Leon Trotsky probably did not quite write the legendary aphorism that “you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” But whoever did, you get the point that no nation can always pick and choose when it wishes to be left alone.
Barack Obama, however, never quite realized that truth, and so just declared that “the world is less violent than it has ever been.” He must have meant less violent in the sense that the bad guys are winning and as they do, the violence wanes — sort of like Europe around March 1941, when all was relatively quiet under the new continental Reich.
One of Obama’s talking points in the 2012 campaign included a boast that he had “ended” the war in Iraq by bringing home every U.S. soldier that had been left to ensure the relative quiet and stability after the successful Petraeus surge. In the world of Obama, a war can be declared ended because he said so, given that no Americans were any longer directly involved. (Remind the ghosts of the recently beheaded in now al Qaeda-held Mosul that the war ended there in 2011.)
Iraq is in flames, as is “lead from behind” Libya, as is “red line” Syria, and as are those places where an al Qaeda “on the run” has migrated. Had Obama been commander in chief in 1940, he would have assured us that the wars in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and France were “over” — as they were in a sense for those who lost them, but as they were not for those next in line.
Of course, the Maliki government owns most of the blame for the spreading destruction of Iraq. Its retrograde exclusion of Sunnis from meaningful government helped to offer a fertile landscape to a resurgent al Qaeda. Now in extremis he seeks U.S. help. But Maliki’s pathetic past chauvinistic posturing over the status of forces agreement made it easy for Obama to pull out. (Hint to former U.S. clients: never horse-trade with Barack Obama over a needed U.S. military presence by threatening to eject all Americans; he will gladly call your bluff and leave every time.)
What, then, happened to Joe Biden’s boast that Iraq “could be one of the great achievements of this administration”? Biden said this after the successful Bush-Petraeus surge (that he had opposed and declared a failure) had ensured a relatively quiet country when Obama assumed office.
We know the predictable Obama script for Afghanistan. He “ended” that conflict too, or at least he will have by 2016. His habit in that accordion war was to contextualize every surge, escalation, or new operation in Afghanistan by promising a date when we would leave or deescalate. Behind the recent quietude in drone missions and the Bergdahl swap, we see Obama at work “ending” the war in the following actions: We talk with the Taliban; we deliver to them their bloodiest cutthroats (captured at a cost in American blood and treasure); and we wink that we will not be so offensive-minded as in the past.
In exchange, the Taliban promise to behave and dial down their barbarism until we “end” the war and are gone. Then, like Saigon in 1975, all hell breaks lose and the executions begin. How odd: we went into a chaotic Libya to stop the killing and were about to go into bloody Syria to stop the killing — and left a quiet Iraq to ensure it.
So older Americans who remember 1975 will recognize the outlines of the looming Afghan tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of refugees will head out of the country. Millions camped on hillsides will want to reach the U.S. Afghanistan has no seacoast, so we will not be able to call the escapees “boat people.” Ending two wars will mean that our allies would lose both and eventual enemy satiation with defeat and mass-scale murdering would ensure closure.
Remember Libya? War was interested in Obama as well in Libya. “Leading from behind” did not mean that we were not at war or that we did not in the off hours bomb the Gaddafites or violate the UN resolutions by going well beyond “humanitarian aid” and a “no-fly zone.” Islamic chaos followed and continues. Whatever we were doing in Benghazi, it was supposedly not war. Yet al Qaeda not only butchered our diplomatic personnel, but also used their cell phones to boast of the fact. So we jailed a video maker and thus that war too was brought to a close.
War was sort of interested in Obama in Syria. But he ended that conflict when he promised to bomb Bashar Assad’s gassers, and then not so much.
The looming crisis with a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran is over too. We dropped tough sanctions, agreed to talk while centrifuges spun, and more or less took off the table any thought of military preemption. The result was Obama ended the tensions, and will leave it to others to deal with a theocratic bomb.
Perhaps war in the South China Sea is interested in Obama, given that he most certainly is not interested in it. But trying to negotiate down U.S. nuclear strategic strength with Vladimir Putin (who does not, as we do, have clients who could easily become nuclear but choose not to because of U.S. strategic guarantees) and lecturing China enough to antagonize it without much else have all our friends worried. Either we redouble our efforts to assure Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Australia of our unshakeable resolve to protect them, or they will either eventually go nuclear or make the necessary arrangements with an ascendant China.
Resetting Russia was a euphemism for dismantling what meager punishments we had imposed on Putin for invading Georgia. Consequently, reset ended whatever conflict we had with Vladimir Putin. And because the Crimea and Ukraine are “far off distant places” — as are the Baltic states — Obama has assured us that those conflicts are now over as well.
The war on terror?
Obama ended that as well. He fought the first battles with the powerful weapon of euphemism. Terror ended when we simply renamed it “workplace violence” or “man caused disasters” involving “overseas contingency operations.” The Islamic component vanished as well, when NASA announced a new effort to reassure Muslims that we recognized their illustrious scientific past, when James Clapper rebranded the Muslim Brotherhood as largely secular, and when John Brennan assured us that jihad was almost anything other than the use of violence to further the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.
Obama won the second phase of the war on terror by shrugging that stuff happens in the Middle East. It sure does. And now that war is winding down there too, as al Qaeda annexes petro-cities, loots banks, and dismantles nation states. (Obama made health care work when he pronounced the Affordable Care Act successful, solved the IRS scandal when he declared it without a “smidgeon” of scandal, fixed the VA mess by expressing his outrage, and ended the problem with the Bergdahl swap by characterizing it as another Washington drama of much to do about nothing.)
As far as war and peace go, closure for Obama is when the United States is surrounded by war and confronted with looming conflicts, and yet has ended them all by declaring that we choose not to be interested in any of them. Obama is right about one thing: losing is certainly a way of reducing the violence.