Long time CBS foreign correspondent Reese Erlich spoke about his coverage of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to approximately 75 people at Lane on Thursday, Nov. 20. Erlich is a freelance journalist and author of the best-selling book “Inside Syria.”
He said that mainstream American media has labeled the actions of ISIS as “ethnic cleansing” and told of refugees fleeing from ISIS in Syria and Iraq, leaving behind cars, clothes and valuables.
Erlich witnessed tens of thousands of Yazidis forced to flee Islamic State fighters. He says that ISIS is a vicious, un-Islamic, ultra-right wing group and is a real threat to the people of Syria and Iraq. However, they pose no more of a terrorist threat to the American people than al-Qaida or its offshoots.
Erlich, who visits Lane Community College about every three years, spoke of how power-hungry he believes ISIS to be, noting their reported use of scare tactics. Erlich stated that this is a good time to revive and mobilize the peace movement.
Some in attendance voiced their concerns about the cost of the wars in the Middle East. “The five billion dollars spent fighting ISIS would be better spent supporting Lane Community College and other learning institutions,” Michael Carrigan, with Community Alliance of Lane County, said.
Erlich said that the United States has changed its stated reasons for being in the Middle East, adding that he believes U.S. interest in the Middle East is primarily driven by a desire to secure oil supplies.
He said that these countries would be better off if they didn’t have any oil; then the U.S. would have no reason to be there. According to Erlich, the U.S. wants some closed bases reopened for strategic purposes, such as the defense of commodities.
Erlich travelled extensively throughout northern Iraq at the start of the U.S. bombing campaign against Islamic State that started several months ago. He has interviewed Kurdish leaders and U.S. officials and says the reality of the ground war is far different from the propaganda coming out of Washington. A CBS News report stated that sailors watched as Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from the guided missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) in the Arabian Gulf on Sept. 23.
Erlich turned to the subject of executions and the variety of methods that ISIS has used to kill people, stating that there is evidence of beheadings, immolations and mass execution by firearms. ISIS has also executed 12 of its own soldiers, claiming that they were deserters, as reported by the United Kingdom edition of the International Business Times on Nov. 24. The Daily Star Lebanon published an account of the stoning of two men in Syria for homosexuality, an alleged punishment by the faction and the first reported execution for this offense. The same article reported that activists on social media said that the dead men were opponents of ISIS and that the group had used the allegation as a pretext to kill them.
Erlich described the situation with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries as being in turmoil, with the leading producers in disagreement over prices and profits. According to CNN Money, U.S. oil production has increased to its highest level in 30 years. As a result, oil prices have recently held below $70 per barrel. In 1986, Saudi Arabia abruptly stepped up production and sent prices tumbling, forcing drillers in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana out of business and allowing the Saudis to clinch more market share.
But this time it’s different, according to Phil Flynn, an analyst at the Price Futures Group in Chicago. The domestic oil boom is attributed to technological advances such as fracking. He also stated that $100 per barrel oil might be a thing of the past for now, even though it was in triple digit territory as recently as July.