As the U.S. goes to war yet again, this time bombing its latest jihadist enemy, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (hereinafter ISIS), it appears the foreign policy elite have learned nothing from the past.
In 2002, chicken littles President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), then Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Biden (D-Del.), and the rest of the establishment Republicans and Democrats pushed for a war on Iraq to protect the U.S. from jihadist attack from al-Qaeda and to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction. The war cost at least a trillion dollars - and probably more - and the lives of 4,500 American soldiers and at least 100,000 Iraqis - over 600,000 according to a Lancet study. As we now know, there was no link to al Qaeda or weapons of mass destruction and, arguably, the administration knew this. Because American forces smashed Iraq, it is now greatly weakened, which has led to ISIS's insurgency.
The chicken littles are at it again, making outlandish claims about ISIS. Quoted by Pat Buchanan, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warns that ISIS is "an existential threat I think of an American city in Flames." Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel equally terrified, states that the ISIS "is beyond everything we've seen an imminent threat to every interest we have." Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) worries that ISIS is "a direct threat to our homeland."
In 2011, President Obama had the U.S. wage an unconstitutional war against Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya. Gaddafi was previously an ally in the U.S. counterterrorism efforts, but after he was overthrown in large part due to U.S. bombing, he was shot in the head. Clinton joyously celebrated his death. As a result, there is now a bloody civil war in Libya and Islamic radicals are gaining ground. Writing in National Review, Andrew McCarthy notes that the weapons stockpile in Libya fell into the hands of al Qaeda and ISIS forces, which made them more powerful.
Also, in 2011, these elites (and especially Clinton and McCain) backed elections that led to the Muslim Brotherhood (including President Morsi) taking control of Egypt. As McCarthy points out, this group, instituted a Sharia constitution and aided terrorists (for example, Hamas in Palestine) and other Jihadist groups. The President also jailed journalists and made the Presidency unaccountable to the judiciary.
Roughly a year ago, the Obama administration, McCain, and fellow elites pushed to bomb Bashar Assad's regime in Syria. Since then the administration has been funneling arms to rebels, which has weakened the regime and strengthened its enemies, including, of course, ISIS. Assad's regime is now engaged in a death struggle against ISIS and other rebel groups. The chicken littles have now reversed course and are bombing ISIS, thereby benefitting Assad. Middle school girls have more stable alliances.
Particularly, troubling are the two children in the Senate - McCain and Graham. They have supported war at every turn, no matter how crazy. One or both has called for or supported the Serbian war, Iraqi Wars I and II, bombing Libya, arming Syrian rebels against Assad and instituting a no-fly zone to help bring him down, bombing Assad's enemy ISIS, authorizing an attack on Iran, threaten to bomb North Korea, arming the Ukrainians against the Russians, bringing Ukraine and Georgia into NATO so that if they go to war against Russia (including ones they started) the U.S. would get sucked into it, and so on. They should be ignored.
The current war on ISIS is a bad idea. As George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan points out, when you do not know whether a war will have good or bad effects, it is wise to avoid it. Given recent history in our involvement in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, and Syria, the U.S. clearly has no idea what effects its wars will have. Given the incredible destruction involved in war, specifically hundreds of billions of dollars (if not trillions) spent, tens of thousands of lives lost, vast displacement of people, and destabilization of neighboring countries, the U.S. should have little confidence in its judgment that a war is worthwhile.
Nor is this poor judgment a new thing. World War I and the Vietnam War were costly in terms of blood and treasure. Worse, these wars produced incredible collateral damage in bringing about such disasters as World War II, a monstrous Soviet bloc and murderous Pol Pot regime.
Along these same lines, as Pat Buchanan points out, ISIS has serious enemies, including the Turks, Syrians, Kurds and Iraqis. On the other hand, they have been funded by the Turks (previously), Saudis, Qataris and Kuwaitis. The funding has taken place to counterbalance Shiite nations and their allies including Iran, Iraq (now Shiite controlled), Syria, and Hezbollah. It is not clear whether the U.S. is better off with the Sunni or the Shiite alliances. Given the repressive nature of the people involved, it is not even especially clear which alliance will do more to crush freedom and subordinate women. In any case, there is little reason to believe that ISIS poses a threat to the U.S. greater than the threat of a strengthened Shiite bloc.
Even if the U.S. could predict whether the war on ISIS would have good effects, it is hard to see how why it is the U.S.'s business. The current attacks on ISIS are not defensive on any reasonable use of the term. ISIS has neither attacked the U.S. nor aided others in doing so. Even if there were such an attack, it would be far less costly in terms of money, lives, and freedom to spend money preventing future attacks than to spend it on a new war. It is worth noting that the Iraq War II was not only costly in terms of blood and treasure, but also in terms of liberty as the war was a pretext for the Patriot Act, NSA spying, and so on.
The current war on ISIS assumes we know that the war will benefit the U.S., which we don't, and involves in a regional conflict that is none of our business. Let's sit this one out.
Stephen Kershnar is a philosophy professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org