Charlie Pierce wrote an excellent article on Friday, Drums Along The Potomac: How This Country Never Learns Anything. In it, he reminded me that, “Rudy Giuliani is only the most garish member of the rising chorus.” His claim that Obama doesn’t love America was about the fact that Obama isn’t standing up and shouting about a clash of civilizations. I was reminded of it recently in a conversation with my father. He’s very frustrated about the Islamic State. How can we allow these barbarians to do “this.” What “this” means is the very public executions — most especially the burning alive of Muath al-Kasasbeh.
But it’s curious, because “those people” who we are supposed to have a class of civilization include Muath al-Kasasbeh. And as I’ve noted before, a big war with the Islamic State is not going to do much to help the people who we are supposed to be helping. And ultimately, what is it that the Islamic State is doing? Their biggest crimes are against the people who are living under them. But we in the west could hardly care less about them. It is the totally unjust and horrific snuff videos that the Islamic State puts out that has everyone in a tizzy.
The purpose of these very public horrific acts is to get us to act like teenage boys right before the big game. It’s all testosterone and no rationality. Is bombing more Islamic State targets going to make the public executions stop? Is a ground invasion? Is more pointed rhetoric about Islamic extremism? What is it that the conservatives want us to do that will actually make the situation better? The answer, of course, is nothing. The conservatives and — let’s face it — most of the liberals just want us to do something. It is the American way: it is better to do something useless or counterproductive than it is to do nothing.
But this one really isn’t that hard. How is it that the Islamic State has managed to take control of so much territory in Iraq? Well, to be honest, the Islamic State doesn’t control that much territory, and the territory they control isn’t all that great. But they have substantial control and the reason that they have it is that we decided to destabilize an imperfect but stable situation in Iraq twelve years ago. We got rid of the largely neutered Saddam Hussein and put in charge a Shiite government that has treated the Sunni population really badly. So what’s the plan this time? How are we going to screw up Iraq this time?
Right now, Libya is a mess because again, we thought it would be a good idea to go in and get rid of a despot. Yeah, I don’t like despots. I don’t like the Islamic State. I really don’t like these public executions. And I’m not against doing something. But the same people who felt we just had to “do something” in Iraq at the end of 2002 are the people who are telling us we must “do something” today. And my question is, “To what end?” We aren’t going to roll into Iraq, defeat the Islamic State and then everything will be fine.
As it is, our greatest potential ally in the region is Iran. But we can hardly even talk to Iran because of the Iranian Revolution — Which we were ultimately culpable for! — which happened almost forty years ago. This is the state of our foreign policy — the state of our intellectual maturity. People like Rudy Giuliani and John McCain don’t want to solve a problem; they want to have that great feeling when you let loose on someone who really deserves it. But most people know that while telling the boss to shove it might be very satisfying for a minute or two, it is a really bad idea.
So what good would be done by any of these conservatives ideas? I haven’t heard anything that makes me think that they would not lead to yet another crisis that would have the same group calling yet again for us to, “Do something!”