Here in the US we have been observing our annual days of “thanksgiving” for life’s blessings and mercies. Part of this holiday’s charm is how unscripted it is, thus leaving space for families and friends to create their own liturgies of celebration. High on my gratitude list this year is that World War III has not erupted, notwithstanding Turkey’s ambush earlier this week of a Russian plane over Syria.
Outside the mainstream media in the West, the consensus view is that powerful elements of the US government joined Turkey in planning this provocation. Turkey would not have risked so much by itself.
After all, the Russian jet was following a flight path announced in advance to the US and had emptied itself of its cargo of bombs. If it entered Turkey’s airspace at all on its return flight, it exited again within less than twenty seconds. When attacked, it was not in Turkey's airspace nor a threat to Turkey in any way.
Aside from high-risk moments such as these, the key variable for those of us living in one of the countries making up the imperial coalition is whether or not we perceive the actions of our government to be morally legitimate.
On that count, there is some basis for encouragement. People in the West have begun to notice that the US-led coalition isn’t nearly as serious about defeating Daesh as it is about getting rid of Daesh’s foremost opponent on the ground, the government of Syria.
What’s more, people have begun to grasp how this two-faced approach has greatly extended the length of the war, thereby increasing the suffering of the Syrian people and the likelihood that Syria will never recover.
More people also are noticing Russia is very serious about defeating Daesh. Yes, it supports the reorganization of the Syrian government, but only after the Salafist threats (Daesh, al-Nusra, etc.) are rolled back.
Yet despite these signs that Westerners are beginning to find their ethical bearings and have started to see through the fog of propaganda, the fact remains that at least in the US where I live, people are very reluctant to stop giving the empire the benefit of the doubt. Many call the Obama Administration incompetent, US policy confused and US actions incoherent. But even after Iraq and Libya—military interventions conducted under false pretenses that left relatively successful societies in utter ruin—few describe US actions as evil.
Until more of us are willing to move from “incompetent” to “evil,” the empire will carry on. And the list of countries driven into chaos—Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, Syria, Yemen—will continue to grow. That’s because the empire is not a benign structure doing the best it can amid the uncertainty and tragedy of life; in the words of the last book in the Bible, The Revelation to John, it is a beast devoted to devouring and destroying.
But to my friends and neighbors, talking this way is reckless hyperbole. It is not perceived to be a serious attempt to describe reality, but a distortion reflecting the subjective state of mind of the speaker.
In response, then, we must focus on the details of the empire’s operations—the banality of evil, if you will. This tends to get tedious, but it is the only way to bridge the chasm.
So let’s consider one example—the oil Daesh steals from Syrian wells and sells at discounted rates. It receives an estimated $1 million-$4 million per day in revenue from those sales. It uses the money to extend its reign of terror. Why has the US-led coalition not stopped Daesh’s oil trade?
In February 2015, the United Nations Security Council passed unanimously Resolution 2199 condemning all trade with Daesh and other al-Qaeda linked terrorist groups. Yet the trade in oil has persisted, growing during the past year from 30,000 barrels a day to 40-50,000. Through a raid on the compound of Daesh’s chief financial officer, Abu Sayyaf, the US has clear and undeniable proof of links between Daesh and senior government officials in Turkey to facilitate the oil smuggling.
Over the first fifteen months of its air campaign to bomb Daesh, the US-led coalition conducted 8,000 bombing flights. Yet Daesh’s oil smuggling operation continued to grow. This changed on November 21 when US fighter planes bombed 100 tanker trucks used to transport the stolen oil into Turkey.
Why did the US suddenly start bombing oil tankers? At the November 20th G20 summit meeting in Turkey, Russian President Putin illustrated his remarks with satellite photos of a miles-long convoy of tanker trucks stretching from Daesh-controlled territory into Turkey. Putin's picture revealed the utter hypocrisy of the US-led coalition.
Here is Indian commentator M. K. Bhadrakumar’s assessment.
“The really shocking thing is that the United States didn’t move a little finger . . . to stop [Daesh’s] oil business. If the Russian pilots could spot the [Daesh] convoys stretching for miles heading for the Turkish border day in and day out, how could the lone superpower’s satellites have missed it? Of course, the Obama administration damn well knew. But it chose to look away. Period.
“Just think of it: [Daesh] has killed American nationals and yet the Pentagon has been ordered to handle the [Daesh] with kid gloves! President Barack Obama waxes eloquently about his determination to ‘degrade and destroy’ [Daesh], but the Pentagon is under instructions not to disrupt [Daesh’s] oil trade! This is cold-blooded statecraft.”
Yes, think about all those images of Daesh atrocities on our screens. And then ask why the US-led coalition has been protecting Daesh’ oil smuggling operation. The conclusion is inescapable: the US-led coalition has wanted the war in Syria to continue. Had it desired an end to the carnage, it would have supported the peace plan of United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan in June 2012.
And no, this is not due to incompetence; it is something far worse, what the Bible calls evil.