A condescending view of other nations drives much of US foreign policy, but it shouldn’t.
The US doesn’t trust other nations and regions to take care of themselves, and it often acts according to its own notions of what other countries need. It continues to do this as it racks up failure after failure testifying to the arrogance and futility of its approach.
Now we must ponder the sobering spectacle of our “work” in Iraq being undone in a week. From first to last, the US has claimed to know what is “good for” Iraq. We found an excuse to involve ourselves in Iraq’s affairs. We bombed their country. Imposed sanctions. Declared Saddam Hussein a threat to us. Considered it a victory when he was killed. Sent troops, 4400 of whom were killed and another 32,000 returned home injured. We spent billions of dollars on war and aid, then told ourselves that Iraq’s condition was improving.
Now come the insurgents, suddenly morphed into a transnational army, to blow Iraq’s pathetic house of cards away. Iraq’s US-trained army rapidly disintegrates because its members don’t give a damn about the people governing the country, who, the US now frankly admits, are self-serving and corrupt and merely play at the rule of law and democracy. Why should we bail out a bunch of leaders who don’t take their place in history seriously?
The militants are serious. They seriously want to turn back the hands of history’s clock. The militants (going by the name of ISIL: The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) have unnamed friends who finance them; besides, they are, increasingly, self-supporting. They avail themselves of the petroleum trade—a commodity of value only in a modern world. Though creatures of modernity themselves (with their weapons, their global connections, and exploitation of the media), they claim to be the true defenders of tradition. They want to impose archaic constraints on society, force others to obey their strictures. They want a theocracy that will be punishing.
Their growing determination makes this a moment of truth for the Middle East and beyond. Now players in all the countries that have supported terror, or that have cynically relied on the United States to shield them from its full implications, will have to confront this issue directly themselves. If the US can just stay out of the way, there is a tiny chance that the powers in the region will be forced to a new reckoning. Who knows? They might even respond with a sophistication and adroitness surpassing all expectations.
That isn’t the issue anyway. Regardless of what John McCain would have us believe, ISIL’s project has the gravest consequences for the countries where it is operating. Yes, we can continue to intervene, we can continue to try to keep history from happening; but the central drama is of most concern to these countries. Do societies that have half-turned toward something freer and more productive of well-being really want to return to a style of life that is passing away because it is so exclusive and imprisoning? Let those who understand and have lived with Islam—and with the West—decide what role these forces should play in their societies.
ISIL would have a much weaker appeal if the nations where it festers were earnestly addressing the social needs of their people. And we would be stronger if we allowed other countries the full measure of self-determination we supposedly prize.
Image: screenshot of real-time map of the on-going war from Wikipedia.
Click on image to view the real-time map.
Interactive Map of ISIL’s Path through Iraq Aljazeera.com
Don’t Save Iraq: Let It Learn To Save Itself Slate.com
Petraeus: US Cannot Be Air Force for Iraq Militias Newsmax.com
Iraq Crisis: Britain and US Must Not Meddle in Iraq, Warns Saudi Arabia The Telegraph (UK)
Sunni Militant Success in Iraq Brings Islamic Caliphate Into Focus, Christian Science Monitor