U.S. Wrong to Choose War Again

Back in May of this year, in a speech at the West Point military academy, President Obama spoke of confronting foreign terrorists not with military violence but with strategic cooperation among nations:

“For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism. But a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable. I believe we must shift our counter-terrorism strategy – drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan – to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold . . . We need a strategy that matches this diffuse threat; one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military thin, or stir up local resentments.”

But by ordering an expansion of airstrikes against ISIS, with or without Congressional approval, in Iraq and now, reportedly, Syria, Pres. Obama is caving to the political pressure for violent revenge against the Sunni militants whose videos showing the beheading of captured American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff have brought forth great shock and outrage around the world.

According to a recent poll, 65% of Americans now support expanding airstrikes against ISIS militants in Syria, no doubt due to the graphically brutal beheading videos. It’s an understandable emotional reaction, but more airstrikes mean more innocent people will be killed and wounded and a limited air war can easily escalate (like Vietnam and Afghanistan) into the sending of ground troops. As we saw regarding our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, public opinion ultimately turns against war once the initial anger and surge of jingoism wears off. That war costs a great deal of money also needs to be considered again.

I share American outrage at terrorist atrocities but fail to see how the dropping of more U. S. bombs and missiles hoping to “ultimately destroy” ISIS is not more of the same “naïve and unsustainable” anti-terrorism strategy that the U.S. has pursued since 9/11. We have not, for example, destroyed the Taliban nor have we destroyed al-Qaeda. Terrorists, of course, feed off attention and violence, and attacking one group may only give opportunity and power to another.

While there is no talk, at the moment, of sending American troops to Iraq/Syria, beyond a few hundred more advisers and trainers, even a limited war is certain to kill non-combatants and “stir up local resentments.”  And what happens if Assad’s Syrian forces are drawn into the war somehow or our air war unintentionally aids the Syrian army? Is more war what is really needed in the Middle East right now?

In his speech last night, Pres. Obama spoke of providing other, less fundamentalist rebel groups in Syria with training and perhaps weapons, but the NY Times points out the irony:

“Administration officials have long argued against American military action in Syria in part because so-called moderate rebel groups were divided and ineffective. Now the White House is planning to train and support these groups, but it is by no means certain that this will work.”

The never-ending “war on terror” is providing foreign terrorists with the “enemy”, recruitment and funding they need to perpetuate their violent plans. And this is not just the opinion of peace activists, as the recent Stimson Center report on drone’s  “targeted killing” makes clear. While the Obama administration admits that it has no knowledge of plans by ISIS to attack the U.S., and there is currently much hyping of the ISIS threat, waging a long-term air war will certainly make such an attack by ISIS or its supporters more likely.

The women-led peace group, Code Pink, released a statement yesterday explaining why they would be protesting near the White House as Pres. Obama gave his speech announcing the airstrikes against ISIS in Syria:

“Activists are staunchly opposed to renewed US military intervention in the region. They maintain that ISIS gained strength because the American-backed sectarian Iraqi government alienated the Sunni population of Iraq. Further involvement would be counterproductive and result in the loss of even more lives. “We can be a part of the solution this time, not the problem, but that won’t happen with bombs. We’ve been there, done that, and it didn’t work,” said Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin. “The American people are sick of war and the Iraqi people have suffered enough from our military aggression.”

Obama, upon being heckled by Benjamin during a speech on drones and foreign policy he gave back in 2013, said of her, “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to.” But it is very rare for the voice of peace activists to make it into the sphere of our mainstream media, much less to make an impact on our federal government. Greg Sargent of the Washington Post points out that the media seems to be “beating the drums of war” again rather than providing enough calm analysis and skepticism.

Some in Congress are demanding that Obama seek their authorization to launch these airstrikes, but the only members of Congress that have to my knowledge spoken out so far against expanding the war are Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont and Rep. Jackie Spear of California. The Congressional Progressive Caucus released a statement last night calling for a vote on authorization, saying that “The voices of the American people must be heard during a full and robust debate in Congress on the use of military force.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Board says Pres. Obama’s plan “makes sense” but its “open-ended commitment . . . should give all of us pause.” The editors admit war-weariness, but say war’s the only way.

Well, I can’t agree. On this anniversary of the terrible violence suffered by Americans in the attack of 9/11/2001, after 13 years of American war in the Middle East and elsewhere which has killed and wounded many more innocent people in other lands, it is time to pause and consider a resistance to terrorism that does not encourage and excuse more violence. In a post titled “Honor the Fallen by Working for Peace and Justice”, Veterans for Peace presents a list of readings that examine all we’ve lost so far by choosing war.

How might the U.S. and other concerned countries nonviolently resist ISIS and begin to address the conflicts in the Middle East? An article in The Nation by Phyllis Bennis–“The Speech on Diplomacy that Obama Should Have Given Last Night”– is the best argument I’ve seen:

“Too often in the United States—most especially since 9/11—we equate “doing something” with “doing something military.” George W. Bush gave a traumatized, near-paralyzed US public two options: we either go to war, or we let ‘em get away with it. Faced with that choice, it was hardly surprising that 88 percent or so of people in this country chose war.

But the reality is that when there are no military solutions—which is most of the time, for those who care to notice, including on September 12, 2001—the alternative is not nothing, but active non-military engagement. Diplomacy becomes even more important. President Obama has said it over and over again: there is no US military solution in Iraq or Syria. He’s right. And yet military actions—in coalitions, with local partners, counter-terrorism but not counter-insurgency—were pretty much all we heard in his speech last night . . . .”

Read the rest of the Nation piece right here.

Pres. Obama might have stood firm against the latest wave of war mania, reminding the nation of what he said back in May at West Point and other places about the futility of war. But he gave in to the voice of vengeance, ignoring the voice of peace again.

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