Thursday, February 19, 2015

Obama's Not-War On ISIS

"What experience and history teach is this — that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it."
—GWF Hegel
SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages (edited by me)
I've already addressed the Obama Administration's Totally-Not-War-Or-Anything-Like-That against ISIS a couple times before, but it's particularly pertinent to do so now, once again. President Obama has requested from Congress another Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), or what we might refer to as a declaration of we're-still-not-calling-it-war. Obama conducted an entire offensive in Libya without congressional approval, and our "counterterrorism" against ISIS has now been ongoing for six months without any such approval—so why is that the president now feels it's appropriate to ask for a new AUMF?

The answer is not exactly a comforting one. It's clear that Obama isn't admitting wrongdoing, as he's continued to maintain his current not-war is authorized by the 2001 AUMF. He could just be offering Congress the chance to have its voice heard just to be polite, but that seems a tad dubious. So what possibility is left? In a word, escalation.

As we know well by this point, Obama has given us his guarantee that there will be no "boots on the ground." This hasn't proven to be very meaningful so far (unless the over-2,500 security personnel and military advisers in Iraq are wearing sneakers, maybe), and the proposed AUMF doesn't do much to strengthen it. We have a vague promise that there will be no "enduring offensive ground combat operations," which is essentially meaningless when one takes into account that (by pure coincidence, of course) the president is the one with the authority to decide what "enduring" and "offensive" mean (and presumably what "ground" means, too, given that the boots worn by US military personnel in Iraq are apparently not on it).

Of course, as I've previously noted, even if Obama does maintain his "no combat troops" pledge, that doesn't mean the next president will—and, conveniently enough, the sunset provision on the AUMF would be in 2018, well after Obama's successor is in office; whether that's a Republican or Hillary Clinton, we have some reason to be worried.

As Noam Chomsky, among others, has noted, it's US involvement in the Middle East that's helped to create the scourge that is ISIS—the idea of a war (erm, I mean "counterterrorism offensive") to rectify that problem is, of course, completely nonsensical. As if to remind us the dangers of US involvement in the Middle East, the government of Yemen was recently overtaken by a coup. The culprits are the Shia Houthi, who have been alienated by the policies of Yemen's US-backed government (both before and after the 2011 revolution). The Sunni community within the country, feeling threatened by the Shia insurgency, has increasingly turned to al-Qaeda (you know, that group that we thought was the worst thing ever, before ISIS came into being).

Even if we were to devote the resources (i.e. lives and money) necessary to defeat ISIS, there's no reason to think that that wouldn't have the effect of creating some other horrible terror group, just as our war to get rid of Saddam Hussein ended up creating this nightmare. There's no pretty solution for the ISIS problem, but greater US involvement is no solution at all. If you live in the US, now would be a good time to call your representative and urge them to vote "no" on the AUMF that's been proposed. Before you write this off as pointless, keep in mind that it succeeded back in 2013, when Congress was scared away from approving Obama's plan for airstrikes on Syria.

The new war (whether we call it that or not) is not going to be to the benefit of the general populace of the US, Europe, Iraq, or Syria. It's hard to imagine ISIS can be defeated in any way but through war, but it's not our war to fight and we are not helping anyone by getting involved in it. Even if the fearmongering about ISIS were anything but blatant lies, this would be exactly the wrong thing to do in the course of addressing the problem. If Congress approves the AUMF as it's been proposed, it perpetuates the same policies that have created the current situation.

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