The Blurry Line between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’: a Review of New Book, ‘ISIS IS US’, by Washington’s Blog and Other Authors

By studying the history of the US, from its origins in genocide, white supremacy, oligarcho-fascism, and mass enslavement, to its continuing genocides, ethnic cleansings, terror-bombings, assassinations, coups, cluster bomb and other weapon sales, and annexations and atrocities-by-proxy around the world today, we can see that the title of a new book, ISIS IS US, by the founder of Washington’s Blog and several other authors, is more than a play on words.

The book traces much of this history in explicit detail and with a vast range of sources, quotes, and studies. Comprehensively, it leaves a picture that will enlighten and make concerned readers want to do something to stop the flow of terrorism, charred corpses, and smashed democracies that is the productive output of the US ruling elite, a fundamentalist group obsessed with money, luxury, power, and death, their own “ideology and form of religion and god-worship, based on self-interest and the whitewashing of memory”, as Canada’s leading intellectual, John Ralston Saul, has put it.

In considering how ISIS IS US, we can begin with a statement by Ira Chernus, professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who points out that to “sustain our image of ourselves as innocents … we have to blot out … empirical history and replace it with a myth (not so surprising, given that any war against evil is a mythic enterprise).”

Thus, the first step is to shed the religio-nationalist US origin myth and face the country’s actual history, and examine how and to what extent it informs the present.

“The dream of a war of annihilation against [an always external] evil has a long, long history in white America. It began in 1636 when Puritans in New England wiped out the Pequot tribe, … [using] a war-against-evil template that the country still follows nearly four centuries later in its ‘war on terror.’ [The notion of ‘terror’ is a direct substitute for that of ‘evil’.]

…the presidential candidates of this moment all demand annihilation… In Donald Trump’s words, ‘bomb the shit out of ‘em.’ In Hillary Clinton’s more demure formulation, ‘crush ISIS… break the group’s momentum and then its back.’ … Bernie Sanders agrees: ‘Our priority must be… to destroy the brutal and barbaric ISIS regime.”

War on evil (which conveniently happens to be in a main area the US is seeking to conquer). Crush the barbarians. The prevalence of these sentiments at the top of the US social hierarchy illustrates that the country truly comes from its roots, a foundation Salon writer Charles Davis refers to as “a pile of rotting trash”. If ISIS lasts, then a shameful history, roots in trash and bile, will be a trait shared with the US and numerous other nations.

Thus, Chernus concludes: “It is not just that IS fighters are distinctly human”, that their “motivations are diverse and defy easy analysis”. It is that “in some ways they are eerily like us.”

In some ways, yes. In other ways, no. A principal difference is that, although ISIS is following the US model of building its national structure from bricks and mortar of feces, it is on a comparatively minute scale; the extent of US atrocities is beyond anything ISIS, and perhaps any other group, could ever dream of achieving.

But mirroring is only one way in which ISIS IS US. The other is more direct: that the US has in some cases used ISIS as a tool to advance its imperio-terrorism (the larger, more destructive form of terrorism).

Would the US have a problem with using a group like ISIS as a tool? Of course not. Aside from being a bigger, vastly more destructive and terrifying version of ISIS itself, the US supports more mass murderers, torturers, and terrorists than any other group. For one current example, a recent UN report accuses the US-backed South Sudan government of raping, pillaging, torturing, executing, and burning people alive. (There are dozens more cases like this from around the globe, happening all the time.) The US recently made extensive propaganda use of ISIS’s taped burning of one man, but we will not witness an equivalent US reaction over South Sudan. That is because South Sudan is already a US ally, and thus its crimes do not need to be used (or fabricated) as propaganda for justifying an illegal US invasion, as must be done regarding non-compliant states like Syria and Iraq. South Sudan is already an ally; no invasion and installation of puppet dictator necessary, thus the crimes did not happen, and in fact they are probably an example of the nation’s ‘right to self-defense’ – unless they become too politically inconvenient.

So it is more than obvious that the US would use ISIS as a tool if it wanted. Thus if we are paying attention, we are unsurprised when Obama tells the Times “that we did not just start taking a bunch of airstrikes all across Iraq as soon as ISIL [ISIS, Daesh, whatever] came in … because that would have taken the pressure off of [Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal] al-Maliki.” ISIS was useful as a tool for brutally attacking yet another government not sufficiently enriching and empowering US oligarchs, and thus was used.

ISIS IS US takes us through page after page of examples of how the US has used ISIS in cases like this, again and again, to help achieve oligarchic anti-democratic regional objectives.

Another point the book illustrates is that, along with many ideologues, fundamentalists, terrorists, opportunists, careerists, power-trippers, and militant extremists, as in any large organization, there are some intelligent, historically literate people in the US government. These people know what happens when large powers repeatedly brutalize small, relatively defenseless groups, especially over extended periods of time (it does not take brilliant insight), and the US government’s own studies confirm history’s lessons. ISIS is the predictable product of, as Ben Swann puts it (10:20), “direct action” of the US, and the book documents that the US saw it coming well in advance.

