What’s the problem?
One of the problems with our current course in Iraq is that it is a continued circumvention of our own rules of governance in the United States and it’s gone on so long, we – all of us – including Congress itself – seem to have forgotten that we actually have rules for this sort of thing.
a. it’s called a declaration of war. That function belongs solely and only to Congress and not the president.
b. whether we’re ‘invited’ by the Kurds or not is beside the point. If ISIS is no nation state, neither are the Kurds of northern Iraq.
c. whether we’re ‘invited’ even by the Prime Minister (is there one?) of Iraq or not is also beside the point as we have no treaty with Iraq for the provision of such military assistance (think NATO). In fact, efforts to negotiate such an agreement failed.
d. President Obama described ISIS as ‘our enemy’. Exactly when did they go from being the enemy of Syria and Iraq to being an enemy of the United States?
The problem is that we have had no national debate, discussion or reflection on this. It further underlines how far we have drifted in our national consciousness from using the machinery of war only when the representatives of the people (Congress) say we should for our national defense to using our guns and bigger guns pretty much whenever the President (whoever that person may be) decides that we should.
Given that ISIS’ incursions in Syria and Iraq have been going on for months, if not years, it’s not as if there hasn’t been time to have that discussion. And it is not okay that we haven’t.
We the people have abdicated our responsibilities to one person. Is there a word for tyranny by default?
Why does this matter in this particular instance? Aren’t ISIS bad guys? Really bad guys? Don’t they need killing?
The truth is that we don’t know. We know what’s been told that they’ve done. But we don’t have any idea about context. And we don’t know, even if they’re bad guys, whether they’re our bad guys or not.
Maybe they are. But the machinery of government already gives the executive branch great latitude in conducting our foreign affairs. The line was drawn at the waging of war. When did we allow ourselves to forget that? To forget that the waging of war in this country is a collective decision because it is our collective responsibility? That our system demands much from us as citizens, including our input on the big decisions.
Going to war, formally declared or not, is always a big decision.
I decry the death of James Foley. But make no mistake – if we go to war (and it seems we already have) against ISIS, it will not be because of James Foley. He will be the rallying focal point. But he won’t be the reason.
And much as I love my Kurdish friends, I don’t know that going to war in order to promote Kurdish independence is a reason either. Maybe we as a nation think otherwise. But the fact is that we as a nation haven’t really thought about it at all.
Instead, as a nation, we are drifting into yet another war without much, if any, reflection, thought, direction, or purpose, save killing those declared unfit to live.
I don't pretend to have answers. But I still have lots of questions, including this, which will not leave me: are the people of ISIS (and they are people too) really beyond any hope or possibility of reconciliation? Did we not believe that of the Japanese and the Germans at one time? And yes, there was military victory first and perhaps that's what needs to happen here as well. But do we in these United State not now in fact consider the Japanese and the Germans to be some of our strongest allies and friends among the nations of the world? And that in a generations' time? The people who fought those wars most likely thought such a turn of events to be impossible. And what of South Africa? Did the indigenous peoples as well as their European imports not have cause to believe reconciliation would be impossible? Did not one side have cause to cry out at the cruel injustices visited upon them and do likewise? And yet they refrained. Still a work in progress, and yet, by and large, they refrained in order to try and write a better narrative, live a better life together.
Wasn't that, too, a pipe dream at one time?