I was at a workshop on the mind-body problem—where scientists and philosophers debated, among other questions, whether dark energy might be conscious—when reality intruded. Someone sitting beside me silently showed me his smart phone, which displayed a report that terrorists had struck Paris. Again.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is suspected of involvement in the attacks, which killed 129 people. France and the U.S. have already stepped up bombing of alleged ISIS targets in Syria, according to The New York Times. Some Republican Presidential candidates are demanding that the U.S. attack ISIS far more forcefully.
What should the U.S. do? Here are thoughts cobbled together from previous posts. I am not an absolute pacifist. Sometimes violence is required to stop greater violence—both to defend ourselves and, more rarely, to defend others. Military force can be employed if it conforms to what I call the "end-of-war rule." Two of the rule's criteria are: 1, our violence will not make a bad situation worse; 2, there are no nonviolent options.
Will increased U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria make a bad situation worse? Recent history suggests that the answer is yes. The U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have been catastrophic failures on every possible level, both for Americans and for the Iraqis and Afghans we always claim to be helping.
According to the reputable group Iraq Body Count, since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, 224,000 people, including at least 146,181 civilians, have died of war-related injuries. Between 2003 and 2011, U.S.-coalition forces were directly responsible for the deaths of 15,060 civilians, of whom at least 1,201 were children. As I reported in September, recent attacks by U.S.-coalition forces against Islamic forces in Iraq and Syria have killed as many as 1,550 civilians.
Moreover, U.S. militarism helped create ISIS. Here is how antiwar activist David Swanson put it in an email to me: "The U.S. and its junior partners destroyed Iraq, left sectarian division, poverty, desperation, and an illegitimate government in Baghdad that did not represent Sunnis or other groups." Swanson continued:
Then the U.S. armed and trained ISIS and allied groups in Syria, while continuing to prop up the Baghdad government, providing Hellfire missiles with which to attack Iraqis in Fallujah and elsewhere. ISIS has religious adherents but also opportunistic supporters who see it as the force resisting an unwanted rule from Baghdad and who increasingly see it as resisting the United States. It is in possession of U.S. weaponry provided directly to it in Syria and seized from the Iraqi government. At last count by the U.S. government, 79% of weapons transferred to Middle Eastern governments come from the United States, not counting transfers to groups like ISIS, and not counting weapons in the possession of the United States. So, the first thing to do differently going forward: stop bombing nations into ruins, and stop shipping weapons into the area you've left in chaos.
There are nonviolent options, which Swanson spells out here, for quelling the violence in Iraq and Syria. At the same website, a group of 53 religious groups, academics and ministers proposes, in part:
*Stop U.S. bombing in Iraq to prevent bloodshed, instability and the accumulation of grievances that contribute to the global justification for the Islamic State’s existence among its supporters.
*Provide robust humanitarian assistance to those who are fleeing the violence. Provide food and much needed supplies in coordination with the United Nations.
*Engage with the UN, all Iraqi political and religious leaders, and others in the international community on diplomatic efforts for a lasting political solution for Iraq.
*Ensure a significantly more inclusive Iraqi government along with substantive programs of social reconciliation to interrupt the flow and perhaps peel back some of the persons joining the Islamic State. In the diplomatic strategy, particularly include those with influence on key actors in the Islamic State.
*Work for a political settlement to the crisis in Syria. The conflicts in Iraq and Syria are intricately connected and should be addressed holistically. Return to the Geneva peace process for a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Syria and expand the agenda to include regional peace and stability. Ensure Iran’s full participation in the process.
For a more comprehensive peace plan, see “A Global Security System: An Alternative to War,” compiled by the international organization World Beyond War.
The ultimate criterion of my end-of-war rule is that military intervention should be employed in a manner consistent with the ultimate goal of ending war once and for all. Escalating U.S. force in the Mideast—far from taking us closer to world peace—would perpetuate militarism. Whenever the U.S. resorts to bombs and bullets to advance its agenda, it legitimizes the use of lethal force by others, including groups like ISIS.
One of the great ironies in debates about war and peace is that hawks view themselves as hard-headed "realists" and denigrate doves as soft-headed and delusional. The real delusion is thinking that U.S. military force—which over the last decade has exacerbated the terrible violence wracking the Mideast—can now dispel it.
A Global Security System: An Alternative to War, published by Worldbeyondwar.org.