The Complex Syrian War

The Complex Syrian War
by JBS President Emeritus John F. McManus

The struggle in Syria has lasted more than five years. Its cost, just to Syria alone, is 500,000 dead and four times that number uprooted from their homes. Many of the displaced have become refugees seeking asylum in Turkey, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere. These refugees have become a serious problem where they have settled – especially in Germany.

Azaz, Syria during the Syrian civil war. August 16, 2012, Azaz residents pick up after aerial bombings. (Photo by Voice of America News: Scott Bob report from Azaz, Syria. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons).

But what is this conflict in Syria all about? It started with the so-called Arab Spring in 2011. That uprising quickly spread throughout the Middle East wreaking its havoc in Egypt until a military coup overturned a Muslim Brotherhood takeover. It led to chaos in Libya and elsewhere enabling forces loyal to Al Qaeda to prevail. In Syria, the Arab Spring emboldened opponents of the government led by Bashar al-Assad. They took up arms and sought to oust him.

Soon, the Kurds who populate eastern Syria, northern Iraq, and a portion of southern Turkey had their own reasons for opposing Assad. Long seeking a country of their own, they sent forces against the Assad government with marginal success. Then, out of the spreading chaos, Muslim militants who opposed Assad formed ISIS and seized control of portions of Syria and Iraq. All of this was bad enough but the conflict worsened when Russia and Iran entered the fray on the side of Assad.

The rebels seeking to topple Assad began receiving arms and financial aid from the United States and Saudi Arabia. Sunni Muslims who dominate Saudi Arabia and most of the Arab world always opposed any moves by the numerically inferior Shiites who dominate Iran. Yet Assad and his government favor the Shiite rather than the Sunni type of Islam.

If you’ve decided this whole conflagration is impossible to figure out, or too confusing to understand, you’re not alone. If you wonder why the U.S. has become involved, you are in a league with millions of fellow Americans. But consider this: The United States supplies arms and air power on the side of the anti-Assad rebels and Russia favors the Assad regime by sending military supplies and engaging in some forms of military intervention. Could the chaos in Syria expand to a greater war outside of Syria? That possibility cannot be ignored.

Over the years while this ongoing conflict has continued, U.S. aid to anti-Assad rebels has ended up in the hands of ISIS. Some of the promised aid led to the attack in Benghazi where our nation’s ambassador and three other Americans perished. Other U.S. aid went to Kurdish forces whose loyalty to the U.S. is highly questionable.

One policy that few have voiced is that our nation ought to stay out of this mess and similar messes. But those who believe it is America’s duty to create an American-led empire – the neoconservatives in both major political parties – continue to advocate involvement in this costly and seemingly endless struggle. Isn’t it time for America to mind its own business?

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McManus_2Mr. McManus served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the late 1950s and joined the staff of The John Birch Society in August 1966. He has served various roles for the organization including Field Coordinator, Director of Public Affairs, and President. Mr. McManus has appeared on hundreds of radio and television programs and is also author of a number of educational DVDs and books. Now President Emeritus, he continues his involvement with the Society through public speaking and writing for this blog, the JBS Bulletin, and The New American.


Does Obama Skirt the Constitution? Ask This Yale Professor

Does Obama Skirt the Constitution? Ask This Yale Professor
by JBS President John F. McManus

Americans across the country are finally awakening to the fact that the federal government does indeed operate outside of its limitations. A case in point is Bruce Ackerman, professor of law and political science at Yale University. Because of President Obama starting a war with ISIS, he finally understands that the President has violated the U.S. Constitution.

The Yale professor rightly complains that the President’s decision to make war against ISIS amounts to a unilateral assumption of power. OK, but the professor then says that the President’s unilateral action “marks a decisive break in the American constitutional tradition,” adding that “nothing attempted by his predecessor, George W. Bush, remotely compares in imperial hubris.” Does this mean that Ackerman would go along with Mr. Obama’s decision if he had consulted with and received approval – not a declaration of war – from Congress for military action against the Islamist militants?

Curiously, the Obama team claimed that decision to go to war against ISIS was acceptable because Congress had authorized the use of military force against Al Qaeda after the 9/11 attack, and new approval for such action wasn’t needed. In other words, a past congressional stamp of approval for war that was not a formal declaration of war as required by the Constitution can serve as a legitimate go-ahead for whatever action is desired even a decade later.  And the new target of the military doesn’t even have to be the one named in the previous congressional authorization. If that’s the case, then any real or supposed enemy can be targeted by simply citing this past congressional action.

Let us point out to the professor that the Constitution states in Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 that Congress has the power to “declare war.” Nowhere else in the document is such authority granted to any other portion of the government. Partisans who want the President to have such power point to the Constitution’s naming the occupier of the White House as “commander in chief of the Army and Navy.” This designation should never be considered the equal of the explicit grant of power solely to Congress to declare war. In other words, the nation’s military arm is not the President’s possession to use as he desires. The sole grant of war-making power to Congress completely outweighs the mere designation of who shall be the commander of forces once a war starts. One would think that a law professor would know this.

