By Norman Solomon
Here is a condensed version of President Obama’s speech from the Oval Office on Sunday night, unofficially translated into plain English:
I kind of realize we canâ€™t kill our way out of this conflict with ISIL, but in the short term hopefully we can kill our way out of the danger of a Republican victory in the presidential race next year.
As a practical matter, the current hysteria needs guidance, not a sense of proportion along the lines of what theÂ New York TimesÂ just mentioned in passing: â€œThe death toll from jihadist terrorism on American soil since the Sept. 11 attacks — 45 people — is about the same as the 48 killed in terrorist attacks motivated by white supremacist and other right-wing extremist ideologies…. And both tolls are tiny compared with the tally of conventional murders, more than 200,000 over the same period.â€
While Iâ€™m urging some gun control, that certainly doesnâ€™t apply to the Pentagon. The Joint Chiefs and their underlings have passed all the background checks they need by virtue of getting to put on a uniform of the United States Armed Forces.
As much as we must denounce the use of any guns that point at us, we must continue to laud the brave men and women who point guns for us — and who fire missiles at terrorists and possible terrorists and sometimes unfortunately at wedding parties or misidentified vehicles or teenagers posthumously classified as â€œmilitantsâ€ after signature strikes or children who get in the way.
We canâ€™t see ourselves in the folks we kill. But IÂ know that we see ourselves with friends and coÂworkers at a holiday party like the one in San Bernardino. I know we see our kids in the faces of the young people killed in Paris.
Also I know we donâ€™t see ourselves in the blameless individuals who have been beheaded byÂ our ally Saudi Arabia, which has executed 150 people this year mostly by cutting off their heads with swords.
Nor should we bother to see ourselves in the people the Saudi government is slaughtering with airstrikes in Yemen on a daily basis. We sell the SaudisÂ many billions of dollars worth of weaponsÂ that make the killings in San Bernardino look smaller than puny. But thatâ€™s the way it goes sometimes.
I gave a lofty major speech a couple of years ago about how a democratic society canâ€™t have perpetual war. I like to talk about such sugary ideals; a spoonful helps the doublethink medicine go down.
Let me now say a word about what we should not do. We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria. The United States of America has colossal air power — and weâ€™re going to use it. No muss, little fuss: except for people under the bombs, now being utilized at such a fast pace thatÂ the warhead supply chain is stretched thin.
Yes, weâ€™re escalating a bit on the ground too, with hundreds of special operations forces going into Syria despiteÂ my numerous publicÂ statementsÂ — adding up toÂ more than a dozenÂ since August 2013 — that American troops would not be sent to Syria. Likewise weâ€™ve got several thousand soldiers in Iraq, five years after I solemnlyÂ announcedÂ that â€œthe American combat mission in Iraq has ended.â€
But hereâ€™s the main thing: In the Middle East, the USA will be number one in dropping bombs and firing missiles. Lots of them! Itâ€™s true that we keep making enemies faster than we can possibly kill them, but thatâ€™s the nature of the beast.
In Afghanistan too. At the end of last year I ceremoniouslyÂ proclaimedÂ that â€œthe longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusionâ€ and the United States â€œwill maintain a limited military presence in Afghanistan.â€ But within 10 months I changed course andÂ declaredÂ that 5,500 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan into 2017.
Midway through this fall — even before the terrorist attacks in Paris — the United States had launched an average of about 50 airstrikes per week in Syria during the previous year, and theÂ New York TimesÂ reportedÂ that the U.S. military was preparing â€œto intensify airstrikes against the Islamic Stateâ€ on Syrian territory.
And according to official PentagonÂ figures, the U.S.-led aerial bombing in Iraq has topped 4,500 airstrikes in the last year — approaching an average rate of 100 per week.
Our military will hunt down terrorist plotters where they are plotting against us. In Iraq and Syria, airstrikes are taking out some of the latest ISIL leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers, infrastructure. Iâ€™ve got to tell you that these actions will defeat ISIL, but Iâ€™ve got to not tell you that the airstrikes will kill a lot of civilians while launching new cycles of what gave rise to ISIL in the first place — inflaming rage and grief while serving as a powerful recruitment tool for people to take up arms against us.
In the name of defeating terrorist forces, our air war has the effect ofÂ recruitingÂ for them. Meanwhile, in Syria, our obsession with regime change has propelled us into closely aligning with extremist jihadi fighters. They sure appreciate the large quantities of our weapons that end up in their arsenals.
YouÂ donâ€™t expect this policy to make a lot of sense, do you?Î¦
Norman Solomon is the author ofÂ War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org.