October 3, 2014 -- A statement on the current and enduring crisis, by the coordinating committee of WorldBeyondWar.org
The following is an assessment of the current ISIS crisis. The statement examines: (1) the social context of the destructive violence in Syria and Iraq -- where we are; (2) viable nonviolent alternatives -- what should be done; and (3) opportunities for civil society to advocate and push for those alternatives -- how we can make it happen. The alternatives and pathways toward achieving those are not only preferable from a perspective of humanity, but proven to be more effective.
Graphic beheadings and other quite real stories of horrors committed by a new enemy -- ISIS -- have led to increased support for U.S. involvement. But a war on ISIS will make things worse for all concerned, following, as it does, a pattern of counterproductive action. Through the course of the so-called global war on terrorism, terrorism has been on the rise.
Nonviolent alternatives to war are abundant, morally superior, and strategically more effective. Some but not all are: apologies for past actions; arms embargoes; a Marshall Plan of restitution for the Middle East; meaningful diplomacy; appropriate conflict resolution responses to terrorism; addressing the immediate crisis with humanitarian intervention; redirecting our energies at home; supporting peace journalism; working through the United Nations; and de-authorizing the war on terror.
No solution by itself will bring peace to the region. Many solutions together can create a strong web of peacebuilding fabric superior to continued war. We cannot expect to make all of the above happen immediately. But by working toward those ends we can achieve the best results as quickly and as lastingly as possible.
We need teach-ins, communications, and education of all sorts. People should know enough facts to give their positions context. We need demonstrations, rallies, sit-ins, town forums, disruptions, and media productions. And if we make this a part of ending the whole institution of war, rather than just a particular war, we may move closer to not having to keep opposing new wars all the time.
WHERE WE ARE
Public opinion on wars in the United States follows a tragic pattern, soaring -- sometimes to over a majority -- in support of a war when it's new, and then predictably sinking. During most of the 2003-2011 U.S. war on Iraq, a majority in the U.S. said the war should never have been begun. In 2013, public opinion and pressure played a prominent role in preventing the launching of a new U.S. war on Syria. In February 2014, the U.S. Senate rejected legislation that would have moved the United States closer to war with Iran. On July 25, 2014, with the U.S. public against a new U.S. war in Iraq, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that would have required the President to obtain authorization before launching a war (just as the Constitution already requires) had the Senate passed the resolution too. At that distant date of a few months back, it was still possible to talk about an "antiwar mood," to applaud the Catholic peace group Pax Christi for its historic decision to reject "just war" theory, to celebrate the state of Connecticut's creation of a commission to transition to peaceful industries, to point to public support for taxing the rich and cutting the military as the top two solutions whenever the U.S. government and media discussed a debt crisis, and to envision a less-militarized future approaching.
But support for U.S. drone strikes remained relatively high, opposition to Israel's war on Gaza with U.S. weapons remained weak (and in Congress and the White House virtually nonexistent), the CIA was arming Syrian rebels against the overwhelming preference of the U.S. public, and the proposed missile strikes into Syria had not been replaced with any significant effort to create an arms embargo, negotiate a ceasefire, provide major humanitarian aid, or otherwise reject a war-focused foreign policy and economic agenda that had merely been put on hold. Moreover, public opposition to war was weak and ill-informed. Most Americans lacked even a roughly accurate idea of the destruction their government had caused in Iraq, could not name the nations their government was striking with drones, didn't study the evidence that their government had lied about chemical weapons attacks in Syria and threats to civilians in Libya, didn't pay much attention to the human rights abuses or support for terrorism by U.S.-backed kings and dictators, and had been long trained to believe that violence arises out of the irrationality of foreigners and can be cured with greater violence.
Support for a new war was driven by graphic beheadings and other quite real stories of horrors committed by a new enemy: ISIS.  This support is as likely to be short-lived as support for other wars has been, barring some dramatic new motivation. And this support has been exaggerated. Pollsters ask whether something should be done and then simply assume that the something is violence. Or they ask whether this type of violence should be employed or that type of violence, never offering any nonviolent alternatives. So, other questions could produce other answers right now; time is likely to change the answers for the better; and education would accelerate that changing.
Opposition to the horrors of ISIS makes perfect sense, but opposition to ISIS as a motivation for war lacks context in every way. U.S. allies in that region, including the Iraqi government and the so-called Syrian rebels, behead people, as do U.S. missiles. And ISIS isn't such a new enemy after all, including as it does Iraqis thrown out of work by the U.S. disbanding of the Iraqi military, and Iraqis brutalized for years in U.S. prison camps. The United States and its junior partners destroyed Iraq, leaving behind sectarian division, poverty, desperation, and an illegitimate government in Baghdad that did not represent Sunnis or other groups. Then the U.S. armed and trained ISIS and allied groups in Syria, while continuing to prop up the Baghdad government, providing Hellfire missiles with which to attack Iraqis in Fallujah and elsewhere. Even opponents of the Saddam Hussein government (which was also put into power by the United States) say there could have been no ISIS had the United States not attacked and destroyed Iraq.
Additional context is provided by the manner in which the U.S. occupation of Iraq temporarily ended in 2011. President Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq when he couldn't get the Iraqi government to give them immunity for any crimes they might commit. He has now obtained that immunity and sent troops back in.
ISIS has religious adherents but also opportunistic supporters who see it as the force resisting an unwanted rule from Baghdad and who increasingly see it as resisting the United States. That's how ISIS wants to be seen. U.S. wars have made the United States so hated in that part of the world, that ISIS openly encouraged U.S. attacks in an hour-long film, provoked them with the beheading videos, and has seen huge recruitment gains since the U.S. began attacking it.