By Phyllis Bennis

President Obama is right: There is no military solution. 

Military actions will not set the stage for political solutions; they will prevent those solutions from taking hold.

Escalating military actions against this violent extremist organization is not going to work.

The bottom line is there is no immediate action that will make ISIS disappear, even if U.S. airstrikes manage to get the right target somewhere and take out an APC or a truckload of guys with RPGs or whatever. 

You can't destroy an ideology — or even an organization —through bombing (look at the efforts to do so with Al Qaeda . . . lots of members killed in Afghanistan, but the organization took root in a bunch of other countries).

 Arming the so-called “moderate” opposition in Syria doesn’t mean supporting the good guys. It means sending arms to the Free Syrian Army which, according to the New York Times, “went on to behead six ISIS fighters…and then posted the photographs on Facebook.”

A military strike might bring some immediate satisfaction, but we all know revenge is a bad basis for foreign policy, especially when it has such dangerous consequences.

As horrifying as the beheading of the two U.S. journalists was, revenge is never a good basis for foreign policy. We should keep in mind that Matthew Olson, the outgoing head of the National Counterterrorism Center, said last week that “there is no credible information that [ISIS] is planning to attack the United States,” and there is “no indication at this point of a cell of foreign fighters operating in the United States – full stop.”

Instead, we have to recognize that military solutions really don’t work. Have we forgotten the failures of the U.S. wars in the Middle East over these many years? 

We need to keep our focus on the medium- and long-term solutions, something not so easy to do in a political year. 

We have to recognize that military attacks are not only wrong in a host of ways (illegal in international law, immoral because of civilian casualties, a distraction from vitally needed diplomacy) but also that those strikes are making real solutions impossible.


We have to start by understanding just why ISIS is so powerful.

First,  ISIS has good weapons (mostly U.S. and Saudi weapons that have flooded the region for more than 15 years).  So we need to start thinking about the need for an arms embargo on all sides.

Second, ISIS has good military leadership, some of it provided by Sunni Iraqi generals who were kicked out of their positions in the military when the U.S. invaded and who are now providing training, strategy and military leadership to ISIS-allied militias and ISIS itself.  These guys are a very secular bunch. They drink and smoke, and they will be unlikely to stick around ISIS if they believe they have any chance of recovering their lost jobs, prestige, and dignity.  That could happen over time, but only if a really new government takes hold in Iraq, but it’s not going to be enough to simply choose a new prime minister and announce a new government made up of too many of the same old sectarian faces.

Third,  ISIS has support from Sunni tribal leaders – the very people President Obama says he wants to "persuade" to break with ISIS.  But these are people who have suffered grievously – first during the U.S. invasion, and especially in the years of the US-backed Shi’a-controlled sectarian government of Nuri al-Maliki. They were demonized, attacked, and dispossessed by the government in Baghdad, and many of them thus see ISIS at the moment as the only force they can ally with to challenge that government. And many of them control large and powerful militias now fighting alongside ISIS against the government in Baghdad.

Fourth, ISIS has support from ordinary Iraqi Sunnis, who (also largely secular) may hate what ISIS stands for, its extremism and violence, but who have suffered terribly under Maliki's sectarian Shi’a-controlled government from arrests, torture, extra-judicial executions, and more. As a result they also are willing to ally with ISIS against Baghdad, at least for now.

So, weakening ISIS requires ending the support it relies on from tribal leaders, military figures, and ordinary Iraqi Sunnis.   The key question is how do we do that?

Step One: Stop the airstrikes.  Because what we in the U.S. see as “hooray, we got the bad guys” is seen by many in Iraq, especially the very Sunnis the president wants to persuade to break with ISIS, as the U.S. acting as the air force for the Kurds and the Shi’a against the Sunnis. Thus the airstrikes defeat the important goal of ending popular support for ISIS, and instead actually serve to strengthen the extremist organization.

Step Two: Make real the commitment for “No boots on the ground.” In announcements during just the last few weeks, the White House has acknowledged sending close to 1,300 pairs of boots to the ground in Iraq. And who knows how many unacknowledged pairs of CIA and JSOC (special operations forces) sneakers may already be in Iraq? We need a call to “Stop the Slippery Slide Towards Even More Boots on the Ground!”  The U.S. must also stop flooding the region with arms that only result in more violence against civilians, and end its policy of ignoring the violations of human rights and international law committed by its allies.  We need enforcement of the Leahy Law (that prohibits assistance to foreign military units known to violate human rights) here at home.

Step Three: Organize a real diplomatic partnership to deal with ISIS.  Even though the U.S. is carrying out airstrikes and deploying new troops in Iraq, everyone agrees there is no military solution.  So diplomacy must have center stage. That means serious engagement with Iran, among other players. Tehran has more influence in Baghdad than Washington does. If we are serious about wanting to encourage the Iraqi government to accept a truly more inclusive approach, joint pressure from the U.S. and Iran holds the best chance. Even though Iran is predominantly Shi’a itself, the country’s leaders are very worried about the instability in their next-door neighbor resulting from the years of Shi’a sectarianism in Baghdad. The U.S.-Iran nuclear talks appear to be moving very well; this is the moment to broaden those talks to include discussion of a real “grand bargain” between the U.S. and Iran, to include all the regional crises.

