ISIS and the Endless War

I had a commentary in mind when I finally got around to reviewing President Obama’s speech announcing the escalation of the war against ISIS last week, but after a bit of research, I noticed that it has effectively already been written by Rami G. Khouri.

His main thesis is that the United States and its so-called ‘Coalition of the Willing’ have not learned a thing since the absurdly titled ‘War on Terror’ began in 2001. U.S. and British military might coupled with friendly Arab dictators is no more of a winning formula now than it was then. I must agree but also expound on this assertion.

The mistake the public makes is not only believing the U.S. government and its cronies when they say they can militarily defeat ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or any like-minded group, but also believing that they actually want to achieve this. It seems that a defeat of the Islamic extremist threat, while good for public relations, is actually not in the best interests of the United States or its allies. Therefore, I do not believe that this is their objective no matter how many times Obama insists otherwise with a disingenuous glare.

This may sound like a peculiar notion. I regret that I cannot offer proof. There is no writing on the wall, but there is a particular passage from a famous novel that applies here: 1984 by the great political thinker George Orwell.

“The war, therefore if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. It is like the battles between certain ruminant animals whose horns are incapable of hurting one another. But though it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that the hierarchical society needs. War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. In the past, the ruling groups of all countries, although they might recognize their common interest and therefore limit the destructiveness of war, did fight against one another, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word “war,” therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist.”

On the face of it, part of this analysis rings false: the war against ISIS is an external affair after all. This irregular army is made up of mostly non-Westerners and is indeed a threat not only to the West but also to just about everyone else. Yet, when you consider Orwell’s concept of a continuous war as no war at all (since, by definition, wars end) and acknowledge the murky, self-reinforcing nature — not to mention the futility — of a global ‘war on terror,’ it becomes obvious that the true enemy of the superpower (in this case, the United States rather than Orwell’s fictional Oceania) is not the external threat it leads its citizenry to fear but the citizenry itself.

Everyone knows that resources are limited on a finite planet. How is it that a government, which allegedly represents its people and rationally spends their tax dollars, can squander more than $1 trillion on the global ‘War on Terror’ in just over a decade while millions of its people go without health care, jobs, affordable housing, and other basic needs? It can only do this if it views those people as ‘the other.’ In short, you and I are not on the same side as those who decide to continue the endless war on yet another front against [insert loathsome external foe here]. They are not fighting for our freedom, Iraq’s freedom, or Syria’s freedom. They are fighting for the status quo that makes them rich and isolates them from the very injustice they help create both here and abroad.

If you don’t believe me, call me when the war is over.