Just a couple of days ago, President Obama announced a strategy to degrade and dismantle the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an extremist terrorist nation-building group more commonly referred to as ISIS or as the Islamic State. Looking at various media clips, I get the feeling that the whole country is galvanizing for some sort of action. Some politicians have been tweeting and repeating that “something has to be done!” Many leaders and pundits of the political right have called for violence in the name of justice, saying that the groups in Iraq and Syria must be bombed, must be killed, must be wiped out. Just three years after United States soldiers have left Iraq, the country has again formed a coalition of allied countries (including France, Germany, UK, Australia, and a couple others) and is on the verge of starting another prolonged war.
This seems so wrong to me. I can’t help but ask, why does we need to go into a war again? Why use military force in Iraq like this yet again? Why must a huge portion of U.S. tax dollars go into killing a group of people who live thousands of miles away from the United States?
I’m sure people who support the current U.S. strategy have their reasons. I’ll list some here and share my honest opinions on those reasons.
1. Though Operation Enduring Freedom was ultimately a mistake, it is our mistake. The American people have a responsibility to fix the mistake, instead of just turning tail and leaving it.
I think the appeal to a sense of duty and obligation here is misplaced. Invading and occupying a different country under false pretenses if you ask me isn’t merely a mistake. It’s had disastrous consequences. Hundreds of thousands of people were seriously hurt and killed in the process. Many were tortured. Many had their family members have bombs dropped on them. The lives of Iraqi people – whether they were actually terrorist or not – were affected by U.S. and its allied nations occupying their country.
Consider this analogy. Imagine a powerful muscular guy, armed to the teeth with guns and grenades on his belt. Picture a modern-day Rambo. He raids this house located very far from his neighborhood. Once he enters the house, he proceeds to kill the father of the house and some of his stray bullets accidentally kills the two sons of the house. The Rambo guy says he came because the father of the house was abusive and because he suspected there were illegal drugs being smuggled out of the house. He claims that he has now helped the household be free from the the tyranny of the abusive father. He says now he will be the father of the household instead and the remaining wife, daughters, and sons of the house can either support him in creating stable household policies or else they’ll be considered as accomplices in the drug smuggling effort. Now, when it turns out that the house didn’t actually have any illegal drugs in the first place, the Rambo guy doesn’t apologize. He doesn’t give any excuses but continues to give out the rhetoric that he’s here to help.
Should this guy continue to stay in this house so that he could fix whatever mistake he made? Is it his obligation, his duty to fix a mistake he caused?
Common sense that him continuing to stay in the household only makes matters worse. A mistake was made, but sometimes, staying to fix or repair the damage done by that mistake does more harm than good. When someone rapes a woman, we don’t demand that the rapist now has an obligation to make it up to the victim by becoming the woman’s assistant. That’s ludicrous. No, in a case like that, we make sure the rapist doesn’t ever get near that woman again, and the rapist may also be punished.
Iraqi people didn’t welcome American soldiers to attack and occupy their country back in 2005. Nearly ten years later, I’m not sure if the Iraqi people welcomes American fighter jets and drones to bomb their country.
2. ISIS/ISIL is a threat to American security.
ISIL is a horrifying presence in Iraq and Syria, and increasingly in Lybia. For any American citizen residing in those countries, yes, ISIL is a very real, very dangerous threat.
But for those of us who live thousands of miles away here in United States, ISIL’s cache of weapons and jeeps won’t directly affect us. ISIL is concerned primarily with establishing a totalitarian government within their borders and then expanding their borders in that region. For people living in America, international terrorist networks like Al Queda are still a bigger, more real threats. Rightwing lunatics with homegrown weapons are still bigger threats. Militarized police officers without proper desescalation techniques training are still bigger threats.
What threat ISIL does pose is idealogical. Their propaganda has been spread widely via social media networks like Twitter and that’s had the effect of people from all over the world being recruited to ISIL. Some families in Netherlands and Great Britain had their friends and sons/daughters abandon them to join ISIL. This is the disheartening and the very real threat that ISIL poses to us living far away from the Middle Eastern region. Unfortunately, this sort of threat can’t be eliminated with more bombing and more killing. In fact, more bombing and more killing can actually make ISIL propaganda efforts more powerful and thus attain even more support and recruits from around the world.
3. We can’t let ISIL grow larger and more powerful. They must be stopped and eliminated now. We need to take military action now before they actually do become an empire they aspire to be.
I sympathize with the sentiment of this argument, but I still have to ask, why the United States? Why us? What’s essentially going on right now in Iraq and Syria are civil wars. Is Iraq and Syria requesting military assistance from United States? Are they welcoming American soldiers and fighter jets? Are they just as willing as United States to fight and kill and die so that ISIL can be eliminated? The fact that no one can give a clear affirmative answers to these sorts of questions is troubling. In essence, this is Iraq’s war; this is Syria’s war. United States does have a role in giving a voice of support to people suffering under ISIL rule, and I think a good argument can be made for U.S. along with UN to offer humanitarian aid efforts and services to the people of Iraq and Syria, as that’d be just be counted along the lines of international relief effort.
But war? Why United States and ten other mostly Western (none of them Muslim) countries must use its bombs and guns to kill one faction of a civil war isn’t really clear to me. There’s not really any modern historical precedent for this kind of effort being successful. Actually, judging by history, United States getting involved militarily will only make things worse. In an effort to stop ISIL, chances are that Iraq will be land of bloodshed where lots of people are killed and hurt, and most of the people in that region will hate United States that much more. Even if ISIL is eliminated in that region through U.S. military actions, the political turmoil of its aftermath will cause another politically extremist terrorist group to rise up and challenge the United States. The cycle of violence will continue and after all the tax dollars have been spent and so many casualties, not much will have been achieved.
My conclusion is that before being riled up, we need to be really mindful of what a U.S. military action in Iraq would mean, even if that only entails bombing by drones. To say, “Let’s bomb them” is so easy to say. The actual aftermath of bombing and war usually is not such a simple matter. I think it’s really, really important to continue to ask ourselves, “Why does U.S. need to get militarily involved in Iraq?”