Our kills are clean and secular; theirs are messy and religious.
"In their effort to create a caliphate across parts of Iraq and Syria," CNN
tells us, "ISIS fighters have slaughtered civilians as they take over
cities in both countries.
"In Syria, the group put some of its victims' severed heads on poles."
Stomach-churning as this is, the context in which it is reported - as
simplistic maneuvering of public opinion - numbs me to its horror, because it
quietly justifies a larger, deeper horror waiting in the wings. To borrow a
phrase from Benjamin Netanyahu, this is telegenic brutality. It's just what
the U.S. war machine needs to justify the next all-out assault on Iraq.
"In another instance caught on camera," the CNN report continues, "a
man appears to be forced to his knees, surrounded by masked militants who
identify themselves on video as ISIS members. They force the man at gunpoint to 'convert' to Islam, then behead
This is positively medieval. In contrast, when we kill Iraqis, it's quick
and neat, as emotionless as a chess move. The same CNN story informs us: "Iraqi officials said U.S. airstrikes Saturday killed 16 ISIS fighters, and an
Iraqi airstrike in Sinjar killed an additional 45 ISIS fighters, Iraq state
That's it. No big deal. The dead we're responsible for have no human
qualities whatsoever, and our killing them is as consequence-free as cleaning
out the refrigerator. It's simply necessary, because these guys are jihadists,
and, well . . .
"The main U.S. strategic priority now should be rolling back and defeating
ISIS so it can't establish a terrorist caliphate," the Wall
StreetJournal editorialized several days ago. "Such a state will become a
mecca for jihadists who will train and then disperse to kill around the world.
They will attempt to strike Americans in ways that grab world attention,
including the U.S. homeland. A strategy merely to contain ISIS does not reduce
And here's South Carolina Sen.
Lindsey Graham, saying the same thing with more hysteria on Fox News, as
quoted by Paul Waldman in the Washington Post: Obama's "responsibility as
president is to defend this nation. If he does not go on the offensive against
ISIS, ISIL, whatever you want to call these guys, they are coming here. This is
not just about Baghdad. This is not just about Syria. It is about our homeland.
. . .
"Do you really want to let America be attacked? . . . Mr. President, if you
don't adjust your strategy, these people are coming here."
The belligerence that passes for patriotism has never been more reckless. I
was stunned by these arguments a decade ago; the fact that they're coming back
pretty much intact, rising from their own ashes to call for a new war to quell
the horrors created by the old one, pushes me to a new level of incredulous
despair. Fear springs eternal and can always be summoned. War devours its own
Eland wrote recently at Huffington Post: "In war, the most ruthless groups
grab the weapons and use them on everyone else. If doubt exists about this
phenomenon, when ISIS recently invaded Iraq, it disarmed the better-equipped
Iraqi military and sent it on the run. In its current air campaign against
forces of the now renamed IS, American airpower is fighting its own weaponry."
He added: "With such a great recent track record, one would think that
American politicians would be too embarrassed to get re-involved militarily in
Iraq. But they now think they need to fight the monster that they created. But
if IS is more ferocious than its ancestor, al Qaeda in Iraq, what more
formidable creature are they now creating in opposition to U.S. bombing?"
Let's let this sink in. We completely destabilized Iraq in our now
officially forgotten "war on terror," displacing millions of people, killing
hundreds of thousands (and by some estimates more than a million), shattering
the country's infrastructure and polluting its environment with war's
endless array of toxins. In the process of doing all this, we stirred up
unimaginable levels of animosity, which slowly militarized and became the
present Islamic State, which is viciously and ruthlessly taking the country
back. Now, with our ignorance about Iraq's socio-political complexity intact,
we see no alternative but to jump back into a bombing campaign against it, if
not a far wider war.
President Obama and the moderate Democrats see this as a limited, "humanitarian" intervention, while the Republicans and the hawkish Dems are
clamoring for a major killfest in order, once again, to protect "the homeland," which otherwise they would prefer to abandon for tax purposes.
And the mainstream analysis remains as shallow as sports commentary. Military
intervention, whether full-bore, boots-on-the-ground, or limited to bombs and
missiles, is always the answer, because war always looks like a solution. What's missing above all else is soul-searching of any sort.
Meanwhile, Iraq and its people continue to suffer, either directly at our
hands or at the hands of the monsters we've created. As the arms dealers would
say, mission accomplished.
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound
(Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at koehlercwgmail.com or visit his website at
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