Friday, June 13, 2014

Let the Iraq Blame Game Begin

It won’t solve anything.  But as a feel-good exercise, it can’t be beat.  And there is something to be said about embracing this comforting, long-standing U.S. political tradition.

You can always tell when a situation has transitioned from “Going to Hell” and has arrived at “Gone to Hell.”  It’s the precise moment when politicians bust out with the pointing fingers and begin jabbing them in each other’s faces.  When you see our leaders engaging in that long-standing American tradition, you know with certainty that your speeding hand basket has just crossed the Hell city limits.  

In the Iraq situation, our destination is at hand.  As I type this, a quaint little band of freedom fighters known as the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant”—you can call them ISIS (how cute) [update: in telling Iraq the terrorists were not his problem today, the president referred to them as ISIL]—has seized control of hundreds of square miles of territory formerly conquered by U.S. forces in the Iraq war at no small cost in American blood and cash.  ISIS’s goal, like that of al-Qaeda, which inspired it, is to establish an Islamic state throughout the world.   According to news reports, it’s already imposed such restrictions in much of the territory it’s seized, declaring Sharia law and banning all things western—you know, music, movies, books, any kind of personal freedom, that sort of thing.  If you know of any publicly-held companies that make burqas, now would be a good time to invest.

Those poor unfortunates who live in the captured territories and who don’t want this type of rule imposed on them have not fared well.  ISIS is not big on dissent, and tends to take a dim view of anyone not willing to worship Allah in the fashion it demands.  It calls such people “apostates,” and handles them rather roughly, I’m afraid.  One of its favorite tactics is that of beheading people with a dull knife.  According to the Washington Post, it’s slaughtered hundreds in summary executions, and is also fond of crucifixions and amputations.   ISIS is so extreme that other baby-killing terrorist groups—like al-Qaeda, for instance—have denounced it as too mean.  Can you imagine?  Given the explosion of what the Post calls “unfathomable brutality”, it’s no great shock that U.S.-trained forces have been running from ISIS fighters like movie extras fleeing a giant monster in some cheesy science fiction disaster flick.

These terrorists are some of the same people who’ve been fighting Bashar al-Assad in Syria, by the way.  Remember, we’re on the side of the rebels there.   What does that tell you about the current state of U.S. foreign policy?  ISIS now controls a big chunk of that country, too.  Syria.  You know.   The nation next to Israel, between Lebanon and Jordan.

Now ISIS threatens Baghdad.  What do to?  The situation has left President Obama’s team scrambling to find some kind of response that would give the appearance of motion without actually doing anything meaningful.  Kind of like one of those little top-hatted blue, red and yellow perpetual motion drinking birds you sometimes see sitting on people’s desks.

And oh, are the recriminations flying.

GOP senator John McCain branded the situation as a “colossal failure of American security policy” and called upon the president’s entire team of military and security staffers to resign.  “Everybody in his national security team, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ought to be replaced,” he told reporters.   

Yeah, that’ll do it.   

McCain’s description of the situation is certainly accurate, if not understated.   The worst and most bloodthirsty terrorists imaginable are now in control of some of the most security-sensitive territory in the world, where they are well positioned to threaten neighbors including Israel and also the world’s oil economy.  And it’s also certainly true that we, America, not only allowed that to happen but practically ensured that it would.

Replacing the president’s team won’t accomplish anything, though.  Our postwar “plan” for Iraq relied heavily on wishful thinking and irrational, starry-eyed optimism.   To succeed, what it needed was a huge dose of luck.  No such luck was forthcoming.  Even if we were to sack the president’s advisers today, their replacements would be holding the same busted flush the current team finds itself staring at.  Absolutely no one is seriously suggesting that we do what it would take to really solve this problem, which would be to go back into Iraq with “boots on the ground” in a massive way, and stay there for as long as it takes—which would probably be, oh, roughly, forever.

By the way, does it concern anyone that we’re now in the process of shrinking our military down to its smallest size since before World War II? 

My favorite finger-point of the week comes in the form of columnist Fareed Zakaria, a smart guy whose opinions normally are pretty solid.   He just published a syndicated column asking, “Who lost Iraq?”, which he then answers by pointing primarily at Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom Zakaria faults for not doing a better job of sucking up to the Sunni Muslims.  (If you’re having a hard time following the cast of characters, the Sunnis gave us Saddam Hussein and are now part of the ISIS-led rebellion.  Their arch enemies are the Shiites, which make up Iraq’s majority.  For reference, Iran is also mostly Shiite.)  In al-Maliki’s defense, it’s hard to put your arms around people who love to set off car bombs in market squares.  But that’s beside the point.  Al-Maliki is our guy, running the government we installed.  We are responsible for him being there, and by derivation are responsible for what he does or fails to do.  Let's be clear on this:  his failure is our fault. 