The last congressional use of its constitutional authority to declare war occurred immediately after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Formal declarations of war were approved by Congress against Japan, Germany, and Italy. And the U.S. won against each of those struggles. No declarations of war were approved regarding subsequent wars in Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and more. Can the U.S. claim victory in those contests, especially if we are still undergoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Numerous Presidents have sent small military detachments to rescue Americans in danger, reply swiftly to some outrage perpetrated against our nation, etc.  And few, if any, disapproved of these moves and insisted that formal congressional declarations were needed. But war is something else and, according to the Constitution, if there is to be one, it must be formally declared.

If prominently placed professors of law and political science, who should already understand the Constitution but don’t, are waking up, then we should use this as an opportunity to further engage them and others on obeying the Constitution, returning the federal government to its constitutional limitations, and stop policing the world with authorization supplied by the United Nations or its NATO subsidiary. A return to the Constitution’s easily understood passages regarding war is long overdue.

Use today (Constitution Day) as a good excuse to learn more about the American system of government in Overview of America.


Mr. McManus joined the staff of The John Birch Society in August 1966 and has served various roles for the organization including Field Coordinator, Director of Public Affairs, and now President. He remains the Society’s chief media representative throughout the nation and has appeared on hundreds of radio and television programs. Mr. McManus is also Publisher of The New American magazine and author of a number of educational DVDs and books.


A Warning to the West From a Catholic Bishop Who Had To Flee Iraq

A Warning to the West From a Catholic Bishop Who Had To Flee Iraq
by JBS President John F. McManus

The Chaldean Catholic Church, one of the approved rites of Catholicism, traces its roots back to the Thomas the Apostle in the First Century A.D. It grew dramatically throughout the Middle East between the 9th and 14th centuries. Until very recently, one of its main churches was St. Paul’s Cathedral in the Iraq city of Mosul.

“Recently” is the key word in any current discussion of Mosul’s Chaldean Catholics. When the city was overrun by the militants known as ISIS only weeks ago, Catholics became their main target. Many who would not convert to Islam have been killed; many more have left everything and fled. Mosul’s Archbishop Amel Shimoun Nona took refuge with some of his flock in the Kurd-controlled city of Erbil in northeastern Iraq, an area not yet overrun by ISIS. From there, he sent a message to fellow Christians in Europe and the West pointing out that they should beware because all are targets of an “enemy you have welcomed into your home.”

Archbishop Nona’s stark warning stated, “I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. Please try to understand. Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here. You think that all men are equal, but Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become victims.”

Christians in nearby Syria have already experienced this same type of attack. In Africa, the Islamist Boko Haram has kidnapped many hundreds of schoolgirls and killed hundreds more adults and children. Archbishop Nona hopes that no one would have to endure what he and his people have faced. Welcoming more Muslims, he contends, is suicidal. “Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, European and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future,” he claims and adds, “You must take strong and courageous decisions.”

What the Archbishop of Mosul has already experienced does not have to happen elsewhere. But, to avoid such a fate, realization of an actual threat that could be duplicated in other countries will have to take hold.


Iraq Has a New President

Iraq Has a New President
by JBS President John F. McManus

On August 14th, Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki stepped down as the President of Iraq. He had held the post since May 20, 2006. After recent elections had seen his allies win the most seats in the nation’s parliament, he seemed poised to retain the office. But pressure for a change in the nation’s leadership came from influential Ayatollah Ali Sistani and others including neighboring Iran. Maliki originally intended to challenge the refusal to accept him for another four-year term but suddenly cancelled his protest. The post now falls to Haider al-Abadi, a fellow member of Iraq’s Islamic Dawa Party.

Both Maliki and Abadi are Shiite Muslims and Iraq’s population is largely Shiite. The two men have long held leadership posts in the Islamic Dawa Party. The Sunni minority held power during the long reign of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim. After being captured by U.S. forces, Hussein was executed in December 2006, a mere seven months after Maliki has emerged as President. Fighting between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims, even while U.S. forces gained control of the nation, continued to plague Iraq and has not ceased. Now, the Sunni-led Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) has gained control of one-quarter of the nation, wreaked havoc wherever its forces seized control, and even threatened the capital city of Baghdad. No one believes that ISIS will simply go away.

Like Maliki, Abadi fled Iraq in the 1970s when Saddam Hussein’s regime outlawed the Dawa Party. His two brothers were not so fortunate and were slain. Abadi went to England where he received a doctorate in electrical engineering. Maliki lived for much of his self-imposed exile in Syria where he edited the Dawa Party’s newspaper. Both men returned to Iraq after U.S. forces ousted Hussein in 2003. The two formed a friendship and their cordial relationship figured in Maliki’s decision to step aside.

Abadi’s emergence as the nation’s leader will undoubtedly lead to more military assistance from the United States. A pleased President Obama immediately began referring to the new Iraq leader as “prime minister designate.” And U.S. fighter planes had already begun their attacks on ISIS in northern Iraq.

