Responding to Islamic State: Guiding Principles

Revised: 9/11/14

We believe, based in principle and history, that military action is not justified to respond to Islamic State violence in Iraq and Syria. Over and over again, the call and response is the same.

The U.S. must break out of this cycle of violence—acting immediately to address the crisis at hand and save civilian lives, but in a way that will help to unravel, not deepen, the entrenched conflicts behind the violence. Military action cannot address these root causes of violence.

Recognize that there are no quick fixes.

As the U.S. works over the long term to address violence conflict in the region, these three principles should guide the work:

Use tools to prevent crises before they begin.

The violence that we are witnessing in Iraq and Syria arises from complex, deeply entrenched conflicts. No effort will yield overnight results. Too often policymakers engage in a military-first approach in hopes of dislodging armed groups and gaining easy wins. This approach has failed. More than a decade of seeking military solutions to violent extremism has only yielded in a steady increase of extremist violence.

Look to the expertise within the community rather than imposing solutions from the outside.

We encourage policymakers to use this latest humanitarian crisis in Iraq to expand and hone the tools of civilian peacebuilding and crisis prevention. When genocide threatens, bombing is presented as the only option. The U.S. needs to have more and better tools in its toolbox.

Lift up civic engagement as the only effective and sustainable way forward.

Local leaders and activists are engaged daily in responding to extremist violence and insecurity, often through nonviolent means. Their knowledge and expertise in countering violent extremism should be central to any approach.

U.S. military actions will never be able to kill, eliminate or even contain every extremist group. More than a decade after 9/11, countless killings of extremist leaders have yielded minimal results in making the world and our country safer. The only way to diminish the power of extremist ideology is through the democratic process of upholding international rule of law, human rights and inclusivity.

The administration and your members of Congress aren't hearing enough of this perspective. Please contact them and encourage them to take steps to help end the violence in Iraq.

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