Veteran foreign correspondent Reese Erlich was in northern Iraq at the start of the U.S. bombing campaign against the Islamic State. He interviewed Kurdish leaders, peshmerga fighters and U.S. officials. He says the reality on the ground is far different from the propaganda coming out of Washington.
1. The Islamic State presents an immediate threat to the people of the U.S.
In justifying air attacks on Syria on Sept. 23, President Barack Obama said, “We will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.”
I saw firsthand the tens of thousands of Yazidis forced to flee Islamic State fighters. IS is a vicious, un-Islamic, ultra-right-wing group that poses a real threat to the people of Syria and Iraq. But those people will defeat IS, not the U.S., whose motives are widely questioned in the region. IS poses no more of a terrorist threat to the American people than al-Qaida and its offshoots.
In fact, within a matter of weeks, the Obama administration admitted that IS posed little terrorist threat to the U.S. mainland and focused instead on a heretofore-unknown group that the U.S. calls Khorosan. Now evidence is emerging that the Khorosan threat was exaggerated in order to justify expanding the bombing to Syria.
2. The U.S. is not waging war, but a “counterterrorism operation.”
Both the Bush and Obama administrations have managed to redefine war to mean only those conflicts in which Americans die and the fighting costs over $10 billion. But from inside northern Iraq, what I saw sure looked like war. U.S. bombs have already killed civilians, particularly in Syria, where the U.S. has limited or no on-the-ground intelligence.
Once again, the U.S. is waging an open-ended war with no concern for the long-term well-being of the people in the region.
3. The U.S. has no boots on the ground.
The United States already has combat troops in Iraq. A U.S. diplomat acknowledged to me that American spotters in the Kurdish region of Iraq provide coordinates for airstrikes. He said U.S. advisers are armed and would shoot if attacked. If insurgents down an American plane, armed U.S. helicopter teams would go into enemy territory to rescue pilots. By redefining “combat troops,” the U.S. not only wages war in the Middle East, but on the English language.