Abadi faces huge problems as he enters the office of president. The Shiite-Sunni division isn’t about to disappear and neither will the surging forces of Sunni-led ISIS fade away. Financial and military aid from the United States is absolutely necessary. The question now is how long it will continue in the face of rising opposition to further involvement in Iraq among the American people. Many now believe that the role of policeman for the world should stop and stopping it in Iraq would be a good place to begin.


Iraq’s Christians Attacked by Militant Islamists

Iraq’s Christians Attacked by Militant Islamists
by JBS President John F. McManus

Early in July 2014, for the first time in 1600 years, there was no Catholic Mass celebrated in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Islamic militants calling themselves the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) had taken control of the region. They immediately targeted the minority Christians, many of whom fled north into territory controlled by Kurds.

On June 29th, the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, told his followers from the pulpit in Mosul’s Great Mosque how to proceed with establishing a caliphate (an Islamic state) with him as its religious leader. “Do jihad in the cause of God,” he urged. “If you knew about the reward and dignity in this world and the hereafter through jihad, then none of you would delay in doing it.” Al-Baghdadi’s followers performed as directed.

When 45-year-old retired army officer Maan Abou, a Christian, asked the newly established ISIS court in Mosul if the threats against him and his family were accurate, he learned that “the man there told me that I should leave my house, car, money and properties behind.” Christians were told they had three choices: convert to Islam, pay a huge fine and live as slaves, or be executed. A few have converted, most have fled.

Before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, approximately 1.5 million Christians, mostly Catholics, called Iraq their home. They could trace their ancestry back almost two millennia, well before Mohammed was born. Though he was surely not a paragon of freedom, Saddam Hussein’s leadership of the nation saw Christians living side-by-side with Muslims and others in relative peace. All that changed during the past decade that saw Hussein’s regime toppled and him executed. Fewer than 500,000 Christians remain in their homeland — even they are fleeing.

Iraq’s Shiites now fear the rising power of ISIS which is led by the Sunni faction. When there are no Christians left in the country, the Sunni-Shiite rivalry will surely escalate. If ISIS becomes dominant, neighboring nations, even those Muslim-controlled, would have much to fear.

The United States, still dependent on imports of oil from the Middle East, would be wise to develop its own oil and gas findings with great haste. Dependence on the Middle East cannot be counted on.


Leaving Afghanistan – Why Wait Until the End of the Year?

Leaving Afghanistan – Why Wait Until the End of the Year?
by JBS President John F. McManus

American troops went into Afghanistan in 2001 after the destruction of New York’s Twin Towers. Then, in 2003, U.S. forces reinvaded Iraq while the struggle in Afghanistan continued at a slower and more agonizing pace. The latest Afghanistan casualty figures note that, in more than 12 years, 4,410 have perished and close to 20,000 have been wounded. President Obama has decided to renege on his frequently uttered pledge to remove U.S. forces by the end of 2014. He is now seeking permission from Afghan leaders to keep 3,000 American military personnel in this faraway land.

President Barack Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan wait in the Green Room of the White House prior to participating in a joint press conference, Jan. 11, 2013 (official White House photo by Pete Souza, (P011113PS-0398) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons).

There is probably nothing more self-defeating for a military force than announcing the date of an intention to withdraw. Won’t the enemy simply wait until you’re gone and then ramp up its activity? No military man would sanction such a plan. This one was decided upon by politicians.

Even so, casualties continue and the men and women assigned to this war-torn country increasingly wonder why they are there. Their mission’s goal has been changed so often – from capturing Bin Laden, to destroying opium production, to pacifying villages, to opposing the Taliban, to resisting counterinsurgency, and more – that their heads must be spinning. Recent publication by angry veterans of this war discusses the incredible Rules of Engagement under which they were forced to operate. No more could they expect air support when attacked. No more could they shoot when threatened. The rules seem almost designed to get them killed.

Frequently, U.S. casualties occur at the hands of the nation’s military and police who have been trained by U.S. personnel. After arming and trusting these locals, some turn their guns on those who taught them how to use the very weapons given them. Also, only a week ago, Taliban forces killed 21 Afghan soldiers, their newest favorite targets who are accused of unwillingness to submit to strict Islamic rule. Meanwhile President Karzai, a frequent and sharp critic of the U.S. effort, now finds himself looked upon by ordinary Afghan citizens as a friend of the murderous Taliban. After all, say Afghans of their country’s president, he maintains an apologetic tolerance of the Taliban and even refers to them as his “brothers.”

American forces should be brought home, the sooner the better. There’s no other way. Let the Afghans fight each other without the U.S. acting as a referee, or as a target. No more dead and no more wounded. It is not the job of the U.S. to police the world. The policing that has been done hasn’t solved anything, either in Iraq where sectarian violence is almost worse than ever, or in Afghanistan.

Learn more about the positions of The John Birch Society at its Issues Pages.