The Kurds are defending a very long front. They are under much pressure and might not win unless a counteroffensive is launched from Baghdad.
Hell will freeze over before Baghdad launches an offensive to regain the north or help the Kurd s. Magical thinking. You will see unicorns on the White House lawn first.
Which Baghdad (al Maliki and friends) know, so they are probably thinking: Let these Sunni psychos burn themselves out on Kurds for a while, also hopefully weakening the Kurds. In the meantime we'll prepare for battle.
The artificial borders of the middle east, drawn by British and French imperialists after World War One, are falling, country by country.What divides the region in the internecine conflict between Shia and Suni. Iran is the champion of the former; Saudi Arabia and Syria the latter. Iraq is divided between the two.When your enemy is shooting at itself, don't intervene.
It's like you don't even understand that Iraq is actually divided in three parts and that the Kurds have nothing to do with the conflict you described.
"Islam or death!" declares ISIS. A more extreme statement cannot be made. Islam believes everyone is a Muslim but they do not know it. That's extreme as well. Join the two together and is there any wonder why Samuel Huntington's 1990s critique of Islam producing "bloody borders" prevails?We have to go all into this, as distasteful as that is, not half if we are to prevail.
Sorry, but your premise about Islam believing everyone is Muslim is entirely unfounded. Otherwise, why would the Koran specifically respect other "People of a Book"? In any case, the same attitude, with an ideology of forced conversion, has infected Christians (among others) over the course of previous centuries. So, I would start from a different premise on this one. At the same time, ISIS must be stopped, and a more cooperative political framework must be established among the people of the Middle East in general.
An excellent, thoughtful, and well-informed piece, which I at least find entirely persuasive--and I am not at all a fan of Mr. Douthat, in general.
Not soon enough. This seems to be attributable to continuing failures in our intelligence community and this administration placing broader concerns about reputation and legacy above both moral and pragmatic imperative. I have campaigned for this President twice and am a member of the political left, but this country should have acted sooner. That we only intervened on behalf of our staunch and valuable Kurdish allies once the situation had become dire in many instances, and fatal in far too many other cases, is painful to contemplate.
Well thought-out story.Thanks for articulating it.
No remorse for the mess we began?For the campaign that Dick Cheney ran?This unending blightHas now become"right"And Douthat is our advice man!
Masterful Larry. Do you sing and play guitar?
Well, Larry, the house is burning down because Dad, drunk out of his skull, fell asleep smoking in bed. Let the place burn down? I'm with you, Old Buddy! It'll serve Dad right. But then there are the two grand kids, Leon and Jillian, and the 16 year old Black Labrador, Dorcas, to think of. What's a responsible citizen to do?
."From the sublime to the ridiculous it is only a step"Heinrich Heine
Our neocons and now liberal hawks have for a long time wanted to set up a Kurdistan as our enduring base, after we couldn't keep our Iraqi enduring bases.This has been seconded by the Israel partisans who see an opportunity to embarass the Turks and run agents into Iran.Hence, Douthat calls this the "right war."If it were so right, then the Kurds would not be falling apart before a few thousand over-stretched extremists. They would not be so desperate to have us as their air force.Remember the ISIS is said by us to number only a few thousand, and is operating at high intensity in Syria and showing up in Lebanon and Jordan too. This rush into Iraq is a small part of a small force, by our own description of the ISIS.None of this makes sense. The detectors that should have known there was something wrong in the Tonkin Gulf ought to be telling us the same thing now.Worse, we've already DONE our decade long divisive war in Iraq. Now this starts it again. It is like going back into Vietnam in 1975.The "right war" does not stand up to inspection, and the proponents are right wingers who have let us down repeatedly on wars, and in particular wars right here.They're doing it again. If we let them a second time, we've crossed the George W. Bush line, "First time shame on them, second time you just shouldn't let them do it."
Mark Thompson , you have it right on the mark. The bigger Irony is that Iraq will never be united again ever. It is inevitable that Kurds will have their Independent Kurdistan. Maliki nodoubt is not going to yield to to his exclusive Shia faction, supported by Iran . Which will eventually take over Baghdad. And the Adjoining Sunni Area wind up being part of Saudi Arabia.The only unknown factor is this black robbed ISIS faction with masks, the same kind the Russian Military is using in their sphere of influence Which not even the CIA has any real clue about.Israel no doubt has its own plan , of annexing Golan Heights and everything else between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan.
Perhaps the "pure evil" demonstrated by the ISIS execution of hundreds of captives next to their own mass graves will make this "the right war".....such heinous crimes did in the 1930s and 1940s. Have we discontinued "humanity" in the 21st Century???
I'm sorry. We broke these eggs. We simply must help clean up the stinking mess, and ISIS is its worst result at the moment. I think the premise of your argument is based on a justifiable fear that Obama is simply repeating GW. However, despite some similarity in his use of military and security tactics, I believe your fears are entirely misplaced. Obama has spent his entire presidency addressing problems that he inherited and never wanted to have to solve. He really did want to be the Peace President that the Nobel Committee expected of him. However, he also recognized that he had to face his constitutional obligations as Commander in Chief as well as Executive in Chief, and he let the Nobel Committee know that in his noticeably reluctant acceptance speech.And sure enough, he followed through, more or less, in response to the Financial Meltdown, spent a lot of political capital on his signature health care reform effort, and pretty much had to respond to immense and uncompromising resistance from other branches of government. And he has done his best to leave both Iraq and Afghanistan in no worse, and hopefully a better, state than Bush left them. He has had no illusions that he could undo all the damage. But he has also been forced to recognize that we have a responsibility to mitigate the worst effects of the mess that Bush created, and stopping ISIS, at least long enough to give the region a chance to respond effectively, may be the least that we can do.
Mr. Douthat, I happen to agree with your overall assertion, i.e., that ISIS should be confronted, and the President's course of action seems militarily and politically effective and humanitarian.ISIS is employing the very old tactic to divide and conquer to achieve its strategy of dominance in the region. They've been picking off individually political entities that if banded together and determined could defeat them.But they're not banded together. Even a determined Kurdish resistance is not likely to succeed against a superior, equally determined ISIS. Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have likely all noticed, as I'm sure Israel has. ISIS is friend to none of them.But hidden in your articulate address of the topic is this unfounded criticism of policy: "...ISIS profited from the fallout from our too-swift 2011 withdrawal. (Indeed, it’s often using American-made weapons to harry, persecute and kill.)"First and foremost our withdrawal was not swift; it was considered and argued for years. Steven N. Simon, the Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies wrote of it for the Council on Foreign Relations in 2007 and others before and after. We didn't finish disengaging until well into our Presidents time in office. That is hardly swift. Nor can ISIS use of U.S. weapons be completely attributed to the withdrawal. The confused alliances in that region bear as much responsibility for sourcing them as our withdrawal.You do even better next time..
We were on the ground there and the area was stabilized. We pulled out hastily....no, recklessly....for short term political reasons and left a power vacuum. Not only that, we publicly telegraphed our intention to leave and lack of commitment....LACK OF COMMITMENT....to the stability of the region. Then it fell. So you can dance around what whatever "swift" means, but I think Mr. Douthat is right on. I have run negotiations for years, and I have never seen an effective negotiator begin by telegraphing his lack of commitment. And at this point, both left and right should be in agreement that this particular area, cobbled together not by the US but by the British and the French in the Treaty of Versailles, has never, ever had the "stuff" to hold it together internally. It has always been held together by strong outside forces. The pull out was folly to the nth degree. I dont know how you could even expect anything else. Regardless of whether you think Bush was justified or the cost/benefti analysis of invading was positive. Hurriedly pulling out and signaling your lack of commitment wasted whatever was gained, and resulted in a total loss with the concomitant liability of an encouraged foe.Finally, the "confused alliances?" Is there anything new here? Sunni, Shia, Syria, Iran? Its the job of the President and his administration to be on top of this. Its not "confusion"; its incompetence.
The fact that ISIL is consuming large sections of Iraq including the city of Mosul is incontrovertible proof that we left to early. That our policy of disengagment was premature. Not only that, it was entirely unnecessary. The heavy lifting had been done in Iraq. It was not fully pacified, but it was close. If we had left a residual force there of 25 to 50 thousand troops, what is happening now would not have happened. Iraqis wanted to make a deal that would have saved face for them. Obama walked away from the table.
US forces could have stayed in Iraq for a hundred years and the same thing would have happened when they left.
"Not a model, but a refuge." And not the only refuge in the neighborhood, either. Maybe that will be how the Middle East is reborn, through the development of a series of refuges.
All this discussion is nonsense. Kurdistan is an imperialist power that expanded its territory by 40%, including the city of Kirkuk--all Sunni areas. Now its army cannot defend its own capital against militias???? I assume we have expanded its territory to get the territory our oil companies want in the northern fields and we are going to rule it with military force.Of course, if we had stopped the supply of radicals in Syria, this would not have been a problem. The time has come to start defining rogue regimes properly and to start thinking of regime change where it is needed. Surely there are a few reasonable princes in Arabia that we can find to put in power there.And now are we going to let Israel bomb Iran? What are the odds that Putin will fly in his planes to protect them as he told us he would do if we tried a flyover to topple Sadat. Iran and Russia have common interests in Afghanistan vis-a-vis Pakistan as it disintegrates. We are sanctioning Putin for supporting when we supported rebels in Syria and Libya and giving him every incentive to smash our position when he has all the cards in his hands. What utter craziness in the literal sense of the term!Maybe the first step is to fire Secretary of State Robert Kagan and the Undersecretary, his wife Victoria Nuland. John Kerry is unemployed. He would make a good Secretary of State.
