The only two installments of my “weekly column” The Strip appeared almost a year ago! I guess I’ll call it an annual column and consider myself ahead of the game! In any case, The Strip is about getting to the meat of the matter and stripping out the propaganda from a particularly egregious mainstream media story. Yesterday, such an article appeared in The Wall Street Journal, begging me to give it The Strip. Here it is…
The article titled, Militants in Iraq Siphon State Pay: Islamic State skims funds headed for government employees in occupied areas, creating a dilemma for U.S. and Baghdad, reports that the US is giving hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Iraq government and one of the things the Iraq government is spending its money on is cash payments to government employees operating in captive ISIS territory. One or two thousand ISIS militants holding the city of Mosul in Iraq are forcing government workers there to remit 30% of their pay to the Islamic State. The White House is not comfortable directing the Iraq government to stop this flow of funds because “people can’t starve.”
This premise is so preposterous it defies belief. Why would The Journal feel compelled to write such a ridiculous story? Undoubtedly, the cash being funneled from the US to ISIS has been credibly and widely witnessed, as has so much other evidence that the US and its allies created and support ISIS, so perhaps The Journal wrote the story to attempt an innocent explanation for these observations.
The explanation does not hold water, however, and this as well as other reports of the US aiding ISIS all call into question the true nature and purpose of ISIS and the real reasons the White House is calling for authorization to use force against this group. It seems obvious in light of all the evidence that the real reasons the White House and many members of Congress are calling for escalating military action from Iraq to Syria to Libya have more to do with gas pipelines (through Syria), oil shipments (out of Libya), industrial contracts (ex, rebuilding) and financial control (such as IMF loans), as well as serving straight power goals more generally (such as fighting Russian and Chinese influence in the region) than they have to do with defeating ISIS.
How does the mainstream media take a very damning piece of information such as, “the US is knowingly funneling hundreds of millions of dollars a year through Iraq to public enemy number one, ISIS,” and make it fit into the official narrative, “ISIS is the greatest threat to the United States in the world today and we need to dedicate ever-increasing amounts of American blood and treasure to its defeat?” It does so by crafting a story based on an underlying presumption of total irrationality on the part of the government layered atop ideological delusions by the party in power.
Here is an analysis of the propaganda in this one article, but once you begin to read between the lines you can see this technique in feature stories across mainstream media every day.
Between the Lines
According to the article, ISIS is imposing a payroll tax on government employees as couriers sent by the Iraq government bring cash into the city. The article claims, “The US provides Iraq with hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance each year. It is unclear whether any of those contributions go toward government payrolls.” A logical flaw this egregious should not be on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. When my brother was a drug addict, we were instructed not only never to give him money even for food, but never even to give him food lest it free up his money for drugs! Of all the major papers, surely The Wall Street Journal can be expected to understand the concept of the fungibility of money.
This money from the US via Baghdad, The Journal goes on to say, generates for ISIS an estimated “tens of millions a month” or “hundreds of millions of US dollars annually.” The US does not direct the Iraqi government to stop paying employees in Islamic State territory, however, because that could “potentially trigger a humanitarian crisis.” The US does acknowledge, though, that this choice could allow the Islamic State to “use the revenue to buy weapons and fortify the city against the expected siege by the US and Iraqi militaries this spring.”
According to The Journal, the US and Baghdad know the “military operation to retake Mosul for which US officials are training Iraqi troops” is “a hearts-and-minds campaign against Islamic State,” and they are doing what they can to strike a balance between cutting off funds to the Islamic State and keeping Sunnis under ISIS rule loyal to the US.
It is tortured logic to imply that this a real trade-off: stop funding ISIS and lose the hearts and minds of ISIS subjects in Mosul, or keep funding ISIS and their murderous ways so their subjects remain loyal to the US. The flaw in the argument is that continuing to fund ISIS does not help those in Mosul and they know it. More likely, those under the rule of ISIS in Mosul are aware that the US is funding their overlords and curse us for it. But if they are somehow sympathetic to ISIS, perhaps it is because it appears that ISIS is successful, with a fully functioning government that can take care of those who cooperate. After all, nothing succeeds like success!
Seriously, though, the article reports that hundreds of thousands of the approximately one million Iraqis in Mosul are dependent on the cash from Baghdad and that there are only 1,000-2,000 ISIS militants controlling the city. Given these numbers–a ratio of 500 or 1,000 to 1–even a hint of a “humanitarian crisis” could prompt the large citizenry of Mosul to run ISIS out of town. What’s the saying? Every society is just three missed meals away from revolution? Perhaps Mosulites are not overrunning their captors because the city continues to feed them.
