Rev. Jim Wallis, Sojourners CEO and a White House spiritual adviser, appeared on The Bill Press Show Monday morning to discuss the crisis in the Middle East over the Islamist State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Wallis had earlier written an op-ed for the Huffington Post entitled ‘War Is Not The Answer‘ opposing the use of military force to defeat the jihadist group. But Wallis took the anti-war and anti-oil themes of that piece to the extreme in his interview, arguing that the blame for ISIS lay with America and that prominent conservatives wanted to invade and occupy every country in the world.
Wallis told host Bill Press that before discussing how to deal with ISIS, the important question was why ISIS was drawing so many recruits to begin with. He said that the Middle East was full of uneducated young people who were “responding to real grievances. What are the real grievances? The oil economy.”
“For a decade, we have created the Middle East.” Wallis claimed, “We’ve created countries, we’ve shifted borders to create this oil machine to satisfy our addictions… Until we deal with the oil economy, the injustice of it, and our need to completely change our way of fueling our way of life, we’re going to have one ISIS after another.”
Later, he was even more straightforward in blaming the United States for ISIS. “Our oil economy has produced a brutal, uniquely brutal terrorist organization funding themselves by oil and using our weapons to kill people. This is the result of our policy in the Middle East.”
Wallis also reiterated his opposition to airstrikes against ISIS: “Airstrikes kill innocent people, they always do. And that’ll be used by ISIS to recruit more people. They want airstrikes. They want us to kill innocent people, and they’ll recruit more angry people to their cause.”
But perhaps a bit paradoxically, Wallis did say that he thought some force against ISIS would be justified. “The Pope has said– and I agree– that you have to try to protect innocent people. So some use of force to protect innocent people is necessary. But the Pope has said more war isn’t the answer.”
Wallis said that many of the prominent Republican leaders who have spoken out in favor of military action against ISIS were actually concerned about oil, and wanted to invade every country in the Middle East. “[Arizona Senator] John McCain and [South Carolina Senator] Lindsey Graham and [former Vice President] Dick Cheney say you need to have forces on the ground. So here’s their answer. To maintain this oil economy, you must serially invade and occupy every country in the Middle East.”
He went even further, accusing McCain of supporting a mass imperialistic invasion of the entire world. “If we left 40,000 troops in Iraq, there might not be an ISIS. But John McCain wants that many troops in every Middle Eastern country, and all over the world. This is Rome! We’re going to be Rome. Let’s occupy every country. We’ll need a draft for that; you’ll need half a million troops.
…[S]o let’s name this for what it is,” Wallis said, “serial invasion and occupation of every country.”
In an email, Sojourners press secretary Juliet Vedral clarified that she believed Wallis was “making a general reference and commentary Senator McCain’s well-known endorsement of military invasions as a solution to conflict and maintaining troops in those countries after our invasions.”
Wallis had a few suggestions on how to combat ISIS, including sanctions. But the sanctions he had in mind were against U.S. allies. “Saudi Arabia is also funding ISIS, we all know that. There are foundations and companies. There are companies in Turkey funding ISIS. We’re not sanctioning ISIS until we’re sanctioning countries that fund ISIS.” He focused in particular on the Saudis, who he characterized as greedy sheikhs concerned only with their oil money and their harems.
Contrary to Wallis’ confident claim, other Middle East scholars state that “there is no credible evidence that the Saudi government is financially supporting ISIS.” Indeed, Saudi Arabia is one of the most vocally anti-ISIS Arab countries and reportedly has already offered to attack ISIS. In response to my questions on this point, Sojourner’s Juliet Vedral provided links of articles that have quoted similar accusations, including Slate, The Atlantic, and BBC. But those accusations come from the Qatari and Iraqi governments, both of whom have contentious relationships with the Saudis (and the third article actually straight up says that Saudi Arabia was “innocent of a direct state policy to fund [ISIS],” but made poor choices in which Syrian rebels to fund).
Wallis’ other suggestion was a complete restricting of the U.S. economy to eliminate the use of oil. “This is a time to ourselves, look at the way we structure the Middle East, and look at how we fuel our economy. This country could commit itself all-out to a new energy future, a clean energy future, and become independent of Middle East oil.”
Video of the entire interview can be seen here, beginning at 1:28:30 and ending at 1:50:00.