US politicians criticize Obama’s “anti-ISIS” campaign

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A protestors from the group CodePink holds up a sign as US Secretary of State John Kerry testifies about US policy towards Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by the ISIS during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 17, 2014. (Photo: AFP - Saul Loeb)

By: Rana Harbi

Published Thursday, September 18, 2014

Under the pretext of fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), US President Barack Obama announced a military intervention in Iraq and Syria, a decision that drew mixed reactions from American politicians.

In a speech last week, Obama, who was elected in 2008 largely due to his promises to exit Middle Eastern military entanglements and avoiding new ones, said he will hunt down ISIS militants "wherever they are.”

Two weeks after coming under fire by Republicans for saying “we don't have a strategy yet" to address ISIS and six months after declaring that ISIS was a “JV team” trying to play a major league sport, Obama said that the US continues “to face a terrorist threat” and that “small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm.”

“If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven,” he said, framing ISIS as a danger to the West more so than to the people living in regions directly threatened by ISIS.

Former US Congressman Ron Paul, an outspoken anti-interventionist, criticized Obama's “hypocritical” intervention in Iraq and Syria, rejecting the idea that ISIS is a direct “threat” to the US.

In an interview Tuesday with RT, Paul, who maintains a popular support base, said that “the Bush doctrine, the whole idea that we have the right to start a war because of a potential danger that might come later” is what is making things “more dangerous” for Americans, blaming US foreign policy in the Middle East for the “growing number of people who are radicalized and would like “to kill Americans.”

However, Republicans casted Obama’s speech as long overdue.

House Speaker and Republican politician John Boehner said that the president has belatedly “acknowledged the grave and growing threat posed by the spreading global epidemic of radicalized Islam,” and “has finally begun to make the case the nation has needed him to make for quite some time: that destroying this terrorist threat requires decisive action and must be the highest priority for the United States and other nations of the free world.”

Obama Doctrine vs. Bush Doctrine

In his speech, Obama announced planned US airstrikes for the first time in Syria, without the authorization of Damascus, and more attacks in Iraq.

Syria has repeatedly warned that any action on its soil needs its approval or else it would be considered an act of “aggression” on the country.

Damascus and its allies, Iran, Russia and China, has said that US airstrikes on Syrian territory without permission from the government in Damascus would be a violation of international law.

Nonetheless, Obama assured Syria airstrikes are coming.

Obama, however, pledged that this “war on ISIS” will be different than the 2003 Iraq war.

“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he emphasized. “It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”

The US is to send additional 475 servicemembers to Iraq, bringing the total of American ground forces there to an estimated 1,650.

“As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission – we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq,” Obama vowed. “But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.”

Even though Obama attempted to draw a harsh distinction between his approach and that of his GOP predecessor, George W. Bush, according to Paul, Obama’s approach isn’t that different from Bush’s.

The ex-Republican congressman from Texas said that he “can’t believe” the US is still holding on to the “country's 24-year-old Middle East policy,” which started with the 1991 Operation Desert Storm and continued in the 2003 US occupation of Iraq, even though it has failed abysmally time and again.

Paul believes that the US “should stop determining what is best for other people,” saying that the interventions in Iraq and the “killing of thousands of Iraqis,” “have achieved nothing.”

While most Democrats reacted positively and praised Obama's decision to avoid sending American troops, Republicans questioned the effectivity of his tactics, claiming that his plan lacks teeth.

Washington Democratic Senator Patty Murray praised Obama for his cautious approach.

“I voted against the war in Iraq and remember very well how our country was led into it,” Murray said in a statement, “so I understand how important it is for us in Congress to think very carefully about the consequences of military engagement.”

However, some Democrats put out statements critical of the president's plans.

“The American people must be assured that we are not pursuing another open-ended conflict in the Middle East, and I will not give this president — or any other president — a blank check to begin another land war in Iraq,” Senator Mark Udall said in a statement. “As we have seen in the past, American boots on the ground cannot stamp out an extreme ideology and the Iraqis must take responsibility for defending their own people.”

“I will continue to demand that the administration provide a very clear picture of its goals and objectives,” he added.

Republicans ridiculed Obama’s decision to not send troops, criticizing him for tying the US’ hands by setting early military limitations.

“An F-16 is not a strategy. And airstrikes alone will not accomplish what we're trying to accomplish,” Boehner said.

