After the beheading of a second American journalist, Shirley Sotloff, by ISIS militants, the overwhelming narrative on nearly all sides of the media and government has been that we need to seriously consider reentering the conflict in the Middle East in a profound way. In fact, earlier today President Obama vowed to build a coalition to “degrade and destroy” the group.
“We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists,” Obama said. “And those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.”
If this sounds familiar, it should. Minus a couple of invasions (so far), the steps being considered or already in effect to deal with “the threat of ISIS” are a reasonable summary of the last 13 years of what was once called the Global War on Terror. It’s shocking to think after the massive debacle that was the war in Iraq that there would be a situation possible that would make us consider reengaging militarily, especially given that it was likely our decade-plus long efforts to “degrade and destroy” al-Qaeda and the subsequent destabilizing of the region that has allowed ISIS to gain such power and influence.
When the U.S. embarked in the Global War on Terror it set off a process that led to insurgencies, civil wars, the growth of extremist militias, and the collapse of state structures, it had also guaranteed the rise of something new: ISIS as well as of other extremist outfits ranging from the Pakistani Taliban, now challenging the state in that country, to Ansar al-Sharia in Libya and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen.
All in all, the invasions, the occupations, the drone campaign, the deaths that ran into the hundreds of thousands, the uprooting of millions of people sent into external or internal exile, the sending of trillions of dollars all proved to be jihadist recruitment tools par excellence.
What reason do we have to think that a war with ISIS will prove to be anything different?
If the U.S. were capable of destroying ISIS, as our secretary of state and so many others are urging, that might prove to be anything but a boon. It was easy enough to think, that al-Qaeda was the worst the world of Islamic extremism had to offer. The fact that we can’t now imagine what could be worse than ISIS doesn’t mean anything given that no one could imagine ISIS before it appeared.
The American record in these last 13 years is a disastrous one. Do it again should not be an option.