Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the author and Ohio University Students for Liberty. They do not reflect those of The New Political or its editorial team.
By Conor Fogarty
This week, an additional 400 American military personnel, mostly in special forces, went overseas to Syria in an effort to wrest control of Raqqa from ISIS. Looking at how much of the Middle East currently lies in the Islamic State’s grip, there is cause for grave concern as its expansion continues. Uniting disenfranchised Sunnis from the borders of Iran to the Mediterranean, ISIS has created a movement of young, radical militants that stands poised to engulf Syria. The answer thus far has been to meet force with force.
But in demanding an end to ISIS, there are few suggesting the group’s existence is a direct result of our own actions. Instead of becoming the liberators of Iraq against a tyrant, according to radical Muslims, America is the occupying power threatening their way of life.
This fanatical opposition is rooted, according to the ISIS narrative, in the regime change enacted by the U.S. in 2003. Aside from the tension any occupying power would cause, the U.S.-backed government also marginalized Sunnis from Iraqi politics. This was done despite the previous persecutions Sunni Muslims endured under Saddam Hussein.
For the recruiters of ISIS, convincing Iraqis the U.S. is no better than Saddam was not a difficult narrative to construct. Today, ISIS controls much of Iraq and has radicalized Muslims to commit terrorist acts around the world.
To be sure, this was NOT our intention when invading Iraq. Despite the many falsehoods in justifying the Iraq War (the WMDs, which did not exist), the removal of any tyrant is to be seen as a good thing, even if war is the means of achieving it. But the costs of going to war must be measured not only against the potential benefits, but also of the negative blowback.
For America, 70 years of being the world’s policeman has led many nations to view us a violent, militaristic people. Because of this, many countries feel safe under American protection, but we are destroyers as much as we are saviors. The tyranny we have overthrown in many nations has simply adopted the trappings of democracy and capitalism in order to continue oppression under American rule. It should be remembered that the demonizing narrative built by Iranian leaders was a response to American support of the ruthless autocrat, Shah Reza Pahlavi, over a democratically-elected socialist.
There are several more examples, from Asia to Latin America, in which regime change has led to greater harm for the nations involved as well as our own. For in backing one leader, we have subjected ourselves to the scrutiny of a whole nation that should really be left to determine its own destiny.
True, there will be tyrants in the world, and doing nothing may seem selfish and unproductive. But the unintended consequences of our interventions must be considered, which requires us to consider America’s image across the world. While our intention may be to use democracy to improve the world around, we cannot be the world’s liberator if we are its warden.
Even without boots on the ground, seeing the American flag on any side of a foreign conflict has gained us many enemies in the Middle East. These are enemies who, before our interventions, were not able to unite a great mass of radicals into an army, but now stand to bring terror and violence to other nations.
If we are ever to gain a measure of respect in the Islamic world, then reforming our global identity to stress liberty and nonintervention is essential to the healing process. For one who still wants to believe that America through commercial and cultural exchange can advocate for peace and freedom, it seems we cannot do so while viewing so many through iron sights.
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