We join with other Americans in opposing renewed U.S. military action in Iraq. President Obama, while saying U.S. airstrikes would be limited in scope, also called it "a long-term project." That is alarming, opening the door for further disasters.
At the same time, the Iraqi people, especially its minorities, are facing a terrible onslaught of vicious religious and political extremism. This is a major humanitarian crisis with many thousands of Iraqis, particularly religious and ethnic minorities, being killed or forced to flee, including into inhabitable areas where they face starvation and death. The so-called Islamic State (ISIS) has declared a Sunni caliphate in parts of Iraq, "in what appears to be a widespread and systematic policy aimed at cleansing non-Sunni ethnic and religious communities from areas under its control," a United Nations official says. The U.S. bears a heavy responsibility for this situation. We, the American people, have a responsibility to help the Iraqi people. But how?
Many lawmakers are saying Congress must approve any military action, and some are questioning the constitutionality of the airstrikes. Those are important issues. But the deeper question is whether there should be air strikes at all.
Of course, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for whom no military action is ever enough, immediately criticized Obama's move as inadequate and called for more massive U.S. military intervention.
Other members of Congress are taking a much more sober approach. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., an outspoken antiwar advocate, said she supports "strictly humanitarian efforts to prevent genocide in Iraq," and said the president "has existing authority to protect American diplomatic personnel." But she expressed concern about "mission creep" and "escalation into a larger conflict."
"There is no military solution in Iraq. Any lasting solution must be political," she said in a statement Aug. 8.
Lee said she was "pleased President Obama recognized this ... when he said 'there's no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq. The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.'"
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., noted in a letter to constituents that he "was elected to end America's recent history of military hubris in the Middle East." He said, "Americans will not support a new open ended military campaign in Iraq."
The fact is the U.S. played a huge role in bringing about the crisis besetting Iraq today. Earlier U.S. administrations aided the suppression of democratic expression in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, including the extermination of Communists, trade unionists, and intellectuals, and fanning of sectarianism and ethnic strife via bloody repression against the large Kurdish minority and the majority Shia population, which is heavily working class and poor.
Then the U.S. occupation pursued a sectarian/ethnic policy in its "nation-building" operations, promoting self-serving groups and individuals and putting in place the damaging religious/ethnic "power-sharing" governing setup which is destabilizing Iraq to this day. Unfortunately the Obama administration is continuing this harmful policy. Ignored are Iraq's wide array of democratic organizations and their demands and concerns.
Meanwhile, the U.S., through its proxies in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and elsewhere, has funneled weapons and money to a shadowy, shifting bunch of "opposition" groups in Syria, escalating what started as a democracy movement into a bloody battle dominated by horribly reactionary extremists like ISIS. Now this battle has spilled over into Iraq, where ISIS is being assisted if not manipulated by reactionary secular groups like the Baathist supporters of former dictator Saddam Hussein.
Reportedly, the administration's decision to launch the new military strikes in northern Iraq was made to prevent another "Benghazi" in Iraq's Kurdish region, where the U.S. has a consulate. But the 2012 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, would not have happened if the U.S. and NATO had not launched the air war on Libya in 2011 in the first place. And look at the mess in Libya now. Extended U.S. warplane and drone attacks in Iraq can likewise be a recruiting tool for ISIS and its allies and backers including the Baathists.
It is noteworthy that top U.S. ally Britain, while saying it will provide humanitarian aid for Iraq, is declining to participate in military action.
Unilateral U.S. use of airstrikes on other countries has become a new and disturbing pattern, and they have not led to positive results. In most of these cases, including the present actions in Iraq, the U.S. has bypassed the United Nations. That is a bad path to go down.
The UN Security Council on Aug. 7 called on the international community to "support the Government and people of Iraq and to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of the population affected by the current conflict in Iraq." It also called on "all political entities to overcome divisions and work together in an inclusive and urgent political process to strengthen Iraq's national unity, sovereignty and independence."
Following this lead, the U.S. should meet immediately with allied countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey and agree to stop any financial, logistical or material support, direct or indirect, for ISIS and related groups. That means, among other things, stopping our disastrous support and aid for "rebel" groups in Syria. It means making a deal with the Syrian government to get the Assad regime to help close off its border with Iraq and cut the channels used by ISIS and others to obtain funds and weapons.
Other important UN members can play a big role in helping this effort, and in providing vital humanitarian aid for Iraq and support for democratic development there. That includes Russia and China - with whom we should be cooperating rather than fanning confrontation.
The Friends Committee on National Legislation has put forward Five Ways the U.S. Can Stop the Killing in Iraq:
1. "Stop U.S. bombing of Iraq, which will only result in more bloodshed and instability
2. "Coordinate with the United Nations on evacuation efforts of U.S. personnel from Erbil & Iraq's Yazidi population trapped on Sinjar mountain
3. "Press for and uphold an arms embargo in Iraq and Syria
4. "Engage with United Nations to reinvigorate efforts for a lasting political solution for Iraq and Syria
5. "Increase humanitarian aid."
We urge our readers to contact their members of Congress and the White House and press for such constructive actions.
Photo: U.S. warplanes. U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago