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Obama wants to sort out Iraq in three years, without putting boots on the ground.

  • Opinion

Kay Lee, LLB Law

What makes the U.S. so sure this time?

ISIS: clearly a threat and clearly barbaric, regardless of whether you identify with religion or believe God is as real as Middle Earth. The President has recently sought authorisation to fight the Islamic State on the grounds of “enduring offensive ground forces” and limiting engagement to three years.

In June last year, the rebel group formally known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) proclaimed itself to be the Islamic State (IS). Many communities have declared the group to be unrepresentative of Islam, as they have been responsible for human rights abuses, war crimes and are deemed to be a terrorist organisation. They truly began to take shape when the Obama administration pulled out of Iraq in 2011.

Previous administrations have attempted to get rid of members of Al-Qaeda. This included doing away with Osama Bin Laden, a young Saudi who turned his back on American help after the Soviet War in Afghanistan – a conflict which the Americans also became involved in as part of the Cold War. Arguably then, the government administrations haven’t been particularly successful in their attempts to diffuse situations.

Cutting off a Hydra’s head only makes it double the trouble, which is exactly what the military history of the U.S. tells us.

Obama’s idea sounds workable in theory. It explicitly prohibits the use of combat forces, seeking authority to wage a battle beyond the fight against the Islamic State, which includes “associated forces”, and therefore doesn’t appear to hold any geographic limitations. We also know what happened the last time an American administration went into a foreign country to get rid of a terrorist group that was threatening the world: the conflict lasted for a decade, and thousands of lives were lost. There are two major questions here: what’s at stake, and is it worth it?

The request by the Obama Administration has clearly not been met with open arms. Senator Joe Manchin III, a Democrat representing West Virginia, reiterated the concern that giving the president approval for his campaign in the Middle East would be equivalent to allowing another decade of blunders. “If money or military might would change that part of the world, we’d be done a long time ago,” he pointed out. That seems like a valid point: so far, no amount of military action and invasions have made a difference, and instead of eradicating a problem and moving on to the next one, it is a problem that keeps resurfacing as something worse. Some point out that the American government is responsible for creating Al-Qaeda and ISIS in the first place, due to their position in previous conflicts. Given history’s habit of repeating itself, it doesn’t seem likely that the request might have the result intended. It is almost certain that an attempt at negotiation or peaceful settlement may turn into something drastically different.

It should also be worth noting that ISIS is an ideologically based group. It is not particularly tangible, and is a group without clear leadership structure or even clear member count. This makes Obama’s challenge greater, especially when one considers that ideologies are not killed by military force alone; what exactly would be the measure of victory after three years?

And assuming that what happens will turn into semi-warfare, what will be at stake? Similar to how Obama entered office, the next President, whether Democrat or Republican, will have to clean up the mess. Johnson had to clean up Kennedy’s involvement in Vietnam in 1963, just as Obama must have remembered cleaning up after the Bush Administration not long ago. As with such long and drawn-out conflicts, it is hard to see how western society and its economies will benefit. Returning soldiers are likely to suffer psychological disturbances in one form or another, and public opinion on the whole matter may negatively affect perceptions of the ruling political elite.

Also, should the United States even be involved in a conflict that isn’t theirs to fight? ISIS has Arab countries united in their fury. The U.S. has been in almost every major Middle Eastern conflict in the last 20 years, and their direct involvement has made things worse. Should the Middle East fight their own terror themselves? Ideology is not something that can only be defeated by weaponry, especially not by a foreign power that doesn’t realise not everything is divided into political parties. ISIS is, at its core, an ideological organisation, with the belief that they are doing things for the greater good and are using acts of terror to achieve their goals. If defeated, ISIS will resurrect in another faction to carry out the same procedures they pursued before. It may be more fruitful to let neighbouring countries of the same identity and the same ideological roots fight against a threat that is not only a terrorist organisation, but has defaced their beliefs and religion on such a great scale. This might have long term victories, including a closer band of Middle Eastern states that are committed to fighting for their regional security, and by extension, international security.

Cutting off a Hydra’s head only makes it double the trouble, which is exactly what the military history of the U.S. tells us. It is also very unlikely that non-combat will stay that way forever, and the fact that there are no limits on the geographical range of “associated problems” with ISIS could be a potential infringement on national sovereignties as well as a waste of resources.

Despite the comparisons that were drawn in the beginning between the 2002 War on Terror and the Bush Administration, there are significant differences. The War on Terror was very much domestically fueled, and arguably a situation blown out of proportion in order to lay the foundation for Bush’s campaign. Now that we know the evidence about weapons has been largely discredited, it can be suggested that what the Obama Administration is proposing is not as exaggerated as he has less incentive to do so. Furthermore, it is clear that ISIS is a worldwide threat and their medieval methods of execution, among other things, are not to be tolerated. There is an argument to be made that the international community should strive to get rid of them while they are not fully fledged. Having said that, judging from the previous attempts at peace and the implications the request might have, it is difficult to justify any sort of intervention that Obama is thinking of in Iraq.

Will it be different because the world supports the eradication of ISIS, and knows what they’re unafraid of doing? Should we be supporting the Obama Administration’s efforts to get another international situation under control?

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