By Robert Reich
We appear to be moving ever closer toward a world war against the Islamic State.
No sane person welcomes war. Yet if we do go to war against ISIS we must keep a watchful eye on 5 things:
1. The burden of fighting the war must be widely shared among Americans.
America’s current “all-volunteer” army is comprised largely of lower-income men and women for whom army pay is the best option.
“We’re staring at the painful story of young people with fewer options bearing the greatest burden,“ says Greg Speeter, executive director of the National Priorities Project, whose study found low- and middle-income families supply far more Army recruits than families with incomes greater than $60,000 a year.
That’s not fair. Moreover, when the vast majority of Americans depend on a small number of people to fight wars for us, the public stops feeling the toll such wars take.
From World War II until the final days of the Vietnam War, in July 1973, nearly every young man in America faced the prospect of being drafted into the Army.
Sure, many children of the rich found means to stay out of harm’s way. But the draft at least spread responsibility and heightened the public’s sensitivity to the human costs of war.
If we go into a ground war against ISIS, we should seriously consider reinstating the draft.
2. We must not sacrifice our civil liberties.
U.S. spy agencies no longer have authority they had in the post-9/11 USA Patriot Act to collect Americans’ phone and other records. The NSA must now gain court approval for such access.
But in light of the Paris attacks, the FBI director and other leading U.S. law enforcement officials now say they need access to encrypted information on smartphones, personal and business records of suspected terrorists, and “roving wiretaps” of suspects using multiple disposable cell phones.
War can also lead to internment of suspects and suspensions of constitutional rights, as we’ve painfully witnessed.
Donald Trump says he’d require American Muslims to register in a federal data base, and he refuses to rule out requiring all Muslims to carry special religious identification.
“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before….we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago,” he adds.
We must be vigilant that we maintain the freedoms we are fighting for.
3. We must minimize the deaths of innocent civilians abroad.
The bombing raids have already claimed a terrible civilian toll, contributing to a mass exodus of refugees.
Last month the independent monitoring group Airwars said at least 459 civilians have died from coalition airstrikes in Syria over the past year. Other monitoring groups, including the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also claim significant civilian deaths.
Some civilian casualties are unavoidable. But we must ensure they are minimized – and not just out of humanitarian concern. Every civilian death creates more enemies.
And we must do our part to take in a fair portion of Syrian refugees.
4. We must not tolerate anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States.
Already, leading Republican candidates are fanning the flames.
Ben Carson says no Muslim should be president.
Ted Cruz wants to accept Christians refugees from Syrian but not Muslims.
Jeb Bush says American assistance for refugees should focus on Christians.
Marco Rubio wants to close down “any place where radicals are being inspired,” including American mosques.
It’s outrageous that leading Republican candidates for president of the United States are fueling such hate.
Such bigotry is not only morally odious. It also plays into the hands of ISIS.
5. The war must be paid for with higher taxes on the rich.
A week before the terrorist attacks in Paris, the Senate passed a $607 billion defense spending bill, with 93 senators in favor and 3 opposed (including Bernie Sanders). The House has already passed it, 370 to 58. Obama has said he’ll sign it.
That defense appropriation is larded with pork for military contractors – including Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons system in history.
Now Republicans are pushing for even more military spending.
We cannot let them use the war as a pretext to cut Social Security and Medicare, or programs for the poor.
The war should be paid for the way we used to pay for wars – with higher taxes, especially on the wealthy.
As we move toward war against ISIS, we must be vigilant – to fairly allocate the burdens of who’s called on to fight the war, to protect civil liberties, to protect innocent civilians abroad, to avoid hate and bigotry, and to fairly distribute the cost of paying for war.
These aren’t just worthy aims. They are also the foundations of our nation’s strength.