In medicine, the first principle is to do no harm. That's because in the course of treating disease, there are many things that can go wrong. Over-treating disease can lead to more harm than good, even killing the patient.
The "do no harm" principle is enshrined in the practice of medicine because it's easy to overreact in the name of "trying" something that proves to worsen the situation. The principle acts as a curb on good intentions gone awry.
President Obama, I urge you to adopt this first principle for your policy actions in the Middle East and to restrain our country from war.
Like you, I have been dismayed and disgusted by the actions of ISIL. They are clearly some of the worst actors on the global stage. In the face of callous beheadings, our emotions scream at us to eradicate the "disease" with as much force as is required.
But that will undoubtedly lead to further unintended consequences, just as previous military operations destabilized the region and drained our treasury.
We risk polarizing still more good-hearted Muslims. We risk playing into ancient tensions between Shiites and Sunnis. We risk placing more powerful military equipment in the hands of dangerous characters. We risk leaving a legacy of psychological and physical damage that is attributed to us rather than ISIL.
We risk another decade in a war we cannot win because it ultimately involves the hearts and minds of people in dozens of countries and those cannot be conquered with guns.
If we wish to help the world, it is our moral and ethical responsibility to always take the higher ground and model the higher path. I know that you have studied and admired some of the great pioneers of non-violence in the world such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Many in their same circumstances saw violence as the only pathway to shift oppression and root out the "disease" of the day. And yet, by steadfastly claiming the higher ground and calling for the evolution of our conscience and our world, Gandhi and MLK and many others lit the way to a higher possibility for humanity.
By descending into war with ISIL, we lose that higher ground and begin to activate and accelerate the forces of still more degradation and depravity. Each kill leaves another festering sore.
In the eyes of many Muslims, it is most certainly not a fair fight and America will gradually and perhaps inevitably begin to be perceived as the overzealous outsider rather than the redeemer we wish to be.
In Syria, patience and diplomacy resulted in the eradication of the chemical stockpiles without inflaming anti-U.S. sentiment. Now, with ISIL, let us do no harm and find the pathway to a peaceful evolution of the region without causing more harm than we seek to cure.