For the past month or so, Holy Cross Peace Action has been working to put together a successful event at which Congressman Jim McGovern would speak about his views on peace and security issues in the Middle East. This past Friday, this event came together wonderfully, with the Congressman speaking on end about the need for better conflict resolution strategies and how this need materializes itself in the everyday lives of we privileged Americans and the less privileged inhabitants of the countries over which American jets, bombers, and drones fly. His speech was followed by a discussion with what showed itself to be a very engaged audience, composed of students, faculty, campus staff, and members of the local Worcester community.
Congressman McGovern touched on many important planks of his sensible foreign policy, an overall approach which, if I were to try to distill down to its essence, revolves around the notion that the burden of proof for whether or not the United States should engage in forceful intervention in foreign countries lies with the advocates of such interventions, rather than with those voices, like Mr. McGovern’s, that urge restraint. What are our objectives? How will we know if we’ve achieved those objectives? What do we do when those objectives have been demonstrably achieved? These are some of the important questions he raised, which are of particular salience with ongoing American military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military commitments the United States has made in Afghanistan were in response to Al Qaeda’s presence there after orchestrating the attacks on the Twin Towers in September of 2001 and the reigning Taliban government’s refusal to turn the terrorist leaders over to us. The aim of toppling the Taliban from power was a means to the end of eradicating Al Qaeda from the country, yet 10,000 American soldiers remain in Afghanistan, battling a resurgent Taliban, despite Al Qaeda having all but disappeared there. The United States went into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime; then the objective changed to defeating the insurgency; and now we’re back, fighting ISIS. McGovern’s view is that we should not be engaging in military offensives unless we know how they end, which is something we certainly cannot say about many of our recent such engagements.
Furthermore, Congressman McGovern lamented Congress’s shirking of its constitutional duty to debate and either authorize or not authorize military engagements that the President proposes. While blame can be spread between the executive and the legislative, nothing changes the fact that Congress has the legal power to prevent military action that it believes to be either strategically unsound or unconstitutional, criteria which could certainly apply to any number of the country’s military engagements since September 2001, all of which have been justified by the President under the auspices of authorizations of military force passed by Congress in 2001 and 2002. Since 2001, American bombs have fallen in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen, all of which are justified under an authorization for the use of force against individuals and organizations that had a part in the terrorist attacks of September 11th or that have aided those organizations. Somehow it seems unlikely that all the bombs dropped in those seven countries in the past 15 years were all aimed at targets that fit that criteria.
The Congressman’s main thesis was that the chaos, political instability, and violence around the world will persist until people start learning how to live side by side with people who are different from themselves. Shias and Sunnis, Christians and Muslims, Democrats and Republicans; when groups allow differences of opinion to separate themselves into tribes, enmity and often violence ensue. While perhaps this is a simple and self evident truth, it is one that humanity still struggles to live by. The community at the College of the Holy Cross and Holy Cross Peace Action are incredibly grateful to Congressman McGovern for reminding us of this truth, for sharing with us his views on how this truth ought to be reflected in foreign policy, and for taking time out of his busy schedule of representing us in Congress to spend an intimate hour on our campus.