Iraq: You Broke It, You Bought It?

Isaac Chotiner is willing to consider some sort of response:

[I]t’s not clear what America can or should do, which is why remarks like those from John McCain, who called this “an existential threat” and seems to want some sort of huge response, are alarming. But that doesn’t let the United States off the hook, and certainly not at the rhetorical level. Would Obama say that the Cambodian genocide was ultimately up to the Cambodians to solve, after America bombed and destabilized the country? Was the genocide in the former Yugoslavia a Bosnian problem, even though the West kept an arms embargo on the Bosnians, essentially preventing them from defending themselves?

Wieseltierism really has taken over that magazine, from top to bottom. I’d say eight years of blood and treasure and failure in Iraq is enough. Unless, like Wieseltier, you see the entire planet as a patient and America as the only nurse. Relatedly, Noah Millman declares that people “who think the world will swiftly get more peaceful if we mind our own business may well be just as wrong as the people who think that by sticking our nose into other people’s business we can force the world to be peaceful”:

[W]e are responsible for the situation in Iraq.

We are directly responsible in that we broke the existing arrangement of power and installed ourselves as the occupier. We are also indirectly responsible inasmuch as our overweening hegemonic influence in the region means that inaction is also a kind of action. So, because the Syrian civil war has not resolved, but expanded and become more violent and extreme, and because that civil war and Iraq’s are, with the rise of ISIS, effectively merging, to the extent that we may be “blamed” for not resolving that civil war, we may also be “blamed” indirectly for the deterioration in Iraq.

None of which means we should make feel obliged to do something stupid and counter-productive, but it provides and genuine moral explanation for why we might feel obliged to do something.

I love this formulation: hegemony means inaction is action, so there’s no difference between the two! So let me put this as kindly as I can. We lost 5,000 young Americans trying to keep this centrifugal country in one piece. After eight years, and huge expenses in training and equipping the Iraqi army, we bear no blame and never have for the pathological sectarianism of so many Arab countries, culturally or politically. And it’s time to have enough self-respect to say so. The sanest, wisest way to wriggle out of this trap is precisely to do nothing – again and again – until the pathology of dependence is finished.

If there is something we can do, it should be to ratchet up our ability to monitor these groups – sorry, NSA-haters, but spying is one of our strongest and least disruptive tools in preventing attacks on the homeland – and to provide as much diplomatic and political advice, if asked, as to how to render the situation less volatile. But even there, the limits of our behavior are so much more profound than the potential. If you think Maliki pursued text-book sectarianism out of a whim, or could have been effectively dissuaded by a few American military officials, you are only missing the entire modern history of Iraq. And in sectarian warfare, there is usually very little magnanimity. Just payback – again and again and again.

Leave it alone. And do what we can to protect ourselves. That doesn’t guarantee anything. But intervention guarantees far worse.