The article presses the point that the US chooses to allow this continued funding of ISIS in order to convince Sunnis in rebel-held territory to support Iraq’s Shia government. It stands to reason, however, that if the cash is so controlled by ISIS that they can actually collect a “30% tax” as well as run what The Journal reports to be a “rather sophisticated customs process,” then surely ISIS can use both the money and their influence to take credit for the cashflow. It is unclear how sending one-off couriers with cash through ISIS siphons on the outskirts of Mosul would have a more pro-Baghdad psychological impact than letting ISIS collapse like a house of cards.
The article tries to bolster its case by reporting that Director of National Intelligence (and known Congressional perjurer) James Clapper testified that ISIS is “going to have trouble generating the revenue that would be needed to actually run the areas they have captured…[putting] strains particularly on the city of Mosul and its citizens.” Is he in agreement with his boss in the White House? Could he possibly believe we should continue to make sure tens of millions of US dollars flow into Mosul so ISIS can stay afloat and we can win “hearts-and-minds” until we are able to launch a violent military offensive against the city? According to the article, “US intelligence officials and the US military are working with the Iraqi military to try to retake Mosul this year, believing it will take a large force to defeat the roughly 1,000 to 2,000 Islamic State fighters in the city.” This narrative doesn’t make sense. Cut ISIS off from US funds and no force will be needed to retake the city.
The article even points out that ISIS ordered Mosul citizens to continue to work in order that the economy not collapse. Again, if ISIS knows it is not in their interest to let the economy collapse, and if, as Clapper claims, they are unable to continue to run these areas without outside funds, it is beyond illogical that we would continue to allow Iraq to funnel tens of millions of dollars of cash to these areas each month. The article also claims (with a straight face?) that the US and Baghdad have “mounted a joint campaign to cut off Islamic States’ revenue sources.” Stopping themselves from being revenue sources would be an excellent start!
Iraqi officials, however, say they “have little choice but to keep paying government employees,” yet there is no explanation as to why they have little choice. Could it be that the US government is making the decisions for them and threatens to cut off the spigot if they don’t do as they’re told? According to the article, “The general consensus [in the Obama administration] was ‘people can’t starve.’ Another senior administration official said, ‘If people don’t get paid, they won’t be able to buy food and it will be even worse. The alternative is a lot worse.” This from an administration that has killed thousands of innocent people from Yemen to Libya without a declaration of war, even targeting specific individuals for drone attack “without clear evidence” of an imminent threat to the US or US citizens. (Also see the guardian’s 41 men targeted but 1,147 people killed: US drone strikes – the facts on the ground and Foreign Affairs’ Obama’s Libya Debacle.)
Clearly this administration does not shrink from human suffering for a “good” cause, but it could use a morality check: ISIS is morally responsible for the suffering its actions cause. If ISIS causes people to starve, Obama is not morally culpable for refusing to send money into ISIS-held areas (on the contrary, I would argue). If, however, Obama launches drone or bomb strikes that kill innocent people, if he calls for sanctions that keep innocent people from getting necessities, or if he authorizes the release of US funds knowing that ISIS will use some of them to conduct murderous operations, then he just might have blood on his hands.
Even if you argue that politics, war, government action, et al, require tradeoffs less black and white than personal morality (a position I staunchly oppose as one of the morally intolerable features of the modern state), the path here is still a clear one: cut off the funds and let ISIS fail in Mosul. Surely this is an easier choice to make than many we’ve made before. I’m reminded of Madeleine Albright’s infamous defense of US sanctions against Iraq in a 1996 60 Minutes interview:
Lesley Stahl: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And – and you know, is the price worth it?”
Madeleine Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”
In conclusion, the article quotes “Jessica Stern, a lecturer on terrorism at Harvard University and co-author of ‘ISIS: The State of Terror,’ [as] saying the humanitarian considerations seem like a legitimate concern. But she added that researchers also know ‘that often what’s expedient and important in the short term may be counterproductive in the long term because it helps the terrorists mobilize.” The Journal had to track down a Harvard scholar citing professional research to figure this out? Every druggie’s mother knows this simple truth.
The Meat of the Matter
ISIS is getting money the US is sending to Iraq and lots of it. Why? It is possible that we are using ISIS in Iraq in the same way we are using it in Syria and Libya–to justify military actions in these regions in order to control who rules them. In Syria, we have stated openly that we want regime change–an illegitimate position by the way, since Assad is the recognized head of a sovereign nation; in Libya, we want our guys in and the Libyan Dawn guys (who control the capital–and the oil–these days) out; and in Iraq, though it is less clear what power struggle is really going on there, there is at the very least a multi-lateral battle for unchallenged control of oil resources. What is clear, however, is that the US and its allies are funding, arming and aiding ISIS on the one hand and calling for defeat of ISIS as a justification for a limitless war on the other. As for defeating ISIS, if the situation in Mosul is any indication, all we would have to do is stop sending cash to Iraq–a win-win, not a “dilemma.”