To the president, at war with Islamic State

Jan 5, 2015 by

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Dear Mr. President: No doubt the group calling itself the Islamic State poses many challenges. Their actions are violent and horrifying to many people in the region and abroad.

Lyndaker Schlabach

Lyndaker Schlabach

Your chosen path of military actions will likely result in some short-term successes, preventing the Islamic State from taking more land and even pushing the group off of land it has already claimed.

But the U.S. and its allies will never be able to bomb the Islamic State or other extremist groups out of existence. Your officials have acknowledged as much, saying the U.S. is not just focused on a military strategy but is also working to change the “hearts and minds” of people, to cut off funds to the Islamic State, to keep foreign fighters from joining and to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need.

The U.S. is indeed responding actively to the humanitarian crisis, and U.S. diplomats are working actively in the region. But when compared to our military actions, the diplomatic and humanitarian efforts are completely out of balance.

The costs of our military efforts are staggering. Right now we are spending $8 million every day, and we have just committed to spending $5 billion to combat the Islamic State, including $720 million to train and equip Syrian opposition forces and $1.6 billion to arm and equip forces in Iraq.

It is not clear to me how sending more weapons will help bring an end to the war. Local organizations say there are already far too many weapons. Many of them know all too well that these weapons will stay long after the war ends.

I am dismayed that your administration wants to waive human rights laws for groups in Iraq and Syria who are receiving weapons and training. Funding groups who may be committing human rights violations is no way to fight the Islamic State and its human rights violations.

What might happen if we redirected the $8 million in daily military spending in Iraq and Syria to humanitarian initiatives instead? If we did that, the funding shortfall for the U.N. refugee agency’s winterization program would be covered in just over a week.

And what might happen if we ramped up diplomatic efforts to resolve the difficult political, economic and social grievances that keep driving the conflicts in Syria and Iraq? Many Syrians and Iraqis say this is really the only way the wars will ever come to an end.

Organizations such as Mennonite Central Committee are doing our best to respond to the crisis. Mennonite Central Committee has provided $21 million in assistance since the Syria crisis started, including food and shelter, as well as support for local peacemakers.

The peacemakers we support, along with many other groups, work courageously for peace each day in Iraq, Syria and neighboring countries to build a better society for themselves and their neighbors.

These are the voices that need to be lifted up and the projects that need funding — far more than the armed groups that are now proliferating throughout the region.

Your role is not an easy one, Mr. President, and these are challenging times. I pray that you will have the courage and wisdom to discern what is best.

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach directs the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.


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