Too often in the United States, when responding to international crises, we equate “doing something” with “doing something military.” In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush gave a traumatized American public two options: either we go to war, or we let the terrorists get away with it. Faced with that choice, it’s hardly surprising that a vast majority of Americans supported war.
But when there are no military solutions—which is most of the time, including on September 12, 2001—the alternative is not nothing, but active, nonmilitary engagement. Diplomacy becomes even more important. President Obama has repeatedly said there is no military solution to the overlapping conflicts in Syria and Iraq. He’s right—but now he’s surrendered to an unholy alliance of neocon armchair warriors, liberal interventionists and pundits (some in the pay of military contractors who stand to benefit from more war; see Lee Fang on page 4), all whipped into hysteria by the media after the gruesome beheading of kidnapped journalists.
Aside from the call for more humanitarian aid, Obama’s strategy to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State (IS) tilts strongly toward the military. Even worse, a major plank in that strategy—$500 million to train and support so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels—could actually help IS, since many rebels have sold it arms or abandoned them to IS in the face of the latter’s onslaught. The only militarily significant non-IS rebel forces in Syria now are extremist jihadis like the Al Qaeda–affiliated Nusra Front. As we go to press, members of Congress from both parties are raising objections to deeper involvement in the Syrian war, which Senator Dick Durbin called “a dog’s breakfast of violence and terrorism.”
Just as disturbing is the president’s evasion of his legal and constitutional responsibility to seek congressional approval for what he says will be yet another open-ended Middle East war—one that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, now admits may require US ground troops after all. Too many members of Congress, fearful of the electoral consequences of a vote, have joined him in that evasion by pushing to postpone debate until after the fall elections. The Congressional Progressive Caucus is proposing a smart resolution—echoing one passed overwhelmingly by the House in July—calling for debate and a vote on the “statutory authorization for any sustained United States combat role in Iraq or Syria.” The resolution points out the illegitimacy of White House claims that congressional war authorizations passed in 2001 and 2002 can be applied to this conflict, and it sensibly calls for a comprehensive, multilateral approach to the crisis, with referral to the UN Security Council.