The situation in Iraq and Syria has obviously deteriorated drastically in the past few months. The rise of the extremist group the Islamic State (ISIS) has brought more terror and death to governments, soldiers, civilians, aid workers, journalists, Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Christians, and anybody else caught in their path. Recently, two American journalists have been publically killed, shocking the nation. There’s no question that the existence of this terrorist group threatens the stability of the Middle East region, and the safety of anyone in the area, more so even than the presence of Al-Qaeda. Even Al-Qaeda has broken away from ISIS, concerned that the new group was too violent. So what do we do about it?
I don’t have an answer. And neither does President Obama, actually. “We don’t have a strategy yet,” he said after being asked if there were specific plans to ask Congress for approval for certain actions. But what some people are missing is that that’s not a bad thing. Look, the rise of ISIS was quick. Stunningly so at points, as the terrorist group “conquered” a wide swath of Iraq over the course of only a few weeks in June. And neither the Iraqi situation nor the Syrian situation were simple before–adding ISIS to the mix only complicates matters further. And besides the fact that it’s a complex situation, we should all remember the last time we rushed to action in the Middle East.
I’m talking, of course, about the Iraq War that began in 2004. Thousands of American lives were lost in a war that was started under the false premises that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that might be used by terrorists, and that he might have had something to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That war continued for almost a decade, and between 100,000 and 200,000 Iraqis were killed, at a minimum. Iraq’s government is still not fully functional, as evidenced by the fact that many of the weapons now held by ISIS came from the hands of the Iraqi army when the army retreated from ISIS’s onslaught. Guess who supplied those weapons to Iraq in the first place? We did.
Not rushing to action is a very prudent move on Obama’s part. The realm of foreign policy is filled with information known only to those within governments, so those who think they have an obvious solution are just wrong. And self-serving, actually. Some conservatives see ISIS’s posturing and say “They’re putting on a show of force to get us to leave. We need to show them who’s boss.” Then they call for war just like they’ve been doing with so many of the other recent foreign policy crises. Some liberals, meanwhile, say “They obviously want us to attack back, that way they can gain more followers by being seen as the good guys.” Then these liberals say we should let the local governments handle it, just as their thinking has been on other foreign policy issues. But I don’t think you can take a one-size-fits-all approach like that.
What some conservatives refuse to admit is that we helped cause this problem. Our misguided war and lack of post-war planning greatly destabilized the region. If not for our involvement, ISIS might not even exist. We must bear some of the responsibility to help Syria and Iraq combat the threat, although that does not necessarily mean working directly with the dictatorial Syrian regime and inadvertently propping it up (ISIS and other radical Islamic organizations are major opponents of the Syrian government, but moderate groups also make up large parts of the opposition). Obama doesn’t have a solution now. But he knows that a solution that takes time to implement and will last is much better than a quick solution that leaves the region even more war-torn.