Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fighting Terrorist with Bombs?

The US has been intermittently bombing Iraq since the 1991 First Iraq War. We have just resumed bombing once again.
If you do something for 25 years and it still has not solved your problem is it not time to ask whether a different tactic might be more promising?
If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again” makes little sense. One should learn from failures, not repeat them endlessly. Moreover, we need to think about the immense damage our bombing of Iraq has done.
We feel entitled to wage war in the Middle East because of the almost 3000 people killed 13 years ago on 9/11. But we have killed easily a hundred times as many innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have been chillingly callous about the damages we have done in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Pakistan and elsewhere. (Libya also needs to be mentioned here.)
We see the result of our bloody policies in the ISIS. That army has been strengthened by thousands streaming to its ranks from everywhere. We have ravaged that part of the world and made many, many enemies.
If we killed them all, would that solve the problem of terrorist threats? No one, who thinks at all, believes that. We would only be hated by that many more people who would be willing to fight us anywhere, with any weapons they could find or invent.
A “war” on terrorism is a really stupid idea. Terrorists hate us. Making war on them only makes them hate us more.
The only way to reduce the terrorist threat is reduce the world-wide animosity against us. Dropping bombs, sending American soldiers, is not the most promising way to improve our reputation as good and valuable neighbors in the world.
ISIS appears to be dangerous and brutal. Perhaps a short term, immediate military reaction is needed. But such military responses are no more than a stop gap measures, that are really undesirable and should only be considered as a last resort.
But the Obama White House seems to have no other ideas about blunting the terrorist threat over the long haul.
Here are some things the US needs to do.
1. Stop being so incredibly arrogant.
Our Secretaries of State, Hillary Clinton and now John Kerry, travel around the globe telling people to govern themselves democratically. “Be like us”they tell them. How would we feel if government leaders of other countries offered advice to us on how to deal with racist police in Ferguson and elsewhere, or with the massive failures of the VA? Exactly. That's how others feel about us.
More generally, we continuously tell others what to do. When is the last time that we have gone to another people and asked them a question, or asked for information or for their opinions. We act as if we could not learn from anyone.
2. Stop being ignorant.
Americans travel around the world speaking English. They expect everyone to speak our tongue. We make little effort to learn the languages of others. That does not win us many friends.
The public debate leading up to the attack on Iraq was shamefully ill-informed. Parading our ignorance we nevertheless insist that we are the leading country on the globe. That is not likely to raise our popularity.
3. Pick our friends thoughtfully.
Israelis and Palestinians have been at war with each other since the 1920s, long before there was a State of Israel. Theirs is a bitter and intractable conflict. But it is not our fight. There is no reason for the US government to act as if Israel was the 51st state of the union. If we want to work towards more amicable relations with the peoples of the Mid-East we need to distance ourselves from Israel.
During the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988, we sometimes sided with and supported Iraq and then turned abut to support Iran. The nations in the Mid-East learned that we were not to be trusted.
In Syria we have opposed the government of Bashar al-Assad—until two days ago when we decided his bomb his enemies, ISIS. Suddenly we are supporting Bashar al-Assad. Our policy shifts unpredictably. That does not make us good allies.
There are many other ways in which we have attracted a great deal of enmity in the Mid-East.
If we are to reduce the terrorist threat, we need to change our ways and persuade our enemies that we have changed. We need to prove ourselves to be good neighbors instead of arrogant, ill-informed, bullies.
Both of those will be very difficult and take time, but nothing else will do.