Destroyed churches in Damascus, Syria
(Photo courtesy of the Syrian Orthodox Churches)

Destroyed churches in Damascus, Syria.

The folk singer, Pete Seeger, asked the haunting question, “when will they ever learn?” back in 1955. His anti-war song echoes the prophet Isaiah’s command to “cease to do evil; learn to do good” (Isaiah 1:16-17).

It is not clear that the U.S. has learned much from its previous military involvements in the Middle East. The U.S. military invasion of Iraq in 2003 greatly exacerbated tensions between Sunni and Shia communities—tensions that were exploited by sectarian militias, who are now mobilizing there again. In addition, significant numbers of U.S. weapons are now in the hands of the Islamic State group (formerly known as ISIS) after their takeover of Mosul.

But rather than learning from the folly of military intervention, the U.S. is seeking to step up its military involvement again. In Iraq, the U.S. now has 750 troops and has increased its intelligence and surveillance capabilities—steps that could lay the groundwork for U.S. military strikes.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration argues that now it must increase its support of the Free Syrian Army, to combat the spread of the Islamic State within Syria. As part of its war spending request, it has asked Congress for $500 million for military training and equipment for the Syrian opposition. If approved, this would be a significant step-up in U.S. military involvement in the Syrian conflict.

The administration and some in Congress say military assistance to the Syrian opposition is necessary to “promot[e] the conditions for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict in Syria,” as the Senate defense authorization bill says. But MCC’s partner organizations in Syria and Lebanon point out the folly in this logic—pouring fuel on the flames is not going to make the fire go out.

Fortunately, some Members of Congress recognize this. When the House considered its defense appropriations bill in June, two Syria amendments were offered. One, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), would have prohibited funding for weapons for the Syrian opposition. It failed 244-167. A narrower amendment, to prohibit sending anti-aircraft missiles, passed by voice vote.

And on Iraq, a bipartisan letter in the House on Iraq garnered 80 signatures in early July. The letter urged President Obama not to pursue military action in Iraq without direct congressional authorization and was sponsored by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.).

It is not too late to learn from our previous mistakes and to work at addressing root causes of the conflicts in the Middle East, rather than pursuing military solutions. Click here to respond to your representative’s vote on the Syria amendment.

Printed with permission from Third Way Café.