therefore they must have knowingly allowed this incident to occur. That is not, however, how I read the data, even though certainly false flag attacks do occur.

People now in charge possess hubris in the classic meaning of the term—they do not believe that their adversaries are capable of being imaginative, ambitious, or brave, even in the face of dramatic and repeated evidence to the contrary. This is a blind spot on their part, not one which every single person in charge is guilty of, but one that pervades and dominates the institutional culture; empires tend to think in these ways. Why would you, if you were the top dogs after all, ascribe admirable attributes to your adversaries, whom you regard as your inferiors? This is one of empires’ central weaknesses; it is also one of the reasons why even those people who are not in favor of revolutionary change need to think very carefully about which side they are choosing to support. The empire does not really care about your individual fate and is doing things daily that jeopardize people’s lives and the planet’s welfare and viability. (Pp. 324-326)

ISIS has been advancing with such speed in Iraq not because its fighters are particularly formidable. Their lightning speed victories comes from the fact that the Iraqi security forces, the ones the US has been training and equipping, has been throwing down their weapons and fleeing in the face of ISIS without even engaging in a fight. The US government is surprised at the “collapse of Iraqi security forces.” Well, Lordy, Lordy! You prop up a puppet government that is despised by the nation’s people, and then you are surprised when that puppet government and its security forces are as weak as tissue paper?

What kind of fantasy world do these august military and political leaders live in?

Why can’t the US Empire do a better job of “spreading democracy” and creating independent and popular governments under its guidance?

If you attract and recruit lackeys, then how can you expect them to be anything else than lackeys? If you violently and brutally suppress the local population and treat them with contempt, then why is it surprising when they hate you and your lackeys and the security forces therefore will not risk themselves to fight on the puppet regime’s behalf?

In yesterday’s NY Times article you also find this:

[A]dministration officials privately agreed that they had not focused enough on the Islamic State’s territorial ambitions but said they were hamstrung in responding by an Iraqi government that was fanning the sectarian divide that helped give rise to the Sunni extremists in the first place.

While Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki asked for American weaponry and airstrikes, both Mr. Obama and Congress reacted negatively. The White House resisted being seen by Sunnis as “Maliki’s air force,” as a number of officials put it. Instead, they pressed Mr. Maliki not only to respond militarily but also to create a more inclusive government that would undercut support for the Islamic State even as the country headed toward elections.

“It was frustrating because we recognized that there was a need to do more and do it more quickly, but the Iraqi go-slow approach made that a challenge,” said a senior administration official, who like others insisted on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “That was something we were constantly pushing up against.” (Emphasis added)

So the US government underestimated ISIS because they were distracted by the Maliki government’s “fanning the sectarian divide” between it - Shia - and the Sunnis. What the article and the US officials quoted in this piece conveniently overlook mentioning is Maliki was mimicking in his sectarianism what the US itself taught him. As NYT Iraq Bureau Chief Tim Arango told NPR Fresh Air host Terry Gross on September 10, 2014:

[M]any of the things that he's [Maliki] done to alienate Sunnis are things he learned from the Americans actually, which is very, very interesting. Which doesn't get a lot of attention. But, sort of - you'll explain obvious things about the practices of the Maliki government. And even then, after the militants took control of like, half the - the western half of the country - you know, you get these emails from, you know, someone at the State Department saying, you know, we don't really see it that way. We think, you know, we're going to get some great Sunni support to push these guys [ISIS] out. And - blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

And it just seemed so divorced from reality because you'll be writing things that aren't even - you don't even feel are - like, you can't argue against them. But even at that point, after Fallujah and Anbar fell, they thought they [US officials] could still keep their gaze averted from Iraq. (Emphasis added)

The following excerpt I quoted previously in “ISIS and Empire Follies Part 2,” but it’s worth looking directly at again. Tim Arango begins this by repeating in the first sentence what he says above:

[M]any of the things that the Maliki government has done to alienate Sunnis they learned from the Americans. The Americans taught them how to exclude Sunnis from political life with debathification and things like that. The other thing Maliki's done is, you know, these mass arrests of Sunni men and of suspected terrorists. And that's exactly what the Americans did. And so as the Americans tried to fight these guys, they would do these mass arrests. And they would put them in places like Camp Bucca. And most of the leaders of ISIS were in Camp Bucca. And, you know, they got to know each other. They got to plan. They got to hang out. And so, you know, on every turn in the Iraq story, now, is the American legacy and the epic American failure in Iraq.

This is not really a story of the US government’s right-hand not knowing what its left-hand is doing, even though that is part of the US bureaucracy’s nature and behavior and it certainly applies to the NYTimes’ coverage.

The essence of this story and why they miss seeing what’s really going on and misjudge so much of the situation so much is because they are blinded by Empire Logic. They don’t think their adversaries are capable of being ambitious. They don’t think their enemies can produce a string of victories. US officials don’t see that they are creating tissue-weak, corrupt, puppets.

These errors all flow from their worldview which is to hold others in contempt. If you’re contemptuous of others, then you are inevitably going to underestimate them. For them to stop being contemptuous of others would mean that they would have to respect others, which would mean abandoning their Empire because you don’t build an Empire except through bullying others. When Obama speaks about the US being exceptional and being the leader of all good things in the world, what he really means is that the US runs everything. He isn’t just extoling “American Exceptionalism;” he’s also crowing about being #1. This is, by the way, why racism, sexism, and national chauvinism persist in the US: they fit the outlook of those who rule over a parasitic empire.

To really resolve these conflicts would mean treating everyone with respect and ending the exploiting of others and the planet. Those who rule us won’t and can’t do that as long as the US is capitalist-imperialist. To ask them to do otherwise is to wish for the impossible, which is why those who demand butter not guns, schools and healthcare not wars for oil don’t know what they’re facing and can’t lead people in the right direction. The only way to fix this is to end capitalism and its highest stage, imperialism. You don’t do that through voting and you certainly don’t do that by siding with the Planet’s Public Enemy Number One, no matter how much that Public Enemy Number One talks deceitfully about humanitarianism and no matter how artfully they portray themselves as the good guys. They aren’t and can’t be the good guys. They are the problem, not the solution.

Elaine Brower 2

Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12