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To the shores of Tripoli?

Pentagon officials are proposing air strikes and the use of special operations forces in Libya to counter the growing threat from ISIS. This potentially dangerous escalation of U.S. military involvement in the Middle East is being decided without public debate or dialogue. Is it really a good idea to open a new front in the expanding war in the region?

U.S. military strikes have not brought stability and peace to Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia or Syria. Why do we think they will solve the problems now in Libya? Military strikes can destroy targets and kill fighters (along with civilians), but they cannot solve the underlying political problems and lack of accountable governance that are at the root of these conflicts.

The United States fought a major war in Iraq to suppress Al-Qaida, but that organization morphed into the even more dangerous menace of ISIS. We fired the Iraqi army and sent some of its senior officers to prison, where they became radicalized by jihadists. Today many of the military leaders of the so-called Islamic State are former commanders of the Iraqi army.

Military involvement in the Middle East is the problem not the solution. As we have seen in other countries, American military intervention creates a rejection response that drives many people into the arms of the extremist groups.

As Scott Atran recently observed, an extreme reaction from the United States and other Western countries is exactly what the strategists of Al-Qaida and ISIS want. The more we become bogged down in the region, the happier they are. They want to cause chaos and ‘vexation’, forcing the West to become directly involved militarily.

External military intervention reinforces the false narrative of the extremists that the West is waging war on Islam. Bombs falling on another Arab country will be a bonanza for ISIS recruiters.

The U.S. has conducted 10,000 military strikes against extremist targets in Syria and Iraq over the past 18 months, but the threat from ISIS in the region remains formidable and is now spreading to Libya.

Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations confirmed in a recent analysis that American bombing in Iraq and Syria has not achieved its strategic objectives. Pentagon officials claim that U.S. strikes killed 25,000 ISIS fighters last year. Yet military officials also acknowledge that the number of estimated ISIS fighters in the region today remains about the same as before. Bombing alone cannot stem the flow of extremist fighters.

Keep in mind that U.S. bombing strikes in 2011 created the chaos in Libya in the first place, causing the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime and the collapse of the Libyan state, spreading lawlessness and armed conflict across the Sahel.

Yes, we need to do more to stop the spread of ISIS, but U.S. bombing will create a backlash that could worsen the extremist threat. We need to act, but we also need to heed the warning: do no harm.

Rather than further stoking the flames of chaos, let’s focus instead on encouraging negotiations among Libya’s competing political factions. The only hope for a resolution to the crisis in Libya is political agreement among the local parties. U.S. intervention could shatter the thin hopes of forging a viable coalition government.

Now is an especially bad time for external military intervention as the Libyan factions have been engaged in internal political discussions and are taking tentative steps toward forming a unity government. Encouraging and supporting that political process should be our top priority.

A stable government in Libya would be more than capable of containing the threat from ISIS and could contribute to greater security in the region. Let’s focus on that task rather than the risky business of widening the war in the Middle East.

It was a landmark event last week when the International Atomic Energy Agency officially certified Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. The news received some press coverage, but it deserved much more.

Tehran has now exported 97% of its enriched uranium, disassembled 13,000 centrifuges (two thirds of its total), and poured concrete into the core of its former plutonium reactor. In return the US has lifted nuclear proliferation-related sanctions and returned frozen assets. Germany and other European states have done likewise and are already moving to renew investments.

Iran has dismantled its infrastructure in record time, at a faster pace than other cases of denuclearization. The experience with Iran stands in sharp contrast with the prolonged and confrontational disarmament process in Iraq after 1991. The disarmament approach with Iran has been much quicker, smoother and also more effective because it includes unprecedented inspection access.

Some of the most rigorous monitoring protocols ever established are now coming into place in Iran, all with the full consent and cooperation of Iranian authorities. It’s the most comprehensive nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated.

Now that’s something to celebrate. Let’s make “Implementation Day” an annual holiday as a tribute to effective diplomacy and peaceful nuclear nonproliferation.

Plan now for your local party on the date next January!

In the meantime, let’s keep vigilant and do what we can to ensure that the compliance process continues to run along smoothly.

Seventy five years ago this month Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his famous Four Freedoms speech at his third inauguration. His call for freedom of speech and religion with freedom from want and fear has carried through the decades and remains a guiding vision for how to create a better world.

c2447164937969a269b8274187aca9bfRoosevelt was articulating the goals of the world struggle then underway against Nazism and aggression. His words provided the foundation for the subsequent Atlantic Charter and many of the ideas that emerged in the UN Charter.

At the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945, U.S. Secretary of State Edwin Stettinius echoed Roosevelt’s ideas. “The battle for peace has to be fought on two fronts,” he said. “The first front is the security front, where victory spells freedom from fear. The second is the economic and social front, where victory means freedom from want. Only victory on both fronts can assure the world of an enduring peace.”

