Waging Peace By Talking to ISIS

Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee is making waves with his odd foreign policy proposals — he’s put forth a daring plan to “Wage Peace”. The plan is daring only because it’s so rare for an American presidential candidate to make unconditional peace the cornerstone of his foreign policy.

On Rhode Island Public Radio this week, one local politico said that Chafee’s desire to wage peace “sounds nice — but one wonders how long we can maintain that position.” In other words, war is inescapable for whoever is elected President. It’s terrifying that this has become the default political position in the United States.

Chafee has gone so far as to say he would look to return Americans’ civil liberties, ban drones, bring Edward Snowden home, and end capital punishment (yes, this too is part of peace). Chafee’s platform went one step too far, however, when he said he’d consider talking to ISIS. This last idea is supposedly the one that proves everyone’s longstanding suspicion that Chafee is a few cards short of a full deck.

If talking to ISIS is a crazy idea, throw me in the insane asylum. Chafee’s suggestion that he’d explore “rapprochement” should give Americans hope that at least one public official, somewhere, is not seeking to become the next Murderer-in-Chief. Instead of blindly continuing his predecessors’ failed War on Terror, Chafee would make diplomacy America’s first option.

If Chafee’s Wage Peace slogan seems barely tolerable to the political class, his elaboration of the policy — namely, speaking to ISIS — is entirely taboo. ISIS is just too ghastly to listen to. They cannot be reasoned with. Unfortunately, this attitude is one that a vast majority of Americans embrace. It’s hard to understand what is so dreadful about the prospect of a talk-first, shoot-second mentality. Have government diplomats become so ineffective that talking to their enemies before bombing them is simply not open for debate?

I, for one, would love to hear what ISIS, or any of “our” other alleged enemies have to say for themselves. I’m interested in their underlying motives. And I’m not at all satisfied with having them explained to me by the United States government. The last time Americans allowed their government to explain to them the modus operandi of a foreign people, we learned Saddam Hussein was hell-bent on using his weapons of mass destruction and that al Qaeda hates Americans for their freedom.

I don’t suspect ISIS’ underlying motivation is benevolent. But I’d nonetheless like to know how much of their existence is thanks to American foreign policy. Al Qaeda has unequivocally stated that American military intervention in Arab lands was a primary reason for the 9/11 attacks. Of course, this was never explained to Americans by anyone in power, nor will it ever be. It shines too much light on American imperialism. Is ISIS also partially a creature of America’s own making?

We may never have good answers. The government recognizes that when the public learns too much about its activities, they generally don’t support them. Just look at how quickly they turned on government mass surveillance after Edward Snowden exposed its dark details.

Diplomacy-at-all-costs is key ending the War on Terror. Not because we desire the government to speak for us, or act on our behalves overseas. To the contrary, nothing the government has done should give us any confidence that they are capable of doing so. Rather, diplomacy is necessary to concluding the War on Terror because it allows Americans to hear from their government’s boogeymen. We just might learn that they’re not as irrational or scary as the state portrays them. The state’s war machine can’t function nearly as effectively when its propaganda is discredited. Informed decision-making — it’s not a lot to ask for.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory