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Phyllis Bennis and Paul Jay discuss recent terrorist attacks and that both likely presidential candidates propose more of the same failed U.S. policy

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. U.S. foreign policy has a lot of roots in working with militant Wahhabism, terrorism, including in Afghanistan and other places. And then these forces get out of control, and then you bomb them, and then you fight them, and then they split, and then you work with one section of that split and you bomb another section. That seems to be what U.S. foreign policy considers a plan in the Middle East. Now joining us to talk about this is Phyllis Bennis. Phyllis joins us from D.C., where she’s a fellow and a director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She’s the author of many books, including her most recent, Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer. Thanks for joining us, Phyllis. PHYLLIS BENNIS, DIRECTOR, NEW INTERNATIONALISM PROJECT: Good to be with you, Paul. JAY: So the pattern continues. What do you make of it now? BENNIS: Well, I think the pattern is a little bit different with the creation of ISIS. ISIS was not originally a Wahhabi or outfit that was something the U.S. was working with. It was sort of the opposite. The origins of ISIS, of course, are with the opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. But the existence of Wahhabism around the world certainly is fueling it. I think that we’re seeing a very interesting result now with the recent attack by ISIS on targets inside Saudi Arabia, including in Medina, one of the most holy sites of all of Islam–Shia, Sunni, and all other kinds. But what I think we really are seeing is–it’s the lesson to be learned here–is that the attempt to use bombing and military force, the military-first option, against ISIS, against terrorism, simply doesn’t work. You can’t bomb terrorism out of existence. And once again we’re seeing the price that gets paid when you try. We’re looking a situation where the U.S. has been using bombs and drones and special forces and CIA operatives and assassinations to go after first al-Qaeda and now after ISIS, and in all those cases we’re seeing not the end of terrorism but its expansion. The connection, the particularity of the ISIS attacks recently, I think, has to do with the escalation of U.S. and indeed Russian attacks as well on territory that ISIS holds. And when they hold that territory and then lose it–they’ve now lost somewhere around 30 to 40 percent of the territory they once held, particularly in Syria, somewhat in Iraq–in that situation they are retreating to what they used to do, which is more what we might call old-fashioned terrorism. So we’re seeing these ISIS bombing attacks. We saw it after the, quote, liberation of Ramadi. We saw just a couple of weeks later the attack on Paris. The attack on the airport in Istanbul was right after the loss of Falluja. So we’re seeing the effect of this loss of territory in the so-called Caliphate–meaning the loss of people to control as well–means going back to terrorist attacks, suicide bombings, car bombings, whether it’s in Baghdad, as the horrific attack a couple of days ago; in Istanbul; perhaps in Saudi Arabia (we don’t know enough yet to know if that was actually ISIS); other places as well. Additionally, we’re seeing an enormous price being paid by the people in whose name these bombing attacks are taking place. So, for example, in Ramadi, ISIS had controlled Ramadi for about a year and a half–350,000 people forced to live under this horrific, oppressive government in the name of the so-called Caliphate. When the U.S. bombing campaign began, ISIS had already done enormous damage to the city, but it was the U.S. bombing that ended with the almost complete destruction of the city, so that now 80 percent of Ramadi is completely destroyed, and the 350,000 people who were liberated have nowhere to go. We’re seeing a similar situation in Falluja. When thousands of people, tens of thousands of people fled the city at the end to escape both the horrific attacks by ISIS and the horrific impact of the U.S.-backed forces and the others that were–the government of Iraq imposing a complete siege on Falluja. So there was complete absence of food, of clean water, of electricity, of medical care, and people were running for their lives to get out into the desert, and they find that there’s been absolutely no preparations made to provide for the basic needs of this besieged population. So they still don’t have water, they don’t have food, they don’t have protection from the searing heat that’s going up to 110 degrees during the days. It’s just a horrific situation, so that it means that it’s not an answer, to use military force against ISIS. JAY: Well, what do you make of the answers coming from the two candidates–likely candidates, presumptive candidates–in the U.S. elections, Clinton and Trump? BENNIS: Well, on this one I think we’re seeing a call from both for basically more of the same, as if it was a success. From Hillary Clinton we hear: I would be so tough; I would be tougher on ISIS; I would send more troops. She wants to create a so-called no-fly zone in Syria, which, of course, if we take the words of Robert Gates, the former secretary of defense when Clinton was secretary of state, when they were talking about a no-fly zone in Libya, he said, we have to understand that establishing a no-fly zone in Libya means going to war against Libya. In this case, establishing a no-fly zone in Syria means going to war against Syria. And right now that means going to war against Russia. It’s an incredibly reckless proposal from Secretary Clinton. From Donald Trump, he doesn’t even say what his plan is. He just says: ISIS is going to be gone; we’re going to go after them so hard; they’re just going to disappear. You’ve got to figure he’s looking at the military because he doesn’t have any idea of anything else, but he said nothing about what he would actually do. JAY: But when he says he’s going to wipe them out and then you go back to the position he actually took on Libya–’cause