“The president made clear that he doesn't want US boots on the ground,” he added. “Well, somebody's boots have to be on the ground.”

“Moderate” Syria rebels: “Rarer than a mythical unicorn"

Aware of the need of “boots on the ground,” Obama asked Congress to authorize $500 million to train and arm so-called "moderate" Syrian rebels. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted to authorize the funding. The bill is now expected to pass in the Senate.

Former 16-year member of the US Congress and two-time US presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich wrote in an article for The Huffington Post on Wednesday entitled “8 Reasons Why Congress Should Vote No on Training and Funding Syrian Rebels,” that the moderates, the US wants to train and fund, captured an American journalist and sold him to ISIS, who beheaded him.”

Similarly, Paul denounced US plans to arm and train “moderate” rebels, noting that these Western-backed forces have been “helpful to ISIS.”‬‪

“The FSA turned over the weapons, that we (the US) sent them, to ISIS,” Paul said. “It is pretty well recorded that for $50,000 the FSA turned over one of the two American journalists to ISIS.”‬‪

In an interview with CNN, Barak Barfi, the spokesperson for the family of murdered American journalist Steven Sotloff, said that “moderate” Syrian rebels backed by the United States government sold Sotloff to ISIS.

“We believe that these so-called moderate rebels that people want our administration to support, one of them sold him probably for something between $25,000 and $50,000 to ISIS and that was the reason he was captured,” Barfi declared.

In his article, Kucinich quoted historian Alastair Crooke who described "moderate" rebels in Syria as being "rarer than a mythical unicorn,” and warned that “funding Syrian rebels will precipitate a new and wider war in the Middle East.”

“Saudi Arabia, which, with Qatar funded the jihadists in Syria, is now offering to ‘train’ the rebels,” which means that “the sponsors of radical jihadists are going to train ‘moderate’ jihadists,” Kucinich added.

Kucinich also described the US Treasury as becoming the “piggy bank” of ISIS.

“The US has supplied weapons to the Iraqi government and to Syrian rebels which have ended up in the hands of ISIS,” he explained. “As a result, the US Air Force has been bombing Humvees and armored troop carriers purchased with US taxpayer money.”

Likewise, Paul said the US sent weapons to rebel groups operating under the banner of the Free Syrian Army “in order to overthrow Assad” but these weapons “ended up with ISIS in Iraq.” After realizing that error, the United States decided that they “better help out the Iraqis again” by “going after these radicals.”‬‪

“We go there (to Iraq) and we blow up the weapons that we sent,” Paul added.‬‪

A recent study by the London-based small-arms research organization Conflict Armament Research revealed that ISIS jihadists appear to be using US military-issued arms and weapons supplied to the “moderate” rebels in Syria by Saudi Arabia.

The report said the jihadists disposed of "significant quantities" of US-made small arms including M-16 assault rifles and included photos showing the markings "Property of US Govt."

It also found that anti-tank rockets used by ISIS in Syria were "identical to M79 rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the Free Syrian Army umbrella in 2013."

In neighboring Iraq, ISIS jihadists seized significant quantities of US equipment from the Iraqi army, including a number of American-made Humvee armored vehicles, which are now being targeted in US airstrikes.

Senator Mark Begich, a Democrat, also opposed Obama's plan to arm Syrian rebels, fearing the weapons could fall into the wrong hands.

“I oppose the president’s plan to arm Syrian rebels at this time,” he said. “We must have greater assurance that we aren’t arming extremists who will eventually use the weapons against us."

The US decided not to cooperate with Syria President Bashar Assad, but instead harbor “moderate rebels” so they can fight both the Syrian army and ISIS.

Paul said it was “crazy” that the United States is excluding the nations that truly “detest ISIS,” such as Iran and Syria.‬‪

“If we walk out of there (Syria and Iraq) maybe then ISIS can disappear,” Paul added. “We should walk away and Syria and Iran can take care of ISIS and other radicals just like Saddam Hussein did. There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq and now there is no al-Qaeda in Iran.”‬

At the end of his article, Kucinich urged the US congress to “stop funding interventions and the overthrow of governments.”

“Congress can start today by denying funds and weapons to any and all groups or nations who have been or are in league with ISIS, its its predecessors or its successors,” Kucinich stressed.

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