The US wars against the Middle East are not only brutal, but particularly long, historically speaking. Chas Freeman notes that “the Greeks’ two wars with the Persians … spanned thirteen years. Even in a time when trends and events unfolded more slowly than they seem to now, that was a famously lengthy conflict. But the ancient Greeks and Persians have nothing on us Americans in that regard. The United States has now been engaged in a cold war with Iran – Persia – for thirty-seven years”.

This so-called ‘cold war’ with Iran is one-sided; the US is complicit in killing what is by this time likely well over a million Iranians, including with chemical weapons and shooting down a civilian Iranian airliner, while Iran has killed, at most, a couple of thousand US citizens while they were illegally invading, pillaging, and sacking Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands and contributing to the deaths of millions. Additionally, US terror against Iran actually began 63 years ago, when the US and Britain ganged up and overthrew Iran’s democratic government to steal its oil and conquer its strategic regional space.

Freeman continues: “[The US] has conducted various levels of hot war in Iraq for twenty-six years [in addition to contributing to helping install Hussein in 1968 and getting 500,000 young Iraqis killed in the ‘80s, then 500,000 more in the ‘90s].  It has been in combat in Afghanistan for fifteen years”, and waging proxy and information war there since 1979. This is of key importance for understanding ISIS, since, as the book notes, “Al-Nusra and ISIS are ideological and organizational descendants of [the] extremist elements that the U.S. government made use of thirty years ago”, which became known as Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and others. (38) This is a standard view. As Washington’s Blog notes in the book, Obama himself has said: “ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al-Qaeda in Iraq”, which “grew out of our invasion.” (49) Bush Jr. agrees, and, showing the high regard people like him have for their many victims, says of it, “So what?”, as if to say to the reporter, “What are you trying to say? That we knew something like this would happen? That we’re not all completely innocent, well-intended morons?” (ibid.)

ISIS IS US answers Bush’s question. Its compilation of evidence conjured in my mind an idea of an ‘Etch-a-Sketch theory’ of imperio-terror politics. After reading through a long enough succession of official statements and corporate media reports, it becomes clear that the goal of US imperialism is not always to invade and install a new, compliant regime. That may be a top war-aim, but there are parallel options that are, of course, planned and perfectly acceptable to the Washington extremists.

One of these options, employed regularly and before our eyes, is the ‘Etch-a-Sketch’ theory, wherein Washington’s goal is to simply shake up a society, like a delicate and detailed drawing on an Etch-a-Sketch, by destroying it with explosives, torture, and chemical weapons, then see if something appears on the newly blank slate that better serves to enrich US oligarchs and expand their imperial dictatorship. And as with an Etch-a-Sketch, if the new image is not to their liking, (i.e. it is democratic, wants to declare food and education human rights, etc.), it can be shaken up with more bombs, chemicals, murders, and rapes, and this can be repeated as desired and as long as it remains politically feasible. Or, it can be left as is; another goal is to simply destroy a country that presents a challenge to Western imperialism, as did Libya. (ibid.)

What emerges is an ugly and shameful picture, one experienced in vivid detail in a reading of ISIS IS US.

While the current popularity of two presidential candidates that are in some small ways outsiders to the one-party, good-cop/bad-cop dictatorship in the US may signal the beginning of a form of political awakening and revolt, there is still a long, long way to go.

Books like ISIS IS US demonstrate the crucial point: as it is currently administered, the notion of ‘we’, as a country, is a propaganda construct. The ‘us’ in ISIS IS US is really the people creating US policy; almost exclusively elites with the power to bribe government officials (the US has a corruption-based form of government and is widely considered the most corrupt country in the world) and to enter and exit the government itself in the manner of people like Bush, Cheney, and former Wal Mart board member Hillary Clinton, who with her husband has made around 150 million dollars giving speeches to groups like Goldman Sachs. Thus the ‘we’, the ‘us’, is really US elites, Ralston Saul’s self-interested, memory-whitewashing ideologues. And the evil, foreign ‘others’, like ISIS, who they cleverly tell us to hate, through their endless stream of corporate propaganda, are sometimes the tools, products, and, in some ways, the mirror images of them.

Robert Barsocchini is an internationally published author who focuses on force dynamics, national and global, and also writes professionally for the film industry.  Updates on Twitter.  Author’s review of the historical background to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.

Note: I am receiving no compensation for writing this review. It is not a coincidence that I write for Washington’s Blog and have done so for years; I wanted to because I admired the author’s writing, attention to detail, and research abilities, all of which are put to excellent use in the book reviewed above. I am writing about the book simply because I think people should read it.

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