As we mark the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, it is remarkable how much has changed in the world and, yet, how much remains the same.
While there has not been a subsequent terrorist attack in the U.S., extremist Muslim factions are as deadly as ever and their murderous reach is spreading. Perhaps this is the greatest tragedy of America’s post 9/11 invasion of Iraq. Because it was based on false claims and lasted much longer than Americans were led to believe it would, we are now weary (and wary) of international intervention at precisely the time the need for it is fully evident — and justified.
Further, the U.S. invasion has bred a new generation of radicals, who are well armed, thanks in part to weapons left behind by U.S. forces and taken from a weak Iraqi police and military.
Today, lawmakers face the same questions that vexed them in the wake of 9/11. What is the role of the U.S. in the world? Is it to spread democracy, as was the mantra of the Bush administration? Is it to halt the growing reach of the Islamic State, or ISIS? To protect innocent civilians from murderous thugs and regimes? Or is it unrealistic to expect a single nation to confront these global problems?
Are any of these goals achievable? At what cost, both in terms of money and human lives? Are Americans willing to bear these costs? As we’ve seen with the long U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, even extended on-the-ground operations often end without success, and at great cost to the U.S. — especially military families.
These are the important questions being asked by Maine’s congressional delegation. They are questions President Obama must answer, in his speech to the nation Wednesday night and in his dealings with Congress on this issue. So far, the president has been vague and noncommittal about his plans. Stern condemnations are meaningless to men who behead journalists and pose afterward for videos. However, the president can’t and shouldn’t proceed headlong into a military engagement without congressional consent. To earn that support, he must have a clear and achievable strategy.
“It is time to act, but the question is: What is the action?” Sen. Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees, said Wednesday on CNN.
There are two questions that must drive the U.S. response to ISIS, King said. First, what are our vital national interests with regard to ISIS and its propensity for barbaric violence? Second, what is the mission the U.S. aims to achieve? This will determine the appropriate action, which could be — or might not be — air strikes directed at Iraq and maybe Syria.
As we learned from our previous Middle East engagements, rooting out terrorists can’t be accomplished with just airstrikes. “There will be boots on the ground,” King said. But, whose boots — American or United Nations?
Rep. Mike Michaud shares these concerns, and rightly focuses on the long-term consequences of U.S. military involvement.
“There is no doubt that ISIS presents a threat — not just to America, but to the world. The next step must be for the president to articulate a clear and comprehensive strategy for confronting ISIS and protecting American interests and lives,” Rep. Mike Michaud said Tuesday in a press release.
“We have seen the impacts of open-ended military conflicts both on our service members and on our nation’s psyche,” Michaud, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, added. “I understand acutely the need to think about what committing troops to a military conflict means not just in the present — but in the future, when those brave men and women return home from service.”
ISIS, and similarly minded groups elsewhere, must be confronted. That responsibility must be borne by moderate forces within the Middle East and by other nations. The U.S. likely has a role to play, but it must be clearly defined, appropriately supported and limited in duration.