President Reagan with Afghan Leaders who organized the Taliban and Al Qaeda
An Open Letter to President Obama
Those who fail to learn History’s Lessons are bound to repeat its Mistakes, warned Harvard philosopher George Santayana. Hence I beseech you Mr. President, before you carry out your decision to arm any faction among the various forces fighting to overthrow Syrian President Assad, in the hope that they will prove an effective fighting force against ISIL – Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – think again, and carefully consider the history of your predecessors who thought they could determine the course of events in that region by supplying weapons to one side in an armed conflict.
The belief that the US government can determine political outcomes in foreign nations by intervening in their internal affairs has clearly been a guiding principle of US Middle East policy, going back to President Eisenhower’s decision to overthrow Muhammad Mossedek, the democratically elected leader of Iran in 1953, by a CIA organized coup. In place of this liberal, modern, western educated democrat, the US installed Shah Reza Pahlevi, who was a tyrannical modernizing autocrat – a development that energized the Islamist movement in Iran who despised his secularism, profligate life style and police stae methods of suppressing dissent.
Presidents of both parties have continued to entertain this illusion, despite the fact that Eisenhower’s coup led directly to the Islamic revolution in Iran – the world’s first and only thus far – and the emergence of the Islamic Republic that now causes your administration such anxiety. Alas, if you are not careful the Israeli’s, who are viewed all over the region as US proxys, will attack Iran and we will inevitably be blamed for their aggressions. And that would surely prove disastrous now that you will need the cooperation of Iran to defeat ISIL, which seems to have emerged from the ether and become the foremost threat to American interests in the Arab world. As things stand defeating ISIL is a struggle that our finest military minds estimate will take years to accomplish; some say a as long as a decade.
The misguided American intervention into the internal affairs of Iran in 1953 directly led the Islamic Revolution in 1979 – in which American diplomats were taken hostage as a bargaining chip to force the US government to return the Shah to Iran, where he could be put on trial for his myriad crimes against the Iranian people. The seizure of American Foreign Service officers was a major factor in Jimmy Carter’s defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1981. However before departing office President Carter began US intervention into the internal affairs of Afghanistan, by providing assistance to the Afghan Mujahedeen, a diverse coalition of Islamic zealots fighting against the pro-Russian backed government led by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan.
Although nobody in the US State Department or Central Intelligence Agency knew much about these rag tag insurgents and devoted servants of Allah, the mere fact that they were fervent anti-communist and willing to fight the Russians was enough for Ziebnew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor who is a Polish immigrant with a visceral hatred for Russians fueled by age old conflicts between the Poles and Russians in Europe. Brzezinski convinced President Carter to order the CIA to fund, arm and train the Mujahedeen. Everyone at the time thought this grand covert action scheme a great plan that could determine the outcome of that historic struggle between Islam and Communism. From the US point of view this seemed a great way of checking Russian advances in that region of the world without actually committing American troops.
It was this kind of flawed reasoning that led to the creation of the Taliban, Afgan Islamist who continue to oppose American objectives in Afghanistsn as I write, and Al Qaeda, whose members came from the ranks of the “Afghan Arabs,” that answered the call to Jihad against the godless Russian communists, and whose most famous leader was a deeply religious civil engineer and bulldozer operator from Saudi Arabia named Osama bin Laden. Just as you are about to enter into a relationship with forces whose identity and loyalty are questionable due to a fear of ISIL, and your refusal to mend fences with Iran and work in partnership to defeat these anti-American Jihadists, making Americans everywhere the premiere target of ISIL’s global Jihad, President Carter, in an attempt to sanction Russia over their Afghanistan policy also made some decisions that proved to be injurious to Americans.
For instance he brought financial ruin to many American farmers when he abruptly cancelled a wheat deal with Russia, and he trashed the dreams and careers of many world class athletes by boycotting the 1980 Olympics. He also discarded the lessons learned from Vietnam by reviving the Selective Service laws. And finally, Jimmy Carter’s actions got Ronald Reagan elected, making him a one term President who left office in infamy.
In order to justify his assistance to the Afghan rebels President Carter had resorted to spouting hysterical hyperbole such as “The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is the greatest threat to peace since the Second World War.” You have been given to similar fits of hyperbole in discussing both the Ukrainian crisis and ISIL. The Ukrainian crisis could become the greatest threat to peace since WWII, but only if the American policy of encircling Russia with NATO bases and fomenting conflict with their neighbors – like you did in helping to overthrow an elected pro-Russian Ukrainian government in favor of a pro-western leader –i.e. one who is alingened with the interests of the EU and the USA – persists. And now he is pressuring you to supply advanced weapons to assist the Ukranian government in a conflict with Russia, an idea that was vigorously applauded in his recent speech before the US Congress. Indeed you are deepening that crisis while warning against its dangers…hence you are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy Mr. President.
