Disturbing statements from Republicans running for the White House demand our close attention. They complain that President Obama is not doing enough militarily in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan Libya, and in dealing with the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They either insist that the president do things he has already been doing, such as bombing ISIS forces and targeting terrorist leaders through drone and other strikes, or they effectively declare war on all Muslims, with dark calls for carpet bombing, making the sand glow, sending tens of thousands of America’s sons and daughters off to war again and banning all Muslims from entering the United States. These latter, reckless proposals will lead to an all-out war with Islam, which is precisely the goal of ISIS and other radicals. It is exactly the wrong approach and gravely threatens our nation’s security.
The Iraq War demonstrated that using our military to impose our worldview on others doesn’t work. It is exactly the wrong approach if we want to make America safer and advance our national security interests. We should have learned this lesson by now (see also Vietnam), and it’s time we smartened up on how to best use our power.
To be clear, our enemy is not Islam. Our American values embrace people of all faiths, as well as those who are not religious. In fact, our enemy is the ideology of a radical Islam exemplified by terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS. The best way to defeat this enemy is by helping Sunni and other moderates, encouraging good and inclusive governance around the world, building civil society, promoting human rights and education and preserving our Constitution.
The Republicans have a different vision. While ideas like carpet bombing might be red meat for some, they are policy disasters that threaten America. They mean the senseless deaths of innocent men, women and children and more ISIS recruits. They will also alienate moderates, who will see America as uncaring, foolish and hell-bent for perpetual war.
The Republican rhetoric sadly serves the ISIS playbook. Republican calls for religious tests, databases to track Muslims, bans on travel and the specter of internment camps help breed new homicidal terrorists, creating the conditions for a clash of civilizations. This is exactly what ISIS wants and is nothing our country needs. With the Republican war cry comes responsibility and questions to which they owe answers.
How does an indiscriminate war against Muslims make us safer? How many of America’s sons and daughters will they send into combat once the carpet bombing fails? Which units will be deployed, for how long and to where in the aftermath of making the sand glow? How do they intend to fight these war(s) around the globe? What is the price tag for these wars and from which countries will they borrow the money to pay for them? And, which Constitutional rights do they intend to limit?
While the ISIS threat requires a military response, the use of force alone will never be enough to defeat this ideology and those who espouse it. We cannot keep sending American troops to address problems that don’t have wholly military solutions. Rather, our approach must be holistic and integrated. We need to send diplomats, development workers, doctors and teachers around the world. We need to help local moderates create economic opportunities and promote the rule of law so that people see a brighter future than that offered by terrorists. We need to properly fund and resource these elements in our national security arsenal and build people-to-people ties that can address the root causes of extremism.
Terrorism is about spreading fear, and we can’t play into it. Let us not get swept up in this irresponsible Republican spin cycle thirsty for war. Instead, let’s preserve our Constitution, be smart about how best to use force and push for sustained policies of engagement. In doing so, we will be best positioned to keep America safe, stay true to our values and build a more just and peaceful world.
Smith has represented Washington’s 9th Congressional District since 1997. He is ranking member on the Armed Services Committee.
This Op-Ed was published in The Hill on January 6, 2016