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Sinking Deeper into the Mideast

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Reprinted from Consortium News

The expanding U.S. war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is reverberating across the Middle East and North Africa where fundamentalist movements are gaining strength partly in reaction to the U.S. intervention.

Regional expert Phillis Bennis discussed this widening war and worsening destruction in an interview on "Flashpoints." Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and is also a fellow of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. She is the author of eight books including From Stones to Statehood: The Palestinian Uprising and Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's UN.

DB: Let's start in Iraq, Syria, ISIS. Give me your sense of where that situation is now, and a bit on what U.S. policy looks like in that regard.
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PB: U.S. policy is a disaster. And, U.S. policy is helping to make things worse. We're seeing increased U.S. air strikes along the border between Syria and Turkey. We're seeing more attacks in Kobani, the town that has become the, sort of, symbolic linchpin of the ISIS attacks in Syria. What we're not seeing is that these U.S. air strikes are actually keeping anyone safe.

We're hearing of at least small numbers ... perhaps larger numbers of civilian casualties. We've now had the third U.S. death of a pilot, in those air strikes. All of them, supposedly not combat related, as they like to put it. Which basically means that the plane, officially, was not shot down. But it does seem to me that when a plane crashes in a bombing raid, whether or not it was from being shot down, or from some kind of mechanical difficulties, or whatever, it's a combat fatality. I mean, let's be clear.

So we've had three fatalities, so far, in this new U.S. global war on terror, Obama-style. The Global War on Terror 2.0, we might call it. And things are getting worse, they're not getting better. The idea that somehow the U.S. can send, what's now about 3,100 U.S. soldiers on the ground, troops on the ground, the ones we heard were not being on the ground, but they are on the ground.

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To identify and train up a functioning, powerful, motivated, disciplined Iraqi military when 160,000 troops at a time, totaling over a million U.S. troops, over the course of a decade could not do that, makes no sense. I don't know why they think they can do it now when they couldn't do it before with a hundred times more troops. It doesn't make any sense. The U.S. policy doesn't make any sense. And what we're seeing is more bombing, less safe, people in the area more and more driven to become refugees.

The number of refugees is increasing, the amount of money available to the United Nations to take care of the refugees is decreasing. We just heard today that 41,000 Syrian refugees, just as winter approaches, will now no longer be getting food vouchers. They will have no access to food. Why? Because the U.N. doesn't have the money that was pledged from various countries, including the U.S., although some U.S. funds have been paid, not all of it. And the result is, things are simply a disaster.

DB: Now, in terms of the refrain coming out of the Pentagon, and the White House is that our bombing campaign has, if not stopped, if not turned back, [caused] many setbacks for ISIS. From your information, from the way you are following this, what do you think the strength is. Is ISIS gaining? Is Washington having any success in its so-called program of turning them back?

PB: Well, I think what is happening is that some of these U.S. air strikes are finding, identifying, and killing members of ISIS. So they're bombing pick-up trucks, they're bombing groups of half-a-dozen troops at a time, that sort of thing. So, yes, ISIS is paying a price for this. ISIS fighters are being killed. Now if you want to consider that a great victory for U.S. policy, I suppose that's a victory.

The problem is, it doesn't seem to have any impact on the rise of ISIS, and the expansion of ISIS. This is a little bit similar to what we saw in Afghanistan in the early years of the war when the U.S. was able to simply wipe out the vast majority of Al-Qaeda fighting forces in Afghanistan.

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You remember, Dennis, and many of your listeners will remember, just a couple of years into the war we already started hearing that there's only somewhere between 50 and 100 Al-Qaeda fighters left in Afghanistan. And lots of people started scratching their heads, and saying "and exactly why are we keeping 100,000 troops there, if that's the case?" "Well, because Al-Qaeda had expanded and now we're also going after the Taliban, and we're going after Al-Qaeda in Iraq." Which, of course, is what became ISIS a few years later. "We have to go after Al-Qaeda in the Magreb, in and around Algeria and the North Africa area. We now have Al-Qaeda in Yemen. We have Al-Qaeda spreading around and now we have ISIS expanding."

There's now a militant group in the Egyptian Sinai, which a week or two ago declared themselves to be part of, and accountable to ISIS. So as the U.S. proceeds to drop bombs on pick-up trucks with half a dozen troops here and a half a dozen guerrillas there, what we're seeing is an increase, just as we did with the Taliban and other militant organizations when the U.S. attacks them, that's the best possible recruiting device that those organizations could ever wish for. The same thing is happening with ISIS.

DB: Particularly now, could you talk a little bit about the U.S. is bombing in Syria, the U.S. wants Turkey to get more engaged, we've got the U.S. bombing in a way that helps the Syrian government which it clearly opposes. You want to give your assessment of what's happening here?

PB: Yeah, kind of messy, isn't it? We have the U.S., as you say, bombing in Syria and bombing in Iraq, and it's bombing the strongest opponents of the government in Syria, which is the government that just a year ago we were almost at war with. And it was only the opposition of the British Parliament, the face-saving provided by Russia, and the massive outpouring of anti-war demands on Congress from people in this country that stopped the Obama administration from bombing the Syrian regime at that time. Why? Because the Syrian regime was the worst regime we had ever faced.

Now we're bombing the chief, most powerful strongest military opponents of the Syrian regime, which is ISIS. ISIS has absorbed into itself stolen money and weapons from, and sidelined, all the other opponents. It has become, by far, the dominant opponent of the Syrian regime, at a military level.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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