Saturday, August 30, 2014

Please Dither, Mr. President

There's blood in the water in Washington, D.C. Not only did the President violate some unspoken sartorial rule by <gasp> holding a press conference while wearing a TAN SUIT, but during said press conference, acknowledged that he and his team are still working on a strategy to confront our newest bogeyman, ISIS (or ISIL, or IS, whatever term is your pleasure).

The peanut gallery (aka Republicans in Congress) who are finishing up week four of a five week vacation (not a typo) roused themselves from their torpor to castigate the President for what, it's not exactly clear. Not bombing enough shit? Not sending troops into the middle of a religious squabble among multiple bad actors? Leading the charge (unsurprisingly) are Grumpy Old Man John McCain and his Sancho Panza, Lindsey Graham - accusing the President of the dreaded "d" word - "dithering" - when he could totally be starting another war. 

But here's the thing. Our track record in the Middle East is pretty shitty, and that is particularly true over oh, the last 10 years or so. Sectarian forces who are more than happy to manipulate and have us serve as their proxies to settle religious or political scores are far more prevalent than any nascent Thomas Jeffersons or George Washingtons. When we've pushed for democratic elections, Hamas ended up running the Gaza Strip and the Muslim Brotherhood won in Egypt. How did that work out? 

Of course, our most glaring fuck up was Iraq, a country that posed no strategic threat to us and had been cowed by more than a decade of sanctions and no-fly zone restrictions. But Cowboy W had to scratch his Oedipal fix and that whole if-you-broke-it-you-bought-it idiom resulted in creating a new Iraq that was more closely aligned with supposed "axis of evil" member Iran than it was with the West. As W's successor in Texas might say, "oops."

In Syria, had we toppled Bashar Assad, we may have done ISIS's work for them. Instead, Syria handed over all its chemical weapons, which have now been destroyed (imagine if they were still available for any random, rogue "terrorist" group to pilfer). Of course, the President asked Congress to grant him the authority (as he is required to do under some document called "the Constitution" that Republicans conveniently ignore when it suits their talking points) to attack Syria last summer and they punted. Not that you'd know that to listen to the media. Regardless, the situation is no better in that country in many ways, but at least random gas attacks are no longer a concern. So there's that. 

But more importantly, what the President articulated in that press conference, and consistently does, is the belief that you do not shoot first and ask questions later. We tried that in Iraq (and to some degree Afghanistan) and we have a two trillion dollar bill, thousands dead, and neither country being close to stability to show for it. Once upon a time, it was a bedrock article of faith among Republicans that you do not start a military engagement without an exit strategy (colloquially known as "the Powell Doctrine") but today's GOP prefers to hurl our military power about like a four year-old without any concern for the consequences of this action. 

Ultimately, it is not our responsibility to solve the problems that roil the countries in the Middle East. Indeed, foisting solutions on actors uninterested in our opinion (or interference) is largely why the region is such a fucking mess right now. We need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that we can, because we are THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, dictate resolutions to conflicts that date back, in some cases, for centuries. We have armed every side of most of these conflicts and prop up their governments through our purchase of their oil, but again, in a not-too-distant past, we worked diplomatic channels to get this rogue's gallery on the same page to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and kick start Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. 

If military action is needed to weed out ISIS, by all means, the Saudis, Jordanians, Iraqis, and others have billions in good old American made war machinery to do so. If they need help, please, ask the British, French, Italians, and our other NATO allies to chip in. Once done, can we talk about the need for moderation in that region? For madrasses to stop spewing anti-Western rhetoric? To grant women equal rights? To educate a population that is ill-equipped for the 21st century? To modernize economies that are based solely on fossil fuels?

In other words, please take your time and come up with a thoughtful strategy, Mr. President. Do not allow the critics in Congress or the press, who are going to kick the shit out of you regardless, dictate what you do. Getting it right is much more important than getting it done fast. 

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