Monday

October 20th, 2014

Insight

The end of Iraq (cont'd)

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published August 18, 2014

The end of Iraq (cont'd) Iraq Flight Path by Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch
"I think this is going to take some time," our president warned last Saturday as he took off for a vacation on Martha's Vineyard, maybe because he felt he had to offer some explanation as Iraq collapsed along with his foreign policy in general. What was once Iraq is now divided, like ancient Gaul, into three parts -- Shi'a, Sunni and Kurdish -- all of which are themselves crumbling. So now Barack Obama tells us that it may take some time to put Iraq together again after it fell apart in record time once he withdrew American forces there in such haste. And according to a purely arbitrary timetable he considerately announced well in advance, lest the enemy be surprised.

The war this president claimed to have ended there three years ago is back -- if it ever went away. But to this president, history is one of the plastic arts. He can reshape it any time. And often does. Now he tells us it'll take a while to end the war there. You think? The way it always takes more time to rebuild something than to destroy it? The bloody consequences of his own decision to withdraw from Iraq prematurely continue to haunt him, which may be why he's still trying to rationalize it. Even as, little by little, he's being forced to reverse it.

After all the blood and treasure America sacrificed to hold Iraq together, this president and both his secretaries of state (Hillary Clinton and then John Kerry) have managed to squander the hard-won gains achieved there in no time at all. Now there's change you can really believe in.

Only now does this president tell us, oh, yes, and by the way, it's going to take some time to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. And only now is Hillary Clinton, having retired from her high post in this administration, confiding that she had doubts about this president's foreign policy all along. For only now is she preparing to run for the presidency herself, and realizing that she has some explaining to do.

What a show. It would be amusing if it weren't so tragic, for the numberless victims of this administration's blundering ways are all too real, their suffering all too palpable.

But don't fret. A few bombs dropped here and there should get the job done. Just how effectively was summed up by this lede on a front-page story in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal: "WASHINGTON -- After four days of pounding targets in northern Iraq, U.S. officials warned Monday that the campaign was unlikely to inflict serious damage to the militant group now controlling large parts of Iraq and Syria."

My, what a surprise. After lavishing neglect on this growing threat for years, the president admits it might take some time to save whatever can be saved of what was once Iraq. That is, if he's really interested in saving it, rather than just going through the motions.

These thousands of new refugees, tens of thousands of them, are sure to be followed by hundreds of thousands fated to share their ordeal as Iraq turns into the latest Syria, where the bloody results of this administration's negligence have been all too clear all too long. For years.

Unless Washington can somehow get a grip on what's happening in that part of the world and reverse its disastrous course, these latest victims in Iraq will surely not be the last. For their country has been left prey to the tender mercies of still another horde of fanatics who have materialized out of the desert wastes and started advancing in all directions.

An air drop or two may not make much of a difference at this point. Or even the dispatch of a few hundred Special Forces to get a fraction of these refugees off the barren mountaintop where they'd been left to swelter and suffer. America, once the hope of the world, now does little but watch as this tragedy unfolds.

Yes, this sudden show of force is better than nothing, but just barely. As the whole world surely recognizes, whether friend or ever advancing foe. By now even the British and Italians and French -- the French! -- have urged that something be done to stop this Islamist version of the Khmer Rouge from wiping out still more innocents.

By now even Hillary Clinton -- Hillary Rodham Clinton! -- is saying it was a mistake not to have done something earlier to stop the never-ending carnage in Syria, which is what gave rise to this ever-advancing army of Islamist crazies.

Only now does Mrs. Clinton tell us she had misgivings when she was actually in a position to do something about them. Back in 2006, she had dismissed the Surge that turned Iraq around and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Back then she was telling us it would take "a willing suspension of disbelief" to believe this Surge would work. But work it did. Even though she and another senator at the time -- Barack Obama of Illinois -- said it never would.

Only now, after this president's policy in Iraq has proven so costly a failure, does she tell us she was against it all the time she served as secretary of state. If so, why didn't she say so or, even better, do something honorable -- like resign her high office in protest? But the time when a secretary of state would resign over a matter of principle seems to have passed with Cyrus Vance, who parted ways with the Carter administration when it adopted a policy he disagreed with.

It's so much more prudent for an ambitious politician to wait until a president's policy becomes a clear failure before criticizing it. Only now, as she herself prepares for a presidential run, has Mrs. Clinton decided to distance herself from her former boss.

Hillary Clinton's rise -- indeed the whole, long trajectory of her all too familiar career in American politics -- brings to mind a now forgotten figure from the American past: Clare Booth Luce, the power behind Henry Luce's media throne. She, too, had one driving impulse: to seek power as surely as a compass seeks magnetic north.

Mrs./Senator/Secretary Clinton, in that always upwardly mobile order, may lack Clare Booth Luce's looks and charm, but she's definitely got Mrs. Luce's ambition for ever more power and ever higher office.

As for our forever glib president, he, too, brings a figure from the American past to mind -- a president blessed with rhetorical gifts to more than match his own. Thomas Jefferson, too, came into the presidency riding a great wave of popular support and convinced that setting everything right was going to be simple. All the country need do was reduce its military -- the whole navy could be put in dry dock! -- and avoid entangling alliances. And all would be well.

Mr. Jefferson, too, discovered that the world was not as simple a place as he'd envisioned, and early on in his tumultuous tenure, he was obliged to dispatch an expeditionary force to finally end the extortion long practiced by the Barbary pirates.

A couple of years later, when all of French Louisiana, from the Gulf of Mexico to the headwaters of the Mississippi, came up for bids, Thomas Jefferson realized he was no Jeffersonian after all. For he decided his strict construction of the Constitution, which he'd thought ruled out any such purchase, might need to be, shall we say, a little more flexible. Even -- perish the thought! -- more Federalist. And he put the national interest above his own narrow ideology. It was a wise and welcome change of course. For "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen."

Unfortunately, this president has yet to have his Jefferson moment, and may never have it. And the disastrous consequences are evident all over the world as our extensive system of alliances, so painstakingly constructed and so bravely defended for so long, comes apart on his careless watch. From Eastern Europe to the Middle East and beyond.

Power, like nature, abhors a vacuum. And when a great power decides to abdicate and leave history's stage to whoever will seize power for whatever low purpose, what else did our president think would happen -- that peace would suddenly break out? The man seems oblivious to reality, and what it should have taught all of us: Whenever America retreats, evil advances.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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