The “Way Forward”: More War?

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan was in Milwaukee on Tuesday to give a talk,  plug his book, The Way Forward, and perhaps aid his possible presidential candidacy. As Ryan spoke, news came of the murder of a second American freelance journalist, Steve Sotloff, by Islamic State militants. Rep. Ryan suggested first a prayer and then an immediate military strike on Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq.

Ryan joins the political chorus, mostly Republican, now calling on President Obama to use more military force against these Islamic terrorists. That both Syria and Iraq are sovereign states does not matter. (Neither Iraq nor Syria has asked us to bomb terrorists.)***  That our previous foreign wars to “defeat terrorism” have failed to do so does not matter. That more U.S. bombing will certainly kill more innocent people caught in harm’s way does not matter. If we don’t react militarily now, their argument goes, ISIS will soon be attacking Americans on American soil. “Al-Qaeda 3.0” is what Ryan calls the latest threat.

Perhaps a better way to put it is War 3.0 or fear-mongering = war-mongering–again.

President Obama had been properly cautious, wanting to avoid yet another military entanglement in the Middle East. But Obama in recent days is talking more forcefully about a military response, and together with British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote an op-ed that calls on NATO to generally beef up its military resolve in the face of foreign aggression:

“We must use our military to ensure a persistent presence in Eastern Europe, reassuring NATO members in Eastern Europe and making clear to Russia that we will always uphold our Article 5 commitments to collective self-defence. And we must back this up with a multi-national rapid response force, composed of land, air, maritime and special forces, that could deploy anywhere in the world at very short notice. All this will also require investment from NATO countries in the necessary capabilities. Britain and America are two of only four NATO members to meet the target of spending 2% of our GDP on defence and other states must urgently step up their efforts to meet this too. This would send a powerful message to those that threaten us that our collective resolve is as strong as ever.”

But high defense-spending is part of the problem of U.S. debt, and not an argument likely to sway the cash-strapped nations of NATO.

Speaking specifically of ISIS, the Obama-Cameron opinion piece says that Britain and the U.S. “will not be cowed by barbaric killers.” Well, as an American I would hope not. That doesn’t mean, however, that we must turn to war to show our resolve against terrorism or ignore the many forms of brutality occurring elsewhere in the world. As a nation, we can be both morally engaged and democratically humane.

There are viable alternatives to political violence, as the work of Erica Chenowith, for example, convincingly demonstrates. Nonviolence as foreign and civil strategy, of course, is not without risk. It does seem, however, to be a safer, more effective way forward. And nonviolent resistance, at the very least, practices what it preaches.


*** Correction— Iraq did, in fact, ask for military assistance against ISIS.

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