Step Four: Initiate a new search for broader diplomatic solutions in the United Nations. That means working to build a real coalition aimed at using diplomatic and financial pressures, not military strikes, at the international level in both Iraq and Syria. All the regional governments have their own concerns. Turkey, for instance, knows that joining a U.S.-led military assault on Iraq could threaten the lives of its 49 diplomats and their families now held by ISIS. A real coalition is needed not for military strikes but for powerful diplomacy. That means pressuring U.S. ally Saudi Arabia to stop arming and financing ISIS and other extremist fighters; pressuring U.S. ally Turkey to stop allowing ISIS and other fighters to cross into Syria over the Turkish border; pressuring U.S. allies Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and others to stop financing and arming everyone and anyone in Syria who says they're against Assad.  We don't need another Coalition of the Killing (see Step One for why). Why not work to make it a Coalition of the Rebuilding?

Step Five: Push the UN, despite Lakhdar Brahimi's resignation, to restart real negotiations on ending the civil war in Syria. That means everyone involved needs to be at the table: the Syrian regime; civil society inside Syria including non-violent activists, women, young people, refugees, etc.; the armed rebels; the external opposition; the regional and global players supporting all sides – the US, Russia, Iran, Saudi, the UAE, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, and beyond. This could provide a moment to work with Russia on Syria policy, thus building on the successful joint effort to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons and perhaps lessening tensions over Ukraine. An arms embargo on all side should be on the long-term agenda.

Step Six – Massively increase US humanitarian contributions to U.N. agencies for the now millions of refugees and IDPs in and from both Syria and Iraq. The U.S. has pledged significant funds, but much of it has not actually been made available to the agencies, and more should be pledged and given.​


Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. Her books include Before & After: US Foreign Policy and the War on Terror.




“Obama’s Iraq Airstrikes Could Actually Help the Islamic State, Not Weaken It” in the Washington Post 

​“Don't Go Back to Iraq - Five Steps the US Can Take Without Going Back to War”  in Foreign Policy in Focus.

“If There’s No Military Solution, Why the Military Actions?” in The Hill.

“Five Things the US Can Do to End the Syria Crisis” in The Nation.





Hmm, so Ms. Bennis just decided that these 6 things would be sufficient to solve the ISIS problem, a problem we are ultimately responsible for, without even mentioning the number one determining factor--money. Remember, Ms. Bennis, that the U.S. is the worlds' biggest arms dealer and, you know darn well they will contribute heavily to any and all political parties that provide them with the opportunity to increase their profits. Do you honestly believe Mr, Obama is going to totally dismiss an opportunity to increase the available money to the DNC? Fat chance. Politics is politics no matter what side you're on, no matter how many innocents die.
Excellent article-- would you allow me to reprint it, with credit, of course? Thanks! Matt
Obama should be IMPEACHED if he continues to REFUSE TO OBTAIN CONGRESSIONAL AUTHORIZATION FOR IRAQ WAR III as well as UN SECURITY COUNCIL AUTHORIZATION for this and for his criminal REGIME CHANGE intervention in UKRAINE as well as for threatening Russia with B-2 Stealth Bombers LOADED with nuclear weapons now stationed in Eastern Europe
Thank you, Phyllis, for your work! I will share it with my East Bay Peace Action colleagues.
An hysterical reply doesn't cut it; Congress doesn't wish to consider anything serious: nor do you!
Do you honestly believe there is a diplomatic solution to this? In order for there to be peace, all parties concerned have to agree to it, and I don't imagine these barbarians will agree to end a religious war that they themselves have begun.
Phyllis, gets the facts of this war right, It is at it's heart a Sunni Insurgance The Us and Australia is focusing too much on ISIS and not on the truth of the Separatist State push by the Sunnis being the real fanning fire behind this war. If they do manage to weaken Isis to any great degree they still will not have solved the issue of territorial warfare between the Shi-ite and Sunni tribes. I think their best bet would be to focus their attention and resources on protecting their citizens at home and letting nature take it's course in the form of the most dominant warlords(territorial males) taking power and subduing and bringing peace to the area in a way that America just cannot,.because we are bound to fighting wars like gentlemen. When the dust has finally settled and the Arabs have sorted it all out then America and Australia can seek to then deal with the new rulers and commanders. It is quite probable that the more moderate Sunnis may eventually turn on the nasty elements of ISIS when they have finally achieved a New Sunni land and territory. All the West should do is wait and see and come down ruthlessly on any terrorist elements on home soil. The state needs laws and powers to over-ride the law courts while this threat is current. In the case of national security I believe the State should hold the power because being fair and waiting for evidence is just not going to stop threats. By all means let the media report on what's happening to cast a watchful eye on things, but let the government have the power until there is peace once more between us and the middle east. Or at least a time of more co-operation and reasonableness.
Step 7. Stop publicizing the Isis murders of foreign journalists. They don't happen when the world is reeling from plane crashes and Ebola outbreaks.They happen when the media will increase the furor. Isis feels more powerful because of the furor. Stop referring to the murders as executions. They are murders. And stop pleaing for the victims' lives-- not because we don't care, but because we know the pleas won't be successful. The murders will still take place and Isis will benefit from the publicity.
How did we end WW2?
So the six 'steps' are really just one. Do nothing. The notion that there is room for negotiation is fantasy. This magic solution offers the same advice to those under ISIS rule that Ghandi offered to the German jews as an alternative to self-defence, namely to commit mass suicide. Which is why this Hymn or Appeasement is being peddled by 'Stop the War Coaltion' and other fundamentalist pacisfist reactionary groups. ISIS are a result of the paranoid Consumerist rat-race, if anything, which drives everyone crazy and power-mad to one degree or other. The one 'step' is therefore to eradicate consumerism. But the green light to ISIS was definitely the refusal of the west to act after the chemical attacks by Assad on his own people. Even then, a co-ordinated strike campaign against their highly visible and exposed heavy weaponry would have nipped them inthe bud. But instead, the assumption was that the past always happens again in exactly the same way. Assad was allowed to continue his butshery, and ISIS to reap the benefit of the chaos.


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Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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