Oases, not Lily Pads

By David Cortright, Co-Chair of Win Without War

The New York Times recently ran an alarming and bizarre story about Pentagon plans for more war in the Middle East. President Obama is said to be considering a plan to send hundreds of additional American troops to Iraq, on top of the 3500 troops he has already committed. The plan also calls for creating a network of new US military bases to support the Baghdad government in fighting the Islamic State.

General Martin Dempsey, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the principal advocate for the new military bases in Iraq. Here’s the bizarre part: he is describing the proposed new bases as “lily pads.”

Think about the absurdity of that. Lily pads in the desert!

Instead of “lily pads,” let’s create oases. Places of healing to promote reconciliation. Oases of fresh thinking for constructive alternatives.

US military intervention is the problem in Iraq not the solution. The United States has been using military force in the Middle East for more than a decade and the result has been more terrorism, greater instability, and the spread of violence and war. Since the US started bombing Syria and Iraq last year, extremist forces in the region have grown stronger.

Overcoming the threat of the so-called Islamic State requires diplomatic and political strategies, not US military intervention. Rather than sending more troops our government should be focusing on ending the war in Syria and achieving inclusive governance in Iraq. In Syria this means a renewed diplomatic push to end the civil war and achieve a negotiated political settlement. In Iraq it means forging power-sharing arrangements that can address the grievances of Sunni Arab communities.

The spreading bloodshed in the Middle East is a global problem, and it requires global solutions. The United States should take this crisis to the United Nations and lead a vigorous large scale response that is commensurate with the magnitude of the threat.

I outlined some of the alternative strategies in my presentation to the Sojourners Summit for Change last week in Washington. You can view my presentation and the panel discussion on countering ISIS here (at 6 minutes 57 seconds).

If the United States were to devote as much effort to political and diplomatic approaches as it does to military measures, the chances for success would increase. If our government were to send to the region thousands of diplomats, trained peacebuilders and aid workers rather than deploying more troops and building “lily pad” bases, perhaps we could begin to create those oases of sanity that are needed to counter the ravages of war.

Let’s send a clear message to the White House and Congress:

No more troops or military bases in Iraq.

Focus on diplomatic and political solutions, and support a greater role for the UN.