Beware Simple Solutions On Iraq

With the situation in Iraq growing more grave by the hour, we're going to be hearing a lot from the gang of cretins who brought us the Iraq War in the first place, who will now be emerging to tell us that it was all a splendid American victory until Barack Obama came along and screwed the whole thing up. (I can't wait to see what Bill Kristol has to say when he appears on ABC's This Week on Sunday.) More than anyone else, we'll be hearing endlessly from President McCain, a man so uninformed he is unaware that ISIS, the group now controlling large parts of the country, is not actually the same thing as Al Qaeda. ("Al Qaeda is now the richest terrorist organization in history," he said after ISIS raided the bank in Mosul.) But reporters and TV bookers are beating a path to his door, so important is it that the American people hear his wise counsel.

If there's one thing you should keep in mind as this develops, it's that anyone who says there's a simple solution to the problem of Iraq is a dangerous fool. The people who started the war there thought that we didn't need to understand the complexity of any situation in the Middle East—indeed, that the very desire for understanding was evidence of intolerable weakness. What was necessary was George W. Bush's "moral clarity," in which there are good guys and bad guys, and if there's a bad guy we just have to be strong and go get 'im.

It was 11 years and one month ago that Bush stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln under a banner reading "Mission Accomplished" and declared: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." He went on to say, "The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of Al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more."

It was true that terrorist networks would be unable to acquire weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime. They would also find themselves unable to acquire a unicorn army from the Iraqi regime, or a cache of magic beans. What they would acquire, however, was a breeding ground for their ideology in a place where no amount of American blood and funds could create the thriving, stable democracy Bush and his allies imagined.

I don't pretend to know how to solve this problem, or even if we can contribute anything but marginally to its solution. (In his statement about it today, President Obama worked hard to tamp down expectations about what we might accomplish.) But what I do know, and what anyone should be able to see, is that the situation in the Middle East today is inordinately complex. (Consider that our most important ally in helping prop up the Maliki government and defeating ISIS is none other than our friends in Tehran.) There will be lots and lots of people assuring the public that no, it's actually quite simple: We just need to be strong and decisive. You know—like George W. Bush. And we know where that got us. 

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