Among the many critics of President Obama’s evolving strategy for confronting the terrorist group Islamic State is one of history’s most famous whistleblowers, Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame.
“Whistleblower was not a common term” in the early 1970s at the height of national tensions over the Vietnam war, Ellsberg told reporters Thursday at a National Press Club appearance sponsored by whistleblower organization Expose Facts and advocacy group Institute for Public Accuracy. “But I fit the definition,” said the former Pentagon and RAND Corp. official who turned over to senators and major newspapers 7,000 pages of classified Defense Department documents on the history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Ellsberg tore into the Obama administration’s current effort to use air power without ground troops while recruiting other nations’ help, an approach he likened to the Johnson administration’s manipulation of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident to secretly escalate the U.S. combat role fighting communists in Vietnam.
Drawing parallels with both the Vietnam escalation and the congressional vote for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2002, Ellsberg warned that Obama is seeking to “avoid the appearance of doing nothing,” but he will be pressured in the future to introduce ground troops into Iraq and Syria.
Islamic State actually wants to draw the United States in so it can portray itself as the region’s top defender against American power, Ellsberg said. “Why did ISIS choose this moment to put on consecutive/public/beheadings? They want U.S. airstrikes. Now, how could they want U.S. airstrikes? Well, they kill a lot of Iraqis, or Syrians, civilians and others, and even when they kill ISIS, it shows that ISIS is leading the fight against the U.S. Nothing does it better.”
US airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, far from “degrading” the organization, are actually giving ISIS a huge shot in the arm, according to FBI Director James Comey, who testified before Congress on Wednesday. “ISIL’s widespread use of social media and growing online support intensified following the commencement of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq,” Comey confirmed.
The US operation seems to be playing directly into ISIS’ hands in many ways, with President Obama’s high-profile speech last Wednesday, promising to escalate the war on ISIS into neighboring Syria, paying off for ISIS in recruitment as well.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, ISIS secured at least 162 new recruits in Aleppo Province alone in the days following President Obama’s speech, a sign people are more interested in the group now that it is in a war against the US.
“Doing something that makes things worse, is not something you should vote in support of,” Ellsberg said.
“The last few days have shown an urgent need for more whistleblowers right now,” Ellsberg said. “We need the Pentagon’s real internal analysis of the cost and consequences” of Obama’s plan, which he suspects would demonstrate that CIA and Pentagon analysts consider it a highly unrealistic way to degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
“We wait on the edge, the leading edge of what The New York Times has called “a slippery slope” into a large war in the Middle East. It is time for the Congress to debate these issues fully which it has not done. To be any use, it has to be an informed debate. It can`t be limited to the lies of government officials, or the silence. It has to rely on the kind of whistleblowers that did not exist to keep us [Americans] out of Vietnam or Iraq,” Daniel Ellsberg told RT. “We need another Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Elizabeth Manning, and many more of them to inform Congress what this country is being asked to get into,” he said.
Such whistleblowers, added Ellsberg, should remain anonymous because they can expect to be prosecuted, jailed and denied access to the press—as occurred with WikiLeaks leaker Chelsea Manning.
Ellsberg’s own status in society, he said, “has changed into that of patriot,” judging by support he has received in recent years from such mainstream personages as Secretary of State John Kerry and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But he said he “is offended” when the same people call National Security Agency contractor-turned-leaker Edward Snowden a traitor. “He is no more a traitor than I,” Ellsberg said.
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