These ideas remain alive. Today government leaders and scholars understand and support economic development as an effective and essential means of avoiding conflict and creating conditions for peace. Goal 16 of the recently adopted UN-sponsored Sustainable Development Goals calls for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies to help overcome poverty. Freedom from want is linked to freedom from fear.

The fourth is the least familiar of Roosevelt’s freedoms. He described it as a worldwide reduction of armaments to the point where no nation could threaten aggression against another. Today we recognize this as a call for progressive disarmament and common security.

This is the mission of the Fourth Freedom Forum, the organization I once directed and still serve as chair of the board of directors, a foundation that works to reduce nuclear dangers and develop nonmilitary means of countering terrorism and other security threats.

The tradition of the Four Freedoms carries on in many human rights, development, peacebuilding and disarmament organizations. All who support civil rights and religious freedom and promote development and peace are following in that rich heritage.

Thanks to FDR for pointing the way and helping us realize the essential interconnectedness of core human freedoms. Our task always is to follow that path.

The adoption last week of new UN sanctions on ISIL marks an important step forward in the international campaign to isolate, weaken and suppress the so-called Islamic State.

On Thursday the UN Security Council approved Resolution 2253, a landmark measure that consolidates and strengthens international sanctions against ISIL and gives greater strategic focus to the global fight against the threat.

The 28-page resolution is perhaps the longest sanctions resolution ever adopted. It includes 34 preambles, 99 operative paragraphs and two extensive technical appendices each with dozens of specifications for implementation. If length is a measure of political intention, this is a serious resolution.

With the passage of Resolution 2253 the Security Council has finally renamed its main counterterrorism sanctions committee the “ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee.” Previously it was known as the Al-Qaida and Taliban Committee and then the Al-Qaida Committee. The name change is long overdue and means that the Committee can now concentrate on ISIL as the main international terrorist threat.

The resolution reiterates the obligation of all states to freeze the financial assets, prohibit entry or transit, and prevent the supply of arms or military equipment for all individuals and entities associated with ISIL.  It prohibits a wide range of specific forms of financial interaction with ISIL or its supporters and obligates all states to cooperate in implementing these restrictions. It calls for more vigorous compliance with Financial Action Task Force provisions against the financing of terrorism.

The resolution urges states to submit the names of individuals and entities to be targeted for sanctions and includes the usual provisions for listing and delisting those designated for UN sanctions. It also maintains and extends the mandate of the Office of the Ombudsperson, which receives and processes requests for delisting in the event of inadvertent listing.

The resolution directs the Sanctions Committee and its Monitoring Team (the most vigorous of the Security Council’s expert panels) to report on specific instances and general patterns of non-compliance, and to recommend corrective actions that the Council could take in response. It also authorizes the Committee to hire additional experts to focus on ISIL and to recommend capacity-building assistance for states that need help to enforce the sanctions.

The resolution requests the UN Secretary General to provide within 45 days an initial “strategic-level report that demonstrates and reflects the gravity” of the threat from ISIL and the range of Member States efforts to counter that threat, and to provide updates every four months thereafter. It calls for the Monitoring Team to cooperate with other UN counterterrorism bodies to submit recommendations for strengthening global enforcement of sanctions against ISIL.

The resolution breaks new ground in three respects.

It was jointly sponsored by the United States and Russia, indicating the ability of Washington and Moscow to work together on countering ISIL despite their many differences on other issues. This should give greater impetus to the global fight against the group.

It focuses Security Council counterterrorism sanctions on ISIL and provides additional mandates and resources for the Council’s Sanctions Committee and Monitoring Team to do a better job of identifying and correcting problems of noncompliance.

It calls on the Secretary General and UN counterterrorism bodies to provide greater strategic-level focus on the threat from ISIL and measures to counter it.

Progress in implementing the provisions of Resolution 2253 would go a long way toward reducing the global threat from ISIL and cutting off its vital sources of money and supply. The United States, Russia and other powers should continue working together through the Security Council to assure effective implementation of these measures and to generate steadily increasing pressures against ISIL.

French military strikes in Syria are an understandable reaction to the killings in Paris, but they will not diminish the threat from ISIS and could make it worse.

As Andrew Bacevich reminds us, the United States and its partners have been waging war against terrorism for decades, killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries, but the extremist threat continues to grow, aroused in part by our attacks. Military strikes from the West are exactly what the militants want, providing fodder for recruitment and justifying what is otherwise unjustifiable. Will we fall into that trap again?

Air strikes cannot defeat terrorism, and a ground invasion of Syria or Iraq would be unacceptable politically and unsustainable militarily. A more realistic and effective response is needed to counter the growing ISIS threat.

Instead of pursuing the illusion of military solutions, France should join with the United States and other countries to assemble a powerful global coalition to impose tougher UN sanctions. The immediate goal should be to further isolate and weaken ISIS and cut off its vital sources of finance and supply. Greater efforts are also needed to address the underlying grievances and conditions that generate violent extremism.

