Co-authored by Mike LaSusa, Marcus D. Banks, & Rich Webster.
The Millennial generation grew up with the Iraq War. We grew up with our classmates being shipped off to fight faraway battles. We grew up watching Operation Iraqi Freedom unfold on our television screens, later on our internet browsers and some of us fought on the front lines. By the time the war finally "ended" in December 2011, many of us who had been in middle school when the first bombs fell were old enough to watch the footage of US troops and equipment rolling out of the country while sipping a beer at our local bar.
Now, Iraq is back. In recent weeks, a militant organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS among other names, has swept into western and northern areas of the country. Sadly, with all the carnage, TV interviews, and war drums beating, the one group that has been missing from the conversation is Millennials - those of us who grew up with and fought in the Iraq war. Here is our solution.
Our generation neither planned nor voted for the war that began in 2003, but we have paid for it nonetheless. On top of its stratospheric monetary cost - projected to reach $4 to $6 trillion - the war has taken the lives of nearly 4,500 of our fellow citizens, many of them Millennials. It has also resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians.
Sadly, many of today's political leaders also served as cheerleaders for the 2003 invasion and some of them want to put boots back on the ground, risking more Millennial lives. Senator John McCain claimed that the complex situation is the "heavy price" of ending the US occupation of Iraq. And to him we say, no way! No more troops! No more American lives and no more long-term US engagements!
Here is the good news. Our generation is not alone. A strong majority of Americans today deplore another US intervention in Iraq, whether in the form of "boots on the ground" or bombs from the sky. What Americans really want is for us to rebuild here at home, instead of policing the globe against violent terrorist groups.
Here at home, youth unemployment rates are nearly twice as high as the rate for all workers. Nearly three-quarters of employees earning the federal minimum wage are between the age of 16 and 34. And more and more Millennials are waking up to the triple threat of skyrocketing cost of higher education, debilitating interest payments and astronomical student loan debt. Our swollen defense budget does not need another reason to grow when in 2011, 20% of our federal budget was spent on defense and just 2% was spent on education.
At the same time, the vast majority of Americans strongly favor the United States playing a key role on the international scene by working multilaterally. We do not want to see Iraqis plunged once again into the devastating sectarian violence that wracked the country in the mid-2000s.
And thus we present the millennial plan to bring about an end to the longstanding Iraqi conflict and bring relative stability to the war ravaged Mideast. And upfront we concede that our solution is a rational plan for irrational actors. The best possible outcome we can hope for is meaningful discussion between key players that keeps the United States out of another large-scale conflict.
Engaging Iran: An old Arabic proverb states that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Millennials call this a "Frenemy". This strategy of engaging nations with a common enemy is nothing new in world history or American foreign policy. During World War II, the United States teamed up with our foe the Soviet Union to defeat the brutal dictator Adolf Hitler. And what we learned during those 6 years of war is that nations can work towards a common goal without agreeing on certain other issues.
Which brings us to why we should engage Iran. Iran is an emerging power that is already deeply involved in the region. In the case of Iraq, Iran and the US have complementary interests. Both nations want to prop up the current Shi'a-run government of Nouri al-Maliki.
Let's face it: engaging Iran is not only the responsible to do, it is the right thing to. We can't be the "Mean Girls" of international politics. Whether we agree or disagree with Iran's nuclear policy, not seeking their cooperation in Iraq when they are already involved in the conflict is straight-up ridiculous.
Seven Party Talks: After engaging Iran, the US should work on developing a regional coalition that can help usher in a new framework to a destabilized Iraq. It is very clear from the current climate that the Iraqi government has no clue about how to engage the factions or those that disagree with the current government structure. So let's give them a little help.
As the country that played a major role in pushing Iraq into this situation, the US should take the lead in bringing together various stakeholders including Iran, Turkey, the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Sunni Leadership (Military Council of the Tribes), the al-Maliki government and an intergovernmental organization such as the UN or the Arab League.
All of these players have an interest in stopping the advance of ISIS and establishing peace and stability in Iraq. The US does not bear all of the responsibility for what is happening in Iraq and solving the current crisis will be much easier with the involvement of regional partners.
A Three State Solution: It is our hope that these talks will culminate in three-state solution. Let's face the music: the current Iraqi government is an utter failure, our aid dollars are going to waste, and many of the development projects critical to bring Iraq back are in complete ruin. The multi-party talks will hopefully lead to what Vice President Biden called for almost 10 years ago, three distinct states 𐆑 a Sunni territory in the northwest, a Kurdish territory in the northeast, and a Shiite territory in the south.
The solution would contain ISIS radicalism by uplifting and appeasing the Military Council of Tribes and will also fulfill the promise of a Kurdish state, which has been the call of the Kurdish Regional Government since the dawn of time. This solution could also result in more international cooperation and a potential regional peace.
While our solution assumes a great deal of rationalism and a pinch of idealism, the truth is the Iraq quagmire must end and end quickly! Our generation deserves a meaningful end to a baby-boomer/warmonger created conflict and that end must include rational conversation, not more boots on the ground. The only way to honor the lives of those that have fallen in Iraq is to forge a meaningful peace in the region.
The Millennial Solution is a collaboration of Foreign Affairs Writer and Researcher Mike LaSusa, Military Expert and Veteran, Marcus D. Banks, Political Commentator and Co-Founder of Richard Media Company, Rich Webster, and Nationally Syndicated Radio Host/Millennial Engagement Specialist, Richard Fowler.
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