What has coalition bombing in Iraq/Syria accomplished?

After two months of military airstrikes, led by the United States, against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the bombings are “already having a significant impact.” What proof we have of this is not being shared. Kerry also said, according to the BBC, that the war “is going to require defeating the ideology, the funding, the recruitment and the devastation that they’d been able to inflict on people in the region.” In other words, this latest war is far from over.

Of course, one can argue that our latest military intervention will only reinforce and bolster the vicious ideology of ISIS, aid in recruitment and add to the general “devastation” of war. As for the funding of ISIS, that is a matter of putting diplomatic pressure on some of our allies in the current war.

What we do pretty accurately know is that some 900 people, mostly militants, have been killed thanks to coalition airstrikes. These bombing deaths include, so far, 52 innocent civilians, of which 8 were children and 5 were women, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. SOHR condemned these civilian casualties:

“The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights expresses its strong condemnation, to the fall of the civilians, as a result of the coalition air strikes, and Calls neutralize civilians areas from the military operations from any party, because the the Syrian people who have lost hundreds of thousands and been displaced in millions, is looking forward to a decent safe life away from Humiliation, detention, and destruction, a life of democracy, justice, freedom and equality.”

The Obama administration has previously made clear that the avoiding of civilian casualties under the new “near certainty” standard does not apply to the coalition bombing in Syria and Iraq. And yet the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that the coalition “must abide by international humanitarian law and take all necessary precautions to avoid and minimize civilian casualties.” But even “near certainty” is not certain and fool-proof enough when it comes to avoiding killing innocent people.

One thing we know absolutely: airstrikes inevitably kill and injure innocent civilians, and these deaths, understandably, breed resentment.  All forms of war simply increase the slaughter and devastation.

What might be a less violent, more effective alternative? Writing in the NY Review of Books, author Ahmed Rashid argues that what ISIS seeks is power in the Arab world, and that Arab nations must address what they have helped create. How can the U.S. best help? Diplomacy, says Rashid:

“Arab regimes need to come together far more than they have done if they are to convince their populations that the extremism carried out by ISIS in the name of Sunni Islam is destroying the traditional, tolerant Islam that most Arabs have always believed in. But only the US and NATO countries can make that happen through intense diplomatic activity across the region. Until it does, the US obsession with aerial bombardment will accomplish little.”

This seems like sane and refreshing advice.

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