Responding to Violence with Violence

Third Way Wider ViewFebruary 27, 2015

Washington Comment

rachelle lyndaker schlabachBy Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach

It is too easy to jump from beheadings to a justification of U.S. military actions against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Beheading prisoners and burning people alive–these actions by the Islamic State group are horrifying and rightly condemned by the international community.

But it is too easy to jump from there to a justification of U.S. military actions against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. We in the United States should remember with humility how the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 exacerbated sectarian divides in the country, laying the groundwork for the rise of the Islamic State and other extremist groups.

We also need to acknowledge that many of the armed groups with which the U.S. partners are also accused of committing human rights abuses (see, for example, Human Rights Watch’s report on militias in Iraq). In a worrying signal, the Obama administration has weakened human rights conditions for those receiving U.S. military assistance in Iraq and Syria. We have to ask, what actions are we supporting as we fight to “degrade and destroy” a group called terrorist?

On February 11, President Obama proposed language for a new “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” (AUMF) to be used against the Islamic State group. Until now the Obama administration has used the 2001 war authorization as the basis for its military actions against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Over the coming weeks, Members of Congress are expected to debate the president’s proposal and then will move to votes in the full House and Senate on final legislation.

The proposed AUMF:

would last for three years before needing to be reauthorized,
does not contain geographic limitations on where force can be used (such as Iraq and Syria),
would allow the use of U.S. armed forces in limited circumstances, and
could be used against any individual or organization deemed to be associated with the Islamic State group.
It would repeal the 2002 authorization for the invasion of Iraq, but does not repeal the 2001 authorization that was put in place after the September 11 attacks. In the past 13 years, the 2001 authorization has been used to justify military actions in 13 countries—far exceeding what was envisioned by the original authorizers.

More fundamentally, debates about the AUMF continue to focus on a military solution to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, something that many of Mennonite Central Committee’s local partner organizations in the region say will never address the core issues.

Instead of a military solution, partners say, the U.S. and others in the international community should support diplomatic efforts to reach negotiated agreements that address the social, economic and political grievances that drive the conflicts.

Policymakers could learn much from civil society groups and faith leaders in the region, who continue to work in the midst of difficult circumstances to maintain relationships across sectarian and political divides.

The U.S. should also increase its assistance for humanitarian needs in the region. Currently, the U.S. spends four times more on military actions in the region than we do on humanitarian needs.

We rightly respond with dismay and horror to violent actions. But responding with violent actions will not make things right. It will only continue the spiral of violence.

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