Furthermore, your declaration of war on ISIL is inconsistent with the strategy you propose to fight it: “this is not and will not be America’s fight alone. After a decade of massive ground deployments, it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground so they can secure their own countries’ futures.” The pressing question that is worrying many thoughtful Americans, including me, is who are these “partners on the ground?” that will “secure their own and other countries’ futures?”
The Iraqi forces that the US trained and supplied with billions of dollars’ worth of state of the art weaponry demonstrated that they would rather switch than fight once they were confronted by the fanatical legions of ISIL, who employ a scorched earth policy and take no prisoners. They fled and left their weapons in the field for the Islamist to collect. The Kurds are brave fighters but they are too poorly armed to prevail against ISIL, and if they are properly armed for this fight the problem becomes how are you going to get them to remain in a unitary state of Iraq that is ruled by an Arab dominated government – whether Sunni or Shia – once they have the means to establish an independent Kurdistan? As the old adage goes: “You are sleeping in the same bed dreaming different dreams.”
There is every reason to believe that despite your upbeat attitude and rosy scenarios your decision will bear a far greater resemblance to debacles of the Carter, Reagan and Bush policies than the outcome you envision. To tell the truth, I am surprised that you could be suckered into a fairytale scenario such as you have outlined. The forces that you know are unreliable, such as the American trained and equipped Iraqi army, and the shadowy forces with whom you are now gambling America’s blood and treasure – i.e. The Free Syrian Army – remind me of the dogs my grandfather used to call “Sooners” when I was a boy. He would watch them and say: “That dog will just as sooner shit inside as outside!”
The truth is that many of these people will as just as sooner turn their weapons over to the Jihadist forces – of which ISIL is only one faction – and fight against US interests as to fight ISIL in order to protect US interests. Yet you prefer to indulge the illusion that this patchwork quilt of brigands, blaggards, scoundrels, thieves, charlatans and murderers, interspersed with doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, et al summer soldiers who are untested in battle can defeat both the Assad government and ISIL. Duh? Both groups are focused on their objectives: the overthrow of the Assad government in Syria, and for many in their ranks all allegiance is based on expedience. They are down with whoever can help promote their cause, and whenever US objectives differ from theirs they will privilege their own goals….this is not rocket science sir.
It is instructive to consider the Reagan debacle in Afghanistan, for which the US would eventually pay a dear price. Ronald Reagan, who like George W. Bush years later, had only a foggy idea of what was going on in the world upon entering the Oval Office. But like Bush he greatly expanded American intervention in the Muslim world. Reagan adopted Carter’s policy of arming the Afghan Mujahedeen and dramatically expanding it, funneling 20 billion dollars into their coffers and supplying them with deadly Stinger Missiles. It was these forces that evolved into the Taliban and Al Qaeda who, fifteen years after the end of Reagan’s tenure as President, launched the devastating Jihadist attack on the US on 9-11, after having failed in an attempt led by Ramzi Yousef to topple the giant World Trade Towers in a massive explosion ten years earlier on February 26, 1993.
And finally, the invasion of Iraq by George W. Bush with the announced objective of “regime change” in a sovereign nation on the other side of the world, that had committed no offense against the US, completely destabilized Iraq and unleashed social forces that has thrown the entire region into the chaos of war. The Islamic Caliphate of ISIL was born out of this chaos and they are taking over entire regions of Syria and Iraq – and holding the territory – with state of the art American weaponry that they seized from their American backed enemies.
They are totally ruthless and contemptuous of the laws of man; adhering only to their interpretation of the call to Jihad and Sharia Law. They are calling upon Muslims everywhere to join the Jihad and defend the Sunni Caliphate they are trying to build in Syria and Iraq with hopes of extending it throughout the Muslim world. And Muslims all over the world, including the US, are responding to the call.
Just today they announced that killing infidels – those who refuse to convert to their version of Islam, and support Sharia law- is justified wherever and however they kill them. Hence in the view of ISIL’s supreme leader, Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi – aka “Caliph Amir al Mu’minin, “Leader of the Faithful,” a full blown Muslim fanatic who is convinced that he is simply a servant doing the will of God, the Geneva Convention’s rules of war is irrelevant and burying opponents alive is no crime.
ISIL Islamic Zealots!
Committing Mass Murderin front of the Cameras
Now this murderous mess has fallen into your lap Mr. President. And while there are no easy answers to these bewilderingly complex problems, based on all of the available evidence one thing is certain: any arms that you funnel into this region will end up in the hands of ISIL. If defeating ISIL is as critical to American national security as you say it is – and I believe you are right in this assesment – the wise choice in this situation to insure a victory in the shortest amount of time is to form an alliance with Iran and fully arm the Kurds.
Notwithstanding the passionate pleas of the likes of John McCain – a wacky old guy who wants to wage war on three fronts Syria, Iran and ISIL – arming the so-called “Free Syrian Army,” most of whom have no combat experience, and history tells us that those arms will eventually end up in the hands of our enemies as in the past, is extreme Folly!
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
September 22, 2014