To President Obama and the Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives:
Before we commit to a limited, “support" troop reinvasion of Iraq, can we please hit the pause button and consider non-military options? Yes, ISIS, a brutal offshoot of al-Qaeda that stretches from the Mediterranean in northwest Syria to the Persian Gulf in southeast Iraq, needs to be stopped. The questions are how and by whom. The U.S. has many options. Will you exhaust them all before you send our men and women back into battle?
Please consider the following 7 points to stop ISIS peacefully:
1. Consider all the steps between doing nothing and dropping bombs. The world witnessed a miraculous example of successful diplomacy last summer: It was considered a “done deal” that Washington would unleash limited bombing on the outskirts of Damascus to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons. Then a seemingly off-the-cuff remark by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry set in motion a diplomatic solution that resulted in Assad turning over his stash of chemical weapons, thereby successfully ridding the world of one of the last major caches of chemical weapons – and avoiding more casualties on America’s conscience. Disarming proved to be much more successful “punishment” than bombing.
We realize this tactic worked because Obama’s threat to bomb Syria was perceived as real. Could this tactic work again? Or are you planning to reoccupy Iraq? We implore you to employ non-military options first.
2. Stop considering Syria and Iraq in separate vacuums; a regional viewpoint is necessary. For example, the regimes of Syria’s Assad and neighboring Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki (who has just retained political power by being named vice-president) are allied. They share a common opposition to ISIS. Yet, the U.S. funds the Iraqi government while also funding fighters who oppose the Syrian government, ignoring that some of those opposition fighters affiliate with ISIS and spill from Syria into Iraq. Thus, American tax dollars support opposition fighters trying to undo a government supported by American tax dollars!
3. Stop justifying military funding, arming and intervention in Syria or Iraq by referencing human rights abuses. Yes, it’s excruciating to view photos of hundreds of children gassed to death and not want to punish, but the larger truth is every side in Syria and Iraq are engaged in human rights abuses. Adding more troops, guns or military money does not suddenly make governments, soldiers or insurgents more humane.
4. Work regionally to cut off supply routes of weapons. Fewer weapons means less fighting and fewer casualties – and fewer generations of traumatized children raised to believe violence is the only option. Syrian rebels’ weapons flow through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. The U.S. should be a leader in negotiating a regional effort to stem this flow of weapons; instead it provides weapons to Syrian fighters assuming they won’t land in ISIS fighters’ arms.
5. Dry up the black market for crude oil and gas. After benefitting from oil and gas takeovers in eastern Syria, ISIS has seized oil facilities in Mosul and Kirkuk and is selling the Iraqi crude at a deep discount on the global black market, raising $3 million/day and making it the wealthiest terrorist organization on the planet. It’s estimated they could make $1 billion/year.
6. Engage the United Nations. The U.S. is about to assume the presidency of the U.N. Security Council. ISIS creates an unusual opportunity for opposing factions to work together: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Gulf States and the U.S. and its western allies all see ISIS as a security threat. On Sept 24, the Security Council will consider a U.S. proposal to “prevent and suppress” the recruitment and travel of foreign fighters to join terrorist groups. It is estimated that 12,000 rebels from 74 countries have joined extremist groups in Iraq and Syria. While stemming the flow of fighters is a good step, it is open to abuse. And it’s a bit like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. Better to engage the U.N. in pressuring countries to stop arms movement and black market oil purchases. Uniting opponents to ISIS is a unique opportunity to get these countries to suspend their proxy wars.
7. Stop doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. Iraq didn’t have any terrorist groups until after the U.S. invasion. Al-Qaeda bubbled up in 2004. If 100,000 U.S. troops couldn’t wipe out al-Qaeda in Iraq, why do we think we can now without another full-scale war? Targeted precision strikes lead to political instability and the perpetuation of extremism.
Are these suggestions more complicated? More time-consuming? More challenging? Yes. But they are far less destructive for Iraqi, Syrian and American children forced to grow up assaulted by war.
Thank you for your consideration.
To this I would add an 8th point, which is to try to engage in a dialogue with the Imam leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. We must find a way to see the humanness in each other. This is best done human to human.