Quote For The Day II

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“Well, I think there’s going to be a generational challenge. I don’t think that this is something that’s going to happen overnight. They have now created an environment in which young men are more concerned whether they’re Shiite or Sunni, rather than whether they are getting a good education or whether they are able to, you know, have a good job. Many of them are poor. Many of them are illiterate and are therefore more subject to these kinds of ideological appeals. And, you know, the beginning of the solution for the entire Middle East is going to be a transformation in how these countries teach their youth. What our military operations can do is to just check and roll back these networks as they appear and make sure that the time and space is provided for a new way of doing things to begin to take root. But it’s going to take some time … But in the meantime, it’s not just buy them time, it’s also making sure that Americans are protected, that our allies are protected …

With the allies, with their ground troops, and if we do our job right and the Iraqis fight, then over time our role can slow down and taper off. And their role, reasserts itself. But all that depends, Steve. And nobody’s clearer than I am about this. That the Iraqis have to be willing to fight. And they have to be willing to fight in a nonsectarian way. Shiite, Sunni and Kurd alongside each other against this cancer in their midst,” – president Obama, Sixty Minutes.

Well, if anything can calm me down, it’s this no-drama president carefully explaining what his strategy is. It’s not about transforming the Middle East, or unseating Assad, or directly intervening to try and achieve in the future what we couldn’t achieve in the past. It appears to be about minimally containing the threat of Jihadist networks so as to create some space for “a new way of doing things to begin to take root”. This is, as Krauthammer put it, containment-plus.

But the same worries persist. What if it becomes impossible to roll back a network like ISIS? What if air bombing campaigns – with civilian casualties – actually galvanize ISIS and empower it with a new global identity with which to draw recruits? What if the broken Iraqi state can never be put back together as a multi-sectarian democracy? What if a “new way of doing things” is actually decades in the future? Are we really going to be bombing for decades? And in how many countries does that formula apply?

The key thing for the president is that the Iraqis fight in a non-sectarian way.

But we already constructed a multi-sectarian government, we already trained a massive Iraqi army, we already ousted a Shiite prime minister – and there are precious few signs of such non-sectarian fighting, least of all in a region now convulsed in either a cold or hot Shi’a-Sunni war. A couple weeks ago, the Iraqi parliament could not overcome sectarian divisions to fill the interior and defense ministries even as an insurgency was nearing Baghdad! If they cannot get there in a real emergency, what chance if the Americans are busy saving their collective asses?

I can see what the president would like to happen. But even he implies it won’t happen for a long, long time. Which means we will be bombing for exactly that long time. And there are unintended consequences to all such wars which he doesn’t even seem to contemplate. Those are my worries – an indefinite military commitment, with no way to achieve the underlying changes that would end such a commitment, with the real possibility of blowback.