At an Aug. 28 news conference, President Barack Obama made the mistake of being honest with America. Asked to explain what steps the country would take to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, he conceded: “We do not have a strategy yet.” Given the deep-rooted complexities of the controversy, the president had reason to appear indecisive, but the public has clamored around his lack of conviction.
The president responded to these criticisms roughly two weeks later, presenting to the nation an exaggerated four-point plan to expand U.S. military involvement in the Middle East and combat ISIS. He asserted that ISIS “is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. It has no vision other than the slaughter of those who stand in its way,” and he assured the public that the United States would “degrade and ultimately destroy” the militant group. He called upon Congress to authorize funds to train and equip oppositional forces, and he spearheaded an international predator drone campaign that has resulted in over 250 airstrikes. In doing so, President Obama dismissed any doubts surrounding his commitment to protecting the home front — but at what cost will these measures come?
Our political leadership has too long made the war on terror a fight of good versus evil. We must end the rhetoric that terrorists possess some sort of inhuman psychology that instills in them an unrelenting desire for murder and mayhem. We must not confuse their desperation with evil. The primary vision of even the most bloodthirsty and savage terror organizations, ISIS included, is not to destroy Westerners’ way of life; it is to prevent Westerners from destroying their way of life.
Since the U.S. began its military campaign in Iraq in 2003, more terrorists have emerged, equipped with more resources and willing to employ more gruesome measures to achieve their ends in Iraq. Furthermore, U.S. policies during and following the war have left a power vacuum in the region, providing conditions conducive to ISIS’s rise to prominence. The government that the U.S. set up in Iraq did not properly represent the Sunni population in the north of the country, giving groups like ISIS an opportunity to claim legitimacy and “liberate” Sunni-dominated cities such as Mosul. Due to these misguided policies and the legacy of U.S. intervention, it is difficult to imagine an Iraq that can function without continued U.S. interference in the future.
According to a CNN/ORC International poll from Sept. 8, a full 90 percent of Americans believe ISIS is a threat to the United States. Given the vast territory ISIS has gained in northern Iraq and Syria, the murders of American journalists abroad and the massive amounts of revenue the group is acquiring through illegal oil trade and racketeering, I would be naïve to deviate from this majority. Where I part with the majority, however, is with the 71 percent of Americans who believe that ISIS currently has terrorist insurgents on U.S. soil planning imminent attacks.
It’s this fear, not talk of human rights violations or genocide against Middle Eastern groups, which drives Americans to demand a “plan” from Obama. It should be no surprise to us that we, the citizens of a nation that has amassed a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the entire planet countless times over, are willing to throw away more money and resources on a conflict that we cannot solve. When we see radicals perpetrating atrocities in the Middle East and hear them expressing their intent to harm the American way of life, we feel we need to do something. But fear is not a legitimate justification for war. And yet here we are again, ready to fight the latest iteration of jihadis.
As military actions progress, we will hear about the capture of cities we’ve never heard of and be assured that they’re strategic checkpoints. We will hear of the deaths of people whose names we can’t pronounce and be told that they’re military leaders. We will be promised things are getting better and that our advanced military technologies and strategies are overpowering their barbaric knife-in-hand killings. All of this will help us deal with our fear, but it will not stop the perpetuation of antiAmerican sentiment in the Middle East — it will enhance it.
Supporters of this war will tell you that a band of savages like ISIS understand only force. Perhaps they are right. But while bombs might destroy ISIS, they will not bring stability to the Middle East, and they will never destroy the conditions and ideologies that nourish terrorism.