Friday, June 13, 2014

It All Falls Down

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is busily grabbing anyplace that they come within arm's reach of, and pledging to take Baghdad. In response, soldiers in the Iraqi army are abandoning posts and deserting in order to escape. And here in the United States, the finger pointing is beginning in earnest, with congressional Republicans, smelling blood in the water, rushing to label the Obama Administration's decision to withdraw troops from Iraq as a "cut and run" strategy that presents the world a picture of American fecklessness and cowardice.

But, if this is true, it also presents to the world a picture of a nation that has learned to do the impossible.

I don't think that whether or not we (the United States) kept troops in Iraq is really the issue. Despite the constant fear-mongering about the Second Coming of al-Queda, this isn't about us - it's about whether or not the people currently in Iraq feel that what they have is worth fighting and dying for. If the army isn't willing to risk being killed, and the locals won't work with the police there, then what would American troops do? Force them into the fight at gunpoint? Yes, I understand that we want to deny extremists safe havens and whatnot, but that's only because we've been told be deathly afraid of these particular extremists. There are extremists of various stripes all over the planet. If we don't see them as our problem, we don't get involved.

Iraq needs of a government OF the Iraqi people BY the Iraqi people and FOR the Iraqi people. (If that's one government, awesome; but if it needs to be three governments - one for the Shi'a, one for the Sunni and one for the Kurds, then so be it.) But I don't think that the people of Iraq feel that they currently have that - and so they're not invested enough in what they do have to risk whatever they feel they have to lose for it. American boots on the ground aren't going to change that. We can't import patriotism, and we can't expect an Iraqi army to be willing to fight mainly to protect the interests of foreigners. After all, I don't recall Iraq being admitted to the Union when I wasn't looking, and the fight against Islamic extremism (at least as far as we consider that a strain of anti-Americanism) is more important to us than it is to them.

The idea that "standing up" an Iraqi army meant building a fighting force that would suppress its own population in order to allow Americans to sleep without fear of Islamist terrorism was never the right goal, because it was never an Iraqi goal. The path to a republic here in the United States has been long. You could make the case that even after 238 years, we still haven't managed to get it right. We have to major political parties, and between a third and a quarter of both them see the other party as active threats to the future of the nation. The idea that in less than 238 months we could airdrop a model democracy into a nation that hasn't had one in living memory is ludicrous.

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