When Will They Ever Learn? The New York Times Keeps Supporting More War

The New York Times Building, Manhattan, NY, USA
The New York Times Building, Manhattan, NY, USA

America's newspaper of record has a checkered history of supporting dubious wars including the Iraq War following the WMD debacle and Libya War of 2011 which destabilized and devastated Africa's wealthiest country.

One would think The Times might have smartened up given the consequences of recent wars.

Unfortunately this has not been the case.

In its Wednesday August 3rd issue, The Times came out with a strong editorial endorsing more bombing of Libya ("In Libya, a New Front in the War Against ISIS") and published an op-ed piece by Dennis Ross, the former senior Middle East advisor to Obama, and Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, titled "The Case for (Finally) Bombing Assad."

The Libya piece emphasized the country's "fractured politics and the messy amalgam of militias," which it said had been "born of the 2011 civil war," ignoring the contribution of the U.S.-NATO military intervention to Libya's implosion.

Left out too was the reason the U.S. decided to take Muammar Qaddafi out such as the goal of extending the AFRICOM military base network and opening up Libya's economy to Western oil companies and foreign multinationals, which remains an underlying goal.

The Times confidently asserts that "the United States has a compelling reason [now] to act. A strong and enduring ISIS base in Libya could serve as a staging ground for attacks on Western nations." However it is not clear that ISIS is actually strong enough to encourage this from Libya or that more bombing operations will eliminate their base.

The history of recent military operations has shown that bombing operations can strengthen insurgent and radical Islamic groups who can rally the population against the foreign "aggressors." Military strikes can also breed unnecessary "collateral damage" to use the military parlance (like the strike in Syria that recently killed 73 civilians) and have a destabilizing effect which radical groups can seize upon.

In the case of Libya, ISIS emerged in large part as a product of the 2011 U.S.-NATO intervention and has fed off the chaos bred by Libya's dismemberment.

At least one ISIS commander, Abdelhakim Belhadj, a mujahidin and Al-Qaeda operative rendered by the CIA to one of Qaddafi's prisons, fought alongside the U.S. coalition in 2011 and was characterized by Senator John McCain as a "heroic freedom fighter."

Before giving unequivocal support for war, the Times should be asking its readers whether it makes any sense to arm jihadists who go on to become American enemies. And it should present more information about whom the U.S. may be arming today who might become our enemy tomorrow as has occurred also in Afghanistan.

The Times does acknowledge that the long-term effects of this latest escalation are "uncertain" and that a better "morning after plan is needed than form the previous campaign." Stabilizing Libya, the Times goes on to state, will require a lasting commitment by the international community with one of the most pressing tasks being the establishment of legitimate security forces which will require dismantling militias.

This is all fair and well, however, the recent record of the United States and West in attempting to create legitimate security forces, in Afghanistan and Iraq for example, has been an unmitigated disaster.

In both cases, these forces have been ridden by sectarianism and corruption and are professionally incompetent - despite the billions of dollars that were invested. The reasons largely stem from the lack of political legitimacy of the regimes they have served, the use of private military contractors lacking professional acumen to train them and because of an emphasis on counterinsurgency and militarized tactics which are likely to be repeated in Libya.

What I found especially troubling about the Times article is that the Libyan perspective is completely ignored. How do Libyans feel about more bombing and more Western intervention in their country after all that has happened, and what about others in Africa?

And what about the complex tribal makeup and sectarian divisions in the country, which Qaddafi for all his flaws, was able to keep under control for so many years? What is being proposed to replicate Qaddafi's success in keeping the country together?

It doesn't seem there is much of a morning after plan again. Nothing was proposed at the Democratic Party convention or Republic Party conventions from the speeches I heard or in the party platforms. The main focus seems to be formulating a new legal mandate for war - a pet project of Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine.

The Times editorial by two prominent Washington insiders on Syria critiques the Obama administration's plan of cooperating with the Russian military in Syria by sharing intelligence and coordinating air strikes against the Islamic State and the Qaeda affiliated Nusra front in return for Russia forcing Syria's president Bashar al-Assad to stop using barrel bombs and air attacks in areas which neither extremist group is present.

The authors claim the Obama administration's plan is flawed because it would cement the Assad government's siege of the rebel held city of Aleppo and push terrorist groups and refugees into Turkey, and does nothing to hold Russia or Assad accountable for violating previous truces, which they will likely do again.

The authors write that the Syrian government should be punished "by using drones and cruise missiles to hit Syrian military airfields, based and artillery positions where no Russian troops are present."

The editorial goes on to critique Obama and Kerry for suggesting there is "no military solution to the Syrian conflict," because "unfortunately Russia and Iran think there is - or at least that no acceptable political outcome is possible without diminishing the rebels and strengthening the Syrian government. It is time for the United States to speak the language that Mr. Assad and Mr. Putin understand."

While I am not so naïve as to think the current Obama-Kerry plan will solve the Syrian crisis or that so-called moderate elements in the resistance to Assad operate independently from the Al-Nusra Front or ISIS, Ross and Tabler's position in my opinion is a dangerous one.

If implemented it would threaten the fragile progress made towards at least a partial truce, and could strengthen rather than weaken Assad by giving strength to some of his own propaganda and enhance anti-American sentiments driving the growth of terrorism. It would also place the U.S. on a moral level of the odious regimes we are supposed to oppose and basically on the level of the mafia, in which violence and force are instinctively adopted over any effort at diplomacy or cooperation.

Furthermore, Ross and Tabler's proposal would threaten a deterioration of the U.S.-Russian relationship which can spill over into other arenas, and provoke potential escalation of a new cold war.

There are alternative policies the U.S. could at this time be pursuing such as working to strengthen regional efforts at a diplomatic solution to the Syrian as well as the Libyan conflicts, focus on cutting ISIS's source of funding and the flow of recruits through Turkey and elsewhere and pushing for an arms embargo which might hold better prospects of at least mitigating the ravages of war as an alternative to more cruise missiles and drones.

By spending less on militarism, we can in turn invest our tax dollars in our children's education and in creating a clean energy economy that will make us less dependant on the fossil fuels driving a lot of our involvement in the Middle East.

I am a regular reader of the New York Times because it offers many informative articles and can often set a high standard for journalism.

However, the Times record in supporting wars that turn out to be disastrous with often weak supporting arguments leaves me to question its judgment, much like with the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. More space in the paper should be given to pacifist voices who can help convince readers of the need to turn away from the elixir of war.