"WHEN MANY thousands of innocent civilians are faced with the danger of being wiped out, and we have the capacity to do something about it, we will take action."
Those were the words of Barack Obama speaking on August 7 to justify air strikes in Iraq. The statement was characteristic of the rhetoric always rolled out to defend U.S. military intervention—a self-serving story about America’s noble commitment to human rights, the liberation of the oppressed, the goals of freedom and democracy.
This time, though, Obama voiced them after the world had watched in horror for a full month as the U.S.-supplied Israel Defense Forces attacked “many thousands of innocent civilians” in Gaza.
Day after day, the "world’s most moral military" pounded one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Israel’s “precision” strikes leveled whole neighborhoods, murdered civilians as they fled and destroyed Gaza’s energy and water treatment infrastructure. UN shelters struggled to help the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who had been told to flee their homes because their neighborhoods were about to be bombed. Then the shelters where they sought safety were bombed.
The people of Gaza have certainly been “faced with the danger of being wiped out” since Israel launched the latest stage of its colonial war on Palestine. So what “action” did Barack Obama and the U.S. government take?
In the midst of Israel’s war-crimes spree, Obama gave Israel special permission to tap into a U.S. reserve of mortars, grenades and other munitions warehoused on Israeli territory to deal with “emergent” crises.
Most of the media reporting about the U.S. warplane and drone strikes in Iraq emphasizes the administration’s claim that it is protecting the Yazidi religious minority, thousands of whom are stranded on Mount Sinjar and surrounded by hostile fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a radical Sunni fundamentalist insurgency. Actually, most of the U.S. air strikes have taken place more than 100 miles away, where ISIS fighters are threatening Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, a crucial part of U.S. imperial hopes of maintaining some influence over Iraq’s future.
But even if you focus only on the attacks around Mount Sinjar, Washington has proven over many long years that its main concerns are its own interests. “The United States of America has no claim on the language of ‘humanitarian aid’ to Iraq after what it did to that country,” wrote Middle East expert Juan Cole wrote. “It is rather as though Washington should send Meals Ready to Eat [provided by the U.S. Army to soldiers in the field] to the good people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
In the end, the main difference between the Palestinians and the Yazidis is that one group is being bombed by a U.S. ally and the other group is being menaced by a U.S. enemy. In both cases, the U.S. Empire couldn’t care less about the people enduring the nightmare of war—whether it shrugs them off as “collateral damage” or champions them as “innocent civilians.”
The real aim of the Obama administration is to maintain U.S. domination of the Middle East and control over the oil that lies under the ground—what was once described by the U.S. State Department as “a stupendous source of strategic power and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” …