This comment and each of its many parts are nonsense. Kurdistan imperialist power? Nonsense. We should have "stopped the supply of radicals to Syria" Nonsense. Now we are going to let Israel bomb Iran. Nonsense.Times reviewer of a Verified is completely free to make blanket statements that a column is nonsense, then we non-verifieds must be allowed to use that word also.
For years right wingers have advanced the falsehood that President Obama did not push for the Status of Forces Agreement. Even Douthat appears to believe this lie.Here's what really happened:"In one of his final acts in office, President Bush in December of 2008 had signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqi government that set the clock ticking on ending the war he’d launched in Marchof 2003. The SOFA provided a legal basis for the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq after the United Nations Security Council mandate for the occupation mission expired at the end of 2008. But it required that all U.S. forces be gone from Iraq by January 1, 2012, unless the Iraqi government was willing to negotiate a new agreement that would extend their mandate. And as Middle East historian Juan Cole has noted, “Bush had to sign what the [Iraqi] parliament gave him or face the prospect that U.S. troops would have to leave by 31 December, 2008, something that would have been interpreted as a defeat."http://world.time.com/2011/10/21/iraq-not-obama-called-time-on-the-u-s-t... Bush signed off. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki refused to sign a new authorization in 2011 because the Shia majority and Iran demanded all Americans leave. Without a signed SOFA, US troops had no legal immunity from local prosecution and thus would have been put in an unsafe and untenable position.Obama wanted to leave a residual force in Iraq. The truth is, we were kicked out.
Here's a link that shows how far this lie has traveled:http://mediamatters.org/research/2014/06/16/right-wing-media-ignore-iraq...
Thank you for this documentation.
In no particular order. First, Iraqi Kurds are mostly sunni, as compared to commie Kurds for example. Americans politics, is it allergic to facts that can't be folded into a two hour summer blockbuster plot with a clear moral? Second, the Kurdistan issue is not a nice stable package as touted. Syria, Iran, turkey, among others, are involved. Iraqi Kurds prove the " that is just the way those people are" is nonsense because of their radical changes since the gassing and no fly zone. Lesson, nation building is long term and not simple. Third, the suggested attacks on ISIS now are indistinguishable from those possible before. Tactically nothing's changed.Fourth, al Sistsani, Persian born, is a Shia, a great man who advocates for an Iraqi nation with sunni as equals. This opportunity is being squandered. Fifth, the Kurds were recently playing games using ISIS to their advantage to take land and oil. It was as foolish as Maliki. They should not be rewarded while pretending they are what they are not. What they are is good enough. Seventh, no strategy had yet been declared. America has the power to advance its vital interests. It does not have the best for all power. The greatest fear that American use of force is always bad seems to be held by the Obama administration and the many others who think morality and good rise from american refusal to use force and bad is caused by its use of force. Ask Taiwanese, Koreans, even Vietnamese. Right war? Sheesh.
General Petraeus' poor judgment is in part responsible for the messes we are in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Whatever he says is irrelevant. The Kurdish militias long term objective is an independent Kurdistan that would include Kurdish ethnic areas from several countries. They are known quantities in the same way Osama Bin Laden was during our efforts to push the Russians out of Afghanistan. Like Bin Laden, It is not at all clear that our long term interests will remain allied with ours. In short, providing air support to the Kurds is a bad idea, but likely better than any of the other bad ideas. Hopefully it will allow them to check the advances of ISIS, but making our objective the preservation of Kurdistan independent of the rest of Iraq is a terrible idea.
If the US assisted Shiite dispensation, with all the boasts about its viability and strength to protect itself, thanks to US training and logistic support, could prove so fragile as to come near a collapse in the face of the militant Sunni onslaught by the ISIS, how different the much US desired separate Kurdistan would prove amid the voiolently wild sectarian fire that has virtually engulfed the entire Arab world? As such, if the earlier US Iraq war was a folly, this time the US air power covered dream of carving out an independent Kurdistan out of Iraq might prove to be a worse folly.
" First, this humanitarian crisis is one our actions directly helped create" That fact alone stands for the moral justification to get into this war. This is a true humanitarian crisis. More over ISIS may prove to be a legitimate threat to the United States just like al Qaida. It's already threatened the United States. It's the successor to Al Qaeda in Iraq under Zarqawi. While most of its operations are directed at Syria and Iraq, it will at some point turn its guns outward us as these jihadist groups so often do. But just air strikes alone is not going to defeat the ISIS. Does America can do anything to cut off the money supply to this ISIS from the Gulf countries? This group is being funded by rich donors from our supposed allies in Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.According to The Daily Beast, Kuwait’s involvement is an ironic twist since back in 1990, the U.S. attacked Iraq in order to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s clutches. Now Kuwait is helping the rise of his successors.
"There was never a good war or a bad peace"-Benjamin Franklin.I cannot be as sanguine as Douthat, over our resumption of an active military campaign in Iraq. The unforeseen consequences, as well as the very predictable ones, are fraught with danger and damage to our country. I was born in the middle of the last century, and too much of my lifetime has been subjected to war and to the drums of war.Unlike Douthat, I served in the military, during the Vietnam War. Although I had a good war, as the British say, I realized that it was very destructive, even of our own social fabric. My late father, who served during WWII, and I were both opposed to the second Iraqi War and we seemed to have been justified in our skepticism.
In Lybia, their sweet crude was desired by the west. In Syria, we helped the allies of Israel, Cyprus and Saudia Arabia play keep away with Syria's oil and gas in Syria's waters. The Saudi's sought revenge as Assad would not agree to the pipeline for the Saudi's. In Egypt, the Saudi's had funded their favorites and the US turned a blind eye. In the Ukraine we fuss with Putin over the shale gas and the new sites opening up in the Black Sea. We fight proxy disputes for the oil and gas companies. The religious and tribal wars rage on unbelievably with our support, while we keep our eye on the ball…control of oil and gas resources for western multinational oil companies we call American. But they are no more American than Gazpron. They care only about their bottom lines. They have no trouble stating that they do what is best for them, not for the US. Why can't the US buy our oil and gas on the open market? Why must we go to war constantly for these companies?
ISIS is promoting 7th century values, fine.The airstrikes should continue until all their rolling stock, particularly US supplied armored Humvee's, MRAP's and artillery are destroyed.A highway through a desert ain't much of a hiding place.Let them round up the camels and sharpen their swords.
Who is funding ISIS? We know that they got their military expertise from former Iraqi military leaders who, when the USA disbanded the Iraqi Army, fled to Syria and set up shop. Likely they were the spark that started the civil war in Syria and now they have both funding and volunteers, but nobody is taking about the backers. Who has the cash reserves and something to gain by the establishment of a Sunni run "Islamic State?' Sure, we can fight ISIS head-to-head or we can cut off their funding. Do we really need to borrow even more money to fund yet-another war? Might it be just a bit easier to get the funding cut off? Do we have the national will to expose and cut off those people? Somehow, I think that we haven't got the will to get the funding source and we have people willing to send other peoples children to fight ISIS.
Spot on. Most of our modern foreign policy is a response to a century of blow back, the latest big one being the Cheney/Bush invasion of Iraq - whose blow back blow ups we will be dealing with for the next hundred years. The military industrial complex has never had it so easy.
Mr. Douthat writes, “This time, the case for war is much stronger, and the decision to intervene is almost certainly the right call.”It almost sounds like the editorial pages of most of the leading newspapers in the country circa 2003. Saddam’s mustard gassing of the Kurds in 1988 was not considered a strong case, but a made-up case for WMD was justification to invade Iraq in 2003? Now, in 2014, Mr. Douthat is making a case to defend Kurdistan? With what? An “airstrikes and no boots on the ground” strategy that is currently the rage of all the politicians in DC? While I sympathize with the Kurds, we might be “a dollar short and a day late.”It seems to me we are destined to learn the hard way that there is really no “right war” for us in the Middle East, except to defend Israel if and when required.
We're also dropping bombs to take the pressure off the Kurds, who should be seriously armed by us, as they requested and we refused quite some time ago. I'd buy Ross's argument if the current "troubles" had just appeared and we were merely reacting to them. But we cleared out of Iraq so fast three years ago that the door didn't have a CHANCE to hit us in the rear. If we'd been a little less anxious to clear out so completely then and we'd been far more insistent on a workable confederation that respected the autonomy of the three major groups, would a multi-religious military have had the professionalism and the backbone to stand effectively against ISIL today? Perhaps, but it's now moot because there is NO way this Humpty-Dumpty of an Iraq can ever be put back together again. The Kurds should just declare independence, we should bomb the daylights out of ISIL and help the Sunnis, sans ISIL, stand-up an autonomous state, while Iran just annexes what are clearly its Shi'a clients.We broke Iraq, then refused to either own it or fix it.Syria and Libya have other counters that would take a ton more than 1500 characters (including spaces) to lay out; but suffice to say that despite claims of "close calls", Mr. Obama chose to do nothing in all the decisions he faced, and wound up having to do much. He'll spend his remaining 2 1/2 years trying to manage global emergencies that were eminently avoidable if he'd had then followed the right instincts and judgment at the start.
President Obama's strength has been avoiding involvement. This avoidance has served him well domestically but in Iraq his hurried exit left a void that has now been filled by an even bigger problem than he had before. Americans have seen the price of overreaction and, now, of inaction.
"But we cleared out of Iraq so fast three years ago that the door didn't have a CHANCE to hit us in the rear."That's a joke, right? "A workable confederation"?
So you want to give most of Iraq's oil to Iran?And let's be clear, Iraq was broken by Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, not by Obama. Like Humpty Dumpty, it was and is impossible to put back together.
I actually agree with most of this column! That said, I would still fault him for some collateral damage he's managed to inflict along the way: 1. Not knocking the party he supports for the mess it created2. Use of the phrase by humanitarianism" (really, really--such an insulting dig!)3. A hindsight heckle at Mr. Obama's "too early" withdrawal from Iraq.If you ignore these little phrases and expressions, the very fact that Ross essentially Mr. Obama is on the right course, right now, is forward progress. Especially compared to what McCain is saying. So for this, I am grateful. Combined with Maureen Dowd's column, one might think there is hope for both of them!!
So, a case for war can be made, like Bush did for Iraq. Yes, yes I know the fact the intelligence turned out to be lies, makes no difference. Many months from now, as the air strikes continue as O has indicated, what will be the moral justification?
This is the best-reasoned, short presentation I have read adopting a position with which I ordinarily vehemently disagree by a commentator with whom I ordinarily vehemently disagree (though respect). I will have to reevaluate my position.
Once again we have the radical right myth about US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. The Bush-Maliki agreement of November 2008 set a firm timetable. When interviewed by the WSJ shortly thereafter, Maliki made it absolutely clear that the status of forces agreement was firm and not subject to any modification.Had Obama left US troops in Iraq without the protection of a SOF agreement, leaving them to the tender mercies of the Iraqi judicial system, we can be sure that Douthat and his ilk would be demanding Obama's impeachment for failing to protect US force.
Despite a few factual errors I must say that this is one of this writer's better, well reasoned commentaries.The Kurds are the largest indigenous group of people without a homeland. The are pro American and fought on our side in both Gulf Wars.We are right to help them, our allies, just as certain we would help the British if ISIS marched on London or the Australians if Canberra were in similar jeopardy.
In paragraph two Mr. Douthat projects three potential structures for Syria, the clear winner being “liberals,” who, in the Middle East as elsewhere, tend toward higher educations, a more urban lifestyle, a far lessened likelihood of religious fundamentalism in favor of rational thought, a willingness to compromise, and a higher degree of empathy with other cultures (like not wanting to eradicate them). This is not new and it seems conservatives recognize the power of liberal thought to transform societies, especially when weighed against conservative constants: xenophobia, bedrock religious ideology that brooks no compromise, and a feeling that the past is where the future somehow lives. Everywhere but here, of course.
There is a sort of model for a democratic society emerging in the Arab world and that is in Tunisia. It was accomplished with almost no American footprint: the Tunisians did it themselves.Your point about the Kurds doing something similar by forging their way through this ISIS incursion with some help from the U.S. Is very compelling and hopefully, republicans will for one time in recent years support President Obama's limited military action in the region.
"Divide and Conquer" seems to me to be the US plan once again; it's a strategy that worked before in 2006, when implemented on the ground by David Petraeus, so why not now? That is, the largely Sunni Kurds will be protected by US air power, while they continue to make peace with the Sunni Turks (a peace process that's been going on for the last year or so.) Thus, a strong Sunni alliance might be formed in northern Iraq between Kurds and Turks, enabling the other combative Sunni tribes of northwestern Iraq, as well as the surviving Baathists, to have a potential new ally and alternative to their current barbarous friend, the Sunni extremists of ISIL, as all the Sunnis (and Baathists) of Iraq struggle with the present US-installed, and Iran supported, Shiite government in Bagdad. Not impossible, I suppose, but at least somewhat fantastic!
A wise person once said: A highly intelligent person may learn from the mistakes of others, a reasonably intelligent one may learn from his own mistakes but a fool does not even learn from his own mistakes.Mr. Douthat's tortured rationale notwithstanding, our government's new campaign of sending American planes to drop bombs on Iraq, a slippery slope will invariably place our leaders in the third group. History and future generations may never forgive them.
This is actually a thoughtful piece, and I too often find the author less than thoughtful as he hews a predictable path. This is well done. Having spent a good deal of time in that region dealing with these issues, it is indeed difficult to make a wise choice when it comes to intervention. But as the author says here, the combination of a truly horrid foe (ISIS) and a truly good friend (the Kurds) does present the US with a strong case to engage. There is tremendous culpability on our part for setting this crisis in motion over a decade ago but that is not a reason to do nothing now, even if it is reason to act with great caution and forethought. ISIS is attempting to erase the history of an entire region. Regardless of how we got here, we need to thoughtfully act now so that we don't end up where they want us.
It seems that Douthat is accepting the Biden conclusion of several years ago: a federated Iraq with a Kurd homeland. Granted the Kurds have been very friendly since the post-Gulf War I carved them a niche with US-enforced no-fly zone overhead. But it seems two problems lurk ahead: Turkey has always resisted a Kurd homeland, and second, and more important to the US specifically, would we be creating a permanent client state, dependent on us for practically everything?
"Swiftly or gradually, depending on political developments in Baghdad, an independent, secure, well-armed Kurdistan could replace an unstable, perpetually fragmenting Iraq as the intended locus of American influence in the region."And just by coincidence, there are large oil reserves in Kurdish territory. The idea that oil isn't motivating recent US actions is as laughable as the notion that the US actions are motivated by "humanitarian" concerns.Opinion pieces such as this are only useful in demonstrating how far out on the limb of irrationality an intellectual is willing to go in order to please the powerful.
I fail to see "vindication" of any kind as being possible after I watched the media reports of those ISIS officers shooting hundreds of captives in the head and letting them fall into mass graves. I am old enough to have seen through news reports such evil by the Japanese and the Germans during WW2. I am very old and was once a career military officer and I hate war - strongly. However, this monstrous re-appearance of EVIL in the 21st Century may cause me to reconsider.......
I'm forced to agree.Given the reality on the ground this is an instance where the worlds powers really ought to put boots on the ground.The problem is a lack of faith in our governments ability to be frank, honest and truthful with the public. something that Obama has had little to do with but which he has also done little to correct.
I disagree with you about the current intervention in Iraq. The current problem, a direct result of 43s catastrophic invasion of Iraq, led directly to an existential problem for a set of persecuted minorities and for Kurdistan.Just because it is good for Iran, does not mean it is bad for us. That was over 33 years ago, and you should get over it.Plus, why didn't you speak out against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and why didn't you come out in support of the sitting president when he (wisely) did not intervene in Syria?
Sure enough like the difference we made when Bush/ Cheney and cohorts implemented a fraud war on Iraq with falsified and manufactured evidence. Along with Tony Blair the lying hypocrite Brit. So that the nit wit Bush could be a war time President. We had no qualms about indiscriminate mass destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure, murdering and slaughtering some close to 500,000 poor innocent Iraqi, dislocating some 5 million more. All for the profits of the Industrial-Military-Security-Complex.Or before that when Reagan with his conservative revolution , used , abused and exploited his favorite freedom fighter bin Laden and the Mujahadeen for that other US proxy war in Afghanistan. Then when the Soviets withdrew and the dust settled, the great conservative Reagan and his cohorts reneged all the promises creating enemy # One.
So it's our job to fight evil. I'm glad to know that my country is finally in the right after decades of botched attempts. It almost makes me want to enlist.
The closet war pig in Ross Douthat crawls out from underneath the rock he was run off to. Yes, my heart bleeds for the victims. Just like it did when we starved a half a million to death after DS with out stupid sanctions. I bled for them as we blitzed a country we had no beef with and did us no harm. Another half a million,(Lancet death study) I bled with the sectarian violence that killed more. And now I am supposed to get upset. Get Turkey on the phone. Set up a refugee camp. Get the UN to set up shop. Get those people over the border. Find ways to let them immigrate. And kiss Iraq goodbye.
I still think this whole debacle has much to do with 1947, and the colonization of Palestine. Palestine to this day remains the only colonized entity on our globe. That is grotesque! Our contention is that that 67 year old decision remains the basis for all sorts of grotesque political and moral justifications. Gaza is this simply this month's headline for another car commercial. Thousands dead or injured. SISI, HAMAS, PLO, Likud, on and on. Right to exist? We all share that aspiration. Find political and economic fairness in the Levant, and we suspect many of these other issues will, over time, fade. Go Cairo! Allah and Abraham both surely have indigestion.
It would be great if it were that simple. The Shia/Sunni conflict predates 1947 by a few centuries.
