This July 4, the fireworks won’t just be in celebration of Independence Day. There will undoubtedly be fireworks in cities throughout the Middle East, as the region, engulfed in violence, further explodes. The US military and US taxdollars are already deeply entangled in Middle Easterners’ lives (and deaths), and President Obama is under pressure to get further involved in the wars in Iraq and Syria. But what advice would our nation’s founders give the 44th president this July 4?
The Founding Fathers, who revolted against a foreign power, were vehemently opposed to getting involved in military adventures overseas. George Washington cautioned our new nation against the “mischiefs of foreign intrigue.” James Madison said the US should steer clear of unnecessary wars. Thomas Jefferson said, “If there be one principle more deeply written than any other in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest.” Secretary of State John Quincy Adams warned in 1821 that America should not go abroad in search of “monsters to destroy”—for such folly would destroy “her own spirit.”
But this Independence Day marks yet another year of seemingly endless US involvement in wars. Despite promising the American public that US troops would leave Afghanistan by the end of this year, President Obama is poised to negotiate a continued US troop presence with the next Afghan president (if the Afghans can figure out who that is!). Current president Karzai has explicitly rejected this decision. Karzai has insisted that the US-led invasion has made his country even worse than it was under the repressive Taliban, and lamented that “Afghans died in a war that’s not ours.”
Obama’s drone wars have gotten the US militarily entangled in the internal affairs of Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The President recently called for an alarming expansion of the US role in Syria’s civil war, requesting $500 million to aid the Syrian opposition. US funds continue to fuel Israel’s 47-year-long military occupation of Palestine, an occupation that has escalated recently with the tragic murders of both Israeli and Palestinian children. And in Egypt, where a brutal military coup has been murdering and jailing thousands upon thousands of nonviolent, pro-democracy protesters, the US government is intervening on the side of the coup leader, draconian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in the magnitude of $1.5 billion of our taxdollars per year.
In Iraq, President Obama is sliding down the slippery slope of another disastrous intervention. Armed drones are now patrolling the Iraqi skies, ready to unleash their Hellfire missiles at any moment and sink us deeper into this quagmire. And President Obama just authorized sending 750 troops, less than three years after our troops withdrew from a disastrous nine-year war. Those familiar with the history of the Vietnam War might recognize that this is exactly how that 20-year-long conflict was started. The US sent in military “advisers,” and then sent in troops to protect them, and then troops to protect them, and then troops to protect them—ad infinitum.
As President Obama contemplates even further engagement in Iraq, 70 congresspeople have signed a letter, initiated by Representatives Scott Rigell (R-VA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), calling on the President to respect the Constitutional requirement to go to Congress for authorization before using military force. Indeed, the Founding Fathers made it clear that no individual president should have the authority to drag our nation into war, that a decision of such magnitude had to be debated and decided on by the people’s representatives in Congress.
Though just because we oppose war and military intervention doesn’t mean we have to be complete isolationists, by any means. What is does mean is we should stop spending hundreds of billions of taxdollars on wars that don’t work, harming and killing innocent civilians. If we truly want to help people around the world, there are myriad better ways to do so. The U.S. should put its energy and influence toward a comprehensive ban on the transfer of weapons from outside powers. Rather than attempting additional unilateral moves, the U.S. should be collaborating with regional and international actors to address the root cause of the violence in Iraq. And we should more to help the millions of displaced Iraqis. The US is one of the least refugee-friendly countries in the industrialized world. Given we live in a time withthe highest level of refugees since World War II, assisting refugees—often forced out of their homes because of wars we have engaged in or dictators we have supported—could be just one easy way to help others.
Poll after poll shows that the American people agree with our Founding Fathers’ insistence that our nation should disengage from overseas military misadventures. Indeed, President Obama himself, in his May 23, 2013 foreign policy speech, quoted James Madison’s dire warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
So this July 4th, be a true patriot. Take some action to stop the US military intervention in Iraq. Educate your friends and neighbors, write a letter to the editor, sign a petition. Take signs and banners out into the streets and tell everyone you want to end these pointless wars. Call your elected officials (202-224-3121) and the White House (202-456-1111). Do something to move us towards a foreign policy that uses diplomatic prowess, not military power, as the way to relate to, not violently dominate, the global community.
Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights group Global Exchange. She is the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.