“…the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival.” – George Orwell, 1984
President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he will expand the U.S. air campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), lifting restrictions on American strikes in Iraq and for the first time authorizing direct attacks against the militant group in Syria.
Addressing the nation from the White House on Wednesday night, Obama said the U.S. is going on offense, launching “a steady, relentless effort to take out” the extremist group that has seized vast swaths of Iraq and has a large safe haven in Syria, “wherever they exist.”
One year ago to the day on 09/10/2013 Obama pushed for war in Syria and failed. He once again used the anniversary of 9/11 this year to try again. Coincidence? I think not. Just like Bush, Obama is using the memory of 9/11 to instill fear in the people and help gain support for America’s campaign not just against the Islamic State, but also Syria’s President Assad, and the Middle East in general.
Obama did not put a timetable on the American action against ISIS, saying “it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIS,” and senior Administration officials would not define what victory against the group would look like during a press briefing before the speech.
Over the past month, the U.S. has conducted more than 150 air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, and The Pentagon is now refining its targets based on improved intelligence-gathering, including surveillance flights now under way over Syria.
Obama Embraces Bush Doctrine
Obama’s decision to launch air strikes inside Syrian territory without congressional approval echoes his 2011 assault on Libya, which again was a move to support radical jihadists that ended up with the African country turning into a failed state.
Legally, Obama’s authority to attack ISIS in Syria is on shaky ground. Under the Constitution, Congress decides if and when the U.S. goes to war. In 2002, it authorized President George W. Bush to attack Iraq. That authorization, broadly interpreted, can be read to include the threat ISIS now poses there. But it doesn’t apply to Syria, at least not easily. And the Obama Administration announced this summer that it was no longer using the 2002 authorization to justify its actions.
Instead, Obama claims he has authority to bomb ISIS in Syria under the Sept. 14, 2001 authorization from Congress following the 9/11 attacks. In the call with reporters, Obama’s senior administration official said, “We believe that he can rely on the 2001 AUMF [Authorization for Use of Military Force] as statutory authority for the military airstrike operations he is directing against ISIL.”
That joint resolution gave the president the power to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
A variety of legal scholars on the left and the right, including Obama himself, have argued that authorization is too broad and needs to be rewritten so it doesn’t give eternal war-fighting power to all future presidents.
According to a 2012 speech by Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security who previously served as Obama’s top lawyer at the Department of Defense, there are two characteristics that a group must have to be considered an “associated force” with al Qaeda under the 2001 authorization. First they must be “an organized, armed group that has entered the fight alongside al Qaeda,” and second, the group “is a co-belligerent with al Qaeda in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” The White House has yet to release to Congress or the public any detailed analysis of their determination that the Islamic state meets these standards.
If Obama is breaking the law, don’t expect much to come of it in the short term. The consequences of Obama’s legal interpretation, beyond his own discomfort, are not likely very great. The Bush administration showed the bar for legally constraining presidential counterterrorist actions is high, and even when it is surmounted there are little or no penalties. Politically, the president has nothing to fear: no matter how angry they are about the new effort against ISIS, the left wing of Obama’s party isn’t going to impeach him, and the right won’t either, at least not for going after Islamic extremists.
Syria’s “Moderate Rebels” = Islamic State
Obama once again ruled out American troops fighting on the ground directly against ISIS, saying the U.S. is strengthening its military and diplomatic support for the Iraqi government, Kurdish fighters and the moderate Syrian opposition. A senior administration official said the government of Saudi Arabia agreed last week to become a “full partner” in efforts to equip Syrian fighters, including hosting effort to train the forces fighting ISIS.
Obama spoke with Saudi King Abdullah as part of his efforts to build an international coalition against ISIS. What was probably absent from the conversation was any discussion about the fact that the Saudis, along with U.S. allies Qatar, Turkey and Jordan, armed and funded ISIS from the beginning.
The lunacy of such a policy is illustrated by the fact that Bassel Idriss, commander of an FSA-run rebel brigade, recently admitted that Washington-backed “moderate” rebels are still collaborating with ISIS.
“We are collaborating with the Islamic State and the Nusra Front by attacking the Syrian Army’s gatherings in … Qalamoun,” Idriss told Lebanon’s Daily Star. “Let’s face it: The Nusra Front is the biggest power present right now in Qalamoun and we as FSA would collaborate on any mission they launch as long as it coincides with our values.”
A July report in Stars and Stripes also documented how the 1,000 strong Dawud Brigade, which had previously fought alongside the FSA against the Assad regime, defected in its entirety to join ISIS.
Also in July it emerged that “several factions within the FSA, including Ahl Al Athar, Ibin al-Qa’im” had “handed over its weapons to the Islamic State in large numbers” and pledged allegiance to ISIS.
Islamic State fighter Abu Atheer also told Al-Jazeera, “We are buying weapons from the FSA. we bought 200 anti-aircraft missiles and Koncourse anti tank weapons. We have good relations with our brothers in the FSA. For us, the infidels are those who cooperate with the West to fight Islam.”
Three leading Syrian rebel commanders also announced back in December that they had relinquished ties with the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Council, the military wing of the western-backed Syrian National Coalition, in order to join ISIS.
In addition, a recent study by Conflict Armament Research revealed that Islamic State militants obtained U.S. supplied weapons, including M16 assault rifles, which were originally smuggled out of Jordan and provided to so-called “moderate” FSA rebels.
ISIS terrorists also acquired M79 rockets which were initially given to FSA rebels by Saudi Arabia. The rockets, “were part of the arms shipments from Croatia that were meant for the Free Syrian Army. The weapons were either captured, or acquired by former FSA fighters as they joined ISIS,” reports LJR Review.
As further evidence of FSA rebels collaborating with ISIS, it recently emerged that murdered American journalist Steven Sotloff was sold to ISIS by FSA militants.
FSA rebels and ISIS militants also fought together to seize control of the Menagh airbase in August last year.
The Obama administration is clearly using the threat posed by ISIS as an excuse to get done what it has thus far failed to accomplish – the overthrow of the Assad government – by embarking on a huge transfer of weapons to FSA rebels, despite the fact that FSA fighters are openly collaborating with, defecting to, and fighting alongside ISIS militants.