Once again the Pottery Barn adage is evoked. We helped break Iraq, and now we feel an obligation to try and save it.It's essential, however, that we remember how we got here - by removing a brutal secular tyrant while choosing to look the other way at the hornet's nest of Islamic radicals embedded within our allies, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, radicals who were ultimately responsible for propagating the ideology that produced 9/11. That ideology has now gone on to mutate, to become so extreme that even the previous generation of Islamic totalitarians disown it.Muslims invented this perversion of their religion, and now only Muslims can put an end to it. If we've learned anything over this last decade, it's that no amount of American drone strikes, cruise missiles, or boots on the ground can end it. We live in "interesting times", times that truly try men's souls. Darkness has overtaken the followers of the Prophet. While America may have a role to play in supporting any legitimate army of light that might emerge within the region, only Muslims can lead this jihad, this battle against the life-denying darkness within their collective minds and souls.It's relatively easy for suffering men to find something to die for; let me strongly suggest that it's far more spiritually productive to instead find something to live for.It's time for Muslims to choose life.
I'm waiting for another shoe to drop. Mr. Douthat, in the main, has approved of President Obama's Iraq policy, and his non-intervention in Libya. This is a marked departure for Mr. Douthat, for he generally finds little in the president's overseas ventures to commend itself. Perhaps what is now happening is that events have forced the president's hand--which is not always a bad thing. One fails to hear the cheers on the [Christian] Right for the president's decision to succor the 40,000 [persecuted Christian minority Yazidis] on Mt. Jindar. Old warhorse John McCain is stoking anti-Obama sentiment by complaining that no boots on the ground will lead to failure at the end of the trail. As usual, he's missing the point. The president is playing defense here--the only same strategy--rescue the besieged Yazidis and protect the American presence in Erbil and Baghdad. That's all.
Anyone who reads, sees or hears knows by now that the region and the world confronts in ISIS, as Mr. Douthat puts it, "a more distinctive form of evil even than a butcher like Assad." Such a force will stop only when a stronger force decisively confronts it. Any takers? So far, President Obama. Anyone else? Apparently not. China? Russia? ISIS is OK with you?www.endthemadnessnow.org
Ross: finally you are able to see light at the end of the tunnel. Despite your slanted view favoring the right winger extremists over the years , you have shown some sense this time. Hope this is the beginning of coming out of the cloud and you would be able to see the clear picture. Despite that, you made a poor reference saying that the pull out from Iraq was swift. That is a frivolous claim. It was done in a very sensible way and unfortunately, you didn't get it. But, we are hoping that you would come out of the cloud where you live.
Bravo, Mr. Douthat, you've penned a very astute and very thoughtful essay. I couldn't find one detail in your analysis of the historical narrative that I didn't agree with.
We have no money to do anything for ourselves, but man, we sure have bombs.
Gotta use the bombs, otherwise, the arms makers would have too much inventory.Here's hoping "ourselves" are not driving over a collapsing bridge this weekend.
"The latest crisis, however, is different. This time, the case for war is much stronger, and the decision to intervene is almost certainly the right call."No! War is ALWAYS wrong! War is NEVER the right call. People die in war. Innocents suffer in war. Children lose their parents, and parents lose their children in war. War is NOT the answer! All we are saying is......
Never? Even to defend against the slaughter of innocents? Would you have just ignored Hitler and hoped that he would go away?
So it's never right to offer help? We should live behind our curtains and peer out at the destruction befalling others on the street below? There are no absolutes. Sometimes military action is necessary in the defense of humanity. Read your history books.
An enslaved Belgium was liberated from the Nazis through acts of war.
Douthat is right, it is different this time. The shock and awe of the Bush/Cheney/Halliburton war for oil was a lot different than the defense of Kurds and other Iraqi minorities from the reformed Hussein regime calling itself the Islamic State. To be honest, these thugs are the same thugs Bush/Cheney threw out of Iraq, only they're are kinder and gentler now, killing in the name of Allah.The Bush/Cheney regime should never have started their ill fated war on the middle east over imaginary weapons of mass destruction. Having said that, I feel good at least that a more thoughtful American executive is using our military-industrial complex for the right reasons this time, against a chorus of formerly gung-ho American conservatives calling for the US to stand down, because, you know, we can't afford it monetarily.
Our current intervention will predictably fail to produce results consequently the call will be for a reintroduction of ground forces. The Army may very well stump for this as a way of getting rid of the current budget sequester and being forced to trim the fat out of its organization.The use of American ground forces is unnecessary. Any calls for it will be primarily political trash talk from the far right. This is a part of the American political universe whose views on foreign policy have been horribly, indeed, dangerously wrong for a very long time.The ISIS is on a romp but it is not sustainable. The Kurds are strong though they may use the current strife to extort more arms and money out of the US. And two-thirds of Iraq is Shia a people hardly likely to welcome a radical Sunni resurgence. Nor will Iran permit Shia territory to be impinged on by ISIS forces.The best thing to do is to calm down and stop reacting to every crisis in the world from the Ukraine to Iraq in the fashion of a Chinese fire drill. Our military interventions invariably miscalculation and make things worse. Instead, with our allies focus on large scale humanitarian relief.
Yes! let us wait till all the christians and yezidis are all slaughtered and most of the peshmerga forces are annihilated.
It was most gratifying to learn that, upon their arrival in Baghdad, I.S.I.S. is planning to erect a statue in honor of George W. Bush in the spot where the infamous statue of Saddam Hussein was torn down.It is heartwarming to see how an American President is acknowledged and truly appreciated by foreigners, who fully understand that without him their organization would likely not exist, let alone be so successful.
More likely a statue of a weak and hesitant Barack Obama. If President Obama supported the opposition to Assad early enough and didn't foolishly draw red lines in Syria he had no intention of keeping, ISIS wouldn't even exist.
It should be a statue to Cheney, who was "Bush's mind" in the whole Iraq mess. And when you look at how well Halliburton (previously one the ropes) did with that abortive war...and how well the Cheney family did through their "blind trust" during his tenure as VP, you realize why we REALLY went into Iraq.
The Kurds were doing just fine until ISIS got ahold of American military equipment left behind by the Iraq soldiers, many who apparently just ran away from their posts. The Kurds are staunch allies, they are largely secular and they are good fighters. They need our help and we owe it to them. If there is something good that can come out of this mess we created it would be a strong and independent Kurdistan.
I fully expect to hear you have volunteered for military service if we do engage further in this civil war.
Civil war? Not quite. There certainly is no love lost between Shia and Sunni but ISIS is an invading force from Syria that is intent on slaughtering all who don't subscribe to their version of Islam. They must be destroyed.
There will almost certainly have to be more boots on the ground then the Kurds can supply. It's a fantasy to think that perhaps more secular Shiites in Iraq can join with moderate Sunnis to field an Iraqi force to help hold the front against ISIS. It's time for the local powers who want to oppose ISIS to field their own forces. An Islamist government in Turkey won't do it, nor would any Turkish government, if it meant cooperating with independent Kurdish forces. It's time for the Egyptians, and perhaps the Saudis, to step up and field an army. They have the only well trained and equipped forces up to the task.
Like ISIS Saudi Arabia is sunni and will not support any military incursion against it.
The Saudis are funding ISIS. There is a great article on this in the U.K. Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/iraq-crisis-how-saudi-arabia...
Please, America, unless you're military speaking in a military setting, please lay off the militaryspeak. "Boots on the ground"; indeed, anything "on the ground," and their like minimize the fact that we're talking about human beings placed in harm's way.In addition to Egypt, and the Saud family and their subjects, don't you think that getting Israel, with all of their American weaponry already in place in the region, involved in this fight might be in their and our best interests?
Your arguments certainly make more sense than those of John McCain, for whom the solution to every problem seems to be more US arms. For months he has been insisting we arm the Syrian opposition. Many of those arms have fallen into the hands of ISIS. Now he wants us to go to war with ISIS, both in Iraq and in Syria. Which would be great, if defeating ISIS in Syria would not essentially guarantee victory for the Assad regime, whose argument always has been that they are the only thing preventing the establishment of an Al Qaeda linked fundamentalist Islamic state. Perhaps sometimes the devil you know, even a really, really evil devil like Assad, is better than the devil you don't know.
No, ISIS has not gotten significant arms from the Free Syrian Army. That is a convenient myth. It clearly was a mistake to not support the FSA, they are fighting both Assad and ISIS around Aleppo, and now losing badly.The theory that we have to choose between Assad and ISIS is also unsupported by reality on the ground. Assad's propaganda has found resonance with those who want to ignore the unfolding disaster.Assad has not much challenged ISIS in western Syria, they are actually tactical allies. Assad even buys electricity from ISIS now! Assad knows that the more moderate FSA presents the real threat politically, so has focused on them.
This may be the first time I agree 100% with a column written by Mr. Douthat. Maybe there is a God, after all.
Odd that he doesn't mention who got us into this mess, Bush/Chaney. Having said that his analysis seems spot on but who knows. In that region one fire is smothered, and another one begins. The conflagration in the Mideast will exist as long as the Sunnis hate the Shiites. Centuries.
I would like to add a point to my earlier comments. I just read Ross Douthat's column on Iraq, and I have to say that this liberal and anti-Iraq war veteran (who usually detests what Douthat says) finds his piece more cogent and persuasive on this vital topic than Ms. Dowd's flippant essay.
As a former weapons officer on B-52's (99th Bomber Wing, 348th Bomb Squadron), I want to testify that bombing is a very imprecise way of making war. That has always been the case, including the bombing of Cambodia, so-called "smartbombs", and today's drones, which are useful mainly for killing coffee drinkers in Yemeni cafes, or guests at Pakistan weddings. It would be nice to think that the "shock and awe" of creating a lot of orphans and maimed children would cause Arab revolutionaries to behave as Mr. Obama wants them to, but somehow I am not optimistic. Because while he is lecturing us in his pretty blue blazer with the American flag pin, and his nice clean shirt, they are crawling around in the tunnels and dust of Iraq, and our bombs are not putting them in a pleasanter mood by any means. In fact, we now know that bombs tend to make people angrier and strengthen their resolve. Sorry I have to give you that bad news.
Neil, thanks for this observation.As an infantryman in Vietnam in an infantry company that frequently witnessed, was nearly subject to twice, and swept B-52 bombed areas I, too, am witness to the ineffectiveness of bombing, other than to terrorize, including friendlies, such as my infantry company.The ineffectiveness bombing included ground support in which case fighter jets attempted attacks on enemy positions, only to primarily fall imprecisely, leaving them as determined as ever..
Mr. Elliot ~ First, thank you for your service. I am a pacifist, yet I honor the courage and dedication of the people who have risked their lives in the military. Second, thank you for your clear description of the results of military action: death, destruction, and resentment. I pray for the time when my country stops choosing sides (often based on who controls natural resources) and instead chooses to support peaceful resolution of disputes and basc rights for all people.
I'm not sure what Mr. Obama's attire has to do with making your point here. I am sure that his decision was made with the advice and consent of officers with more stars on their uniforms than the one you wore. Your obvious disdain for the president, who is only trying to clean up and contain the damage caused by his reckless predecessor, weakens your otherwise impeccable credentials as a commenter.
We have heard all of these arguments before -- at every stage of our failed interventions in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of us now are unable to believe.
Complications abound--helping Kurds is a humanitarian good, but not exactly what Turkey wants to see happen. A Kurdistan would include part of Eastern Turkey.
I'm entirely pro-Kurd. If they take over the land where they live (including part of Turkey--a seriously mis-managed government/state), so much the better.
"First, this humanitarian crisis is one our actions directly helped create: The cleansing of Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities began in the chaos following our invasion of Iraq, and it has taken a more ruthless turn because ISIS profited from the fallout from our too-swift 2011 withdrawal."No, Mr. Douthat, not the American "too-swift 2011 withdrawal", but the disastrous decision in May, 2003 by L. Paul Bremmer III, President George W. Bush's special envoy in Iraq, to dissolve the Iraqi Army. This is whirlwind creating and abetting a not negligible slice of ISIS.
do you think the turks would amiable to a well armed kurdish army? don't think so.
Probably not, but do you really trust Erdogan? Arm the Kurds! If ISIL doesn't kill them, Erdogan will, US ally or not
You just became a RINO, Ross. Ted Cruz won't like you anymore. But I do, because I agree.
Mr. Douthat writes that iSIS is evil. Well, maybe the biggest evil in all this is the USA which is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in the middle east, the destruction of countries into chaos, etc. Compared to that, I'd say that ISIS is just a bunch of amateurs when it comes to being evil. Moreover, perhaps the Iraqi people want ISIS. I mean, if the Iraqi people with their army trained and supplied by the USA can't beat ISIS, it is telling you that ISIS has a lot of popular support. The USA should just get out of the middle east. If you judge by actions, rather that words, US policy in the middle east is to destabilize any country which is not in bed with us regardless of how much suffering and death this will cause. Do you really think that ISIS is worse than us??
Kurdistan is a viable, reasonably liberal, well-defined state & a good friend to the US. And they will fight. Let's arm them -- heavily--provide training if asked, and lend political support.Time to give up on the fantasy of a "united" (pre-2003 borders) Iraq; it is laughable that the Shia government whines, no, demands, US arms, after rejecting a treaty of future US assistance & then leaving what arms were left them in their craven army's haste to the rear into the hands of Isis, to be used in its advance.This is now Iran's problem and I expect that it will make short work of the rag-tag isis once the US convinces these nihilists, through substantial air assault, that their future points towards Baghdad.There's at least 3 billion wasted on feckless Israel, a truly terrible ally from the US perspective that could be better used both at home and for the Kurds. This from an isolationist!
"But by protecting a Kurdistan that can extend protection to groups made homeless by the fighting, we can still help save something from the wreckage."When was the last time Mr. Douthat made a case for helping the homeless in the United States? When was the last time Mr. Douthat showed any concern about the wreckage and misery his right wing friends have caused in his own country?
"But in this case, such a plan is visible. We do not need to re-invade or restabilize Iraq to deal ISIS a blow and help its victims, because Kurdistan is already relatively stable, and the line of conflict is relatively clear."That's it? The standard for intervention (killing thousands and spending $millions) are pretty low nowadays. Shouldn't the Commander-in-Chief have to make a case to taxpayers and voters? Why not?
I think he has. You're just not paying close enough attention.
Dubya started this, Afghanistan made sense after 9/11. Iraq was just a war to prove his daddy was wrong. Iraq beget the "Arab Spring" which we still don't know if it was a good or a bad thing, history likes about 40 years before deciding winners and losers with good reason.The tens of thousands killed in Syria and how many more displaced is criminal. But Putin in his ever pursuit of regaining the power Russia really never had weighed on the side of Assad making Syria this century's Viet Nam, a pawn in a chess game between "Super Powers".ISIS is filling a void that wars in Syria and Iraq created as their dictators have either fallen (Iraq) or barely hang (Syria).Dubya had noble aspirations in trying to bring democracy to the middle east but he bit off more than he could chew, and instead we end up with chaos and death. If he had only done Afghanistan not on the cheap he might have a legacy to be proud of. 40 years from now we'll know.
Isis is the Ebola of the Middle East, spreading death, destruction and upending lives of innocent civilians; and as such it must be isolated and eradicated. Isis is a threat to the region and may move toward stable regimes of Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The president must impress upon them it is in their interest and vital security to take Isis on. The U.S. air strikes should not be a cure all for the Middle East or become a de-facto Iraqi air force. However, the U.S air strikes can be the antidote to assist the Kurds and even its fight against Isis. President Obama’s surgical air strikes must be precise and delivered to a degree that puts Isis on notice that the US will protect its assets. Additionally, President Obama must work to build a coalition of Kurds, Turks, Saudis and Jordanians to combat Isis. And to put Maliki on notice that his exclusionary rule will not stand and the US will not reinvest American blood on Iraqi soil. These air strikes may protect American assets and yet may inspire anti Americanism and future recruitment into Isis. President Obama set the stakes; he is to protect Americans in Iraq and is willing to provide game changing strikes for the Kurds battling Isis.
There's a lot of garbage in the media lately about how many people now wish that they had voted for Romney instead of President Obama. I can't help but wonder how things would be unfolding if Romney and his foreign policy advisor, who was reportedly the choice for secretary of state, John "Mad Dog" Bolton. were calling the shots. I can only imagine, shudder, and thank Divine Providence that the American people had enough wisdom to recognize the dangers that these warmongers posed.
Thanks, Ross. I agree that this is one of the few global situations in which the US can and should be involved. I'm just waiting to see if Republicans will apply their principle that all Americans should support the Commander-in-chief to President Obama.
General Douthat has now made his strategic assessment of the Iraqi situattion, and his conclusion is to arm the Kurds. Really. What the U.S. will not do is the obvious--make peace with Iran with millions of troops, and give their blessing to enlisting Iran to crush ISIS and stabilize the region. But General Douthat seems to echo Donald Rumsfeld in thinking that helping the al-Maliki government is somehow empowering Iran. I do have news for General Douthat. The Iraqis have no interest in courting Iranian influence in their country. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered leader in the country despises the theology of the Islamic Republic. Notice that no Shi'a clerics occupy office in Baghdad. Still the Iranians have good cause to intervene if only to protect the sacred Shi'a religious sites that are everywhere in Iraq, and which ISIS has vowed to destroy--along with the Shi'a themselves. Our nonsensical 40 year old quarrel with Iran, along with the phony accusations that Iran is building nuclear weapons should now be given the lie and abandoned. We have common cause with Iran and they can help. Sure, arm the Kurds, but they can't do the job of stabilizing the country alone, and they can't rule. Their price will be an independent Kurdistan, along with all the oil in Northern Iraq--oil that the United States covets.
Ross Douthat uses the words "moral" and "humanitarian" and the phrase "moral obligation" as he makes a case for the air strikes on ISIS that President Obama has ordered. A recent, very brilliant, 84 minute PBS "Frontline" "Losing Iraq" makes clear how the Iraq War and its consequences do not evoke those terms. Neither did our half-hearted intervention in Libya.And by using the word "evil" to describe ISIS, Mr. Douthat brought back depressing memories of George W. Bush's rhetoric in the run up to the Iraq War. During that war, someone urged that the word "evil" should be left for members of the clergy to proclaim - because in the world of U.S. "realpolitik" it has been and continues to be used to render moral a modern war's inevitable socially licensed descent into destruction and killing.I wouldn't restrict the word "evil" to religion (that too has its dangers), but when I add to Mr. Douthat's column another Times item dated August 9th, "McCain Says Limited U.S. Strikes on Militants in Iraq Are Not Enough," I sense a rhetorical slippery slope ending (possibly after the November elections) with "boots on the ground" in Iraq. The ancient Romans had a vivid catch phrase, "Lupus auribus tenere" - "to have a wolf by the ears." The last 15 minutes of that "Frontline" show in a fearful way that President Obama "has a wolf - the Iraq Debacle - by the ears."A moralist's philosophizing essay on "military humanism" will not help him decide whether to let go or not.
All well and good, protect the Kurds, but what if ISIL (the favored new designation with the "L" standing for "the Levant") decides they want to take Baghdad? Iraqi forces have shown themselves incapable of stopping them so far. Baghdad would be the major prize and its occupation as one of the great Arab cities would mean enormous amount of power and prestige would accrue to the ISIL. A deal needs to be struck with Maliki and his partners or we may be seeing a siege of Baghdad soon. I think Obama and his staff are aware of this and would probably act to prevent a major assault on Baghdad, but who knows? And what of Basra? Would that be next? Neglect of the Shia and Baghdad also opens the possibility that Iran might establish dominance in southern Iraq. I'm not sure we would want that either. We need to stop assuming that "a major American-aligned model nation in the Arab world" is a requirement for us to want to influence events there. It gets down to who do you want ruling in Iraq? Maliki and his ilk, ISIL or Iran?
It does seem significant that Kurdistan was the beneficiary of the no-fly zone after Desert Storm in 1991. And now this echo of that policy through the current use of the US air force.But I don't think it can work this time. The jihadis are a much more potent and unified force than Saddam's lackluster armies, and the ballyhooed Pesh Merga have never been a truly competent, battle-hardened force. Before our invasion of Iraq, this collection of Kurdish militias spent as much time scheming against each other as fighting Saddam, sometimes allying with the latter to prevent gains of other Kurdish factions. I doubt they can stand up to ISIS.We constantly make the mistake of overestimating the effectiveness of bombing; far from being the right war, this is more of a feel-good maneuver. To make this work as you describe would require US ground forces, one advantage of which would be to give us some real leverage against Maliki.
I like your highly nuanced reasoning here Mr. Douthat. However, using the Kurds as our "go to" partners in trying to stabilize the situation in Iraq needs a little more nuance. Arming the Kurds with better weapons could stop, if not turnback, ISIL. Flushed with any kind of victory in that endeavor, we can not be assured that newly energized Kurds in Iraq won't move towards some kind of unification of effort with Kurds in Turkey (a NATO ally) and those in Iran. With all the hand wringing about a badly run Iraq and an exploding Syria, I think we've forgotten that the Kurds of Iraq want very badly, and have for centuries, to form their own country, Kurdistan, amidst the current turmoil of the middle east.I don't mean to puncture your recommendations for President Obama, I just wanted to remind you of yet another pitfall.
The Kurds are going to stop ISIS? Hardly.The Sunni Caliphate ("self-styled"- what do you expect UN recognition?) can only be defeated through all-out war. and maybe not even then.No, I am not suggesting that the US do it, but just stating a fact of life. And Mr. Douthat, the Kurds are not going to do it either nor will the Iraqi army do it.ISIS has already announced that Kuwait is their next order of business. But do not be surprised as the Caliphate expands, stoning "adulterous" women and beheading "infidels" in their wake.
I hope your fellow conservative John McCain reads your column and learns something from its reasoning and restraint. Mr. McCain, for all his occasional bursts of insight, seems still a fighter pilot at heart and represents a trend in American policy thinking that has more often than not led the nation into quagmires of overcommitment. Your approach (and Mr. Obama's, which clearly is edging carefully past purely humanitarian goals) is clear and incisive without indulging in the swash-buckling, bravado and political side-swipes of Mr. McCain that bring out the worst in our American exceptionalism.
I cannot help but believe those fighting and dying are doing so for a different agenda than those leading them. The Kurds ran out of bullets to defend a dam critical to Mosul? The ISIS is launching an attack on a city they could not hope to suppress? The Shiites have provided no assistance to an important ally against a common enemy? I am leery of such convenient ineptitude. I believe all three sides wish to split into separate countries and are manufacturing an excuse to do so.
There is no good war. At best there are wars whose consequences are less tragic than those of no war. People are dying in the Ukraine, Gaza, Israel, Syria, and Iraq because one group of people or another decided that killing members of some other group was a perfectly good course of action. People will die because of our decision, too.Muslims have resorted to violence against one another for so long and with so little mercy that their reasons must surely have become an enigma even to themselves. Our intervention is justified, indeed propelled, because it will prevent this slaughter of these people in this place at this time. It will not, though, prevent the next slaughter, nor the next one, nor the next.
A Churchill would have bit his cigar and waited to strike a blow against ISIS that would be decisively fatal: when ISIS leaders were all accounted and identified in visible places of authority. It takes military experience, a veteran of losses and victories, to know how to defeat such a foe! Let them take the bait first before you hit them. Never hit them piece meal. A crushing blow or nothing! All-in!!
H o o o a h!!
Douthat: "The cleansing of Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities began in the chaos following our invasion of Iraq, and it has taken a more ruthless turn because ISIS profited from the fallout from our too-swift 2011 withdrawal."Not to be too critical of an otherwise surprisingly clear-headed piece by Mr. Douthat, but a strategic and ultimately tragic mistake made in managing the post-invasion of Iraq was the too-swift disbanding of the Iraqi armed forces shortly after the fall of Baghdad in 2003, which left the country without a viable backbone of solders and officers around which the US could have developed an Iraqi force capable of defending the country. It thus stands to reason that ISIS has profited much more from that colossal mistake than from any fallout from our inevitable withdrawal fully 8 years later.
So, Libya was complicated, Syria is complicated, and defending the national capital of Iraq was distasteful. But defending a semi-autonomous region of Iraq is "right" - to the point where you talk about them being a tested ally and you push long-term strategy including independence. Have you asked the Kurds of Turkey and Iran and Syria to ignore what you're saying? Otherwise, it might be just the tiniest bit complicated. Like everything in that region.Sorry - if we decide to help people in Iraq against ISIL, we help all the people of Iraq - we do NOT say, "Gee, let's take this opportunity to create a friendly client state - what could go wrong?"We've seen too much in the Middle East of what can go wrong when outside powers start dreaming of new borders.And note, I use ISIL instead of ISIS because I think ISIS minimizes their desired outcome. The Levant is "complicated", too.
"the people of Iraq"Sorry. No such thing....
I think we ought to concentrate on the lessons we (should have) learned from our recent wars. It is already widely accepted that "state-building" is not possible although we bury that realization under words like "difficult" and "long-term commitment." Another lesson is that we should never believe that the U.S. military has the ability to create a viable military -- Iraqis ran at the first sight of ISIS and the Afghan army may last longer than the South Vietnamese army did after we pulled out, but I wouldn't bet on it. We really have to stop listening to this nonsense. And the CIA, when it is not spying on members of Congress, seem busy creating our next enemy, so we should stop listening to them as well. Conservative pundits like Brooks and Douthat -- and the slightly crazed Senator McCain -- will always think that this war or the next one will be completely different.
I have to agree with this, though as other's have pointed out, Douthat is incorrect in saying Obama cut and ran too soon from Iraq (he actually had no choice, due to the constraints of Bush's earlier agreement).Nevertheless, Douthat is right - we should help our allies. It really is as simple at that - we CAN do it, with a minimum of money and effort, therefore we SHOULD do it. We have very few other solid, reliable allies in this region, and unlike what some pacifists believe, a Middle East devoid of our influence, is a profound threat to our country and Western liberal democracy in general.
Golly, GEE!You mean that is Bush's fault, too?Why do you emasculate Obama by assigning his blame to Bush?Are you inferring that Obama is incapable of making decisions and thus assigning these decisions to Bush or are you claiming that Obama, in general, is feckless?Give it up. Obama is President. Praise or blame him for decisions in his administration.
"In each case, there were good reasons to hesitate."There is one overriding reason to hesitate: Go not forth in search of monsters to destroy. Why? Because unless there's a direct threat to America or Americans, there is absolutely no reason to attack anyone. America cannot be the defender of everyone. When ISIS beheads an American contractor, then we can use the full power of our military and wipe them out. Until then, they are not our problem. We are not going to win someone else's civil war. Unless we want to become like Russia in Ukraine.
So KarlosTJ we should just let genocide happen if it doesn't directly effect the US? We should let tens of thousands or millions of people just be killed indiscriminately?
What you're saying here seem to be that America cannot be the defender of anyone...
This is NOT a civil war - this is a global war to create an Islamic Caliphate in the entire Middle east. Syria and Iraq are just the start - incursiong into Lebanon and Jordan are in the offing. Ultimately they want to come to the US with their war. This is NOT a pee-wee local enterprise or a civil war. Think of a modern day Attila the Hun sweeping over all the countries that stood in his path and you might understand what is happning now with ISIL.
While I admit that overall this is one of your better-reasoned pieces in quite some time, your sly insinuation that Obama was consulting with BHL just cracks me up.While it's generally accepted that BHL influenced Sarkozy's decision to intervene in Libya (thanks in part to a self-promoting documentary produced by and starring - wait for it - BHL), providing Obama with the cover of non-American boots on the ground, it's quite laughable to think that Obama was secretly getting his marching orders from that most vain and self-interested French pseudo-intellectual.And while I find your reasoning generally sound, I disagree with your conclusion. An independent and American-armed Kurdistan will be just one more unpredictable folly of American intervention that will have unintended consequences eventually drawing Turkey into the Middle East mire as well.
No mention of how Turkey will take this independent heavily armed Kurdistan. I think this may be a factor yet it is ignored. Sound familiar?
Dear Mr. Douthat, Although I agree with Napoleon's assessment that history is a "fable agreed upon", your history of the situation in the Iraq/Syria/Libya area seems beyond fable. Let's begin with the American presence in Iraq. You seem to forget that we invaded under false pretenses, we were never greeted as "liberators" and the whole country was just waiting for us to leave so they could have their Civil War with the weapons supplied by the Neo-Cons. Brilliant planning on the part of the Bush/Cheney administration.Then you have the gall to call the American withdrawal ""too swift" (guess Mr. Obama has to be somehow blamed for this mess). Excuse me, I didn't notice you running over there with a gun so you could have the honor of being the last soldier killed in a hopeless endeavor.The next time you and your friends like Mr. McCain, a man who should know better, want more assertive action involving other Americans doing that "assertive action", then your more than welcome to hop a flight and stop talking and start fighting for what you believe in.I believe it's time to put this mess behind us; we may have "broken it" but I'm sure not going to back "buying it". No more military actions for false assertions. This area is not worth one more American life; we really can't afford a "war with no end".
Intervention to protect the Kurds is one thing, attaching the sobriquet "war" to it is quite another. Words matter.The biggest problem I have with this is not the intervention itself, but the hubris of the US in, once again, trying to go it alone. If we must intervene, it must be under a coalition under the authority of the UN. Short term unilateralism is fine -- we did that in Korea -- but ultimately the success or failure of the project will depend on the extent to which other nations, including Arab states, are willing to play a role.The model is there -- Desert Storm -- and GHW Bush, unlike his son, made the geopolitics of it all work out.The policy goal of protecting the Kurds and refugees they're willing to protect from ISIS/ISIL is likely a worthy one; making it a solo US project will probably backfire in ways we can't even imagine.Do this if we must, but at least do it right.
To Douthat every war is a right war.No natioon on our planet has invited us to go waring on their own lands . The Iraqs went about with their business and daily routines. Until a superpower stepped in commanding our governnment is much, much better.But having a dictator ( who kept the various sector under his iron fist generally Comfortable life with women having more freedom than any other middle east counties.But we took it upon our selves to champion the cause of freedom.The endevour was a diastor.Sectarian war broke out. We installedthat snake Nur-Maliki as our pupprt He turnned his back as soon as left. With hundreds of thousands of Iraqis ( with another3500of our very braves)Now here we are back again trying to out put a bandaid. The bandaid is such a temporary fix which comes oyy with two washes.Now This not a right wherObabma has changed his mind thre timesFirst a humantirian exercise to fly wrter wihk very limited tagetted bombins o the ISISnext day the bombng has to contiue for a few weeksToday The bombing is to continued for monthsAnd after all this, what have gained--NO WMDs,no oil,a popultion who hates us more than Satan,no inclusivegovernmet and now the last saga. WEEEEEE'AAAARE'BBBBBBACKAlthough this time around we can spot the country and maybe you think is the right war
It comes to mind that nothing Pres. Obama did in the way of initiating, facilitating, or actively participating in, militarily, since he came to office, has been productive of anything except more trouble, and a worsening of matters in any sense. It tends to prove that our military might has been entirely abused as a legitimate means toward what it is supposed to do, according to the Constitution: defense of the U.S.Sadly, it keeps being used as excuse, how the U.S., must, surely must, intervene on humanitarian grounds, at the least. But that excuse has always been sadly abused. Can we name one instance where it wasn't ?!
Suppose we hadn't intervened between Hitler and the West; between Tokyo and ourselves? Would we be eating sour kraut with our boiled rice?
Would be far more effective to divide Iraq into 3 pieces and give each religion/culture its own territory/new country.
I agree. But just who would do the dividing?
The problem with too many comments here is the lack of nuance...and you know whose famous for not doing nuance. There are no simple, easy, uncomplicated answers in these situations. Stop pretending there are. It's not either-or.Too bad so many arm-chair critics are unable to apply nuance. If they had to make the decisions Obama does, many would make far worse choices.Eclectic Pragmatist — http://eclectic-pragmatist.tumblr.com/
We can almost yearn for the days of British colonialism, which managed to secure semblance of order in the Middle East. Why didn't such forces now ensconced in entities such as ISIL, now having taken over vast stretches of territory both in Syria, and then in Iraq, get going before now?Just because governments were empowered enough to prevent it. Somehow, our foreign policy planners forgot how a strong government, even if authoritarian, can be a good thing vs. what happens when you actively facilitate destructions, like the U.S. conspired with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, et al, to do ! After coming to office, there was a new study done (exact name I cannot remember, but it was a #2). This seems to have come to extremely erroneous results in terms of foreign policy.Didn't they know what they were doing?Sadly, perhaps they just don't care, as long as it is the "right war" to perpetrate.
Leftist readers of the NYT whining about neocons and past mistakes should stop and think about the human aspect of the organized terror going on in Iraq. I served in Iraq and voted against Obama, but this is absolutely the right call. The US should stand up for oppressed minorities and against animals who pillage and massacre in the name of religion. For the first time I'm proud of this President for doing what's right and reflecting what America is about in this messy world.
The bombing of ISIS reminds me of a cook trying to season a big pot of stew: add ingredients, taste, add some more, taste . . . You keep working on it in hopes that the flavors will work out for the best but you never know for sure and in the meantime everyone is tasting and commenting.
I could not have imagined agreeing with Douthat, but here I am saying exactly that. I think the reasons to intervene on humanitarian grounds is obvious. Going beyond that, there is the strategic possibility of helping build a Kurdistan that can be an oasis of stability (relatively, that is) in an ocean of turmoil. I wish Obama and the Kurds the very best and hope things work out well.
"Youu! And your sopheesticated city-monkey ways!" (Ren & Stimpy) Douthat's warmed over NeoCon interventionism under pancake makeup. Fooled a number of Commenters I see.
The US cannot win a war in that theatre and it lacks the will to do so. The last few years are abundant testimony to this fact. Nor should it be involved in wars in Islamic regions. We should adopt the policy that each region should settle its own conflicts. Often we will not like the outcome but we must respect the rights of other nations to settle their own matters and learn to live with the result.Instead we should be concerned about providing humanitarian assistance on a large scale. That can be food, water, housing and medical supplies to the displaced. The displaced Christians/Yazidis are especially vulnerable and we may be witnessing the beginning of genocide. In their case we should be evacuating them and resettling them in safe areas. France has already offered them a place of refuge, so should Britain and the US. A limited military presence will be necessary for only as long as it is to create a safe corridor for their evacuation. That completed, the military should leave.US foreign policy needs to be re-oriented around humanitarian assistance and away from military interventions. This is in any case a far cheaper policy. It will win the admiration of the world, displacing the scorn that so much of the world feels for the US.
The use of US attack aircraft against ISIS should not be considered some sort of political strategy ... it is a desperate attempt to save many thousands of innocent lives. Unfortunately, the effort is somewhat late and, at least to date, much too limited to accomplish its stated objectives.The US and its allies need to flood the skies over Iraq with manned fighter-bombers and drones, making clear to the ISIS forces that their continued aggression upon unarmed civilians, especially those who are not Muslims, is unacceptable to a civilized world. Our efforts should be so costly to ISIS that they will adopt another approach.Let us allow the political antagonists in that bloody part of the world to sort out their political differences, but let us not allow them to slaughter innocent civilians to make their point.We have the ability to make it too costly for ISIS to continue waging war on civilians. The question is: "Do we have the willpower to get the job done?"Until now, evidence of that willpower is AWOL.Ken Mooney
There are significant oil fields in the Kurdish region of Iraq. If ISIS gains control of those resources they'll be even scarier than they are now. The world united to boot Saddam out of Kuwait for similar reasons-a war few disagreed with. It's a valid rationale for halting the ISIS advance against the Kurds today.
"... and it has taken a more ruthless turn because ISIS profited from the fallout from our too-swift 2011 withdrawal."It is important to recognize that Al Malaki refused to sign an agreement that would have kept our forces there by insisting that they be tried in Iraq's courts for killing any innocent civilians.
After listening to the certainties of the Bush mob when they said that the Iraqis would strew our path with flowers, why would anyone want to claim expertise about anything in Middle-East? They have armies that will not fight and terrorists that will. We have so-called allies funding the terrorists we are trying to stop. And all of this because we drive cars and need gas. The turmoil there seems to be a result of the natives wanting to return to the 12th century. A very few in the oil rich countries become super rich from oil while the rest of their societies stumble along clinging to an insane religion that seems to glory in beheadings among other atrocities in the name of their God. Just look at some of our homegrown religious loonies who don't believe in science, women's rights, civil rights, and basically any right that isn't part of their belief system. Zealots are zealots. And if one is not on their side, one is an infidel and needs killing. Just look at Iran and one can realize that there is no evolutionary process that will bring true democracy to the middle-east. Just as the KKK and others in the mad houses of our country, nothing seems to rid us of these vermin. All said, I kind of like the Kurds. They don't seem interested in senseless slaughter like others in the region. Kuwait and Saudia Arabia are oil rich jokes of countries, and we call them allies? The 12 century people there hate the 21st century people here. No expert can solve that problem.
