War should be viewed from the perspective of civilians, not the armed forces involved. Start by asking about the conditions of civilians, with the first question being, “Are they under attack by their own government?”
If the answer is “yes,” then it does not matter which side is bombing, which side is committing some other form of terror, or which side is winning. The loser is liberty, democracy, stability, security, morality…human civilization.
Judging from a sobering Niquash report on Fallujah, the sad Iraqi city that over the past decade has become the symbol of everything that is wrong with the Western confrontation with Islamic political activists, Fallujah exemplifies the point that when a regime attacks its own civilians, human civilization is the loser. In this case, it happens to be the Shi’i Iraqi regime that is firing on and bombing–and thus inevitably alienating–the population of Fallujah, people who happen to be Sunni. The immediate beneficiary of this slaughter of civilians is of course ISIS. All the talking heads so confused about how ISIS exploded into power so quickly should look at how Baghdad treats its Sunni citizens. The strategy being implemented makes human civilization the loser…and therefore, by the way, harms U.S. national security, for those readers who consider this the bottom line.
The details do not matter. It could be Israel bombing the population of Gaza or ISIS and Assad laying waste to Syrian cities or Pakistani forces attacking villages in Waziristan or police facing demonstrators in an American city. War against civilian populations weakens civilization, empowers those promoting further violence, and sets the stage for worse to come. Israel’s latest war against Gaza destroyed the homes of some half million civilians; the Syrian civil war has sent a wave of some 3,000,000 refugees across its borders; the combination of the Sunni revolt against Baghdad’s mistreatment, the ISIS takeover, and Baghdad’s attack have turned most of Fallujah’s population into internal refugees. Each of these events will, for years to come, continue to put stress on the fabric of global civilization on which the U.S. relies.
Pounding civilian populations into dust or transforming them into waves of refugees undermines U.S. interests. It makes no difference which military force commits the crime.
Obama is correct: the U.S. has no strategy. The U.S. has lots of tactics: use drones, drop bombs, arm local clients for short-term battlefield gains, pick a religious faction and call it the “good guy.” But the U.S. has no strategy, and the reason is that Washington has not yet succeeded in curing its addiction to military solutions, and, more specifically, military solutions designed to be quick and easy to implement (e.g., drop a bomb) rather than supportive of the bottom line goal of advancing the cause of human civilization. For most wars, and certainly for virtually every contemporary military conflict, military violence only helps protect human civilization when used as a rare and extreme hammer for momentarily helping with the construction of civilization’s glass house.
A U.S. strategy designed to address the Mideast catastrophe in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Palestine, and Libya with Lebanon and Jordan tomorrow’s headlines could start anywhere, say, Fallujah or Gaza or a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon with a policy designed to offer local economic and physical security, jobs (e.g., building homes for the refugees), and local political decision-making authority. A strategy for dealing with the rising chaos is to offer the victims the choice of participating in the building of a society in which the state does not drop bombs on, or otherwise discriminate against, civilians because of their race, religion, or political activism.