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U.S. bombing strikes are now well under way in Iraq in a military mission that President Obama said could go on for months.1 U.S. military planes have also been delivering vital humanitarian assistance to civilians fleeing the violence, including Yazidis who were forced onto Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by ISIS militants laying siege on the mountain.2
MoveOn members across the country have weighed in with thoughts on what’s happening in Iraq. There are varying opinions on different aspects of this crisis, but there are some common threads. Our hearts break for the people of Iraq who are living through this conflict. We know there are no simple solutions. And we’re united in our opposition to America sliding down the slippery slope to another war in Iraq.
As we all try to make sense of the events that are unfolding, here are eight things that you should know about the Iraq crisis.
8 Things to Know about the Iraq Crisis
1. Right-wing war hawks are pushing for another full-blown war in Iraq.
Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham, other Republicans in Congress, and right-wing figures—who blindly led America into invading and occupying Iraq—are now demanding more military action that could drag us back into full-scale war in the region.3,4,5
2. The slippery slope is real.
Mission creep can too easily occur—along with unintended consequences and new problems created by the use of U.S. military force.6,7 History shows us that many big wars start out looking small, including the Korean War and the Vietnam War.8 And we are now dealing with a prime example of unintended consequences: Bush’s war of choice and military occupation of Iraq set the stage for Iraq’s troubles today, including the rise of ISIS.9,10,11,12
3. Voters elected President Obama to end the Iraq war that George W. Bush recklessly started.
President Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war before it began and his pledge to end it—as part of the contrast between him and those who pushed for war—were key to his success in both the Democratic primary election and the general election in 2008.13 He continues to pledge that he “will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq.”14,15
4. Ultimately, Iraq’s problems can be solved only by an Iraqi-led political solution.
President Obama has said that there is no military solution to the crisis in Iraq and that there can only be “an Iraqi solution.”16 As this explainer lays out:
“ISIS isn’t just a terrorist group rampaging through Iraq (though they definitely are that). It’s in many ways an expression of the Sunni Muslim minority’s anger at the Shia-dominated government. . . Some Sunni grievances get to more fundamental issues within the Iraqi state itself, beyond what even a better government could easily fix.”17
These are not problems that more U.S. bombings can solve. That’s why experts are saying that “any lasting solution has to be regional in nature and must address the political interests of all the major factions in an equitable and inclusive manner.”18
5. Members of Congress, including Democratic lawmakers, are insisting that the president come to Congress for authorization.
MoveOn members have long opposed endless war in Iraq. Earlier this summer, before the current bombing strikes began, MoveOn members made more than 15,000 calls to lawmakers, urging them to oppose U.S. military intervention in Iraq. In July, the House of Representatives listened to them and the rest of the American people to require, by a bipartisan vote of 370-40, the president to seek congressional authorization before deploying or maintaining a sustained combat role in Iraq.19 Congress should continue to assert its authority under the Constitution to authorize and oversee U.S. commitments to open-ended war overseas.
6. The Middle East is a complicated place where U.S. military intervention has a troubling track record.
The Middle East has many armed actors whose motivations often compete with each other and conflict with American values, and U.S. military intervention there has a track record of often making things worse.20,21 One tragic absurdity of this moment is that the U.S. military is now using U.S. equipment to bomb U.S. weapons wielded by enemies the U.S. didn’t intend to arm against the U.S. and U.S. allies.22 That’s a good reason to be concerned about the U.S. arming rebels in nearby Syria, which experts say wouldn’t have stopped the rise of ISIS anyway.23 Experts further warn that U.S. military force in the region only tends to create more problems, including the risk of terrorist retaliation.24
7. Military action could lead to even more innocent civilians getting caught in the crossfire and suffering.
The Iraq war that Bush started didn’t just cost America the lives of nearly 4,500 service members, plus $2 trillion according to modest estimates.25,26,27 Approximately 500,000 Iraqi civilians also died in the armed conflict—possibly more.28 In the current conflict, ISIS militants are persecuting various minority populations of Iraq, such as the Yazidis who had fled to Mount Sinjar.29 Escalating military action, including drone strikes, risks catching more civilians in the crossfire.30
8. Opposing endless war isn’t the same as being an isolationist. The Iraq crisis, including the humanitarian disaster, demands an international, diplomatic response.