he’s acting now as if he’s opposed to regime change in Libya, but there’s video of him at the time actually calling to send all American troops from the Middle East to Libya, boots on the ground. But if you’re going to, quote, wipe out ISIS and actually mean anything like that, it’s either American ground troops or it’s massive carpet bombing, not–. BENNIS: Well, he’s made clear that he’s prepared to at least think about massive carpet bombing in other situations, and clearly against ISIS as well. But I think this is a situation where we don’t know whether any of the neo-isolationism of Trump would emerge at any given moment, whether his neoconservative send all the troops right away approach would be dominant. We simply don’t know what he would do. He has flip-flopped so many times and kept secret what he believes he would do, I’m not sure he even knows what his actual plan would be. Clearly he is not somebody who stood against the war in Iraq in a serious way, so we can’t look at that as an example. But I think the unfortunate part is we’re being faced with the possibility that the two most likely candidates both are looking at military situations as the potential solution that has the best shot at working, and what we see is that they don’t. JAY: What do you think should be U.S. policy? BENNIS: I think we have to start with the recognition that a military-first policy does not work. We start with what every medical student learns on her first day of medicals school, the Hippocratic oath: first do no harm. If your goal is to stop ISIS from killing people, stop killing people in the name of stopping ISIS. That’s number one. Number two: if you’re serious about no boots on the ground, get the boots off the ground, get the sneakers of the special forces and the CIA people, get them off the ground. JAY: Well, let me go back to number one, ’cause the argument’s going to be: if they stop bombing, ISIS increases the territory under its control, because–so far, at least–nothing regionally in terms of military force or any other kind of political force has been able to restrict ISIS or restrain ISIS. BENNIS: Well, actually that’s not true. We’ve seen examples where, for example, on Mount Sinjar, one of the–the earliest moment when the U.S. announced, yes, we are going to be fully going to war against ISIS, when the U.S. began bombing, it wasn’t U.S. bombs that saved the Yazidi people, who are mainly Kurdish, who were being entrapped by ISIS and faced really imminent threat. They were saved by Kurdish forces on the ground. The U.S. bombing that began then, only about two of the massive numbers of bombs that were dropped were anywhere near Mount Sinjar, and they didn’t help anything in particular. JAY: That’s true, but even a lot of the Kurdish military successes have been accomplished with American air support. BENNIS: Some of them have, some of them have not. But I think the question is the fact that some forces on the ground are asking for U.S. support doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea. The problem is if you look at just the immediate situation, oh my God, ISIS is controlling people; we’ve got to liberate them. Well, that’s fine, except that what we see is that the, quote, liberation leads to the destruction of cities, the killing of more people. It doesn’t work as a solution. And one of the problems is when all of the attention, all of the money, all of the high-level focus is on the military side, which it always is when there’s a military force being used, we don’t see that kind of attention going to creating new kinds of diplomacy, figuring out how to impose an arms embargo on all sides rather than sending more weapons that are again going to end up in the hands of the most extremist forces because they right now have the capacity to take them away from the so-called moderate forces. So these solutions are simply not working. The bottom line is there is no easy, telegenic answer for going after ISIS today. And one of the things we have to look at is part of the reason that ISIS is so powerful has everything to do with the conditions under which other people are living that force them to look at ISIS as the lesser evil. We’re seeing that in Iraq, we’re seeing it in Belgium, we’re seeing it in France, where disaffected young people who may have grown up in the second or third generation of their families, they’re French, they’re French citizens, they speak French, but they feel they have no possibilities for a normal life, no good education, no access to jobs–a desperate sort of situation. And they turn to somewhere who’s going to tell them, hey, we’ll make you important, we’ll make your life matter. And that’s who they’re turning to. It speaks to failures of other countries. And if we’re not prepared to look at root causes–it doesn’t mean accepting ISIS is a legitimate reality. They’re a horrific neofascist kind of organization, as you say. But the question is: what’s it going to take to deal with that? Bombing isn’t going to do it. Dealing with the conditions that lead to–for example, a poll that was taken just two weeks ago in the city of Mosul, which is widely viewed as the next target of the Iraqi government and the U.S.-backed bombing campaigns–the second-largest city in Iraq, it’s been under ISIS control for two years–horrific conditions there as a result. And yet 76 percent of the population of Mosul said they don’t want to be, quote, liberated by the likely force that would liberate them, which is the Shia militias that fight with the Iraqi army, because they see them as more dangerous to their lives than ISIS. That’s what we have to change is the conditions under which ISIS emerges as the lesser evil. Until we do that, all we’re doing is playing Whac-A-Mole with people’s lives in the region. JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Phyllis. BENNIS: Thank you, Paul. JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow and the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC.  Her books include Understanding ISIS & the New Global War on Terror, and the latest updated edition of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.