The Washington Post’s editorial on the unfolding catastrophe in Iraq has the quality of a man mumbling after waking from a dream — or a nightmare. Written by the editorial board it begins by repeating a falsehood. Perhaps not a deliberate one, but a falsehood all the same.
It has been apparent for some time that the United States lacks a strategy to fulfill President Obama’s pledge to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State since it has no plan to root out the terrorists’ base in Syria. There was hope, though, that Mr. Obama’s half-measures might be enough to blunt the Islamic State’s advances in Iraq, leaving the Syria problem for the next U.S. president. With the stunning fall of Ramadi on Sunday, even that modest optimism is questionable.
This falsehood is so basic that it needs to be fixed. It should read: “President Obama began a course of action at the start of his term to leave Iraq and Syria to their fates. He hoped the fallout of this action might be blunted until the next US president could be stuck with it. Now, with the stunning fall of Ramadi, ISIS is presenting the president in advance with the logical consequence of his strategic decision.”
Having fixed the foundational idea, it is easy to understand the rest of the Washington Post’s editorial in the proper light:
“ISIL is on the defensive, and ISIL is going to lose,” Mr. Obama declared on Feb. 11, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “We’ve seen reports of sinking morale among ISIL fighters as they realize the futility of their cause.” …
But U.S. airstrikes late last week proved powerless to block a sophisticated Islamic State offensive to capture Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province 80 miles west of Baghdad. Once again, the Islamist terrorists are slaughtering captives and sending civilians fleeing in fear. Once again, they have seized U.S. military equipment, including about 30 vehicles the government sent into Ramadi the day before its fall. Once again, in the absence of more intensive help from the United States, the Iraqi government is turning to Shiite militia and the Iranian armed forces that support them. Iran’s defense minister, Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan, flew into Baghdad on Monday.
The Shiite militia cannot save Iraq, as its Shiite prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, well understands. Anbar is Iraq’s Sunni heartland, and many of its residents will regard the militia with as much or more fear than they feel for the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State. But Mr. Obama will not permit U.S. trainers to work with Iraqi forces on the ground or send U.S. spotters to make airstrikes more useful.
The president was never going to defeat ISIS, because that would require what he will not do. Despite the Post’s belated exhortations, America won’t come back to Iraq. If Baghdad pulls it together, it will be a minor miracle. But it doesn’t look like it. One hundred thousand refugees are reported on the road to Baghdad, fleeing the house-to-house reprisals of ISIS and running straight into the hands of waiting bloodthirsty Shi’ite militias.
Behind the tide of misery is the Islamic state, now in control of a supply route running from Syria to the Baghdad. “This is a very big threat to Baghdad. If [ISIS] controls Ramadi and Anbar, it gives them a big morale boost,” Iraqi General Najim Abed al-Jabouri told The Daily Beast. “The road between Syria and Ramadi is open, so they can always send more fighters to Ramadi.” The capital, consumed with suspicion and hatred, waits in suspense for the assault, unable to trust itself with guns, unable to unify its strategy. Jacob Siegel of the Daily Beast reports:
The Sunni force to retake Mosul has not been built yet. The force to take back Ramadi exists, but it needs weapons, ammo, and more important, Baghdad’s willingness to trust it enough not to disarm it afterward. It may also need Iran’s approval.
The Iranians are running the show now. Obama is out the game. He’s benched himself. This basic fact must be grasped if anything is to make sense. America’s forlorn tribal allies in the the western reaches are making a last plea for help, as if Michael Jordan could still re-enter the match and turn the tide with 3 pointers from way out. But Michael’s retired now. He’s not coming back.
A Sunni sheikh from Iraq’s besieged Anbar province is meeting with U.S. lawmakers and administration officials this week to ask the U.S. government to arm and train Sunni tribes to repel militant advances. Sheikh Abdalrazzaq Hatem al-Sulayman said in an interview that he could rally thousands of Sunnis in Anbar to fight Islamic State, or ISIS, but they lack both resources and expertise.
The collapse in the Middle East feels like Black April, 1975, the month South Vietnam fell. And it should, because just as the collapse of Saigon did not happen in Black April, but in a political American decision to allow South Vietnam to fall after a “decent interval”, so also is the ongoing collapse rooted, not in the recent tactical mistakes of the White House, but in the grand strategic decision president Obama made when he assumed office.
This is the plan. It would be crazy not to acknowledge it. To effectively combat ISIS — or whatever it morphs into next — president Obama would essentially have to retrace his steps and return to a posture very much like that of George W. Bush. But that would mean starting a 500 kilometer march eating crow every step of the way and he’s not going to do it.
Deep in their hearts the Washington Post and the New York Times must realize they endorsed Obama precisely because they knew that when this moment came he would harden his heart and refuse to re-engage, except for show. Since this is the plan, the only effective strategy, the only sane thing to do is to accept the liberal gambit and continue it.
