On Not Repeating the Tried Ways that Haven’t Worked.


by Peggy Faw Gish


For many Americans, President Obama, with his latest plan to expand U.S. Military intervention in Iraq, is finally “doing something.” And people here in Iraqi Kurdistan (where I am, working with a peace team) are generally hopeful that this will stop the militant fighters called the Islamic State (IS, or for this article, ISIS).  I keenly feel the pain of the people here and don’t want any more persons brutalized, yet I believe Obama’s plan will not diminish global terrorism. It will only expand and strengthen it.

It’s helpful to remember that ISIS’s ability to capture areas of Iraq was possible because of the U.S. had destroyed its society and supported the Shia government that excluded Sunni populations and subjected them to widespread loss of jobs, attacks, mass arrests, torture and extra-judicial killings.

While our team lived and worked in Baghdad, the U.S. and Iraqi forces bombed and destroyed whole neighborhoods and cities in the name of anti-terrorism, generating more anger toward America. The U.S. failed to support the progressive, mostly nonviolent, uprisings, around the country, against government abuse and corruption. Throughout the years of occupation, it was clear to us that U.S. Military actions in Iraq were not really directed at protecting the Iraqi people, but for protecting American personnel and U.S. economic and military interests in Iraq and the Middle East. Then, in early August of this year, U.S. Military strikes were, once again, less for protecting religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq than protecting U.S. diplomats and the large oil companies developing oil fields in the Kurdish region.

Obama used Somalia and Yemen as examples of successful partnering against terrorism, but in reality, they point to the failure of our counter-terrorism strategy.  Bombing, drone strikes, and covert actions by Special Forces in Somalia have not diminished al Shabaab, or al-Qaeda in Yemen, but helped their recruitment.  In Afghanistan and Pakistan, after thirteen years of the “Global War on Terror,” the Taliban remains strong and violence against civilians, high.

Much of the power of ISIS is in its ability to generate horrific fear.  The beheadings seem to be staged to provoke the U.S. and its allies to a military response, and to behave as jihadist groups have made out the West to be—monsters bent on global domination, exploiting and oppressing Muslims. Perpetuating this image maintains the jihadist group’s support among the local populations and brings in new recruits.  The U.S. is still falling into this trap.

Michel Chossudovsky, in his article, “Going After” the Islamic State. Guess Who is Behind the Caliphate Project?” published on September 12, 2014, by Global Research, <http://www.globalresearch.ca/going-after-the-islamic-state/5401439> makes the case that ISIS was a creation of U.S. intelligence with the support of Britain’s MI6, Israel’s Mossad, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence  and Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Presidency, and that the U.S. and its allies continue to support it for the purposes of destabilizing and destroying Iraq and Syria. This understanding is not out of the question, considering the long history of deception and covert military actions throughout the world to topple and destabilize governments for U.S. economic and military purposes, and considering how destabilizing the war on terror has been for Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and, Iraq.  This scenario would suggest an additional set of responses to deal with our country’s covert forces which are not accountable to congress.  But say you are not ready to believe that, and want to give our government the benefit of the doubt. How do we deal with the fear generated concerning ISIS, and what would be a more realistic perspective on the situation to base our nation’s response?

It helps to remember that:

  1. ISIS poses no immediate threat to the U.S., according to Matthew Olson, the outgoing head of the National Counterterrorism Center.
  2. The U.S. has also caused massive destruction and brutal deaths in its military actions, in which bombing and drone strikes have torn apart or burned civilians to death.
  3. Extremism or any ideology cannot be defeated by military force. There is no military action that can make ISIS disappear—no military solutions to this crisis.

Each time the U.S. puts forth an alarmist scenario, and tells us there is no other way but military action to stop an evil force, intelligent people—who know that our wars have been robbing our society of money for human needs and have been obscenely pouring that money into inflated coffers of corporations profiting from war—are once again seduced by fear. They are not given a fair debate on the political and social alternatives to a constant war to maintain military and economic dominance around the world.

So, what are some strong non-military measures the U.S can take to weaken ISIS in Iraq and Syria and start to reverse the spread of the global terrorist movement?

  1. Stop the airstrikes, since they serve to strengthen the extremist movements.
  2. Deal with the underlying problems that fuel extremism and global terrorism. Support governments in providing its people with better living conditions and fair distribution of their resources. Support local nonviolent movements for change.
  3. Develop political solutions to the crises. In Iraq, put pressure on the Iraqi government to reverse years of anti-Sunni sectarianism. For Syria, push the UN to restart real negotiations to end the civil war, bringing everyone involved to the table—nonviolent activists, women, refugees, armed rebels, and regional and global players.
  4. Develop a coalition of countries working on political and diplomatic, non-military actions to weaken ISIS. Use financial pressures and stop the flow of money and weapons into the region. Broaden the talks with Iran to develop a new partnership on these issues. Collaborate with Kurdish rebel groups already protecting minority groups from ISIS in northern Iraq—the YPG (Peoples’ protection Unit) and the PKK, (Kurdish workers party). Take them off the terrorist list.  Work to reduce tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
  5. Reverse decades-long policies and actions of the U.S. government around the world for domination and exploitation. Recreate world monetary systems such as the World Bank and IMF to be non-exploitive. Allow the UN to be really representative of the global community and to address injustice. Change US policies with Israel.
  6. Address the enormous humanitarian crisis the US helped create. Give non-military aid.

There are no simple, quick fix solutions, but we will not reduce the suffering from war and build peaceful and stable societies if we keep repeating the strategies that have only fueled strife.  For the U.S. and other countries, this means finding the will to make a major change in how it relates globally—laying down the old polities of seeking dominance for one’s own gain. I don’t know a better time to start than now.


Peggy Faw Gish is currently working in Iraqi Kurdistan with the Christian Peacemaker Teams, and has worked in Iraq over the past 12 years. Her recent book is Walking Through Fire: Iraqis’ Struggle for Justice and Reconciliation (Cascade Books, 2013)

6 thoughts on “On Not Repeating the Tried Ways that Haven’t Worked.

  1. Pingback: Christian Peacemaker Team Member-Nonviolent Alternatives to Iraq and ISIS | Pace e Bene

  2. Pingback: Prayers for Peacemakers, September 17, 2014 | Chicago Activism

  3. Pingback: IRAQI KURDISTAN REFLECTION: The new military intervention in Iraq—on not repeating what has not worked | Chicago Activism

  4. Peggy, our journal, Nonviolent Change (www.nonviolentchangejournal.org), requested permission to republish “On Not Repeating the Tried Ways that Haven’t Worked” with proper credit in its Winter 2015 issue. We have not heard from you, and if we are to carry you fine piece we must have permission by February 1. You do not list contact information of the web, so this is the only way we can try to contact you.

    All the best.

    Stephen M. Sachs, Coordinating Editor, NCJ

  5. Steve, I’m sorry. I forgot that I hadn’t responded to you. Yes, I would be glad to give you permission to republish my article, “On Not Repeating the Tried Ways that Haven’t Worked.” Let me know when it is republished and send me a link. thanks, Peggy

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