Monday, September 15, 2014

So What Is the Answer?

Jim Wallis at Sojourners writes that war in the Middle East is not the answer to the problem of radical Islamic barbarism. I wish he was right, but ironically, not even he thinks he's right. Here's Wallis:
I have always believed that any alternative to war must still address the very real problems at hand — just in a more effective way. To say that “war is not the answer” is not only a moral statement but also is a serious critique of what doesn’t work; wars often fail to solve the problems and ultimately make them worse. War has to answer to metrics, just as more peaceful alternatives do. The war in Iraq was a complete failure with enormous human and financial costs; ISIS is now one of the consequences.
Actually the war wasn't a failure. It didn't fail until President Obama decided to wash his hands of it, and, contrary to what we did after WWII and Korea, remove all of our troops from that country. That left a vacuum that ISIL predictably (George Bush predicted it) rushed in to fill.

Anyway, Wallis goes on to say that he thinks it's proper, sort of, to stop ISIL:
I agree with Pope Francis when he said it is legitimate to stop an unjust aggressor: "I underscore the verb 'to stop'. I am not saying 'bomb' or 'make war', but 'stop him.' The means by which he can be stopped must be evaluated. Stopping the unjust aggressor is legitimate."
This is sophistry. How does one stop ISIL if not by force? Does Mr. Wallis tell us how to stop them without using military force? Not really. Instead he just throws up a cloud of verbal octopus ink:
That the world, including the United States, needs to respond decisively to the real threats of ISIS is beyond dispute, but the practical and moral question is — how? Let’s remember the principle that alternatives to war must answer the questions that war promises to answer — but in a better way.

I give President Obama credit for wanting to respond in a “different way” than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His strategy will focus on air strikes but also relies on supporting and training Middle East partners on the ground, which will be necessary to defeat a force already as powerful as ISIS.
Well, this is disappointing. According to Mr. Wallis "the better way" than war is, in fact, to wage war by using other countries' soldiers. It seems Mr. Wallis' real objection is not that a military strategy might be employed, but rather he objects to a unilateral military effort. In other words, his objection is not moral after all, but rather tactical:
To forge solutions to conflict that are an alternative to the endless and failed habits of war demands a much stronger set of other strategies — which the White House has yet to fully understand or embrace. I applaud the president for seeking a multi-national coalition and a more international approach. But that could have begun with the United Nations, where the U.S. will chair the Security Council in just two weeks — rather than taking the American plan to the U.N. for support. Strong U.N. leadership could both recruit more Middle East partners and help take the United States out of the role of the most hated target of Islamic fundamentalism.
So war is the answer for Wallis, at least in the present circumstance, it's just that war fought under American auspices is, for some reason, not the best way to conduct it.

But what if no coalition could be formed? Would war against ISIL then be immoral or unwise? If ISIL is a threat to the U.S. shouldn't we stop them whether other countries join us or not? Moreover, Mr. Wallis' concern about incurring the hatred of Islamic fundamentalists seems naive. Islamic fundamentalists will hate us as long as we stand in the way of their dream of destroying Israel and creating a world under the boot of Sharia law. Pretending this isn't so won't make it less so.

Wallis then does what so many on the left do when discussing this question, he elides the whole question of what should be done in the short term and focuses instead on what should be done long term. He recommends cutting off cash flow to ISIL, an obvious measure which everyone has already said needs to be done, but then Wallis calls for a more draconian move:
Ultimately, we won’t see an end to our “war on terrorism” without dealing with the underlying causes, and not just targeting the consequences of growing terrorism. We must address the world of oil that the West has created, that has literally defined nations, changed geography, and institutionalized the injustices and hypocrisies that breeds the grievances of terrorism. Having justified the unjust structure of that oil world to accommodate our addiction to fossil fuels has produced both a profound threat to our planet and the rise of an angry terrorism that threatens our own children.
It would be helpful if Wallis backed up the claims of this last sentence with a few facts. It's not at all clear, for example, despite what the global warming people have alleged, that our use of fossil fuels is a "profound threat to our planet" nor is it clear that it has anything at all to do with "the rise of angry terrorism." Wallis just asserts these claims as if they're obvious, but they're not, at least not to anyone not already seduced by leftist rhetoric. He closes with this:
We must address the fact that 60 percent of the Middle East population is under 30 years of age, and many of them are unemployed, uneducated, aggrieved, and angry young men — too easily drawn to the rhetoric of revenge. To overcome terrorism we must address the grievances that give rise to it and are exploited by hateful extremists.
Wallis says something here most people can agree with, but it has nothing to do with the question whether we should go to war with ISIL now, nor does he offer any suggestions as to how we might address those grievances he talks about or even what those grievances are. His essay is just not very helpful.