The obvious continuation is not to dampen the sectarian conflict, but to exacerbate it to the greatest degree possible. America, like Britain in the Napoleonic age, should adopt the policy of supporting first one side then the other, or preferably both at once, so that the combatants inflict the maximum degree of damage on each other.
To be perfectly fair to president Obama, the weapon of sectarian warfare was originally the brainchild of Abu Musab Zarqawi. Aided ironically by the Iranians, Zarqawi sponsored attacks on the Shi’ite population because Tehran cynically calculated a civil war would loosen the grip of the United States on post-Saddam Iraq. The idea was that when America withdrew Zarqawi’s gang — and Iran — would inherit the carpet of bodies.
By an extraordinary effort of will America beat the civil war back temporarily, cementing it together with the the trust that people used to have in the good old USA , perhaps for the last time in history, forming a coalition in what was known as the Surge. But it did not last. With Obama’s 2008 election, it was plain to the wicked and cunning old men in Turkey and Tehran that he would throw it away and that the conflict would continue as soon as he withdrew and they could inherit what was left.
The British empire in its heyday would have understood the logic perfectly. That’s how it advanced, setting one potentate against the other, one tribe against the next. But the American liberal elite was psychologically unable to follow the implications of their own handiwork to its logical conclusion, any more than they could acknowledge the boat people or victims of the Khmer Rouge were somehow connected to a support for Ho Chi Minh. And so they pretended and temporized and spun and lied, until the time for lies was over.
To a cynic, what follows next is quite simple: to be the winner stand back and watch while the Arabian peninsula, Levant and North Africa destroys itself. Take every opportunity to make it worse. Clearly a humanitarian catastrophe of unprecedented scale will result. Hundreds of thousands are already dead and millions of displaced persons are on the road. That will only grow in scale and number to millions of dead and tens of millions of refugees. Therefore steps like preparing to sink the people smuggling boats, as the EU is doing, are in order.
If you can stomach it, it can work like a charm.
The main problem with this strategy is that Obama may not be able to contain its effects. The growing catastrophe may simply swamp European border controls. And playing balance of power politics is complicated by the fact that nobody will trust America — at least not Obama — any more. The Sunnis rulers have shown a distinct skepticism toward him and are now acting independently.
But that may not last forever because coalitions break up and form with new members. In fact, the Islamic world may attempt to turn the tables on Obama. The Sunnis could make a tactical alliance with Tehran to join forces against the infidel at least temporarily. The president has not shown much of a talent for building coalitions. Divide-and-conquer takes a level of skill he may not have.
The biggest failure of containment would be an acquisition of nuclear weapons by regional powers. One of the reasons the Iranian nuclear deal is so important, is if Obama had held MENA, he might have risked an Iranian bomb. But he cannot risk both Islamic civil war and allow Tehran to get the bomb at the same time. Yet this is precisely what he has done.
The London Times reports that Saudi Arabia is now trying to buy a nuclear arsenal from Pakistan because they have concluded that Obama will let Tehran get the bomb. “The Saudis — who financed much of Pakistan’s nuke program — are fearful of international efforts to keep its enemy Iran from acquiring a bomb, the Sunday Times of London reports. The Saudis think the deal, backed by President Obama, will actually accelerate Iran’s nuke push.” The West and Israel can ride out the storm, but not if there are nukes on both sides on the loose.
Both the liberal establishment — as reflected in the Washington Post’s editorial — and president Obama, are living in a kind of denial over what they’ve actually chosen. But politics requires a certain honesty about dishonesty. For example, Politico quotes a source who says that Hillary “sold her soul for money” to the King of Morocco.
That’s the spirit. Outward humanitarianism and “decent intervals” are, from one point of view, the pap one feeds the rubes. People like the Clintons should know better than to think they are truthful and innocent people. Guilt and damnation are the true portion of the great; they are the price of fame, the cost of luxury and power.
The Big Beards of Islam know this. They are well accustomed to dealing with lies, grue, gold and gore. They probably know in their heart of hearts they are damned to hell — whatever the Koran says — and are consequently comfortable supping with the devil. And knowing this, they must have expected that it was only a matter of time before Scratch appeared to demand his due from the man in the Oval Office. They knew the score; and despite the imbalance in power on leadership level it was always Big Beard vs Big Bird. So they were confident. It looks like the time has come to embrace the suck, Mr President.
President Obama need not have worried about a lack of legacy. He will have a legacy in abundance for historians, if there are any left in the future, as will the liberal project of the 20th century. At best the balance of power game will be as sad and dolorous as the clever machinations of imperial Britain in its heyday, which if nothing else, produced the Pax Britannica or the maneuvering which let Franklin Roosevelt enter World War 2 in time to win and produce the Pax America. At worst it will be worse than we can imagine.
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