Is there any justification for bombing ISIS?
There isn’t any Congressional authorization, much less a declaration of war. Is there even a good reason for the U.S. to be involved?
There is no better time to ask this question than now, as much of the world (me included) is disgusted by the Islamic State’s beheadings of two kidnapped Japanese nationals.
It is easy to forget that, for Americans, going to war was, until recently, an act undertaken only after every other alternative had been thoroughly explored and completely exhausted Hard to imagine now, but the United States did not declare war against Germany after its U-boat torpedoed and sank the RMS Lusitania in 1915, killing 1,198 passengers, including 128 Americans. Instead, President Woodrow Wilson demanded compensation and a promise from Germany not to do it again.
War has since become much too easy.
We go to war fast, without national discussion — much less debate. We go to war indiscriminately. We war against several nations (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria), at the same time we’re warring against a tactic (terrorism), as well as various so-called “non-state actors” (discrete branches of al-Qaida, Khorasan, Abu Sayyaf). So much war, we think it’s normal that when someone/something/some group does something we deem wrong, like slitting the throats of reporters as GoPros record the bloodshed in glorious high resolution, war is the knee-jerk response.
In one day over the past weekend, the U.S.-led coalition carried out 27 airstrikes against ISIS-held territory in Syria and Iraq. We have no way to know how many ISIS soldiers, or civilians, were killed or wounded in those bombardments.
U.S.-led forces are responsible for at least 16,000 airstrikes against ISIS in the last six months, killing an unknown number of people — but guesstimates logically begin in the tens of thousands, including civilians. Despite all that carnage, the air campaign has not had the desired effect: ISIS is stronger than ever.
American war officials concede that the air war is failing. “I think [the war against ISIS] may require a forward deployment of some of our troops,” Hagel told CNN. “I would say we’re not there yet. Whether we get there or not, I don’t know.”
“This is going to be a long, nasty, dirty war that in many ways is going to look a lot like the first go-around in Iraq,” Stephen Biddle, ex-adviser to Army General David Petraeus, told U.S. News & World Report.
But ... why?
Why are we in this “long, nasty, dirty war” against ISIS?
No one is arguing that the Islamic State is run by nice people. ISIS has carried out ethnic cleansing, enslaved women, raped children, slaughtered POWs in summary executions and Talibanized areas under their control, imposing their brutal, medieval version of Sharia on citizens accustomed to modern life under socialist, secular states.
But ISIS is not alone in its barbarism.
Saudi Arabia routinely carries out public beheadings and floggings, as well as crucifixions, and treats women like dirt. Yet we don’t bomb them. To the contrary, the Saudis are close allies. President Obama cut short important diplomatic trips in order to join the Saudis as they mourn their dead king.
Another close U.S. ally, the government of the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, either boils or freezes political dissidents to death, depending on the government’s mood. Quirky! No air raids there either.
Among the worst nations on earth for human rights abuses are Yemen and Pakistan, both of which, like ISIS, are fundamentalist Islamist regimes, but receive hundreds of millions of dollars in American weapons and cash.
So what’s special about ISIS?
War is serious business. It takes lives, costs money, destroys infrastructure and the environment, and creates new problems, including laying the ground for future wars. The least — the very least — we can do is think about it, and talk about it, before starting one.