Friday's Sermon: Feb 26/21
Joe Biden joins the illustrious list of US Presidents that authorize military action in the Middle East.
Joe Biden has been President for all of a month before he authorized his first military foray as commander in chief. They grow up so fast, don’t they? On Thursday, the US Air Force confirmed they struck several facilities belonging to “Iran-backed militia groups in eastern Syria.”
According to Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby, Biden okayed the strikes in retaliation to attacks by militias on US personnel in Iraq. Naturally, when you are attacked in one country, the correct response is to strike a completely unrelated target in an entirely different country. Sun Tzu probably said something like that too in The Art of War. The air strikes “specifically destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militia troops, including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada,” Mr. Kirby says. Alright then.
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In semi-related news, Biden also approved the release of the US intelligence report on the assassination of reporter Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The report merely confirms what everyone and their mother already knows: that Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman personally sanctioned the assassination. Fortunately for the Think Tank ghouls whose salaries are also paid by the aforementioned MBS, “the Biden administration took no direct action against Prince Mohammed, the de facto ruler of the kingdom, instead announcing travel and financial sanctions on other Saudis involved in the killing”. Americans must be so happy to have such fearless leadership during these trying times.
On the surface, these two stories may have little in common, but in my opinion they shed light on some fundamental tenets of the US foreign policy establishment blob. Mainly, the Blob operates under the assumption that there is some existential struggle between Sunnism and Shi’ism in the Middle East, and that it is in the US’s best interests to support its Sunni allies against their enemies.
Of course, such crude assumptions could never be said out loud. Instead, they have to be filtered through the Blob’s infrastructure in the Acela Corridor. Various think tanks funded alternatively by Qatar, the UAE, or Saudi Arabia are responsible for dressing the sectarianism in more palatable terms. The Pentagon can then take the reports published by those think tanks, like the Council on Foreign Relations, and regurgitate them to justify military action.
That is not to say that some transcendental Manichean conflict exists between Sunnism and Shi’ism. Nor is it a denial of the existence of sectarianism in the Middle East. Rather, the systematic sectarianism is largely unilateral - Sunnis targeting Shi’as for their beliefs - and a result of the rise of Saudi Arabia as a regional power centre. Such sectarianism is fuelled by the Saudis using oil money to propagate a hardline sectarian Sunni ideology - Wahabism - from the Caucasus down to Indonesia through the construction of mosques and madrassas. Ironically, it is this Wahabist ideology that then encourages Sunni violence towards Shi’a communities and makes the Sunni-Shi’a conflict look both real and eternal.
Which brings us back to the US airstrikes in Syria. The whole horde of the Blob has come out to justify these attacks by claiming that they are defensive and proportionate. If anything can unify the partisan politics of DC, it is imperialist aggression in the Middle East. Similarly, the declassification of the Khashoggi report has done little to dampen the material relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia. Despite the report confirming MBS’s role in the murder, Saudi Arabia is seen as a vital cog in the US Empire’s goals of containing and fighting Iran.
Few question the claims that the Iraqi militias attacking US personnel are backed by Iran. That is a given. Somehow, nobody has chosen to ask why Iraqi militias would be attacking US personnel. If Iran is backing those particular militias, nobody in the Blob wants to ask why Iran doesn’t mind such attacks. Sure, the US assassinated Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani during a visit to Iraq in January of 2020. That strike also killed Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The notion that Iraqi militias are rational actors that are responding to the military moves of those around them seems to completely escape the Blob’s mind. On the other hand, the US bombing a Syrian border facility and killing 22 pro-government Syrian fighters is defensive and an appropriate response.
Ultimately, what these strikes show is a foreign policy consensus built around the belief that animosity towards Shi’a entities is strategic. In other words, the DC think tanks take the raw Sunni sectarianism that their Gulf monarchy funders provide, process and filter it, and vomit out a more acceptable politics of hostility with Iran. Of course, the Pentagon and State Departments may not think in such crude ways, but their policies reflect the beliefs of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, and those monarchies are at their core sectarian Sunnis. It is this pipeline of sectarianism, filtered and cleaned up, that feeds the Blob the wholesale assumptions that Iran is an Enemy that cannot be reasoned with or talked to.
And the result? The Biden administration insists that Iran return to compliance with the JCPOA nuclear deal before the US removes sanctions, despite the fact that it was the US that withdrew from the deal in the first place. Consequently, the window for the resurrection of the JCPOA is closing fast. If Iran was treated like a rational actor with concrete political and economic interests, the US would understand the need to return to JCPOA first in good faith. Unfortunately, such politics would require a fundamental challenge to the role of the Blob in DC, and we can’t have that, so on we go with the charade.