If there is to be ‘war’ against ISIS (in the figurative sense), the United States, France and other countries must bring this struggle to the UN Security Council and mount a massive international campaign that is commensurate with the threat. Russia and China are on board with this agenda and will more readily cooperate if the mission is authorized through the UN.

The Security Council has imposed some initial sanctions against ISIS, but these measures have not been effectively implemented. Tougher resolutions are needed to enforce compliance with existing sanctions and establish greater authority for stronger measures.

A concerted effort is also needed to shut down the cyber jihad ISIS and its supporters are waging on the internet. Why do we allow these groups to continue using social media to glorify violence, spread hatred and recruit terrorists? This is a challenge that no state can solve on its own, where an international response under a UN mandate is urgently needed.

Many other steps can be taken to undermine ISIS and reduce the threat of extremism: more vigorous diplomatic efforts to achieve a ceasefire and political solution in Syria and political power sharing arrangements in Iraq; increased funding for the millions of refugees who have been forced to flee the conflict; sustained support for peacebuilding and development programs in the Middle East and among refugee populations in the West to address the underlying conditions that give rise to terrorism. All are approaches uniquely suited to UN involvement.

The UN was created 70 years ago to address threats to international peace and security. Let’s use the world body now to counter the clear and present danger posed by ISIS.

The proposed steps will not bring immediate results, but concerted international action can strengthen the fight against violent extremism and will avoid the harmful blowback effects that will almost certainly result from more military action.

The decision to halt troop withdrawals and keep nearly 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan is further evidence of the failure of American policy. After 14 years of military effort—with more than 2,300 U.S. troops killed, thousands more severely wounded, and the expenditure so far of more than $700 billion—the United States has been unable to suppress the Taliban or stabilize the country behind a legitimate government capable of providing effective security.

The Taliban insurgency is stronger than ever and has gained control over significant parts of the country. The number of Afghan civilians and soldiers dying in the war is higher than ever and continues to rise.

Maintaining U.S. military forces in Afghanistan guarantees that the war will continue, although the U.S. State Department has said there is no military solution in Afghanistan. It further delays and diminishes the prospects for attempting to achieve a negotiated political agreement that could end the bloodshed. The continued presence of foreign forces reinforces the Taliban narrative—that it is fighting to free the country of foreign influence—and feeds violent extremism in the region.

President Obama’s decision comes in the wake of the appalling massacre two weeks ago that killed 22 doctors, nurses and patients at the Médécins sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz. An American AC-130 gunship repeatedly shelled a known medical facility, the largest in the area, and continued firing even after frantic MSF staff called American military headquarters pleading for a halt to the attack. MSF has chargewordd that the incident was a violation of the Geneva Conventions and possibly a war crime.

How can the U.S. presume to have moral authority to act on behalf of Afghanistan after such an atrocity, and after the futility of its efforts through so many years at such high human cost?

Yes, the prospects for Afghanistan are grim. Many of the hopes for security, human rights and democracy that motivated the international intervention remain unfulfilled. But continuing to pursue military solutions will not work, and will likely make matters worse. The moral costs of continuing the war outweigh any conceivable military outcome.

It is long past time for the United States to focus instead on the pursuit of negotiations to resolve the conflicts in Afghanistan and the region through political means rather than war.

Foreign Policy Follies

To keep my blood pressure down and preserve some semblance of sanity, I have not watched the Republican debates or listened to the candidate speeches. I’ve read the newspaper accounts, especially their foreign policy statements, and I am appalled at the ignorance of what’s being said and the degradation of what passes for political discourse.

Particularly alarming to me are the false claims about American weakness and the dangerous calls for more militarism. America’s standing in the world has indeed declined in recent years. This is not because we are weak militarily, however. The United States continues to spend more on its military than any other country, three times more than China and seven times more than Russia. Rather, we are less respected because we have used military force so cavalierly and ineffectively with such harmful consequences for so many years.

Also outrageous is the claim that the Obama administration is somehow responsible for the rise of ISIS. No mention is made of the disastrous U.S.-led invasion of Iraq which shattered the state, divided Sunnis against Shias, and sparked a massive insurgency that led to the rise of Al Qaeda and later ISIS.

It is also worth noting that the decision to withdraw American forces from Iraq was based on a 2008 security agreement between the Bush administration and the Maliki regime in Baghdad. The Iraqi government firmly rejected requests by U.S. military officials to allow American forces to remain in the country.

One additional point: Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 largely on the basis of his unequivocal pledge to end the war in Iraq. Many of us applauded him for fulfilling that promise. That’s how democracy is supposed to work.

Let’s hope our democracy is strong enough to withstand the new wave of military jingoism and can pursue more peaceful approaches for achieving American greatness in the world.

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