Military intervention. That is what’s going ahead once more, ahead of the increasing conflict in Iraq and Syria at the hands of the terrorist group ISIL/ISIS/IL/whatever you prefer. Air-strikes, special forces, drone attacks. But not “boots on the ground”.
Think of that old political quip, which explains that if a government wants something, the citizens usually want the opposite. That is especially true when it comes to military intervention in the Middle East. Our generation has witnessed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, two illegal wars that have accomplished nothing but the creation of ISIL. When faced with the threat of al-Qaeda in 2001, Western governments tried an approach which is best described as “stamp out and kill as many terrorists as you can”. 13 years and over 100,000 deaths later, the wars largely drew to a close and the majority of U.S. forces finally left Middle Eastern soil. What they left behind resembled two destabilized Middle Eastern nations and a mountain of dead bodies. Citizens finally got tired of their tax money killing people, and rightly so, considering how much of a farce the two wars were.
We are now told that there is a new threat in the region, more extreme than anything we’ve ever seen before. ISIL is so extremist that even al-Qaeda wants nothing to do with them. They have beheaded journalists, murdered innocents and seized territory the size of Great Britain. They seek to establish a new caliphate and are utterly opposed to every moral sentiment that any rational person has.
So, we find ourselves in a similar situation to the one we were in 13 years ago. A foreign threat has attacked us (9/11 back then, the beheading of journalists now) and is amassing power through militancy. We know that the “stamp out and kill as many terrorists as you can” policy largely didn’t work out last time, otherwise we wouldn’t find ourselves looking at the same region with the same problem over a decade later. So we should try something new, right? An approach that doesn’t involve showering bombs over the Middle East, right? Apparently not.
Barack Obama recently spoke to Chuck Todd about his plan to tackle ISIL forces, and later addressed the nation to formally outline these plans. It was largely the same old, same old that we’ve seen from every U.S. President in the modern era. Kill all the terrorists. Arm their enemies. Problem solved.
Here’s the thing: Constant interventions in the Middle East breed anti-American, and by extension, anti-European sentiment. Every time U.S. forces destroy schools or hospitals or murder innocent civilians, with the backing of EU governments, terrorist groups like ISIL gain more members. People in the Middle East are sick and tired of seeing their countries being invaded, hosted and torn apart so that America can sleep better at night. These civilians live with the consequences of American intervention. There is such a thing as “blowback”, whereby a military operation results in unintended consequences that later come back to bite the aggressors in the ass. Blowback has been happening every day since coalition forces stepped foot in Iraq and Afghanistan.
(The Stop The War coalition has a great article which lists some U.S. atrocities during the wars)
For people living in the Middle East, their perspective increasingly resembles this: The more you starve us, the more you look like dinner.
If you go into the Middle East and create environments where citizens are constantly being kept on edge, you can’t exactly act surprised when they join groups which want to see an end to your repeated occupations. Civilians almost always pay the price when America fights terrorist groups, and it drives them into the hands of extremists.
Now, just for a bit of clarification, nobody can deny that the videos showing the beheadings of journalists and aid workers are horrific and deeply upsetting. They make any sane person want to intervene and wipe out those responsible. But that strategy isn’t working. It always results in the loss of civilian lives, it always draws people closer to extremism, and it always ends up worsening the problem in the long term. I don’t pretend I have all the answers to the problem of ISIL, but I know what isn’t the answer.
Think, for a minute, on the rise of Nazi Germany. After the First World War, the newly-formed Weimar Republic was forced to sign a one-sided peace agreement called the Treaty of Versailles, which placed the blame of the war entirely on Germany. Under it, their military capabilities were permanently decimated, their empire was divided among the victors and they were forced to pay out enormous reparations which left their economy in the toilet. Ordinary Germans who had nothing to do with the war suffered enormously under the conditions that the Treaty left them in. You can imagine how much resentment that bred. The German people saw their country removed as a world power and their economy stripped bare with the flick of a pen.
So imagine their relief when a politician comes along who says he’s not happy with the conditions of the treaty, who says he will reverse what foreign powers have done to the German people and restore old glory. Adolf Hitler was that politician, and we all know how many people his restoration plan murdered. Imagine if the allied forces had worked to reintegrate Germany and formed new bonds of trust after the war. Imagine how much blowback and resentment could have been avoided if the world invited Germany back in. Adolf Hitler’s support relied on the aggression of external forces, and I doubt anybody would remember his name if Germany hadn’t been uninvited to the world.
Now I am absolutely not suggesting that we welcome terrorists into the world (although the U.S. has a long history of doing that anyway). The Germany example seems to have a lot in common with civilian citizens of the Middle East who are tired of seeing their countries invaded and abused, time and time again, by external forces. The only way the U.S. can defeat Middle Eastern terrorism is if they stop creating it.
Read People’s World editorial on ISIL and war here.
Read two-time presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich’s article about military intervention here.