In light of the threat posed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq, President Obama wants Congress to authorize military force against the Islamist group in the Middle East. Although the president believes a 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) gives him the legal grounds to go to war on his own, he has sent Congress a draft authorization for their approval.
Mr. President, be careful what you wish for. As Colin Powell once said about the consequences of the U.S. war in Iraq, “if you break it, you own it.” Congress should not give the green light to a new, potentially endless war, nor should Obama pursue it. This would be Obama’s war, and he would own it, with a very distinct chance of jeopardizing his legacy. And these wars never turn out well for America, so why would a war against ISIS be any different?
President Obama should remember that he came into office based on widespread public opposition to the Iraq War, including his own determination to end that war. Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Bush dragged the nation into Iraq for no other reason than avenging his daddy — not to mention oil money and war profiteering. It mattered little to Bush or Congress that Iraq had nothing to do with the airplane bombings of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Rather, 9-11 had Saudi Arabia’s name all over it — given that most of the hijackers came from Saudi Arabia and apparently were aided by that country — yet we were to believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? What resulted was a mass distraction costing $4 to 6 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of soldiers’ lives and hundreds of thousands of civilian lives lost. Moreover, the mess Bush created in Iraq paved the way for the mess we are witnessing today with ISIS.
When Obama came into office, the people blamed Bush for these senseless wars. However, if the president drags the U.S. into a war with ISIS, that’s on him, and Bush will be nowhere to be found. This comes at a time when military might cannot win a battle over ideas, and we should get to the bottom of why thousands of people are leaving countries such as France in order to participate in the cruel and perverse madness of ISIS. Similarly, it would behoove us to understand the conditions of economic deprivation and political corruption in Nigeria and the inability of that country to move past the legacy of British colonialism that helped to incubate Boko Haram. More drones, tanks, ground troops and airstrikes will do little to help us identify and attack the root causes of these problems.
If President Obama wants insight into what a senseless, protracted war can do to one’s legacy, he need look no further than Lyndon B. Johnson. True, LBJ is known for signing historic civil rights legislation and fighting the war on poverty. And yet, the war in Vietnam has threatened to obscure those proud accomplishments. Proclaiming that ‘‘The bombs in Vietnam explode at home — they destroy the dream and possibility for a decent America,” Dr. Martin Luther King understood that the war was a “cruel manipulation of the poor” which undermined any efforts to fight poverty at home.
“Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population,” Dr. King said.
“We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago,” King added.
As the president finishes his final few years in office, he should take note. However, this is not to downplay the threat of ISIS, in a region that the U.S. has helped destabilize for so long by propping up dictators, mainly due to the desire for the oil under the ground. Allow other nations to step up and chip in. But everyone knows how this will end if America gets involved, and it may never end in an era of perpetual wars.
Besides, America has its own problems, and far greater internal threats than ISIS. Poverty has increased, as the middle class has evaporated, and the gap between rich and poor has widened. During the Great Recession, blacks and Latinos lost their homes and a staggering amount of wealth.
We have a homegrown domestic terrorism problem, and the terrorists are not Muslim, as evidenced by the recent bombing of an NAACP office in Colorado or the gunning down on Tuesday of three Muslim students in North Carolina that no one seemed to notice.
The U.S. has over 300 million guns and the highest level of gun deaths in the advanced world. Gun-related suicides and homicides are killing Americans by the thousands each year, and guns are a leading cause of death for young black men, who are also dying in the streets due to police brutality. Congress likely has no concern about any of these issues, and there will be no war authorization for them. But addressing all of these problems, not unlike healthcare, immigration reform and Cuba, will bolster Obama’s legacy.
A war with ISIS will not.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove