Some Liberals, And Too Many Other Americans, Are Adopting The McCain Doctrine

Hysteria. That’s what I am witnessing. Plain hysteria.

It is one thing for John McCain and other Republicans to go on television, time after time, and argue that we need to do more to defeat ISIS, by which they mean defining the effort in terms of a religious war and bringing in American combat troops to fight and die in that war. I have come to expect such talk from warmongering right-wingers.

But it is another thing altogether to hear liberals arguing for the McCain Doctrine, a strategy that if followed to its logical conclusion would have us occupying several more countries, losing thousands more lives and spending trillions more dollars.

Last night I heard Ed Schultz on MSNBC say that the beheading of Egyptian Christians by ISIS zealots in Libya “amounts to a religious war” and that “what we’re doing isn’t strong enough, isn’t working.” He offered this criticism of Obama’s declaration about combat troops:

As I see it, the United States is going to have to have continual review of its strategy. We can’t sit back here and watch hordes of people get their heads cut off. And why would we tell ISIS there’s no way we would ever put ground troops in combat situations?

Shultz wasn’t alone on MSNBC. Later Chris Matthews chimed in on the mass murder of Coptic Christians in Libya:

What can we do? Can we do nothing? …We can’t see people killed like this in our face and simply flip to the sports page or the financial news or what’s at the movies or who’s going to win the Oscars and act like America, our country, is not being morally humiliated, because it is, with the lives of at least some of these people, who must, in their last minutes, have to be wondering if there’s any chance the people in the United States could be coming to their rescue because that’s how we were taught that we conduct ourselves. We don’t leave people behind.

I don’t know where Matthews has been. I don’t know what Ed Schultz has been smoking. But we are doing something about ISIS. It’s not like ISIS is some powerful, unconquerable army having their way while we, the United States, are ignoring them. We are killing the bastards every day from the air. We, along with Kurdish fighters and others, are helping to stop their advancement.

But I’m afraid ISIS is succeeding in doing what it is they want to do in another, perhaps more important, sense: they are slowly convincing people that we should see this as a religious war and that we should send American and other Western troops to fight them so they can, as their apocalyptic theological nonsense informs them, usher in the end of this world.

CNN’s National Security Analyst, Peter Bergen, explains:

A key window into understanding ISIS is its English language “in-flight magazine” Dabiq. Last week the seventh issue of Dabiq was released, and a close reading of it helps explains ISIS’ world view.

The mistake some make when viewing ISIS is to see it as a rational actor. Instead, as the magazine documents, its ideology is that of an apocalyptic cult that believes that we are living in the end times and that ISIS’ actions are hastening the moment when this will happen.

The name of the Dabiq magazine itself helps us understand ISIS’ worldview. The Syrian town of Dabiq is where the Prophet Mohammed is supposed to have predicted that the armies of Islam and “Rome” would meet for the final battle that will precede the end of time and the triumph of true Islam.

In the recent issue of Dabiq it states: “As the world progresses towards al-Malhamah al-Kubrā, (‘the Great Battle’ to be held at Dabiq) the option to stand on the sidelines as a mere observer is being lost.” In other words, in its logic, you are either on the side of ISIS or you are on the side of the Crusaders and infidels.

When American aid worker Peter Kassig was murdered by ISIS in November, “Jihadi John” — the masked British murderer who has appeared in so many ISIS videos — said of Kassig: “We bury the first crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the rest of your armies to arrive.”

In other words, ISIS wants a Western ground force to invade Syria, as that will confirm the prophecy about Dabiq.

Unfortunately, public opinion has been swinging in the direction of giving ISIS what it wants. A recent CNN/ORC poll found that 58% of Americans now think, quite wrongly, that our military action against ISIS is “going poorly.” That’s up from 49% last October. But here is CNN’s scariest and most troubling graphic:

ground troops pollAs you can see, the country is divided on the matter of ground troops. However, back in September of last year, only 38% of respondents favored “sending ground troops into combat” against ISIS. Something has obviously happened to change minds. And if you think it is the way journalists, particularly on television, have reported on ISIS and its evil doings, you are right.

ISIS manipulates the news cycle at will. These terrorist freaks are doing everything they can to bring about their imaginary end-times apocalypse, and that involves broadcasting, or getting others to broadcast, horrific images or stories about horrific murders all over the world. And if we put American combat soldiers into the mix of actions we are undertaking to destroy ISIS, we are playing right into the freaks’ deluded strategy. And if President Obama starts officially referring to this as a war against a form of Islam, as many people are suggesting he do, then we are characterizing the fight exactly the way the jihadists want us to.

Beyond all that, all those people out there who are itching to send in American soldiers to die in a ground war with ISIS should be required to tell us just exactly what will come next. What will come after we have defeated ISIS? How long will we occupy Iraq and Syria and Yemen and now Libya in order to make sure they don’t come back? What other countries are we prepared to occupy, after radical religious zealots pop up and start murdering elsewhere? And how many dead Americans will it take before we are no longer “morally humiliated” by a band of Islamist fanatics with guns and little else besides small slices of territory here and there that they are constantly having to defend?

The truth is that we are right to fight ISIS. A lot of the reason there is an ISIS is because of a colossal mistake we made in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq, which triggered destabilization across the region. But our fight shouldn’t involve ground troops. As many have said, there are plenty of reasons for the regional parties to get involved with combat troops, many of them existential reasons. We shouldn’t let them off the hook by doing the job for them, especially since it will inevitably be a never-ending job.

Karma, Meet Glenn Greenwald

How ironic it is that Glenn Greenwald has found himself the victim of what he calls “distortions.” Not too long ago, Greenwald was one of those who encouraged the slander of Sam Harris as a “genocidal fascist maniac” for something Harris wrote that was, in my view, misrepresented and distorted. Today Greenwald himself is complaining about being misunderstood, as people read and interpret his latest anti-anti-terrorism piece (“CANADA, AT WAR FOR 13 YEARS, SHOCKED THAT ‘A TERRORIST’ ATTACKED ITS SOLDIERS”) published on his website The Intercept.

Writing about the death of a Canadian soldier on Monday, who, along with another soldier, was deliberately struck by a car driven by a convert to Islam, Greenwald said:

If you want to be a country that spends more than a decade proclaiming itself at war and bringing violence to others, then one should expect that violence will sometimes be directed at you as well. Far from being the by-product of primitive and inscrutable religions, that behavior is the natural reaction of human beings targeted with violence. Anyone who doubts that should review the 13-year orgy of violence the U.S. has unleashed on the world since the 9/11 attack, as well as the decades of violence and interference from the U.S. in that region prior to that.

If you think that sounds like Greenwald is justifying the attack on two Canadian soldiers, you are not alone. But Greenwald attempted to cover himself:

The issue here is not justification (very few people would view attacks on soldiers in a shopping mall parking lot to be justified). The issue is causation. Every time one of these attacks occurs — from 9/11 on down — Western governments pretend that it was just some sort of unprovoked, utterly “senseless” act of violence caused by primitive, irrational, savage religious extremism inexplicably aimed at a country innocently minding its own business. They even invent fairy tales to feed to the population to explain why it happens: they hate us for our freedoms.

I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether Greenwald adequately insulated himself from claims that he was blaming the Canadian government for not only the attack on Monday, but by extension the attacks yesterday on Canada’s National War Memorial and its Parliament, attacks that coincidentally occurred shortly after Greenwald published his controversial article. But given Greenwald’s willingness to distort the arguments of others, readers are not obliged to give him the benefit of the doubt. Referring to the attack on the Canadian soldiers, he wrote:

Except in the rarest of cases, the violence has clearly identifiable and easy-to-understand causes: namely, anger over the violence that the country’s government has spent years directing at others. The statements of those accused by the west of terrorism, and even the Pentagon’s own commissioned research, have made conclusively clear what motivates these acts: namely, anger over the violence, abuse and interference by Western countries in that part of the world, with the world’s Muslims overwhelmingly the targets and victims. The very policies of militarism and civil liberties erosions justified in the name of stopping terrorism are actually what fuels terrorism and ensures its endless continuation.

