For more than a decade, Americans have argued over the best courses of action to take regarding the Middle East. Conservatives tend to back Israel resolutely, determined to excuse any force taken as protection of ourselves and our one true ally. Liberals tend to advocate a hands-off, diplomatic approach while decrying the atrocities the Israelis have visited upon the Palestinians. Both sides, though, seem at a loss to explain how best to handle the current crisis in Iraq.
Five or ten years ago, the problems in the region were a little more black and white. Well, they at least seemed that way. Iraq appeared to have weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein was apparently a pretty bad guy, and our defeat of the Iraqi army in the first Gulf War was easy enough – why not go back in and finish the job? As that war turned into a quagmire of epic proportions, though, even the most hawkish Bush supporters started casting about for a way out. When those fabled weapons were never found, even more conservatives started to wish we had never gotten involved.
Now things are complicated again. The ISIS attacks demonstrate that this is a country that didn’t want the American vision of freedom to begin with. The region is now poised to fall into a religious war, with the most heavily-armed, radical extremists set to win. Some geopolitical experts have reckoned that Iraq should be split into three separate states, with the Kurds, the Sunnis, and the Shiites each getting their own portion of the land. Of course, it’s not necessarily the land that Iraqis are most concerned with but rather what’s underneath it. A split along geographical boundaries would do little to fairly split the oil reserves, and we’ve already seen what Middle Eastern countries are willing to do when they don’t perceive the same boundaries as laid out by international law.
So what’s the answer? While Obama is biting his nails and wondering how many troops to send back into Baghdad, the question must be asked: when is enough enough? When are we going to accept the fact that this unruly area of the world cannot be contained by American policing and the occasional decade of battlefield melee? There is much more going on in these wars than politicians want to admit. You’re not going to put a holy war on hiatus by exporting “democracy.” The cultural entrenchment is too thorough to be won over by some hastily-trained local troops. America is seen as the white devil, even among those residents who would like an end to the violence. Especially by those residents, maybe.
The alternative, of course, is to pull out, step back, and let history take its course. That sounds attractive until you think forward to the next major terrorist attack, virtually guaranteed to happen without American intervention. Then again, our presence in a never-ending war of attrition does little to prevent that eventuality anyway. Our friends the Taliban harbored Osama bin Laden before spending more than ten years hammering our troops with our own weapons.
Whatever the ultimate solution, it’s time for politicians – including the President himself – to start leveling with the American public. This isn’t going away. There is not going to be “peace in the Middle East” for a very long time. And until we can move away from foreign oil dependence in one form or another, our economic ties to the region are going to trump any temptations to say <em>to hell with them.</em>
Still, you have to admit, it <em>is</em> tempting.