Vietnam combat veteran Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is being replaced by long time Pentagon insider Ashton Carter. President Obama announced him as his nominee to replace Hagel today.
It is our hope as veterans who have served in war and times of relative peace that the Obama Administration take this opportunity with its fourth Secretary of Defense to change the direction of U.S. foreign policy. By any measure, be it the Obama or Bush Administrations, U.S. foreign policy has been a failure. The past decade of endless war has not solved any global challenges. U.S. foreign policy has directly led to the rise of the brutal Islamic State in Iraq. There is more terrorism, more destabilized nations and more people around the world who have an unfavorable opinion of the U.S.
As the nation begins the year 2015 and the Obama Administration looks to evaluate itself and retool to govern, we call on the president to take bold action and step out in a direction of peace. We call on the president to withdraw from Afghanistan, we support the president’s efforts at diplomacy with Iran and we remind the president that there are other means to address the Islamic State than the U.S. waging war.
- Stop the airstrikes because the Sunni leaders and militia, who President Obama acknowledges must be persuaded to break with ISIL, see the U.S. as acting as the air force for the Kurds and Shia against Sunnis. The driving force for the Sunni-ISIL alliance is the alienation of Sunnis from Baghdad by the previous Iraqi administration. Bombing Sunnis will not help mend this relationship.
- Stop the slippery slope of sending troops to Iraq and stop sending more weapons that fuel the conflict killing more civilians and ignoring human rights violations committed by “allies.” This includes pressuring countries to stop supporting and selling arms to ISIL and stopping all black market weapons sales.
- Make diplomacy the number one priority. Since it is clear there is no military solution, seriously engage with everyone in the region, including Iran who is needed to force the Iraqi government to be more inclusive with Sunni leaders. Without an inclusive government in Iraq there is no way to effectively confront ISIL.
- Initiate a new effort at building a broad diplomatic solution in the United Nations to use diplomatic and financial pressure to stop countries from financing and arming ISIL and other fighters in Syria. An arms embargo on all sides should be on the long-term agenda.
- Make a real effort to restart UN negotiations to end the civil war in Syria. Set aside preconceived demands and work to end the violence. Once that is achieved the people of Syria can begin to chart their destiny. Iran should be included, not excluded, from Syria peace talks if they are to be successful.
- Massively increase humanitarian efforts through the UN and any other means. Real and effective efforts to relieve suffering will go a long way in convincing people to break with ISIL. More U.S. bombings and killings will only confirm that the U.S. is the enemy of Islam.
The President and soon to be Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter have a new opportunity to lead the world in waging peace rather than in waging war. After a more than a decade of war that has clearly only led to more war, it is time to give peace a chance. If we are willing to sacrifice lives to the altar of war, can we not begin to risk ourselves for a vision of peace? When will we begin to teach our children that violence, killing and war are not the answers by not only instructing them not to be violent, but by also reflecting it in our lives and foreign policy?