I’ll let Greenwald in on a secret that most of the civilized world is coming to know: there are violent Islamist extremists, whether primitive or not, whether irrational or not, whether savage or not, who want to kill Westerners simply for being greenwald on twitterWesterners. And Greenwald has become a man at war with those who think that doing something about those violent Islamist extremists is a bad thing, in fact a thing that is perpetuating terrorism.

Greenwald acts as if the terrorists would stop being terrorists if the West walked away from its responsibility to protect itself and others, including Muslims who are most victimized by militant religious extremism, either by death or oppression. He lashes out at the West’s “rage and demand for still more actions of militarism and freedom-deprivation,” while mostly ignoring the actions of militarism and freedom-deprivation done by Islamists who want to establish a theocratic state. He speaks of “the 13-year orgy of violence the U.S. has unleashed on the world since the 9/11 attack” without distinguishing between the just attempt to pursue the 9/11 killers in Afghanistan and the misguided war in Iraq. He mocks what he calls “the standard Churchillian war rhetoric about the noble fight against evil,” as if there is no evil to fight.

But there is evil to fight. And people like Greenwald make it harder to fight it.

What Some Liberals Get Wrong About The Fight Against ISIL

Whenever I want to check out what anti-Obama lefties are saying about anything, I first go to Firedoglake. There you will find some committed, if sometimes immature, left-wingers assailing the President and his administration for all kinds of failures to live up to the purity of liberalism, at least as it is defined by Firedoglake contributors.

After today’s announcement of the necessary and justified attacks on the Islamist murderers in Iraq and Syria, I turned to Firedoglake for a quick look. Here’s a little of what I found:

Yesterday the US began bombing yet another country in the Middle East with strikes targeting ISIS forces in Syria…The most obvious beneficiary of the new strikes is Syrian President Bashar Assad who has been locked in a struggle with ISIS and other rebels for control of Syria…Given the flexible and congealing nature of ISIS it is highly questionable as to whether the militant group can ever really be destroyed as long as Iraq and Syria remain war zones. Though that is of no apparent concern to the Obama Administration which has launched America into another war in the Middle East that even officials admit will take several years.

In another post by the same author, DSWright, we find this ominous opening:

Remember when the reason for expanding this military campaign from Iraq into Syria was because ISIS was in both countries? It wasn’t so long ago. Well, now President Obama has announced that he also targeted a non-ISIS group in Syria. Mission creep in real time.

Let me quickly address the concerns in these two articles (and something Glenn Greenwald wrote, which I will get to later), concerns that I have heard expressed elsewhere by left-leaning folks:

1. “The most obvious beneficiary of the new strikes is Syrian President Bashar Assad…”

Yes, I hear that a lot. And it may be obvious. It certainly seemed obvious to Assad, who welcomed our attacks by doing nothing to stop them. And it may seem obvious to us, even if we don’t want to say so out loud. But so what? The mission is not to aid Assad but to send as many ISIL fighters on a one-way visit to Allah as our air strikes can facilitate. If doing so actually helps Assad in the short-term, then so be it. In fact, it could be argued that it is only a short-term help for the Syrian dictator. It could be, somewhere down the road, that weakening ISIL enough to make it vulnerable to other groups in Syria opposed to both Assad and ISIL means that Assad’s short-term gain will turn into a long-term loss. In any case, ISIL needs our attention and to stand paralyzed for fear we will help a man whose country is disintegrating before his eyes would be foolish and short-sighted.

2. “Given the flexible and congealing nature of ISIS it is highly questionable as to whether the militant group can ever really be destroyed as long as Iraq and Syria remain war zones.”

This one is easy. It may be questionable, it may even be “highly questionable,” if we can really destroy ISIL under the present circumstances, but it is a near certainty that we will never destroy ISIL if we sit and wait for Iraq and Syria to become something other than war zones. Those who oppose what Obama is doing never address that reality. Sitting and waiting for peace to break out in the region, while ISIL gains power and territory, and while killing untold numbers of innocents, would be not only strategically unwise, but a moral outrage. And besides that, it isn’t that questionable whether ISIL can be defeated in Iraq. In time that is likely to happen with U.S. support, if Iraqis have the will to make it happen. In Syria, of course that is much more difficult. But doing nothing makes it not only more difficult still, but quite likely impossible. Is that what liberals want? Huh?

3. “…the Obama Administration…has launched America into another war in the Middle East that even officials admit will take several years.

Not really. Yes, it will take a long time, maybe even “several years,” to reduce ISIL to a relatively inconsequential player in the region, but Obama hasn’t really “launched America into another war in the Middle East.” Part of what he is doing is continuing a war against terrorist groups that began in earnest after 9/11. The other part of what he is doing, which some folks seem to have forgotten, is attempting to clean up a mess that neoconservatives in the Bush administration began with the colossally stupid invasion of Iraq in 2003. Yes, it is too bad that we once again have to aggressively attack another terrorist group in the Middle East. We all wish it weren’t the case. But it is a legitimate and moral use of American power, even if it is largely made necessary by a once-illegitimate use of American power.

4. “President Obama has announced that he also targeted a non-ISIS group in Syria. Mission creep in real time.”

I get real creeped out by the overuse of the phrase “mission creep.” For some journalists it has become something they inject into their reporting to make it clear they have learned their lesson from the disastrous, media-championed Iraq invasion in 2003 and will not be duped again by an administration wanting to drop bombs and fire missiles it has no business dropping and firing, even in the name of fighting terrorists.

The problem is that some missions need to creep, as the attack on the al Qaeda-related Khorasan Group demonstrates. If liberals won’t support an attack on a group of terrorists—whose existence is dedicated to developing creative and undetectable ways to kill Americans using airplanes—then it is hard to understand what use liberals will ever have for the U.S. military.

“Mission creep” claims, which normally are necessary and proper to consider, are in this case simply one way for people queasy about the general use of military force to fight terrorists to say that this specific mission is, as DSWright claimed using italics (and contradicting his claim in his other article; see 3. above), the opening “of another front in the perpetual War on Terror.Some of us agree that we shouldn’t call what we have done and are doing a War on Terror. We should simply say, when the need arises, that we are fighting terrorists, those who have essentially declared war on America. But leaving aside the semantics, using mission creep worries as an excuse to do nothing, or next to it, in Iraq and Syria means—let’s be honest about it—ISIL will continue to conquer and kill.

Related to this point is a particularly reprehensible article by Glenn Greenwald, who has become quite famous on the left for championing Edward Snowden’s illegal leaking of sensitive information that hasn’t made it any easier to track terrorists. The article was titled, “SYRIA BECOMES THE 7TH PREDOMINANTLY MUSLIM COUNTRY BOMBED BY 2009 NOBEL PEACE LAUREATE,” and in it Greenwald, conspiracist to the core, makes a claim that others on the left make: we are only producing more terrorists by fighting ISIL. Except Greenwald makes the point with a nice little twist:

Six weeks of bombing hasn’t budged ISIS in Iraq, but it has caused ISIS recruitment to soar. That’s all predictable: the U.S. has known for years that what fuels and strengthens anti-American sentiment (and thus anti-American extremism) is exactly what they keep doing: aggression in that region. If you know that, then they know that. At this point, it’s more rational to say they do all of this not despite triggering those outcomes, but because of it. Continuously creating and strengthening enemies is a feature, not a bug. It is what justifies the ongoing greasing of the profitable and power-vesting machine of Endless War.

He ends his blame-America-first piece with this:

…the U.S. does not bomb countries for humanitarian objectives. Humanitarianism is the pretense, not the purpose.

It is hard to contain one’s anger at such conspiratorial nonsense. According to Greenwald, the entire effort to stop anti-American terrorism, an effort that began after essentially ignoring terrorism resulted in the deaths of 3,000 Americans on 9/11, is just a way for the defense industry to make a buck. Just a way for America, pretending to care about the deaths of innocents slaughtered by jihadist killers, to keep the “machine of Endless War” going. America, in Greenwald’s eyes, is nothing more than a nation run by greedy imperialists. That’s all we are. Obama is no different from Dick Cheney. Our attack on ISIL is no different from the invasion of Iraq. There’s no room in Greenwald’s conspiracy-poisoned mind to entertain the idea that, despite plenty of monumental mistakes in the past that have actually strengthened anti-American sentiment, the present situation calls for what most Americans see as legitimate and moral action.

Meanwhile, Greenwald offers us nothing condemning ISIL or explaining what he would do about the bloodthirsty bastards in Iraq and Syria who would, if they had the chance, saw off Glenn Greenwald’s head as quickly and brutally as they sawed off the heads of other journalists. The only difference would be that the ISIL bastards wouldn’t have to write an anti-American script for Greenwald. They could just make him read his latest article.

Having said all that, there are legitimate questions about the constitutional propriety of President Obama’s actions in Syria, as he continues to authorize attacks on ISIL with neither the permission of the Syrian government nor the official permission of Congress. Those questions have been raised by various congressional voices, including Democratic voices, and it is obvious that if there were a will in Congress to stop what is going on, those voices would be turned into legislative language constitutionally tying the hands of the president. For now it appears all that is being offered is an official authorization of what Obama has already started, with some restrictions placed on its scope, and the requirement to come to Congress periodically to defend continuing the effort against ISIL—and whoever else decides that Allah is on the side of psychopaths waving black flags and beheading innocents, including innocent Americans.

“Without God, I Am No One”—Bullshit That Needs Our Attention

Fundamentalism kills. In more ways than one.

NBC News has reported that an American—a 33-year-old who was born in Illinois, raised in Minnesota, and studied in California—has now died in Syria, as a fighter for the barbaric jihadist group, ISIL. He was killed by another group of anti-Assad fighters, the Free Syrian Army.

Douglas McAuthur McCain, according to those who knew him, was a “a good guy who loved his family and friends,” a smiling joker who loved music, liked to dance and play basketball. “He was a goofball in high school,” one of his classmates told NBC.

Sometime in 2004, though, Douglas McCain apparently started taking religion seriously, as many Americans do. He posted on Twitter in May: “I reverted to Islam 10 years ago and I must say In sha Allah I will never look back the best thing that ever happen to me.”In sha’Allah” essentially means “God willing.” Lots and lots of people, especially Christian people, say “God willing” and say that their faith is “the best thing that ever happened” to them. It’s pretty common and not all that radical, unfortunately.

McCain also posted a picture of himself holding a Quran, with the caption,

The quran is all I need in this life of sin.

If you replace “quran” with “Bible,” then you have a typical statement from many American Christians, a statement I have heard countless times in one form or another. Again, although it is unfortunate, there is nothing all that radical about someone claiming that an old, old book is all they need in this life, of sin or otherwise.

Another social media posting from McCain expressed what he believed was the source of his existence:

Allah keeps me going day and night. Without Allah, I am no one.

Let’s remember that “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for “God.” In other words, what McCain posted was this:

God keeps me going day and night. Without God, I am no one.

Again, I have heard that same idea expressed numerous times by Christians I have known. Right now you can check out your own Facebook page, if you have one, and probably see a version of it someone has posted. It is all too common to hear people, people who live in your neighborhood and share space in your community, say such things. As I said, it is unfortunate that such sentiments are so prevalent among us.

It isn’t exactly clear how Douglas McCain went from expressing such things, such things that a lot of people express on any given day in America, to actually joining a group of bloodthirsty jihadist killers in Syria. It’s not clear Image: A Facebook profile photo of man identified by NBC News as Douglas McAuthur McCainhow he became “Duale ThaslaveofAllah,” which reportedly was his Facebook name. We will probably never know the mechanics of how that transformation happened, even though it would help us all to know.

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of people who say the things that Douglas McCain said don’t end up either killing for, or dying for, their deity. Those who think their religion is the best thing that ever happened to them, or who believe an ancient book is all they need to guide them, or who believe that they are nothing without God—a being they have never seen and can’t possibly “know”—most of the time live their lives relatively peacefully, many of them even doing a lot of good in the world.

But I have come to believe that we, those of us who have not utterly surrendered our minds to an unseen—and presumably unseeable—deity, those of us who maintain that any religious views should be accompanied by some degree of doubt and uncertainty, must call out those who say things like Douglas McCain said.

It is time that we make people—especially our young people—uncomfortable when they say things like, “Without God, I am no one.” It’s time we call bullshit on such sentiments. It is time we take on parents who teach their children that they are nothing without God. Or teach them that an ancient, pre-scientific book is an infallible source of information, especially about God, or history, or morals. It is time we stop being afraid of criticizing people’s religious beliefs, if those religious beliefs include offering up their minds, or the minds of their children, as slaves to some Bible- or Quran-revealed divine being.

Because even though we don’t know what exactly led to Douglas McAuthur McCain giving his body to a radicalized and militarized incarnation of Islam, we know that it began with him seriously surrendering his mind to Allah, to God, to a bloodthirsty being first brought to us by ancient and ignorant people who told us their God once murdered “every living thing on the face of the earth” (the Bible) and who told us that God will punish unbelievers “with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter” (Quran).

We should do our best to make sure that people understand what it means to completely turn their lives over to the very flawed star of a faith that first came into being in the Bronze Age. Perhaps, and only perhaps, we may be able to prevent more Douglas McCains from wanting to kill and die in the name of God.

A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall On “The Worst People On Earth”

“Oh, what did you see, my blue eyed son?
And what did you see, my darling young one?”

“I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin'”

“I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain a-gonna fall”

—Bob Dylan

At times they cut the throats of children, or hang them or shoot them. At other times they, quite literally, saw off with dull knives the heads of men, women, and children, or hang them or shoot them. They rape. They rampage. They slaughter. And they openly teach their own children that such bloodthirsty acts are noble and godly, and a necessary and proper way to praise and honor Allah.

Example:

This photo, of a seven-year-old boy clad in a kids’ Polo golf shirt and struggling to hold up a severed head, was posted on Twitter by a proud dad. That proud dad’s name I won’t share with you. That’s exactly what this sick creep, a loser who left Australia with his family to become a jihadist in Syria, wants. This proud dad represents the kind of people I have described. In a very rare moment of agreement with a conservative columnist, I second Charles Krauthammer:

These are the worst people on earth.

These “people” are, of course, members of ISIL. And as Krauthammer said,

These are not the usual bad guys out for land, plunder, or power. These are primitive cultists who celebrate slaughter, glory in bloodlust, and slit the throats of innocents as a kind of sacrament.

And trust me, after doing some research on what ISIL has done in the past year or so, all of that is a serious understatement.

Speaking more clinically, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said of these jihadists,

This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of- days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated.

“Eventually” has already started. And those limited U.S. air strikes against ISIL have done a lot of good. More, many, many more, need to follow. And follow.

I heard someone say the other day that, when it comes to going after the ISIL bastards, he would countenance a hefty raise in his taxes. Me, too. I would gladly pay much more in taxes, if I knew the money was going toward missiles and bombs that would rain down hard, like a land-cleansing monsoon of justice, on the heads of these fundamentalist Islamists. On the heads of anti-humans who, in the name of Allah-God, commit intolerable, and I mean intolerable, acts of terror against not only Christians and people of other faiths, but of fellow Muslims.

President Obama, very soon, needs to address the country and make the case that the United States should, along with the Iraqi military who would provide the foot soldiers for such an effort, make a decisive war on the so-called “Islamic State.” We should also undertake air strikes in what used to be Syrian territory in order to hit ISIL there. No need to worry about borders at this point. They have essentially been erased. If other nations around the world want to join us, and they should, that would be better still. If they don’t, if they continue to tolerate these barbarians and continue to pay them ransoms for hostages or otherwise support them, then to hell with them. We can still act.

I would ask my fellow liberals again, many of whom are confidently balking at such a move by President Obama, just what the hell is our military for, if not to protect the interests of our own citizens right now—one of the best of them was just openly and barbarically beheaded by these bastards, after a failed mission to rescue him—and in the future, when a stronger ISIL may in fact, rather in the poisoned imaginations of these jihadists, actually have a real state? Not to mention help protect the interests of our friends, the Kurdish people? And help protect the rest of the Iraqis, to whom we owe at least something, after we destroyed their country and raised up and supported Nouri al-Maliki, who then helped make Iraq a place where ISIL could do its demonic work? And, finally, what is our military for if not to help ensure that the word civilization retains its meaning in this century?

Now is the time to rid the world of these, its worst people.

Iraq And The Folly Of Sovereignty

Sovereignty, in political theory, is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity.”

Wikipedia

It was inevitable, of course.

John McCain, who still can’t believe voters thwarted his Commander-in-Chief aspirations six years ago, appearing on MSNBC this morning, blamed President Obama for what is happening in Iraq:

What about the fact we had it won?…Gen. Petraeus had the conflict won, thanks to the surge. And if we had left a residual force behind…we would not be facing the crisis we are today. Those are fundamental facts … The fact is, we had the conflict won and we had a stable government…But the president wanted out, and now, we are paying a very heavy price. And I predicted it in 2011.

This blame-Obama-first reaction we all expect from Republicans whenever anything at all goes wrong, but it is utterly and demonstrably false in this case. Republicans forget that the original agreement with the Iraqis to pull out of their country was signed by none other than George W. Bush in 2008, an agreement that specified we would “withdraw from all Iraqi territory, waters, and airspace no later than the 31st of December of 2011.” We did withdraw in December of 2011. So, how all the latest developments are Obama’s fault is beyond me, but not surprising, given the level of hatred for the president among right-wingers.

What seems surprising to me, though, is McCain’s “we had it won” claim, which is beyond ridiculous. George Bush famously thought we had it won when he spoke on board the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003 with a “Mission Accomplished” banner behind him, saying,

In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. 

Yeah, well, people should remember that most of the dead and wounded became dead and wounded after those infamous words. Bush also told us in that 2003 speech:

The Battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001, and still goes on…The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of al-Qaida, and cut off a source of terrorist funding.

Leave aside that lie about the Iraqis being “an ally of al-Qaida”—former CIA Director George Tenet took care of that by admitting that the Bushies “could never verify there was any Iraqi authority, direction and control, complicity with al-Qaida for 9/11 or any operational act against America, period”—and focus only on the claim of victory, a claim that was not only unsupported by the evidence at the time, but a claim that could never have come true under any circumstances. Obviously, in terms of defeating the Iraqi military and putting ourselves into a position of occupying the country, we were successful. That’s what we are good at. We are the best. The Iraqi army, knowing we are the best, didn’t really fight, and the much-vaunted Republican Guard decided they weren’t going to die, 72 virgins or no 72 virgins, for their fellow tribesman, Saddam Hussein.

But that U.S. military triumph wasn’t the real victory that the Bush and his neo-conservative allies envisioned when they undertook the very stupid and very costly war against Hussein’s Baathist regime. In their heads were “the images of celebrating Iraqis,” as Bush noted in his celebratory speech, grateful folks who would welcome us with open arms for liberating them from “their own enslavement.” But Iraq as we knew it then and Iraq as we know it now was and is never going to be a place where, in Bush’s words on that aircraft carrier eleven years ago, we could “stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people.”

