The mounting successes of brutal terrorists in Iraq continue to have our leaders scrambling to find some kind of face-saving steps to take—the definition of which is something that looks like action at first glance and which helps to deflect blame. In support of the latter, our president has become increasingly critical of Nouri al-Maliki, the leader of the Iraqi government that we installed. But he’s stopped short of calling for the guy’s resignation. Why? According our president, “It’s not our job to choose Iraq’s leaders.”
This statement rises to such a high order of ridiculousness that we really need a new word to capture the concept. Let’s call it an absurdocity—a ridiculous verbal atrocity committed against logic and reason that travels at the speed of light, goes off with a brilliant flash, and puts failures of leadership into stark relief. It’s not our role to meddle in Iraq’s leadership? Didn’t we spend a trillion dollars and stack up 4,500 American war dead to accomplish that very thing? I believe we called it “regime change” at the time. As in, the leaders in place were not to our liking, we wanted new ones, and we made it happen. But it’s none of our affair now? I’m curious, when did we pass this “it’s not our job” rule forbidding us to so much as express an opinion about the leadership of other countries? Clearly, it must have been sometime after President Obama called for Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi to step down. And after he applauded Gaddafi’s death. And after he called on Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to take a hike. But now, apparently, expressing such opinions is out of line. Does this mean he takes back what he said about Assad?
“What’s needed is a coalition government.” President Obama certainly is not alone in heaping blame on al-Maliki for failing to embrace the Sunnis and put together a coalition government. Right now it’s the thing to do. The “failure” is obvious, but scapegoating al-Maliki is disingenuous. Note that in our own country, we barely have a “coalition government” ourselves, and our main opposing forces haven’t shot at each other, much, since 1865. The Sunnis and Shiites have been at it since the death of the Prophet in 632 AD. Whatever your political leanings, can you imagine working with your opponents if they regularly shot or tortured your friends and relatives and car-bombed your neighborhoods? To expect al-Maliki, or anyone else in Iraq, to solve this centuries-old problem—especially after we’ve washed our hands of it—is an absurdocity of the highest rank.
“It’s not about religion.” University of Arizona professor Maggy Zanger wrote a column for our local morning paper assuring us that the current fight is not about anyone's faith. “No, this is political,” she says. Sure. The defining difference between the two sides began with the aforementioned religious schism 1,400 years ago, at the very birth of Islam. And according to media reports ISIS (or ISIL depending on which media source you prefer) has been establishing fundamentalist Islamic law in some of its captured territories. The terrorists consider Shiites “apostates” and have wearied their arms decapitating them. But don’t let that fool you into believing that religious differences have anything to do with it.
“Iraq needs American advisers.” The president has flatly ruled out putting any more American boots on the ground in Iraq. But a few days ago he announced he was sending in a few hundred combat-ready troops to protect our embassy. And now we learn that 300 “military advisers” will follow. Perhaps they’ll all be wearing Nikes.
Reportedly when we were “negotiating” with Iraq in 2011 for a security agreement to keep at least some U.S. troops there, we considered leaving a force as small as 5,000 in place, but this idea was rejected on the grounds that such a small contingent would spend all of its time protecting itself and would be able to accomplish nothing of military value. Now an even tinier force will be able to do something significant? Care to take any bets on whether we’ll need to send in a larger force to rescue them all later?
Iraq doesn’t need American advisers. Its armed forces could use some intestinal fortitude. Can’t ship that.
Our state department has a clear vision of Iran’s role in Iraq’s future. That idea is an absurdocity. When asked point blank whether the U.S. would support Iran’s intervention (which, according to media reports, is already underway), Secretary of State John Kerry said (quoting from the department’s website): “I—at this moment, I think we need to go step by step and see what, in fact, might be a reality, but I wouldn't rule out anything that would be constructive to providing real stability, a respect for the constitution, a respect for the election process, and a respect for the ability of the Iraqi people to form a government that represents all of the interests of Iraq, not one sectarian group over another.” So—are we OK with Iran (the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism--you know, those guys) invading Iraq, or no? If you know what Kerry said, congratulations, you have just passed your Politispeak exam. Please drop me a line with the translation.
Bush was right. Our former vice president, über-hawk Dick Cheney, recently co-authored a scathing op-ed in which he pointed out that the Bush administration had left Iraq in fine shape. “When Mr. Obama and his team came into office in 2009, al Qaeda in Iraq had been largely defeated, thanks primarily to the heroic efforts of U.S. armed forces during the surge.” The problem is that Cheney conveniently overlooks that fact that al-Qaeda became a threat there only after we blew the country up. We had to fight it because we’d destroyed the power structure that had kept it in check. Or, put another way, we killed the hawk that was eating our chickens, but then forgot that it also ate the rats. It is certainly true that Iraq has gone to hell on Obama’s watch. But in withdrawing from Iraq, the president did what we elected him to do, in fulfillment of a campaign promise. And as a people, we really hate it when our leaders blow off their promises. Americans were fed up with the war precisely because the arguments leading up to it turned out to be misleading if not downright dishonest. To suggest that the previous administration was in no way responsible for any of this is an absurdocity.
Which leads us to the current problem. Hawks who would have us go back in to solve this crisis have lost all credibility with the American people. These are the same folks who assured us that we had to go into Iraq (for a second time) to get rid of their weapons of mass destruction, who told us Iraq would be so much better off as a democracy, that the people there would give us the same cheering, flower-tossing welcome we got when we liberated Paris, and that the Sunnis and Shiites would embrace each other after centuries of conflict and bask in the warm glow of liberties provided by the American democratic ideal. There is no chance—none—that the American people will listen to those right-wingers now about the need for a third intervention. Not even if they’re right in this instance.
When the wood are on fire, you don’t stop to argue over who set it. You put it out, especially if it threatens your own property. But that’s not what we’re going to do. Distrust of the hawks amongst us is not the only reason. Conversations with my liberal friends have led me to believe that many of us simply do not believe another 9/11 can happen. One told me he regarded such an idea as “chicken little” thinking, and any reference to 9/11 in this debate as hyperbole. Man, I hope he's right. More to the point, we'd better all hope he is. But today our own dovish state department reported that right now there are more people on earth displaced by violence and conflict than at any time since WWII. In other words, the world hasn't been this dangerous in 70 years. The report named Syria and Iraq as two of the main reasons why.
Yesterday I had the privilege of spending a couple of hours bloviating on this and related subjects on Tucson’s Powertalk 1210 with host Jim Parisi. (If you haven’t checked out the station, you should. It’s something different in talk radio—a non-partisan platform where all ideas are welcome and no one gets shouted down or treated disrespectfully. It’s available on the Internet, too). One caller suggested that our country should put aside the partisan bickering for a moment and simply focus on what action would best serve America’s security interests, working together to figure that out.
Great idea. But I fear it’s one whose time has not yet come.
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