Is there any justification at all for bombing ISIS?
There isn’t any Congressional authorization, much less a declaration of war. Is there even a good reason for the U.S. to be involved?

There is no better time to ask this question than now, as much of the world (me included) is disgusted by the Islamic State’s beheadings of two kidnapped Japanese nationals, the second one an acclaimed journalist and humanist who lost his life trying to rescue the first.

It is easy to forget, too easy, that for Americans going to war was until recently an act undertaken only after every other alternative had been thoroughly explored and completely exhausted, that the bar for casus belli was high, and that war wasn’t the standard response to outrage or international crisis, but quite unusual, a deviation from the normal order of business. Hard to imagine now, but the United States did not declare war against Germany after its U-boat torpedoed and sank the RMS Lusitania in 1915, killing 1,198 passengers, including 128 Americans. Instead, President Woodrow Wilson demanded compensation and a promise from Germany not to do it again.

War has since become much too easy.

We go to war fast, without national discussion — much less debate. We go to war indiscriminately. We war against several nations (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria), at the same time we’re warring against a tactic (terrorism), as well as various so-called “non-state actors” (discrete branches of Al Qaeda, Khorasan, Abu Sayyaf). War, war, war, all the time. So much war we think it’s normal that, especially when someone/something/some group does something we deem wrong, like slitting the throats of reporters as GoPros record the bloodshed in glorious high resolution, war is the knee-jerk response.

Yet, as the Lusitania example reminds us, this was not always the case, and so this is not how it necessarily must be.

In just one single day over the past weekend, the U.S.-led coalition carried out 27 airstrikes against ISIS-held territory in Syria and Iraq. We have no way to know how many ISIS soldiers, and civilians, were killed or wounded in those bombardments.

U.S.-led forces are responsible for at least 16,000 airstrikes against ISIS in the last six months, killing an unknown number of people — but guesstimates logically begin in the tens of thousands, including civilians. Despite all that carnage, the air campaign has not had the desired effect: ISIS is stronger than ever, continuing to conquer new territory and consolidate control over old ground, and the authoritarian government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an adversary of the U.S. its ally Israel, is benefiting as well.

American war officials concede that the air war is failing. “I think [the war against ISIS] may require a forward deployment of some of our troops,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told CNN. “I would say we’re not there yet. Whether we get there or not, I don’t know.”

“This is going to be a long, nasty, dirty war that in many ways is going to look a lot like the first go-around in Iraq,” Stephen Biddle, ex-adviser to Army General David Petraeus, told U.S. News & World Report.


Why are we in this “long, nasty, dirty war” against ISIS?

Why aren’t we asking why we are at war against ISIS?

No one is arguing that the Islamic State is run by nice people. ISIS has carried out ethnic cleansing, enslaved women, raped children, slaughtered POWs in summary executions and Talibanized areas under their control, imposing their brutal, brutal medieval version of Sharia law on citizens accustomed to modern life under socialist, secular states.

But ISIS is not alone in its barbarism.

Saudi Arabia routinely carries out public beheadings and floggings, as well as crucifixions, and treats women like dirt. Yet we don’t bomb them. To the contrary, the Saudis are close allies. President Obama cuts short important diplomatic trips in order to join the Saudis as they mourn their dead king.

Another close U.S. ally, the government of the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, either boils or freezes political dissidents to death, depending on the government’s mood. Quirky! No air raids there either.

Among the worst nations on earth for human rights abuses are Yemen and Pakistan, both of which like ISIS are fundamentalist Islamist regimes, but receive hundreds of millions of dollars in American weapons and cash.

So what’s special about ISIS? Why did we go to war against them?

“When it comes to human rights abuses, they (Islamic State militants) are in a class of their own,” Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said last summer in support of a Congressional resolution supporting America’s newest war. But that’s not true. ISIS is no worse than any number of other regimes we choose to leave alone (or actively support).

The New York Times’ editorial board says ISIS “poses a dire threat to the United States and its allies.” How so? They can’t attack the U.S. Yes, they’re in Iraq, which we kinda sorta view as an ally after invading it, but that war was lost in 2003. ISIS can’t invade Israel. So why are we attacking them? And why aren’t we asking why?