We have options to support the people of Iraq, as well as tackle this crisis in a way that reflects America’s best interests and 21st century realities. For one, the U.S. can work through the United Nations and other multilateral organizations to support a major global diplomatic initiative.31 In the face of the current crisis, the Friends Committee on National Legislation also recommends a number of steps instead of U.S. bombings, such as working with other nations through the United Nations to organize humanitarian evacuations of stranded and trapped civilians, pressing for and upholding an arms embargo in Iraq and Syria, engaging with the UN to reinvigorate efforts for a lasting political solution for Iraq and Syria, and increasing humanitarian aid.32,33
It’s critically important that we engage the nation in conversation and debate to avoid endless war in Iraq. Can you share this “8 Things to Know about the Iraq Crisis” list with your family and friends? Use the links at the top and bottom of this page.
1. “Iraq Airstrikes May Continue for Months, Obama Says,” The New York Times, August 9, 2014
2. “Despite U.S. Claims, Yazidis Say Crisis Is Not Over,” The New York Times, August 14, 2014
3. “Republicans Want More US Military Action in Iraq,” Military.com, August 8, 2014
4. “Neocons to Obama: No half-measures,” Politico, August 8, 2014
5. “Where Are The Media’s Iraq War Boosters 10 Years Later?,” Media Matters, March 19, 2013
6. “Intentions and Opposite Results in Iraq,” The New York Times, December 4, 2008
7. “The Slippery Slope of U.S. Intervention,” Foreign Policy, August 11, 2014
8. “Can Obama avoid mission creep in Iraq?,” CNN, June 19, 2014
9. “U.S. Actions in Iraq Fueled Rise of a Rebel,” The New York Times, August 10, 2014
10. “Fareed Zakaria: Who lost Iraq? The Iraqis did, with an assist from George W. Bush,” Washington Post, June 12, 2014
11. “Iraq’s crisis: Don’t forget the 2003 U.S. invasion,” Washington Post, June 16, 2014
12. “ISIS Atrocities in Iraq Represent the Catastrophic Failure of Bush Doctrine and Neoconservative Foreign Policy,” Huffington Post, August 8, 2014
13. “Five Reasons Why Obama Won the ’08 Election,” About News, accessed August 13, 2014
14. “Obama: US won’t get dragged into war,” The Hill, June 13, 2014
15. “Obama, With Reluctance, Returns to Action in Iraq,” The New York Times, August 7, 2014
16. “Obama: ‘There Is No American Military Solution To The Larger Crisis In Iraq’,” Huffington Post, August 11, 2014
17. “The chaos in Baghdad explains why Obama isn’t trying to destroy ISIS,” Vox, August 10, 2014
18. “Diplomacy Not More Arms Needed in Iraq and Syria,” Win Without War, June 19, 2014
19. “House Votes For Checks On Obama’s Iraq War Powers,” Huffington Post, July 25, 2014
20. “The Middle East Friendship Chart,” Slate, July 17, 2014
21. “Failed Interventions and What They Teach,” Speech by Former Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr., USFS (Ret.), October 21, 2010
22. “The US bombing its own guns perfectly sums up America’s total failure in Iraq,” Vox, August 8, 2014
23. “Why arming Syria’s rebels wouldn’t have stopped ISIS,” Vox, August 13, 2014
24. “Experts Warn of Terrorism Blowback From Iraq Air Strikes,” Time Magazine, August 10, 2014
25. “Casualties in Iraq,” Antiwar.com, accessed August 13, 2014
26. “Iraq war costs U.S. more than $2 trillion: study,” Reuters, March 14, 2013
27. “The Iraq War Could Cost More Than $6 Trillion,” Business Insider, March 14, 2013
28. “Iraq Death Toll Reaches 500,000 Since Start Of U.S.-Led Invasion, New Study Says,” Huffington Post, October 15, 2013
29. “Islamic State Killed 500 Yazidis, Buried Some Victims Alive,” Huffington Post, August 10, 2014
30. “The Case Against Drone Strikes on People Who Only ‘Act’ Like Terrorists,” The Atlantic, August 19, 2013
31. “Diplomacy Not More Arms Needed in Iraq and Syria,” Win Without War, June 19, 2014
32. “Five Ways the U.S. Can Help Stop the Killing in Iraq,” Friends Committee on National Legislation, accessed August 13, 2014
33. “Responding to the Crisis in Iraq — Without Bombs,” Friends Committee on National Legislation, August 13, 2014