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“War Has Failed Miserably”: Could U.S. Strikes Unite Extremists at Odds in Syria?

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In an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday, President Obama acknowledged the United States has underestimated the rise of the Islamic State. With the U.S. military operation in Iraq and Syria now expanding, we are joined by Raed Jarrar, Iraqi-American blogger, political analyst, and policy impacts coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee. “The U.S. military force to deal with extremist groups has been tried before, and it has failed miserably,” Jarrar says. “The U.S. military intervention is delaying and making a political solution harder.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we turn now to continue to talk about the U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria, we turn to President Obama speaking on CBS’s 60 Minutes last night, saying the U.S. underestimated the rise of the Islamic State.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria. Essentially what happened with ISIL was that you had al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was a vicious group, but our Marines were able to quash with the help of Sunni tribes. They went back underground. But over the past couple of years during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you have huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama on 60 Minutes. Joining us now in Washington, D.C., Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi-American blogger, political analyst, also the policy impacts coordinator at the American Friends Services Committee.

Raed, your assessment of what’s happening right now and President Obama’s statement that they underestimated the strength of the Islamic State?

RAED JARRAR: I think there is evidence that facts on the ground suggest the contrary, that the U.S. and its allies have been exaggerating the threat of ISIS, especially the threat of ISIS to the United States. So there are very credible analyses coming from the United States itself, from the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center, saying that there is no imminent threat to the U.S. coming from ISIS. Actually, even the United States’ official memo to the U.N. last week justifying its intervention in Syria did not really mention ISIS as a group that is posing threat to the U.S., but rather mentioned the other made-up group, Khorasan, as the group that is threatening the U.S., and therefore the U.S. had to go in in self-defense. So, I think the realities on the ground is that ISIS is definitely a problem. It is an extremist group, and it is a manifestation of a humanitarian, political and military disaster in Iraq. But ISIS doesn’t really pose any threat that is credible to neighboring states, such as Turkey or Iran or Saudi Arabia or Jordan, let alone states that are thousands of miles away, in Europe and the United States. So I would agree with the president’s statement that there was some miscalculation, but I think it was the other way around. It continues to be the other way around. It’s a miscalculation of exaggeration rather than underestimation.

AMY GOODMAN: Raed Jarrar, if war was not an option, what do you feel the U.S. should do? What would be a peaceful solution to what’s happening right now in Iraq and Syria?

RAED JARRAR: Sure. I mean, I think war is one of the options all the time for the U.S., but war is not working. It’s not a good idea. And the use of military force has been tried before to deal with extremist groups in Iraq and elsewhere, and it has failed miserably. So the premise that we can bomb a country into moderation, it doesn’t really have evidence on the ground. We’ve never done that in the past. And usually, military intervention, especially foreign military intervention by the United States, has very devastating political and humanitarian implications on the ground. So if we look at the situation in Iraq and Syria, I just want to give a couple of examples of how the U.S. military intervention is delaying and making a political solution harder.

In Syria, as was mentioned earlier, the U.S. is bombing both ISIS and al-Nusra Front. Al-Nusra Front is one of the main rivals of ISIS. Some of the most bloody battles that happened in the last couple of years happened between al-Nusra and ISIS. So the fact that the U.S. is bombing these two rivals, on the one hand, it’s making the opposition as a whole weaker, because they’re bombing the opposite sides of this inter-rebel fighting. But on the other hand, which is even more important, the U.S. is helping unite these extremist groups, that have been fighting, rather than help draw a wedge between them and keep them separate. So now al-Nusra and ISIS are on their way to unite against what they see as a common enemy. Other groups, even those who are vetted by the U.S., have been condemning the U.S. attacks against al-Nusra, because they see al-Nusra as one of their allies. So there was a public statement by the Free Syrian Army a couple of days ago condemning the U.S. strikes. So you can see that the U.S. attack is making things more complicated in Syria.

In Iraq, it’s the same. There are very legitimate groups in the Sunni areas that fell out of the control of the Iraqi government earlier in the year. And these groups have legitimate grievances that can be addressed through the political process. By bombing them and by funding and training Shiite and Kurdish militias, who are as bad as ISIS when it comes to their atrocities in Iraq, what we are doing, the U.S. is helping unite ISIS with these more legitimate actors, who have been tolerant—not big fans of ISIS, but they’ve been tolerant to ISIS, because they thought they can use it as leverage. Our bombs are helping unite ISIS with these actors rather than isolate them. So, these are the problems.

I think the real solution, the real, lasting solution, will be a political and social one. In Iraq, there were many prospects of social and political solutions in the last couple of years. The U.S. did not really help push that agenda forward, and it kept the situation deteriorating in Iraq, although it had some leverage. But until now, I think there are some possibilities for a real political and social solution in Iraq that would rejoin—would help rejoin all of the Sunni legitimate actors who have been pushed out of the political system, and isolate political extremism and military extremism, including the one that is coming from ISIS. But while we are bombing Iraq and Syria, I don’t think that—I don’t think that will happen. I think the bombs will delay any real solutions, if not make them very complicated and hard to accomplish.

AMY GOODMAN: Raed, I want to thank you for being with us. Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi-American blogger, political analyst, who works with the American Friends Service Committee in Washington, D.C.

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