If Americans utilized the outrage over American Sniper, the Brian Williams saga, and Kanye West rushing the stage at the Grammys, and aimed this vitriol at President Obama's request for a new war, we could possibly avert yet another colossal mistake. Sadly, our nation will spend a great deal of time focusing on the whether or not a movie makes us more warlike, while overlooking the impact of real wars. As of today, 6,845 Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan and over 900,000 Americans have been injured in both wars. Since we've sacrificed so much only to end up with even more chaos in the Middle East, Congress and the American people should say "No" to Obama's request for another war.
According to the Pentagon, more than half to two-thirds of Americans killed or wounded in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan have been victims of IED explosions. As stated in The International Business Times, we've reached a "grim milestone" after two failed wars:
The United States has likely reached a grim but historic milestone in the war on terror: 1 million veterans injured from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan...
All that can be said with any certainty is that as of last December more than 900,000 service men and women had been treated at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics since returning from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the monthly rate of new patients to these facilities as of the end of 2012 was around 10,000. Beyond that, the picture gets murky. In March, VA abruptly stopped releasing statistics on non-fatal war casualties to the public.
Furthermore, the VA Budget for 2016 is $168.8 billion. Has Congress factored in a future war against ISIS within this Department of Veterans Affairs Budget?
Less than one year from a tragic VA scandal where 40 veterans died while waiting for healthcare, President Obama is asking for a new war against ISIS. According to Foreign Policy, Obama's request to Congress is vague, includes "limited ground troops," and fails to address any solution to the bloody divide between Sunni and Shia in Iraq:
The proposed war authorization does not explicitly limit operations to Iraq and Syria...
But the only check on the president's power, besides the time limit, is a subsection that says the proposal does not authorize the use of the armed forces in "enduring offensive ground combat operations," a phrase that leaves significant wiggle room for large troop deployments.
The president also keeps the target of U.S. actions somewhat vague. The draft legislation says U.S. military force could be used against the Islamic State or "associated persons or forces." It defines that to mean "individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners."
So, President Obama has left room for an increased level of American ground troops, allowed the definition of ISIL to expand to individuals "alongside ISIL" (which could be a number of terrorist groups) and doesn't limit operations only to Iraq and Syria.
Ambiguity allows President Obama to justify strikes against anyone associated with ISIS, in any country they're located, and also allows the president to authorize as many American ground troops Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey or others request in the future.
If you've heard this before, it's because President Bush and Vice President Cheney made a similar request from Congress in 2001. President Obama had recently been using the Bush era Authorization for Use of Military Force, specifically because like his own proposal to Congress, the Bush Administration was deliberately vague in its request:
That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
The Bush era AUMF was cited by President Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, to justify his recent ISIS campaign. By saying that ISIS is linked to al-Qaeda and 9/11, he justified airstrikes against the terrorist group's positions in Syria and Iraq.
However, such justification is also a reason not to engage in another war.
If we haven't defeated "terror" after over a decade of two wars that will cost up to $6 trillion according to Harvard University, then what makes Obama think we'll be victorious this time?
Assuming Obama's strategy works to perfection and ISIS is defeated militarily, the U.S. will still need to ensure that cities formerly under the control of this terrorist organization remain at peace. For this to happen, Iraqi politicians will need to ensure that Sunni and Shia bloodshed doesn't allow a resurgence of ISIS. As stated in the U.S. Army's Tactics in Counterinsurgency, achieving a political solution to this type of war is essential to success:
At its heart, a counterinsurgency is an armed struggle for the support of the population...
However, military units alone cannot defeat an insurgency. Most of the work involves discovering and solving the population's underlying issues, that is, the root causes of their dissatisfaction with the current arrangement of political power...
As these governments try to maintain their tenuous hold on power, dissatisfied portions of their population have, like dissatisfied groups for thousands of years, turned to violence to achieve political goals. Using violence to achieve political goals is known as insurgency.
If over a decade of wars haven't resulted in an Iraqi government and military capable of defending itself, or a solution to the Sunni and Shia rivalry, how will American ground troops solve these political dilemmas?
The Sunni and Shia rivalry was not solved by the last Iraq War and it won't be solved with a renewed conflict. Without a solution to sectarian violence and political dysfunction in Iraq, no amount of U.S. military force will achieve peace. Like the Army's COIN strategy states, "Using violence to achieve political goals is known as insurgency." Both Shia and Sunni are still attacking their rival's mosques, so to send Americans back to this war zone means we've learned very little from the last Iraq War.
Without a political solution to Iraq's various problems, ISIS could morph into another group, just like al-Qaeda in Iraq became ISIS, even if defeated militarily.
As stated within the U.S. Army's COIN strategy, "Most of the work involves discovering and solving the population's underlying issues, that is, the root causes of their dissatisfaction with the current arrangement of political power."
After deadly American battles for Fallujah, Mosul, and other cities in Iraq, ISIS now controls this territory. Again, assuming Obama's strategy works to perfection, we'll still have to ensure these regions don't revert back into ISIS control. As a result, American ground troops will have to face the same IED's, ambushes, and insurgent tactics they've endured in the last Iraq War.
Even counterinsurgency expert Lt. Col. John Nagin has stated that although ISIS is a long term threat, the terrorist group's "threat to the United States is not immediate." He also stated that it would take "a generation" to ensure a stable Iraq. If most Americans and Congress understood that "a generation" would be spent waging war against a threat that "is not immediate," it's safe to say more outrage would have been shown at the notion of another Iraq War.
President Obama has yet to notify the American people that a generation of Americans are needed to fight in the Middle East. Therefore, Congress should deny his request for another Iraqi quagmire that now involves a war on two fronts: Syria and Iraq. Also, let's not forget that some context is needed when analyzing Obama's request for a new war with ISIS.
We still have to worry about the Taliban in Afghanistan.
There's also Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Qaeda in Yemen. Of the 17,891 deaths from terrorism in 2013, 19 were American. More people die from "active shooters" than Islamic terror in the U.S. While ISIS is indeed a genocidal terrorist group, Iraq and other nations in the region must defeat them. Sending American soldiers back to another failed war makes little sense, considering the sacrifices we've made and the objectives we've failed to accomplish.
Say "No" to Obama's new war.