President Obama has decided that there is only one way to respond to ISIS, a pan-Islamic military organization that now controls parts of Iraq and Syria, and that’s the way the United States usually responds to foreign events that displease us: go to war.
Early reactions suggest that Congress and the American people are going to fall behind the president in lockstep, just like they did—at least at first–for both Iraqi wars, our invasion of Grenada and the Viet Nam war.
So once again, we’re diving head first into a violent quagmire that will end up costing some U.S. lives, a lot of money and many lives of the people we claim to be helping.
The United States should have tried economic sanctions first.
The creation of a truly global economy and financial system over the past 30 years may have disappointed the economic hopes of all Americans but the very wealthiest, but it has made it much easier to fight aggressive behavior by states and other governing entities without picking up a weapon. What is happening in the Ukraine is a good example of the power of economic sanctions: Instead of continuing to grab pieces of the Ukraine, Russia has negotiated a treaty that seems to have ended the fighting and set the stage for a peaceful resolution of a situation far more complicated than what is depicted in the mainstream American media. Economic sanctions also brought Iran to the negotiating table to discuss its development of a nuclear capability, a step towards peace frowned upon only by Islam-haters among the right-wing.
The immediate response to my argument to apply economic sanctions is that ISIS is not a real state, but a terrorist organization that is trying to redraw the map in the Middle East; a map, BTW, that was gerrymandered after World War I by western powers.
But ISIS is as much a part of the new world economic order as Russia, Iran and China. We keep hearing in the mainstream news that the biggest advantage ISIS has over other terrorist organizations is that it has a lot of cash to buy weapons and maintain troops because of oil sales from the wells it controls. ISIS must be selling the oil to someone. The United States and our allies against ISIS—which should include most Middle Eastern and Western European countries—should be able to put enough pressure on whoever is buying ISIS oil to make them purchase elsewhere. We could also offer oil at cut-rate prices or other economic help to current ISIS customers. Without oil revenues, ISIS will quickly deteriorate into another gang of hoodlums.
We should also take into account that war always tends to destabilize any region. Just as overthrowing Sadam Hussein led to ISIS, the violent destruction of ISIS could lead to something much worse.
The Quaker lobbying group, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, has come up with some other actions we can take to defuse ISIS, including ceasing to ship arms to the Middle East, investing in humanitarian efforts to help the victims and developing forums for negotiation between the parties. These all seem like sensible proposals.
I’m not saying that a combination of economic sanctions, cessation of arm sales, humanitarian relief and diplomacy will work, but we ought to at least give it a try. We know that invasion does not work and we know that bombing does not work. Why are we resorting to these tried-and-wanting solutions once again?
I urge everyone to write, phone or email their congressional representatives and U.S. senators and ask them to vote against funding military action against ISIS and for directing the president to use economic sanctions, humanitarian aid and diplomacy to address the threat of ISIS.