War is serious business. It takes lives, costs money, destroys infrastructure and the environment, and creates new problems, including laying the ground for future wars. The least — the very least — we can do is think about it, and talk about it, before starting one, and then letting inertia carry it on.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)




  • alex_the_tired
    February 2, 2015 7:08 AM

    Three things:
    1. The NYTimes editorial board? It’s comprised of people whose vested interest is in continuing “the debate,” regardless of what the topic is. The Times’ holiest of holies, Dean Baquet, called someone on Twitter an asshole for daring to question the Times’ lack of nerve over not pulishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. The public editor stated she won’t discuss the issue. The Times editorial staff (writers and editors, as they have no cartoonists on staff) has remained mute as well. The editorial board does a grand job of pretending to be outraged. But they’re all paid quite well and have excellent benefits packages.

    2. The root cause of all these anti-U.S. groups are covered by the term “blowback.” The U.S. has been the hired thug for so many regimes for so many decades that — outside of the U.S. — everyone knows what’s what. We preach all the right-sounding things but we’re just as bad as any mafia family demanding “protection money.” We’re the big bully on the block who gets away with everything.

    3. The impetus for the war response is clear. What happens to Halliburton, Boeing, and all the other companies who depend on a significant military purchase? What happens to Fly Speck, Texas, where they make gyroscopes and have an Air Force Base (and nothing else except 12 churches, a Stuckey’s and two gas stations) if the military closes up shop? Sen. Bedfellow, who represents the fine state of Texas ain’t gonna let that happen. Nosirree, Bob. So the military has to keep invading and peacekeeping and bombing and shooting and waterboarding and all the rest.

    But almost all the low-hanging fruit is gone now. I suspect the military will continue and expand its actions in the U.S. against citizens. The militarized police will be employed as low-level enforcers, but the military will start increasing the surveillance state.

    Ought to be a hell of a ride. Assuming any of us stay alive long enough to see it end.

  • Well said, Alex!

  • It is easy to forget, too easy, that for Americans going to war was until recently an act undertaken only after every other alternative had been thoroughly explored and completely exhausted, that the bar for casus belli was high, and that war wasn’t the standard response to outrage or international crisis

    While this fits the flow of your otherwise valid and important argument, do you really believe that restraint was ever high on the response list once global power shifted to the U.S.? Your single example involves a then serious military contender (Germany) and miles and miles of ocean that was then expensive and dangerous to cross as the attack itself proved.

    Also Wilson knew that back then the people did not have the “stomach” for war, i.e. were insufficiently propagandized to distinguish between the arbitrary allies (the colonial powers) and enemies (upstart colonial powers) of the day (not too dissimilar from the current situation you describe in the article). But in the end Wilson got his war, did he not? And did not fail to use it to further centralize power and make the media fall in line…

    I’m just old enough to remember that when their own failed wars finally imposed some restraint they called it “Vietnam syndrome” and to overcome it our dear leaders set in motion the “first” (from their point of view) Gulf war…

    • As Mr Rall points out in his Anti-American Manifesto, the US mostly used covert operations before Korea. Throughout the Latin American neo-colonial neo-Empire, the US forced regime change with covert military operations anytime a thief became head of state and threatened to illegally steal American property in his country by nationalising it (or giving ownership to a cousin). So, of course, the covert actions by the US were just ensuring that the Rule of Law prevailed in Latin America, the Law being that, as the strongest nation on the two continents, everything the US wants legally belongs to the US.

      Following the European colonial powers, the US gave only light arms to their Sepoys so, if the Sepoys decided to fight for independence, they could easily be defeated by the US. So the US gave only light arms to the South Koreans, in case they tried to illegally nationalise US property. The USSR gave tanks and other heavy weapons to the North Koreans. And Truman said, with the threat of nuclear war, he did not have time to ask Congress to declare war. Followed by Vietnam, Grenada, Panamá, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the Yemen, etc., etc.