Debate on ISIL Ignites Feelings Among Culver City Residents

 

March 26, 2015

In the tradition of town hall meetings, Congresswoman Karen Bass, whose district includes Culver City, held a town meeting on March 12 to present arguments involving authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS.

President Obama (who was in fact, in town for a fundraiser in Santa Monica) has submitted a draft AUMF to Congress with the intention of "degrade[ing] and defeat[ing] ISIL." The AUMF would have a three-year "sunset" clause, meaning that any military action would end after three years unless authorized by Congress; it would not authorize ground combat operations; it would repeal the 2002 AUMF against Iraq that was authorized under the George W. Bush administration.

The meeting drew a packed house of over 300 people, at the auditorium of the Culver Senior Center. Most of the audience members were seniors or baby boomers who remembered the days of anti-Vietnam war protests.

Indeed, the vibe of "no more war" hung over the event, which Bass had organized to give Culver City citizens information about the Obama Administration's draft of the AUMF, the problems with the decision that Congress will have to make to approve authorization or not, and to give residents a chance to sound off on what they think the issues are.


Bass introduced Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad, an author and professor of political science, as the event's moderator. Dr. Samad noted that "foreign policy gives America the most heartburn because it has been most disingenuous when it comes to the use of military force."

Dr. Erroll Southers, director of transition and research deployment for the Department of Homeland Security, gave a brief summary of the development of ISIL.

The organization developed out of the remains of Al Queda but it has advantages over the older organization: it is well-funded, it uses the Internet and social media (as Dr. Southers put it: "a social media strategy of the 21st century to push a 17th century agenda"), and it attacks multiple targets. ISIL is already notorious for its extreme brutality involving beheadings and torture of its victims.

ISIL now controls about 13,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria. ISIL operatives are believed to be living in all 50 states of the U.S. and are recruiting mostly young men of Middle Eastern descent to leave the United States and join up with them.

Following this disquieting information, Dr. Samad turned to the panel of assembled "debaters" for the evening: Kal Raustiala, professor of law from UCLA, David Kaye, professor of law at U.C. Irvine, and Andrew Liepman, senior policy analyst at RAND Corporation.

Dr. Samad asked the three men first if they thought ISIL was a "threat" and if so, how much of a threat to the U.S. and the world?

Raustiala noted that "we are already engaged" in fighting ISIL but what the President is seeking is "the ability to take force when needed as part of a larger coalition." So far, over 60 countries have signed on to the goal of eliminating the threat posed by ISIL. (List can be seen at http://www.state.gov/s/seci/).

In addition, said Raustiala, Obama wants to signal to ISIL and to the coalition that "the entire country thinks this is an issue."

"We're a democracy-Congress should play a role."

Kaye sounded a slightly more dove-like note when he said that "there is a debate we are not having" in regard to whether force should be used in the first place. He observed that "we've been here before" in authorizing military force in other countries and becoming mired. Yet, there is a clear and present danger from ISIL that we would be wrong to ignore.

Liepman talked of how dangerous ISIL is. "This is not just another terrorist organization," he said. "This group is truly evil." Yes, Liepman noted, Obama had been reluctant at first to confront ISIL but the actions of ISIL against the Kurds, against other U.S. allies in the region, and against the Assyrian Christian community, have "forced our hand."

Subsequent topics included a discussion of how to interpret the AUMF's use of the word "enduring" in regard to military force, and whether the military force should be limited geographically.

When the floor was opened up for audience questions and comments, however, two very long lines formed at both sides of the room. And what most people seemed to want to say was that, no matter how definite the threat might be, they as Americans did not want to be party to yet another "limited" war.

"There's no way we can win this! It's not worth it!" proclaimed a man who identified himself as a former member of the U.S. Armed Forces.

"I'm tired of you advisors and your 'slippery slopes,' " he added.

Another speaker decried "American hypocrisy" that results in war being waged only against certain terrorist groups and not others.

A young woman named Lisa Vasquez had an important question relating to Dr. Souther's recited background of ISIL.

In regard to the information that ISIL members might be recruiting in all 50 states, she wanted to know what kind of "backlash" that might trigger if we are officially engaged in military action against ISIL.

Dr. Souther knew what she was referring to: America's history of interring Japanese during World War II, for example. He warned that no good could come from "profiling" and that the Middle Eastern communities in the U.S. should address the recruitment through public meetings and talking to their youth.

Congresswoman Bass and the rest of Congress will eventually be voting on the AUMF. In the meantime, Bass certainly received an earful from her Culver City constituents.

 

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