Last Fall, we were told that the United States had to wage war against the Assad regime in Syria. This Fall, we are told the US must wage war against Syrian rebels seeking to overthrow the Assad regime. How can this be logically explained? Has the world changed so dramatically in one year?
In fact, despite dramatic changes things remain very much the same. The world today, just as a year ago and a decade ago, is marked by: a growing gap between the haves and have-nots; a reflex for military solutions to political problems; a flagrant disregard for law; and, hypocritical policy which reacts to the symptoms of terror rather than addressing its causes.
Yes, the Islamic States’ actions are barbaric and there is great volatility in the Mid-East, but the policy of the West has enabled these developments. Just as Al-Qaeda was born from US support of the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, ISIS comes from the US war in Iraq. We can also look to the intervention of the West in Libya, Yemen, and Syria, and its overall regional policy, to explain the regional chaos and spread of Islamic extremism.
Speaking to the UN General Assembly on September 25, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani criticized Western nations for sowing extremism in the Middle East, saying, “Certain intelligence agencies have put blades in the hands of mad men who now spare no one. All those who have played a role in founding and supporting these terror groups must now acknowledge their errors.” Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Sadly, the West is again repeating its erroneous ways.
Despite Obama’s bellicose rhetoric at the UN this week, there is no military solution to terrorism. A comprehensive study on How Terrorist Groups End by the Rand Corporation underscores the need for political, not military, solutions. Iraq may need to be a confederation. Iran and other disfavored groups will need to be part of a grand-negotiation. Bombs cannot bring peace in the region.
Robert McNamara set forth guidelines for the wise use of military force in The Fog of War: “If we can’t persuade nations with comparable values of the merits of our cause, we’d better re-examine our reasoning.” Europe, stung by the Iraq experience, has not supported the bombing of ISIL in Syria. America’s coalition for that bombing is five brutal Arab autocracies (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan, and Bahrain).
Former Bush legal advisor John Bellinger III recently said, “Many European governments really are sticklers on international law rules on the use of force, particularly after the Iraq war. This may look a lot more justifiable, but they nonetheless feel the obligation to have a legal basis.” Think about that. The Bush lawyer is saying that the US doesn’t need a legal basis to bomb Syria. The legal justification given by the Obama team has mutated from the absurd (Syrian extremists were plotting an imminent attack against the US) to the creative (If Iraq so requests, the US can chase its enemies across land borders).
A sane approach to ending terrorism would address its economic as well as its political roots, recognizing that the rise of the rest enhances the security of the West. It would aim to redress the failure of globalization to deliver on its promise. And, it would recognize that democracy must begin at home, not in Baghdad or Damascus.
Policies must extend security. Terror sown will be terror reaped. The bombing of Syria began as the UN climate summit convened. What could extend security more than the triple win of finding clean renewable sources to meet our energy needs, reversing global warming and its catastrophic consequences, and ending our sick addiction to fossil fuels and oil wars? Perpetual war can never bring peace or security, only insanity.
William Cohn, a member of the California Bar, lectures on law, ethics and critical thinking at New York University and the University of New York in Prague. He will be participating in a panel discussion on ISIS at the American Center in Prague on November 19.