President Obama’s request to Congress to authorize use of military force against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) opens unhappy comparisons with earlier misguided and destructive U.S. military ventures, starting with Vietnam and continuing to Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, among others.
We applaud this president for his advocacy of diplomacy, international cooperation, and economic development as primary tools for U.S. foreign policy, rather than the knee-jerk militarism of the Republicans and some Democrats. But this request for war authorization flies in the face of that wiser approach. The record thus far shows that reactionary terror groups such as ISIS or al-Qaeda cannot be defeated by U.S. military force. In fact, U.S. military interventions – direct and indirect through well-known “proxies” – have fanned the flames of that kind of reaction, starting with the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Witness the horrible situation today in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan itself.
In his letter requesting an Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF), President Obama asked Congress to approve military force to “degrade and defeat” ISIS/ISIL with airstrikes, “limited” ground operations, “use of special operations forces to take military action,” “missions to enable kinetic strikes” and similar actions.
The proposed resolution authorizes the president, for three years – in other words, extending to the next president, Republican or Democrat, moderate or warhawk – to “use the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines to be necessary and appropriate against ISIL or associated persons or forces.” “Associated persons or forces” is defined vaguely as “individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” All this is clearly subject to multiple interpretations. It opens the door for wider, even endless, war, with potentially disastrous consequences.
Reps. Barbara Lee and Mike Honda, both California Democrats, have introduced an important alternative resolution which requires the president to submit to Congress a “comprehensive diplomatic, political, economic and regionally-led strategy to degrade and dismantle” ISIS/ISIL within 90 days of enactment.
“There is no denying the brutality of ISIL, or the threat they pose to people in the region, and around the world,” Rep. Honda said in a Feb. 10 statement announcing the legislation. “However, military strength alone will not defeat extremism. The only lasting solution is a comprehensive solution that addresses the political and economic concerns of the region. One in which the rights of all religious and cultural groups are respected. The U.S. must focus on building partnerships in the region, and around the world, to emphasize diplomatic, political, and economic solutions to work towards a lasting, inclusive future away from violent extremism.” We fully agree.
Rep. Lee said, “It would be a tremendous error for our Congress to finally debate a long overdue authorization for the ongoing war against ISIL and neglect the important non-military options that comprise a comprehensive solution.” Definitely.
The Lee-Honda bill is H.J.Res.30, “Comprehensive Solution to ISIL Resolution.” It has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees. House Speaker John Boehner and his Republican colleagues of course will try to bury it. We urge readers to contact their members of Congress, and the White House, and ask them to support this bill, rather than one that opens up grim vistas of endless war.
Photo: President Obama has asked Congress for authorization of military action against ISIS. | Evan Vucci/AP