An Unsolvable Mystery

We are all acquainted with the problems facing Barack Obama as he tries to bring some order to the wars in Iraq.

He has to try to explain to the American people what is going on there, and why he feels it imperative to get marginally involved in settling what increasingly resembles a civil war. Under fire from Republicans, he’s trying to satisfy them, too, by sounding bellicose and determined, but still only allowing 300 “military advisors” to be sent to Baghdad. And he has to explain to the millions who voted for him in 2008 why, now, he no longer can stand apart from the violence in the MidEast and call for a reduction in troops and war-making machinery.

Pundits of every persuasion are advising him, via their local radio stations, television shows, books, and speeches, to stay out. In fact we’ve never heard such a frank chorus of naysayers in the face of war before, except perhaps for America Firsters in the late 1930s.

What used to be true no longer is: all criticism of the president and/or his policies stops “at the water’s edge.” Loyalty, pride, and support used to be the order of the day in dealing with international episodes like this.

But by not having had a honest chance to advise the powers that be in 2003, men and women of every political stripe now feel the freedom to speak up, warn, praise, or damn. There could be no honest disagreement with going into Iraq in 2003 because Iraq 2003 was presented to the entire nation falsely. Whether Bush administration honchos were simply wrong in their estimations, or whether they lied about prospects for a quick and easy victory in order to re-establish the idea of America as the world’s only super power matters not. The nation, long accustomed to having faith and belief in its elected leaders, acceded to the urge towards pre-emptive war and allowed thousands of Iraqis to be killed in the coming years, not to mention the 4500 US military members who also lost their lives.

A quick note here: the difficulties of the Veterans’ Administration stem, in part, from the more than forty thousand vets returning from Iraq needing therapy, treatment, rehabilitation, and time to find themselves on their feet again. But the country our men and women in uniform left to defend is not the country to which they return. In those intervening years, from 2003 to 2011, a culture of lying, excusing, getting “ours” while others suffered became paramount. American values eroded to a staggering degree.

The criticism and doubt about a successful approach to the devastation currently taking place in Iraq’s cities and towns is, we believe, all to the good. Yes, it’s not good that people in other lands see how divided we are, how confused and perhaps even ignorant of life in other climes. But these internal discussions, call them divisions if you want, are the strength of our democracy and after years of not being able to speak up without seeming to betray our own military, Americans need to be able to question leadership, argue strategies, worry over outcomes out loud.

It’s often been said in this past month that there are no good solutions to the problems of Iraq. To our dismay, this has been repeated endlessly by political figures from the past who seem to have sprouted through the dry earth once more to begin waving flags destined to be trampled under someone’s foot. The question these politicians haven’t the nerve to ask – is there any good to be brought home if we do go back into Iraq – has morphed into endless hours spent trying to imagine a plan that would alienate neither Sunni nor Shiite.

As in 2003, the Republican Right is aflame with zeal for battles. The Democratic Left is holding its breath, half-afraid to seem unpatriotic, and half afraid to admit that they, too, have nothing substantive to add to the debate but worry and fear.

What, we ask, is missing from this argument? What is missing from the pleas of John McCain to be taken seriously at last, with or without Lindsay Graham as his Sancho Panza? What was missing from the President’s press conference yesterday as he announced the departure of 300 Americans to Iraq as advisors? What is missing from the emergency shuttle diplomacy of John Kerry somewhere in the MiddleEast?

Just this, an answer so simple we’re stunned not to hear it on everyone’s breath.

While Mr. Obama has said frequently that America cannot police the world as it may once have done, that we have legitimate and moral constraints on our power, that we can no longer turn away from the death and destruction not just in Iraq but now, finally, in Syria as well – could he not bring himself to say that neither can Europe afford to turn away and assume we, the US, will take care of everything?

Europe has an enormous collective stake in remaining out of the way of Islamist militants. London has been bombed. Madrid’s trains were bombed. Europe is, we hesitate to point out, as apostate as we in this country are in the mind of ISIS.

If the United States is seen by ISIS as the enemy – white, rich, over-reaching and filled with infidels – isn’t Europe seen the same way? And isn’t Europe a whole lot closer to ISIS as a target than we are?

How can Europe be allowed to bury its head in the proverbial sand while we are forced to defend it?

We can’t know the future, or what will happen in the coming months and years. But if we go it alone and somehow succeed, will Europe even be grateful?


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