"If you do not fully understand the feedback structure of a complex system, in a crisis don't just do something, stand there. Most intuitively obvious interventions have great potential for making things worse!" - Jay ForresterAfter clearly making things worse in Iraq, Americans should be more cautious when we hear those who quickly reach for the war drums clamor for invasion of Iraq and Syria.
Pictures of beheaded American journalists fill newspapers and media with demands that we eliminate the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Right-wing critics have been quick to criticize President Obama for saying we do not have a strategy for Syria yet, seeming to suggest, "go in and kill them all" is a sufficient plan, despite the disastrous consequences nearly every other time we've taken this approach? Have we learned nothing at all from the last two wars we entered without first having a robust overarching strategy for it - including an exit strategy?
The instability in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan now have created the environments and power vacuums into which even more radical and violent extremists are rushing into exploit. We could easily make this much worse. Perhaps, discovering that our own actions are a key driving force in causing instability not just in Iraq and Syria, but throughout the entire Islamic and Arab worlds that should not be our natural enemies.
We would do well to support President Obama taking as much time as necessary to develop sound strategies and alliances and clear widely supported answers to basic questions prior to any interventions.
1. What are our true national security interests and goals both short-term and long-term?
2. What is our exit plan?
3. What powers will we leave behind?
4. What are possible unintended side-effects where hasty intervention could make things worse?
5. What will be the total realistic anticipated costs and time frames over the entire life-cycle of the intervention? Who is going to pay for it? What else could we spend those monies, time, and management resources on that may have greater value and might improve regional stability in indirect ways? (Opportunity cost.)
6. What alternative ways might we reach our same goals without putting boots on the ground in both Iraq and Iran?
7. What other nations will help?
I was reassured to see Michael Calderone reporting calls for caution in this morning's Huffington Post, in Two Iraq War Supporters Urge Caution Amid ISIS Media Frenzy
Starting with a review of war hawks like Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) demanding to CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "I think it's time for him to say and do more." Calderone finds more moderate voices from former hawks.
The FBI and Homeland Security Department found the Islamic State has made no credible threats to the U.S. and the Defense Department expressed doubts about the organization’s “capability right now to conduct a major attack” on U.S. soil. Some politicians have raised the specter of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when urging further action against the group, but National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen said Wednesday that the organization is "not al Qaeda pre 9/11." ...
“I feel the atmosphere today is, in some ways, similar to the atmosphere in 2003, when we thought there was less time to deal with Saddam [Hussein] than there was,” said Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, in an interview with The Huffington Post. “Yes, I understand ISIS poses a threat to the United States. It’s not clear it poses an imminent threat.”
Goldberg, who endorsed the 2003 invasion and describes himself as “dispositionally interventionist,” said, “We saw the consequences of an administration launching a war without a strategy in Iraq.” For that reason, he added, it’s better for Obama to admit “he doesn’t have a strategy than to lie that he has a strategy when he does not.” ... “If a full-scale attack on ISIS is going to end up with a long-term occupation of Syria and Iraq by the U.S., or the U.S. allying with [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s] regime or the Iranian regime," Goldberg said, "then I think we need to do more thinking.”
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman,remembered what a hurry he and others were to war after 9/11 and observes “we were in a hurry, myself included, to change things after 9/11, and when you’re in a hurry you ignore complexities that come back to haunt you later.” ... "ISIS is awful, but it is not a threat to America's homeland."
Goldberg suggests that media should be paying more attention to President Obama's ongoing campaign of hitting terrorist targets around the world.
Our intelligence and military communities are indicating that ISIS forces are no immediate threat. We should therefor have the patience to trust our president to take whatever time is necessary to plan the wisest long-term strategy.
If out fundamental national security interest in this region is access to oil, notice that had we spend the last decade and half, and $1 trillion in accelerating our transition to renewable energy we would not only have been more secure militarily with energy independence, economically thriving, have deprived extremist elements of their major source of revenue, and lead the world in reducing global warming. This would have been a vastly superior "military, economic, and political" strategy compared with the tragic blunder of a second war the Bush-Cheney administration pushed us into on false premises. Generations of American will be left paying for that stupidity with no productive assets to generate the wealth to do so.
I appreciate President Obama's wise caution and support him taking as long as is necessary to insure whatever we do is truly in the best national security interests of the United States, and every alternative and possible unintended side effect has been seriously examined.
8:07 AM PT: One more question should be high on everyone's mind, especially those who are calling for us to rush back in with boots on the ground.
Why do the Islamic State militants want us to make such an intervention so much that they've executed two American journalists in such a provocative and taunting manner?
Could it be that they see a U.S. - Western led intervention with "boots on the ground" as exactly what best advances their cause of global jihad and unification of the Islamic world against the western "Crusaders?"
A Western invasion on Islamic soil will boost extremist recruiting more than any other alternative, and may be the only thing that can unite the extremist of the many different jihadist factions that will otherwise have to fight each other - with the most extreme jihadists loosing in the end, as they have no capacity or talent at governing.
If we hang back, other Arab and Middle Eastern power may have to step up to the plate to handle this as a local problem. Then it is Arab against Arab and not the universal cause of "all Arabs and Muslims" unite against the Western "Crusaders" (many see our presence there as a continuation of the Crusades of the Holy Wars from centuries past.)
This allow local leaders an excuse to distract their people's attention from their lack of governance, widespread corruption, lack of economic growth, and internecine violence from a 1,000 year old internal religious war, on many civil wars and authoritarian regimes.
Other regional powers will be delighted to sit back and watch as we jump into the middle of this swamp. Perhaps, we should hang back and ask them what their plan is, and in what modest ways we may be able to help out from a distance.
While we put our nation in emergency "rehab" to get off of our oil addiction. We need an all out "full employment" renewable energy and infrastructure rebuilding program that put the wasted labor and capital to work.
Paul Krugman estimated about a year ago that we are leaving approximately $1 trillion a year of resources idle at a time when we urgently need to rebuild American. Other nations are doing this, like China.
Let's wake up America. Could it be that doing more of the same of this dump stuff we've been doing for the last decade is not going to take us to a new an better place?