The Obama administration is now facing a real test of its resolve in Iraq. The depressing but utterly predictable resurgence of Sunni Jihadism in a country broken in 2003 and never put back together again by the “surge” has been so successful and the Iraqi government so weak that even Kurdistan is now at risk. The policy now is to do enough – but no more – to keep the Kurds in the game, keep the Yazidis on planet earth and push the Iraqis in Baghdad to get real. I felt queasy when the president announced this intervention and feel queasier two days later. Even though attempted genocide creates a uniquely grave crisis, as soon as the US is committed militarily to an open-ended endeavor in that country, and is in any way dependent on the Iraqis to take the lead, then we are at the mercy of that country’s profound dysfunction once again. It is quicksand. One foot in and you start sinking.
Or you can think of Iraq as perhaps the least reformable of all welfare dependents. Chronically divided, disintegrating yet again at a particularly explosive moment in Middle Eastern madness, it will always seem on the brink of some disaster or other. The temptation to go in again – especially since we gave it tens of thousands of corpses and years of trauma to add to its chaotic polity – is great. And Obama’s signature achievement so far has been his steadiness in resisting that vortex, in defusing Jihadism rather than giving it yet more reason to be inflamed, in being that rare president capable of internalizing what most Americans want – rather than what Sunday talk show blowhards demand.
He still has a chance to do that – but it will be much, much tougher now. Give the hegemonists some blood in the water, and they will soon swarm, demanding more war, and more meddling. You can see that dynamic in the idiotic ravings of John McCain who wants a full-scale war against ISIL – or in the classic scare tactics of Butters, with the inane idea that we have to fight them over there or they will come here. It is madness as strategy – madness that already created catastrophe. But no one responsible for that catastrophe in Washington was ever held accountable – they’re doing their damndest right now to make sure war criminals are white-washed as well – and so their ability to snap back right to 2003 is intact.
And the greatest throwback to 2003 in this respect is Hillary Clinton. So far as one can tell from her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, there is no daylight between her and John McCain or even Benjamin Netanyahu – but a hell of a lot of space between her and Barack Obama. The interview confirms my view that she remains neoconservatism’s best bet to come back with bells on. It appears, for example, that her boomer-era pabulum about foreign policy on the Jon Stewart show – “We need to love America again! – was not an aberration. She actually means it. And once we believe in ourselves again – don’t look at that torture report! – it will be back to the barricades for another American century of American global hegemony. And why not start in Syria and Iraq? I mean: she’s already hepped up about the threat of Jihadism – and what could possibly go wrong this time? If only we believe in America!
You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward. One issue is that we don’t even tell our own story very well these days.
Just forget that this country destroyed its military deterrence and its moral authority by the war that Clinton favored and has never fully expressed remorse for. Forget the trillions wasted and the tens of thousands of lives lost and the brutal torture we authorized and the hapless occupation that helped galvanize Jhadism, let’s just feel good about ourselves! And do it all again!
And so try and find a real difference between John McCain and Hillary Clinton on these topics. It’s certainly the same “fight them over there so we don’t fight them over here” fear-mongering: