Pro/Con: Should Obama move decisively to annihilate ISIS?
No: A non-military response is Obama’s best option
The response to the Paris attack should not be military.
The threat stated by an Islamic State member a day or two after the Paris attack to do something similar in Washington only heightens the concern and makes it seem we must do something decisive to stop the terrorist group.
The problem is that a military effort to eradicate the Islamic State is not likely to work. President Barack Obama understands that if he were to proclaim a goal of definitively eradicating the Islamic State in the short term, he would fail and would have to eat his words.
Use of force has gotten us into the fix in which we now find ourselves. Our response to the attacks we suffered on 9/11 was military. Our aim in invading Afghanistan in 2001 was to stop terrorism, but we seem only to have spawned more. We did limit al-Qaeda’s ability to operate in Afghanistan, but they moved elsewhere, and the anger we generated may have brought even more down on us.
Our invasion of Iraq in 2003 replaced a Sunni-led government with a Shia-led government that then carried out a vendetta against the Sunni population of Iraq.
While in occupation of Iraq, we worked to weed anyone who had supported the prior regime out of government jobs. That left the Sunnis thinking they had no role in the new Iraq. The exclusion of the Sunni spawned Sunni-led armed groups like the Islamic State.
Rabbi Michael Lerner, a philosopher and longtime student of the Middle East, has written in the wake of the Paris attack, “Until the powerful countries of the world are seen as mainly driven by a desire to care for the well-being of everyone else on the planet and the well-being of the planet itself, and care not only out of self-interest but also out of a new consciousness in which we all come to truly understand our mutual interdependence and oneness, what we saw in Paris this past week is destined to be an increasing reality in the coming decades.”
The response to the Paris attack should be to set the West on a path to dealing with the Middle East in a way that undermines the anti-Western attitudes that lead to indiscriminate violence of the kind we saw in the streets of Paris.
Among the various conflicts, one where we still have a chance is the Israeli-Palestinian. The lack of a solution for that conflict, which has been festering for so long, bears a direct relation to the carnage in Paris.
The support of the Western powers, and particularly the United States, for Israel was a battle cry for Osama bin Laden when he first organized al-Qaeda in the 1990s.
The Arab countries were unable to deal with Israel to secure self-determination on the Palestinian side. Bin Laden attracted the youth of the Middle East by telling them that violence was the way to fight the West and to force Israel to accommodate with the Palestinians.
Bin Laden successfully played on the perception that the United States has been bought off by Israel to let it take over Palestinian land through its aggressive settlement policy.
President Obama wisely is not buying into President Hollande’s thinking that an increase in military power in Syria is the proper response.
Rabbi Lerner’s approach shows greater chance of achieving a long-term solution. By positive policy changes, we must change the perceptions that have generated terror attacks.
John B. Quigley is distinguished professor of law at Ohio State University. Readers may write to him at Moritz College of Law, 55 W. 12th St., Columbus, OH 43210.