The United States must not get militarily involved again in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Obama Administration is contemplating setting up bases in Iraq and sending hundreds of additional U.S. troops there. And a few months ago, President Obama announced that nearly 10,000 American troops will remain in Afghanistan through the end of the year. This is in spite of U.S. interventions in the two countries that left hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced and continuing instability all over the region.
The protracted U.S. war in these two countries is only one facet of the so-called War on Terror. Since 2001, the United States has pursued policies of invasion, bombing campaigns and special operations strikes around the globe. Some of these policies ended after President Bush’s second term, while others have intensified under Obama, particularly the drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. In 2013 alone, U.S. special forces were deployed to 134 countries.
Given the pervasive use of U.S. military force throughout the world, it should not be surprising that a 2013 Gallup poll in 65 countries saw the United States topping the list of greatest threats to world peace.
Consider the fate of 13-year-old Mohammed Tuaiman, who lost his father and brother in a U.S. drone strike. Mohammed told The Guardian newspaper in 2014 that U.S. actions in Yemen have “turned our area into hell and continuous horror, day and night, we even dream of them in our sleep.” Mohammed himself was killed by an American drone some months later.
Instead of reducing the danger of terrorism, U.S. policies have precipitated its rise. Just as al-Qaida and the Taliban were spawned by U.S. involvement in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Islamic State group is a product of the devastating U.S. invasion of Iraq. Even indirect military intervention carries risks. U.S. weapons sent into war zones, for example, often end up in the wrong hands.
But isolationism isn’t the only alternative to military intervention. There are other ways for the United States to engage with the world.
The United States must lead by example and uphold its legal obligations under international law. This means limiting the use of U.S. military abroad, ending the policy of target killings by drones, and abiding by the prohibition in the U.N. Charter against the use of force without Security Council authorization.
Unilateralism is not effective. The United States must work with partners and antagonists to resolve crises. And multilateral engagement through the organs of the United Nations and regional organizations is essential.
Finally, diplomacy must become the main driver of U.S. policy. When confronted with international crises, the United States must recognize the importance of tools such as arms embargoes, humanitarian aid, and negotiated settlements.
None of these suggestions are utopian. They come from a recognition that the policies of military intervention in the past have caused rather than solved problems. Reorienting U.S. foreign policy away from its current military focus will make the United States and the rest of the world much safer.
Jared Keyel has a background in international relations focusing on the Middle East and works with immigrants in the Chicago area, including many Iraqi refugees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.