Last week, President Barack Obama rolled out his administration's roadmap to address the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a terrorist organization that controls vast amounts of land, money and resources in Iraq and Syria, and restore whatever passed for peace in the Middle East before the fall of Mosul some four months ago. Having failed to respond to a televised chemical attack in Ghoula, Syria, last year and indirectly contributed to the rise of al-Qaida 2.0, the Obama administration's latest military venture will understandably involve major air strikes against ISIS targets and assistance to the terrorist group's local adversaries, most notably the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and peshmerga forces.
Over the past decade, American foreign policy's over-reliance on air power has been a recurring theme: In March 2003, the Bush administration put on a show for millions of Baghdad's residents as thousands upon thousands of missiles targeted the Saddam Hussein regime's power centers in the Iraqi capital. The notion that Shock and Awe would keep a lid on anti-U.S. sentiments on the ground proved largely flawed, as Washington's failure to curb post-Saddam violence resulted in prolonged and widespread insurgency.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim Mothana, an anti-drone activist from Yemen and good friend who passed away at the age of 24 last year, and others became increasingly vocal about the repercussions of America's dependence on air power and provided valuable insights into the broader surveillance debate from a local perspective. In an opinion piece that was published in The New York Times on June 12, 2012, Ibrahim warned: "Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair. … The strikes have created an opportunity for terrorist groups like al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and Ansar al-Sharia to recruit fighters from tribes who have suffered casualties." It goes without saying that his message rings true today with regard to the Obama administration's plans to fight a proxy war against ISIS without placing American lives at risk.
Criticism, of course, has also been mounting from the GOP ranks: Most notably, former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden, who served under President George W. Bush, compared the Obama administration's plans to use air power against the so-called Islamic State to casual sex: "The reliance on air power has all of the attraction of casual sex: It seems to offer gratification but with very little commitment," Hayden told U.S. News & World Report. Hayden's controversial remarks, however disrespectful to all that the local population have lost over the years, raised an important point about the ways in which top policy makers in Washington and millions of Americans unwilling to pay for another war have been approaching the issue all along.
In the context of a heated and prolonged debate around the Obama administration's Middle East policy, it is crucial to stand up for one's right to not be cornered into choosing between irresponsible U.S. military involvement in the region – especially because Washington seem more interested in crossing an item off of its to-do list rather than a lasting solution – and terrorist groups with reactionary agendas. Gone are the days when a president of the United States could declare that millions of people and their governments were either with or against America. It's time to turn over a new leaf, take responsibility for past deeds and shortcomings and commit to promoting stability in the Middle East and elsewhere.