Bells & Whistles

All the News Not Fit to Print

"Hurting Feelings" or "Bloodshed"

"Hurting Feelings" or "Bloodshed"

Dear Ms. Cohen,

I write with concern about your article that appeared in the Boston Herald on Sunday, July 17th. You advocate that only a robust military response will defeat the threat presented by radical Islamic terrorism. You also seem to think the current approach is made up of “James Taylor love songs” and “love conquer hate” slogans. Both are incorrect, and I would remind you that it was a robust military response which brought us here in the first place.

It seems quite fitting that, on the heels of your piece, The New York Times and Reuters were reporting the gruesome news that 77 civilians had been killed by US led coalition airstrikes in Northern Syria. The city of Manijb, located to the northeast of Aleppo, has been the sight of a brutal ground offensive by the Syria Democratic Forces (an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters with coalition support) against Islamic State fighters. On Monday July 18th, CENTCOM reported that “11 strikes struck eight [IS] tactical units,” as well as 18 on Tuesday. One of these targets was apparently a school hit by six missiles. Syria Direct, a non profit news agency which works on the ground, reported the school was being used as shelter to house displaced Syrians from nearby. “So far we count 124 dead from the attack, and that number could very well increase,” said Abu Omar al-Manbiji, a citizen journalist working on the ground for Syria Direct.

Outcry has been strong following the attack, though not in traditional US commentary. Amnesty International released a strong condemnation, calling on CENTCOM for clarification of the airstrikes and to respect international law. “The bombing of al-Tukhar may have resulted in the largest loss of civilian life by coalition operations in Syria,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, interim Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme. “International humanitarian law requires all parties to a conflict to prevent the needless loss of civilian life...Anyone responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be brought to justice and the victims and their families should receive full reparation.”

It is productive operations like the Manjib bombing which have helped spread Jihad across the world. The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 was particularly effective. The Brookings Institution observes that “The U.S. war and occupation of Iraq has benefited Al-Qaeda in many ways...Muslim and Arab communities are united in their belief that the U.S. intervention is an attack on Islam, an attempt to subjugate a powerful Arab state.” Terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank have concluded in their study, Iraq 101: The Iraq War Effect, that the invasion generated a “stunning sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and thousands of civilian lives lost.”

This alarming spread of Jihad has real world consequences. Former CIA analyst Graham Fuller, in an interview with Al-Monitor, identifies the most salient one. “The United States,” he says, “did not plan the formation of ISIS, but its destructive interventions in the Middle East and Iraq were the basic causes of the birth of ISIS. You will remember that the starting point of this organization was to protest the US invasion of Iraq.”

I assume from your critique that you believe the approach taken by our current leadership has not been forceful enough. The bitter references to “James Taylor love songs” and “love conquer hate” slogans reveals as much. Yet you provide no specifics for how to improve the plan, not a surprise to anyone familiar with your recent body of work.  

Fortunately, more serious people have put their minds to that task. Fuller continues that, “ISIS was benefiting from the Shiite agenda of the Maliki government. I hope with the departure of Maliki and his replacement by someone who will watch for the Sunni-Shiite balance, polarization in Iraq will diminish. This is the only way to get rid of ISIS, never militarily.” 

Military responses will only further worsen the problems we’ve already created for ourselves. ISIS may be destroyed through an awesome display of military power, but another more hardline entity would simply rise to take it’s place. Countries like Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, where terrorism thrives, all lack the institutions of stable nations. There is very little opportunity or access to the basic building blocks of civilization. As a young Muslim comes of age in this type of environment, like anyone else they are looking for validation and camaraderie. Unable to attend school, support themselves or find meaningful work, many turn to jihadism and ISIS as their best option. It’s not hard to imagine why, particularly if an American missile happened to land nearby at some point during their childhood, which is certainly not unlikely.

Instead of destruction and death, which have so far only made things worse, the focus should be on helping rebuild and reestablish the legitimacy of these ravaged nations. Only then can we hope to effectively counter the rhetoric and propaganda of groups like ISIS, and their broad regional appeal. A robust military response may satisfy short term reflexive desires for vengeance, but in the words of your hero Donald Trump, “restraint is an important quality to exercise for the world’s only superpower.” If we continue to combat their terrorism with terrorism of our own, what’s the difference between us?

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