A cynic once said, "the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history."

Perhaps this is true, but I certainly hope not. Our government is considering what to do about the civil war in Syria, ISIS terrorism, the refugee crisis and the recent attacks in Paris. One possibility is mounting a second round of the war on terror. But what can be learned from the first round launched after 9/11?

The first round removed the Taliban government in Afghanistan anddictator Saddam Hussein in Iraq. However, the successive regimes are arguably far worse . Despite immense destruction and killing, the war in Afghanistan drags on and, despite the continued presence of American troops, the Taliban is making a comeback. The people of Afghanistan have, in effect, traded a fundamentalist Islamic tyranny for a condition of perpetual violence and insecurity. The U.S. has earned no lasting gratitude or reliable allies from its Afghanistan endeavors.

The outcome in Iraq is even worse. Perhaps half a million Iraqis have died as a direct or indirect result of the U.S. invasion. Three million more are internally displaced or have fled. Iraqi society is deeply fragmented and its economic system is largely non-functional. The invasion ignited an ethnic war between Sunni and Shiite populations which spread to the Middle East. The invasion also spawned the barbaric ISIS movement, which currently controls much of Iraq and Syria, and which organizes terrorist attacks abroad.


The obvious lesson of the war on terror's first round is that "wars on terror" are counterproductive when dealing with complex problems in foreign societies. Bombing ISIS will not eliminate the plague of terrorism or abbreviate the Syrian civil war. On the contrary, a second war on terror will probably metastasize the terrorist plague and prolong the Syrian conflict. It will surely propagate Islamophobia and convince many Muslims that, as ISIS claims, the West hates Islam.

A more promising approach entails halting all foreign intervention in the Syrian conflict and imposing a strict arms embargo on the region. Without foreign sustenance, that bloody war would soon grind to a halt. A rigorous nonintervention policy would require that Washington muzzle our own military-industrial complex. It would also necessitate strong pressure on our allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, to prevent them from supporting Syrian combatants. Western countries must abandon long-standing endeavors to control Middle Eastern politics. For better or for worse, the people of the region must have genuine self-determination. Adopting such an approach would suggest that political leaders really can learn something from history.

Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.