The Middle East is a complex, complicated area mired in sectarian power struggles—struggles of which most Americans have absolutely no concept or understanding, and that includes many of our policymakers, past and present. Furthermore, many of our past interventions there have done little more than create more chaos in the region. President Obama is right to take his time figuring out a strategy. America cannot and should not go it alone; we need our NATO allies. But more than the involvement of NATO and other European allies, we need that of Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, yes, even Iran who is no friend of ISIS (now going by IS) and has already been involved in the fight against them. All of these countries have a stake in the outcome of these regional crises, and there are many—ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to unrest in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen.
To place American soldiers on the ground in Syria or Iraq, without a clear strategy or end game (e.g. – How do we define a “win”?) is irresponsible and short-sighted. Furthermore, who do we trust? Within the various militia and rebel groups fighting in the region and against ISIS, there are numerous “bad guys,” fighters who hate the West but would align with us to advance their cause. However, once that alliance has ended, they would turn on us with the weapons we supplied them. If we intervene in Syria, we are essentially assisting the brutal Bashar Al-Assad regime (whom we’ve been railing against and trying to force out of power) as well as aligning with Iran and Hezbollah, both Syrian allies. See? It’s complicated.
There is no easy, quick, or cheap solution–military engagement is expensive. (It is striking that somehow this cash-strapped nation always has money for war; for education, healthcare, and infrastructure—meh, not so much.) Dropping bombs and placing more American soldiers on the ground in harm’s way should not be the only solutions. Remember, our soldiers represent about 1% of the U.S. population so once again, very few Americans will bear the burden of these armed interventions. Military personnel deserve to have their Commander-in-Chief and congresspersons deliberate and discuss strategy with cool heads, not the hysterical “bomb, bomb, bomb” mantra that so often spews mindlessly from the mouths of seemingly war-hungry legislators.
Perhaps, as Jeffrey Sachs suggests in his article below, Let the Middle East Fight Its Own War on ISIS, the U.S. should put greater effort into helping solve the pervasive problems of “poverty, hunger, drought, and unemployment” in the region. This would do more to heal and strengthen these countries and create goodwill towards the United States than dropping bombs on them ever will.
Below are some related articles with brief excerpts from each.
In short, some of the problems that dominate today’s headlines are partly due to local forces for which neither Clinton, Bush, nor Obama are directly responsible. But many of them also reflect specific foreign-policy blunders made by one or more U.S. leaders, and the travails of 2014 are in many ways a delayed reaction to two decades of bad policy choices.
If the US had a real strategy for national success, we would let the Middle East face and resolve its own crises, and demand a UN framework for action. We would team up not with NATO, but with the UN Security Council, and put others (for once!) into the lead. We would actually mobilize to solve the real problems facing the region: poverty, hunger, drought, and unemployment. Those are the crises that at the end of the day cause men and boys to fling their lives into useless and suicidal slaughter. If just once in our times US politicians had the bravery to build coalitions to improve the lives of the people through development rather than through bombs, the US public would be amazed to see how much agreement and goodwill could quickly generate. Instead we head to war.
And sure, ISIS does deserve it. The group is a nasty collection of slavers, rapists, thieves, throat-slitters, and all-around psychopaths. The trouble is: so are the people fighting ISIS, the regimes in Tehran and Damascus that will reap the benefits of the war the president just announced. They may be less irrational and unpredictable than ISIS. But if anything, America’s new unspoken allies in the anti-ISIS war actually represent a greater “challenge to international order” and a more significant “threat to America’s core interests” than the vicious characters the United States will soon drop bombs on.
The question before the nation is, “What is the benefit of this war to America and to Americans?”
That was the question the speech left unanswered. And the ominous suspicion left behind is that the question was unanswered because it is unanswerable—at least, not answerable in any terms likely to be acceptable to the people watching the speech and paying the taxes to finance the fight ahead.
ISIS has Americans worried. Two-thirds of those surveyed in a recent Pew Research poll said they consider the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to be a “major threat” to this country. But are such fears really justified?
Despite the impression you may have had from listening to U.S. officials in recent weeks, the answer is probably not really.
Yes, Americans should always be mindful of the threats posed by extremists. But as the case of U.S. citizens in Somalia suggests, Syria could very well end up being a graveyard for Americans fighting there rather than a launch pad for attacks on the United States
The United States has used unlawful force persistently since 9/11. Rather than stem terrorism, it exacerbates it. In February, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) asked the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “Is al Qaeda on the run and on the path to defeat?” The answer: “No, it is morphing and — and franchising itself and not only here but other areas of the world.”