Oh, yeah, I forgot, it’s a democracy, and we no longer call the shots there.  Blah blah.  One of the key mistakes we repeatedly make when we decide to upset the applecarts of other countries is to put democracy ahead of security, in places where the former is an alien concept.  That’s another column, perhaps, for another day.  Iraq is our client state.   We’ve largely abandoned it to its own devices.   It’s true that al-Maliki’s government refused to sign a security agreement that would have allowed us to keep a token force on the ground there.  Do you think that if we’d wanted to stay, we wouldn’t have?  Note that we did not ask permission before invading.  Even Zakaria admits that the Obama administration’s 2011 negotiations in pursuit of that agreement may have been carried out “badly or halfheartedly.”  Do you think so?  There was a crack of daylight showing around the exit door and there was no way the Obama administration was going to fail to shove it wide open.   It’s one of the things we elected him to do.

Even so, the GOP’s current “told you so” stance is a little hard to stomach.  It was their guy, Bush the Younger, who got us into this, and he did so in the face of dire warnings about what the consequences would be, as I pointed out yesterday.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham paused in the finger-pointing yesterday long enough to say something significant.  The current situation, he said, is “the next 9/11 in the making.”  He pointed out that attacking America’s homeland again is part of the terrorist agenda, and said that the ISIS advance “scares the hell out of him.”

True, that, and it should.  Graham’s reaction is overly subdued, however.   Anybody paying attention should find the current situation absolutely, totally, shorts-soilingly terrifying.

Trouble is, we’re not paying attention.  Even McCain remains "noncommittal" about possible solutions.  Few really believe that U.S. air strikes alone, even if we find the political will to use them, will turn the trick.   Perhaps targeted air or drone strikes over the past few months might have made a difference, if we’d carried them out when Iraq asked (we refused, according to media reports).  But now, the idea of simply replacing the humvees and rifles the U.S.-trained security forces abandoned is a joke, and a cruel one.  A shipment of intestinal fortitude for the Iraqi defenders might do the trick, if anyone could figure out how to package that.  

What really needs to happen is a massive re-incursion by a true international coalition of forces from western democracies (going it essentially alone, as we have been, is a mistake we didn’t make even in World War II, when the stakes were much higher).  Ain’t gonna happen.  We’ll all pay the price for inaction later in more blood and more treasure—much more of each—but I don’t see us or any of our so-called allies summoning the political will it would require to go back into Iraq yet again now.

There is a lesson to be learned here, if we’d just open our eyes and ears.  It’s the same lesson we failed to learn in Vietnam.  Specifically:  idiotic moves lead to idiotic outcomes, especially when they entail (1) sending in troops; (2) withdrawing the troops with the job unfinished, and then (3) relying on local “security” forces to take over.   This principle seems clear enough, yet we keep tripping over it, and are about to do so once more.  When, as a nation, are we going to get tired of going, "Duh!" and slapping our foreheads?  Apparently, never.  Have you noticed that no one is talking about Afghanistan right now, where the same policies that led to the unfolding disaster in Iraq are on a timetable to play out yet again?  The situation there can still be salvaged.  Not without cost, of course. 

No one is moving to do it.  But it was heartening to see us launch a drone strike this week and blow up a few more Taliban in Pakistan, after a six-month hiatus.  We’d given Pakistan a few months of respite in order to “seek peace” with these murderous bastards.  The Taliban airport attack in Karachi more or less put the period at the end of that hopeless sentence.  Predictably, this week’s drone strike drew the usual condemnations from our buddy Pakistan about violations of its sovereignty, etc.   Certain media reports claim that while publicly condemning the strike, Pakistan’s government secretly approved it with a wink, nod and nudge.  Sorry, not good enough.  Not by a long shot.  It's going to take more than a wink for Pakistan to deal with the all-our war against it the Taliban is now promising and delivering.   Pakistan just doesn’t get it.  That country won’t fight the terrorists and hates it when we do.  Do you think that doesn’t say something about what will happen if we abandon the area as scheduled?

This is the conversation we should be having now, but aren’t.   Instead, we’ll focus on that blame game thing.  It’ll solve nothing, but it’ll make us feel better, and hey, that’s not nothing.  After all, you can’t begin to heal until you get emotional closure, now can you?  Any psychological expert will tell you that.  Once we get that Iraq blame issue behind us, we can forget about terrorism again for a while.

Until these monsters start spilling blood on U.S. soil again.   That will lead to a whole new round.


©2014 by Forrest Carr.  All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment