Crises in Ukraine and the Middle East test the West’s resolve

The chaos resulting from the ISIS offensive has split Iraq into three parts.

The chaos resulting from the ISIS offensive has split Iraq into three parts.

After the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, a large portion of the American populace has become more non-interventionist in their world outlook. Some will claim that the U.S. is imperialist in getting involved in foreign affairs, while others say that the United States government should focus on domestic affairs. Regardless, more Americans are starting to prefer that the U.S. not get involved in foreign military and political conflicts.

When President Obama was campaigning in 2008, one of his campaign promises was to end American involvement in Iraq. He also set the deadline for American withdraw from Afghanistan for the end of 2014. While he has rolled back American involvement to a degree, he has increased involvement in some areas, most notably when the U.S. launched airstrikes against Gaddafi’s forces during the Libyan Civil War in 2011. He also pondered airstrikes on al-Assad’s forces in the Syrian Civil War in the summer and fall of 2013 when Assad’s forces where suspected of using chemical weapons.

Two of the most pressing crises in the world today is the ongoing insurgency in east Ukraine and the ISIS insurgency in Iraq and Syria. Like the E.U., the U.S. has placed economic sanctions on Russia to pressure the Russian government to stop supporting insurgents in Ukraine. In Iraq, the American warplanes have been bombing ISIS positions in the north for a month.

Over the past few years, I have started to believe that the U.S. should no longer get too involved in other conflicts. Part of my reasoning is that I want countries to be free, safe, and stable with as little outside help as possible. If a country can only defeat an insurgency with the help of foreign troops, how will that country fare when foreign troops withdraw? If a country can handle its problems on its own, then it will be strong with or without any foreign assistance. It is similar to how a kid eventually has to ride a bike without training wheels.

However, in the midst of recent events, my stance has started changing. In eastern Ukraine, the death toll has now reached more than 3,000, most of those being civilians. On July 17, the world was shocked when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by insurgents over southeastern Ukraine, killing all 298 civilians on board. At that moment, the war was not only a regional, but an international affair. Most of the dead were from the Netherlands, Malaysia, and Australia, with many from the UK and Indonesia amongst others.

I think that the U.S. and NATO have to be more decisive in helping Ukraine help the Russian backed insurgency as it is a threat to international security. Not only have foreign civilians died in the conflict, but there are hundreds of foreigners fighting on both sides of the war, mainly from Russia and other former Soviet countries such as Uzbekistan. That means that after the war, hundreds of foreigners will return to their home countries with combat experience and the potential to stir up trouble.

ukraine soldiers flag

Along with piling on the sanctions, I think that the U.S. and other NATO countries should also give more material assistance to the Ukrainian military and even train its soldiers. Even though Moscow denies it, it is quite obvious that the Russian government gives material support to the insurgents. The Ukrainian government should get support too, but from the West. The West does a lot of talk of supporting Ukraine, but actions speak louder than words.

World Cultures teacher Mr. Spencer explained, “We pressured Ukraine to give up their nukes in return for our ‘protection’.”

U.S. Government teacher Mr. Gergen is supportive of action against Russia, but not on a military level. He explained, “We will not confront them militarily and adding weapons to the conflict will only inflame the situation! Continue with sanctions and force Russia to a price diplomatically and economically! But, economic sanctions will work only if Western European countries agree to go along!”

American History teacher Mr. Flaherty agreed and said, “A conservative approach is better to try and talk through the problems. You do not have to fight fire with fire every time.”

The other crisis which has spiraled out of control is the ISIS insurgency in Syria and Iraq. In the Syrian Civil War, the al-Assad government, jihadist groups, and other rebel groups have been fighting a vicious three-way. The largest and most powerful jihadist group is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, commonly known as ISIS. ISIS is a Sunni Muslim terrorist group which seeks to create a caliphate or Islamic state encompassing all of Iraq and Syria and beyond. They have support from Sunnis in Syria as well as Sunnis in northern Iraq who have been alienated by Iraq’s Shiite Muslim dominated government.

Starting in June, ISIS launched a blitzkrieg offensive in both Iraq and Syria. They quickly conquered a large portion of eastern Syria and northern Iraq, effectively erasing the border in the process. In areas under their control, they have implemented an extremely strict interpretation of Sharia law. They have also murdered and expelled hundreds of Shiite Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis in a campaign of genocide.

ISIS finally hit the American public hard after an ISIS terrorist beheaded American journalist James Foley, who had been kidnapped by ISIS in Syria. A few weeks after Foley’s beheading, ISIS beheaded another American journalist, Steven Sotloff.

While noted for its brutality, ISIS is also the most well-funded terrorist organization in the world. They receive funding from Sunni countries, and from selling oil from oil fields they control. They have no shortage of foreign volunteers as well. Hundreds of Muslims from all over the world have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight for ISIS, mostly from Muslim countries such as Egypt and Yemen.

ISIS fighters have also come from Western countries. There are so many British Muslims fighting in ISIS that he British government raised its terrorism threat level. Two weeks ago, two American Muslims in ISIS were killed in battle. The FBI estimates that as many as 100 Americans are in the ranks of the organization.

A month ago, the U.S. started attacking ISIS positions in Iraq from the air. The airstrikes have helped both the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi military make gains against ISIS, but the group is still nevertheless a major threat.

I think that the United States and other nations should take a hardline stance against ISIS. Economic sanctions won’t work because the Islamic State founded by ISIS is not a legitimate country, such as Russia. To defeat and destroy ISIS means concrete, material support. That includes giving more weapons and funds to Kurds in northern Iraq and giving more support to the Iraqi military. If the West gives more support to moderate rebel forces in Syria, they have the potential to defeat both al-Assad’s government and jihadists such as ISIS.

Obama has made it clear that the U.S. will send ground troops to fight ISIS, and many Americans still don’t want to see another American war in Iraq. American History teacher Mr. Flaherty explained, “We need to sit back and see what happens. The American people do not need another war right now.”

There is also a political solution to defeating ISIS. One of the reasons ISIS became so popular among Iraq’s Sunnis is that they became alienated after the Shiite dominated government that took power after Saddam Hussein was overthrown during the 2003 invasion. If the Iraqi government and people can find common ground and unite Iraq’s Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites, the sectarian conflict in Iraq can finally be resolved.

Hopefully, with a strong response from the U.S. and other countries, the crises in Ukraine and Middle East can finally be resolved.