When military action is the more "peaceful" option

US President Obama has authorized limited air strikes against the "Islamic State" (IS), an extremist (to put it mildly) group that has taken control of much of northern and western Iraq and eastern Syria. Some in his administration have apparently "toyed" with the idea of a limited troop deployment there to assist the Iraqi army as well, but Obama is a long way from approving this. If IS can be stopped without it, he is right to keep US troops out of harm's way, but it is not clear the Iraqi army is up to the challenge. If it isn't, being hesitant now could lead to heavier (and bloodier) US involvement later.

Many people fear another round of the Iraq War started by Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush. Others might think further back and fear another Vietnam. Afghanistan in the '90s might be a better nightmare scenario, and it is also often cited. If Obama is worried the US will get dragged into an unnecessary war, as it was in Vietnam, he should also keep in mind the old adage "a stitch in time saves nine." It may be much easier to defeat IS now than it will be in a year's time.

Syria provides a cautionary tale: for a while, Assad looked sure to fall. Now Syria is in such a mess (including much of it falling into the hands of IS) that many hope he doesn't, despite all the atrocities he has committed to stay in power. Not backing the moderates more heavily there means Assad is still in power and it has also allowed IS to flourish--the worst of both worlds. Not going to war is not always the option that leads to greater peace and it is not always more prudent. In Libya, there was no real alternative government (though I still believe, as I have argued here, that the limited intervention there was the right thing to do). Iraq is not Libya. It has a (albeit very imperfect) government. Furthermore, it is a government that the US helped bring to fruition. The US therefore carries some responsibility for aiding in its success if it can.

Going back to the Afghanistan analogy, there is a lesson there, too, that speaks in favor of being proactive (though one could hardly call missions against IS "proactive," they are now much closer to "re-active"): The US's failure to be concerned about Afghanistan once the Soviet "threat" there receded came back to haunt it. If IS continues to threaten Iraq, makes progress against the Kurds, or threatens Jordan, hesitation and "prudence," may come to seem very imprudent indeed.


Popular Posts