This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
The expanding US-led war on the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, has largely fallen off the radar of US social movements.
Many (but not all) who were active in anti-war organizing over the past decade have turned away from this conflict. The dearth of public debate is conspicuous, even as the US government sinks the country deeper into yet another open-ended and ill-defined military operation. The refrain “it will take years” has become such a common utterance by the Obama administration that it slips by barely noticed.
There are many reasons for the relative silence in the face of this latest military escalation. I would venture that one of them is the sheer complexity of the situation in Iraq and Syria—as well as the real humanitarian crisis posed by the rise of ISIS, the many-layered power struggles across the wider Middle East and the difficulty of building connections with grassroots movements in countries bearing the brunt of the violence.
But the answer to complexity is not to do nothing. In fact, great crimes and historic blunders—from Palestine to South Africa to Afghanistan—have been tacitly enabled by people who chose not to take action, perhaps because the situation seemed too complex to engage. When millions of lives are on the line, inaction is unacceptable.
The task is to figure out what to do.
The most important question to ask is this: Do we really think that the US military operation against ISIS will bring about a good outcome for the people of Iraq and Syria, or for US society? Is there any evidence from the more than thirteen years of the so-called “War on Terror” that US military intervention in the Middle East brings anything but death, displacement, destabilization and poverty to the people whose homes have been transformed into battlefields?
The answer to these questions must be a resounding “No.”
But there are also many things to say “Yes” to. A better path forward can only be forged by peoples’ movements in Iraq and Syria—movements that still exist, still matter and continue to organize for workers’ rights, gender justice, war reparations and people power, even amid the death and displacement that has swallowed up all the headlines.
Now is a critical time to seek to understand and build solidarity with Iraqi and Syrian civil societies. Heeding their call, we should strengthen awareness here at home of the tremendous political and ethical debt the United States owes all people harmed by the now-discredited war on Iraq and the crises it set in motion.