We were able to keep the Kurdish provinces relatively secure at a relatively low cost in the interwar period 1992-2003. There was bipartisan agreement that these folks needed our protection from Saddam. Why not now? From this proximate location the ISIS savages could be watched carefully, isolated, and, occasionally, sent to meet Allah.
I must disagree, Mr. Douthart, that Kurdistan should be absorbing any refugees. I realize how harsh that sounds but it will only create more of a problem. These groups have never wanted to live together and don't get along at all.Kurdistan is a great example of breaking off from oppression and now they are supposed to put their happy successful existence in jeopardy?We should help the Kurds bc they have been a proven friend to the USA. We should also call out loudly (regardless of big oil) the other countries in the region financing this nightmare.Saudi doesn't care about Iraq or Isis or they would be sending in their troops (if there are any except those that guard the royal family) and welcome the effigies with open arms.Not likely.Our young men and women have lost life and limb and can't get an appointment at the VA. It is disgraceful we are even thinking of this again.Just curious, how many of halliburton's top executives have served or have direct descendants who are currently active in the military?
Mr. Obama rightfully call the Iraq invasion a "stupid war" and wisely voted against it. The congressional majority disagreed. He was faulted then and he is again being called on the mat for his actions in dealing with the ungodly disaster that has unfolded as a result of this "stupid war". It's time the critical majority shut up. And it's time the arab nations in the region…the Saudis, Iraq, Iran, Egypt…stepped up to the plate and dealt with this evil spawn they themselves have for years created and tolerated.
Dysfunction at home leads to dysfunction abroad. Our allies and enemies recognize we have a splintered government including a winged president. How can we help other countries when we cannot address our own problems? Both the president and congress are the blame and it all leads back to outside money.We the people complain about dysfunctional politicians. We take up time arguing amongst ourselves, but when the arguing is done we go back to our homes, plan vacations, evaluate the next car we are about to buy and meet our best friends for a night out on the town.We don't think of ourselves as one nation with liberty and justice for all. How does anyone think we can solve the problems in the middle east when we cannot solve, or at least agree on, how to solve the problems in east Detroit?The middle east will not wait for us to fix our own problems but we must address them. They will not go away. Big money has taken over our government on both sides. The Democrats complain about the Koch brothers as the President travels the country raising money for the liberal Super PAC Priorities USA.I know, I know. You are saying I am off topic. I am not. There are always going to be problems on the table but if we don't fix the table sooner or later it will collapse. One individual, one politician, must step up and bring change at the risk of ruining his financially satisfying career. In 2008 I had hopes that was Barack Obama. Michelle. chew his butt out..... http://lstrn.us/WX3bvx
I can hear Saddam Hussein right now.Cackling to himself in the bowels of hell."Do You Miss Me Yet?"
Few things are more predictable than the sun coming up in the East and a conservative commentator saying we can "fix" Iraq.
Douthat does not see that this is part and parcel of our original Iraq war, which is more closely analogous to Vietnam than most people realize. 1. We refuse to understand our enemies and recognize what they are fighting for. Those in Vietnam were Communists; those in Iraq are Islamic fundamentalists; but in neither case does the characterization does not explain WHY the enemy is fighting. The enemy, being "evil," becomes the enemy BY DEFINITION instead of by careful consideration of whether his purposes are really inimical to our national security. 2. Our policy seeks to prop up and preserve a fundamentally fictitious political entity. In Vietnam it was "South Vietnam," a product of our own imagination; in Iraq, it is Iraq itself and its US-created government, no real nation but a product of the Sykes-Picot agreement and US mistakes since then. 3. Our "allies" are uncannily feeble. The "Iraqi" army has failed to defend anything and is incapable of attack; likewise the vaunted Pesh Merga; so it was with the ARVN. We suppose that this is due to some special advantage possessed by the enemy; Chinese and Soviet support and Cambodian trails in Vietnam; Syrian arms, Gulf financing, and "fanatical" determination in Iraq. We fail to understand that the enemy, unlike our "allies," believes in his cause. 4. We lost in Vietnam and will lose in Iraq, fundamentally because the enemy is willing to die for his cause, and neither we nor our allies are willing to die for ours.
To REALLY make a difference, the sale of arms by the "international merchants of death", in which several U.S. corporations are leaderr, needs to be stopped. The following article is informative: http://origins.osu.edu/article/merchants-death-international-traffic-arms .
It's scary that consistently conservative Ross Douthat endorses Mr. Obama's moves in Iraq. Fortunately, John McCain and the boots-on- the-ground crowd have howled about it as being too little too late, so I feel better now.Mr. Obama's humanitarian portion of the plan was done for the right reasons. I fear that the 500 pound bombs part was "to avoid another Benghazi"
President Obama's decision to use air power against the Islamic State was absolutely the right call, and Mr. Douthat's analysis of this and the previous crises in which military action might have been initiated was succinct and astute. Let's hope that in the final analysis we have done what is both right and in our best interests.
This thoughtful analysis comes as a relief after reading Dowd. Bombing is a terrible and likely not too effective means to an end, but at least it leaves nothing thatmay prove useful to the enemy (like tanks and rocket launchers) behind on the battlefield.
Wow - an opinion from Ross Douthat that I can actually agree with. The current plight of Iraq can be traced directly back to our intervention/invasion back during the GW Bush administration. As Sec. Powell said back then "we break it - we own it". The strategy being pursued by the Obama administration is in IMO the only sensible strategy - the Iraqi Shiites have to decide whether they want a country or whether they want revenge for all the horrible things the Baathists and Sunnis did to them during the Sadam reign. If they decide on a country we can help otherwise help those who ask - the Kurds.
We the people wanted out of Iraq. We deluged our representatives with this message. So we are to blame for the "too swift withdrawal." But, hey, that is a government responsive to the people. You got a problem with that, Ross?
I cannot imagine how the US can really influence the region. We have no "street cred" - we ain't playaz...
For those who think we should be actively involved in any of the Mid East wars The President should offer them the following assistance: Arm and equip them, offer them combat pay and air drop them to the hot zone of their choice.It's too bad exile is not in fashion these days. Think of the places we could have sent Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their buddies
Memo to the President:Dear Mr. President:I'm totally with you. Here's my plan for dealing with ISIS:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DzcOCyHDqcStanton
Ross, the Riddle of the Gordian Knot today is how do you bind conflicts and loosen peace. Nobody knows for sure how to do this. Alexander's solution of the sword doesn't do anything bind up conflict.There may not have been tranquil peace before Cain killed Abel, but there was clearly more peace and well-being before than after.There is no "right war". Those who perpetuate war lie to us to get elected, knowing full well that talking peace won't work. But saying it will get you elected. Then, you can slip into the mode of what got Cain into the Land East of Eden. It's a long way East.
Samantha Power was right to advise the President to intervene in Libya and history will prove the decision right too. Otherwise, another Bosnia-Rwanda-Iraqi Kurd-scale massacre would have been repeated in Benghazi, while we were drenched in ever comforting and collective oblivion.
If there is one thing Iraq is not short of, it is weapons. An eleven year history of constant conflict should have opened our eyes to that reality. During the confusion of the Iraq invasion, dissident groups raided stockpiles, and are armed to the teeth. A greater force of ground fighters will defeat a lesser force. ISIS has picked off easy targets, but this will not last. The President aided by making a corridor for people trapped in the mountains to escape. This is being accomplished. Once done a unified government of Iraq must take on those who fight against a legitimate government. That should be the extent of our involvement. It would have been better to involve the UN or some other allied countries in the operation. The President is trying to save lives our past policies put in danger, but at the same time putting the country's security in the hands of their leaders, a delicate balance.
Providing military support against ISIL in Iraq is a difficult chancy call. It does not make sense to open the new strategic objective of creating a Kurdistan, as Douhat advocates. The Kurds are mainly in Iraq, but also in Iran, Turkey and Syria. "...an independent, secure, well-armed Kurdistan" would deeply affect its neighbors, who probably would not be passive with that development. It opens a new can of worms.US military intervention can alleviate some immediate problems, but it must be limited and linked to improving governance in Iraq, giving Sunnis and Kurds a voice in the nation.
Indeed. This is our generations Spanish Civil War and the Kurds are the Republicans pitted against the (islamo) fascists. It would be a criminal act of monumental proportion to leave the Kurds defenseless. They have proven to be a relaible ally for decades and they deserve not only arms but political support for their own state. The Turks, Iranians and Iraqis have all proven to be feckless pains in the rear and they should be treated with firm caution and suspicion. Baghdad will never supply anything useful for the US becasue it is the capital of a mythical state. An islamic caliphate stretching from Baghdad to Cairo is not a bad thing in principle if it was dedicated to peaceful development....but until that day arrives we need to keep the pressure on. As they say: we broke Iraq so no we need to fix it, or at least pick up those pueces that are worth saving. The Kurds are certainly that.
Well, you make a lot more sense than that eternal hawk, John McCain.Preventing genocide is a lot more noble cause than some we could be engaged in...