In the Middle East, the End of the Beginning
For a veteran of the fighting there—and proponent of the counterinsurgency strategy that provided a chance for the country to stabilize—watching the recent unraveling of Iraq has been disheartening but not surprising.
Thus speaks John Nagl, a veteran of both Iraqi campaigns, writing in the Washington Post:
I returned to a Pentagon that was in denial, but I found a few who believed that a new strategy of building Iraqi forces to take over the fight could eventually succeed. We struggled to provide trainers and equipment and to find ways to partner with our Iraqi comrades but managed to succeed in the nick of time, pulling Iraq into a possible win. That was the surge. Then, by declining to provide a long-term security assistance force to an Iraq not yet able to handle the fight itself, we pulled defeat from the jaws of victory and increased the peril our Iraqi friends would face...
This is not the end state my friends fought for and died for.
Indeed not. But such an outcome was dictated the moment the first president Bush stopped short of total victory in the Gulf War and left Saddam Hussein in power. And it was guaranteed by his son's second inaugural address of 2005, which ought to live in infamy as a triumph of soft-headed sentimentalism over the brutal reality of power politics in a non-Western culture:
Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty - though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it...
In America's ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character - on integrity, and tolerance toward others, and the rule of conscience in our own lives. Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self. That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran, and the varied faiths of our people.
What's happening now in Iraq is not just ISIS, the latest in a long line of jihadis that reaches back in Victorian times to the Mahdi's dervishes at Khartoum, who first needed to slaughter the infidel Turks based in Cairo before encountering Kitchener and his guns at Omdurman, at which point the Arabs got the message that (in Belloc's famous couplet) the West had the Maxim gun, and they had not. Rather, it's the collapse of the Three Cups of Tea school of foreign relations and military doctrine, the bastard idiot child of the "hearts and minds" philosophy that lost the Vietnam War. In that sense, poor Bowe Bergdahl is the perfect face of the modern American military: wan, weak, foolish and lost. Not to mention a likely deserter and a possible traitor -- which of course only endears him to the Left, which views any form of self-defense as morally illegitimate.
So here we are, in the ruins of a bipartisan Middle Eastern policy whose intellectual and moral bankruptcy is now playing out from the shores of Tripoli to Mesopotamia to Afghanistan. Thousands of American dead, many more maimed, the longest war in our history -- and for what? By toppling Saddam, the first Bush administration let the genie out of the bottle; by not finishing it, Bush and Clinton gave rise to bin Laden and al-Qaeda; by restarting it after 9/11 -- when the clear enemies were Saudi Arabia and Iran, not Iraq -- Bush II ensured that Islamicism would wax, not wane; and by hampering our troops with metrosexual rules of engagement overseen by a purged general staff, Obama has guaranteed defeat in this particular round of the longest conflict in human history, one that dates back to the eighth century.
So what's the favor? The favor is this: we now can see clearly that there are no real nation-states in the Islamic world, only the ummah, of which the caliphate for which ISIS and other groups are fighting is its political expression. We can no longer hide behind legalistic fictions that render us helpless in the face of continuing attacks, because we cannot find the "government" responsible. At last we have met the enemy, and he is the same enemy he has always been. Some things never change:
His goals are clear. Are ours? Obama likes to boast that he ends wars. But wars only end when one side gives up.