For his part, President Obama, although much more restrained, said some things to Americans in 2011 about the end of the eight-year-long Iraq war that don’t sound so good today:

It’s harder to end a war than begin one.  Indeed, everything that American troops have done in Iraq — all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering — all of it has led to this moment of success.  Now, Iraq is not a perfect place.  It has many challenges ahead.  But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.  

So much for a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq. This morning I heard Iraq’s ambassador to the United States essentially begging for more help from Americans, dismissing the fact that his country’s Shia leader, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, failed to reach a deal with the Obama administration on a status of forces agreement that would john mccain and iraqhave kept, perhaps unwisely for us, thousands of U.S. troops in his country. But worst than that, Maliki failed to govern the divided country in a way that had any chance of success. He did nothing to make sure the rights of the Sunni minority were protected. In fact, as Vox.com noted, he ordered the mass-arrest of Sunni civilians and the killing of peaceful Sunni protesters. He essentially “built a Shia sectarian state.” All of which allowed a violent Sunni insurgency to grow and strengthen.

As I said, it was the subsequent occupation of Iraq that cost us so much in lives and treasure. And it was during that occupation, if not before, where all of us should have realized that there would never be anything happen in Iraq that we could call a victory and truly claim mission accomplished. Patrick Cockburn, who has been a Middle East correspondent since 1979 and who has written four books on the contemporary history of Iraq, said of the American occupiers that we “were in a mood of exaggerated imperial arrogance” and failed to see what was coming:

In that first year of the occupation it was easy to tell which way the wind was blowing. Whenever there was an American soldier killed or wounded in Baghdad, I would drive there immediately. Always there were cheering crowds standing by the smoking remains of a Humvee or a dark bloodstain on the road. After one shooting of a soldier, a man told me: “I am a poor man but my family is going to celebrate what happened by cooking chicken.” Yet this was the moment when President Bush and his Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, were saying that the insurgents were “remnants of the old regime” and “dead enders”.

Cockburn also makes an important point that it wasn’t just Americans who were willfully blind about the nature of the Iraqi state: “There was also misconception among Iraqis about the depth of the divisions within their own society.” Objective outsiders should have seen that Iraq is not a real country. Force has held it together since the British (without going into why, but it had a lot to do with oil) first tried to weld into one country the old Ottoman-controlled provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra. Keeping these people, the Kurds, the Sunnis, and the Shias, under one nation-state roof has proved to be impossible without lots and lots of oppression and killing. And the killing continues today, as we see in the news.

Leaving aside all of the Republican nonsense about blaming Obama for the ongoing disintegration of Iraq, the question, obviously, is what should the U.S. do now? And that, like almost all foreign policy questions, is not John McCain-simple. I have heard some people, including some Democrats, say do nothing. Let the Iraqis handle their own problems. But as President Obama said today, “Nobody has an interest in seeing terrorists gain a foothold inside of Iraq and nobody is going to benefit from seeing Iraq descend into chaos. The United States will do our part.”

Okay. Let’s start with what might be part of a long-term strategy. It appears to be time to reconsider Joe Biden’s old proposal, which he made while still a U.S. senator in 2007. Biden sponsored an amendment to a defense bill, which passed the Senate 75-23, that James Oliphant, no friend of Democrats or progressives, summarized this way:

The amendment requires the United States to work to support the division of Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions, each governed locally by its dominant ethnic and religious factions, the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. The regions would have dominion over police protection, jobs, utilities and other municipal functions, supported by a weaker federal government in Baghdad. All three regions would share in the country’s oil revenues.

The wisdom of that difficult-to-implement proposal only increases with time. It appears to be the only realistic solution, if there is a solution, to an otherwise insoluble problem. But that is a possible long-term solution. For now, while a rather violent and venomous group of jihadists are capturing Iraqi cities one by one and headed for Baghdad—due to, once again, widespread desertion by the “national” army—we can’t stand by and do nothing. We do have a national interest in making sure, as best we can without engaging in another war, that the utterly brutal Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which, as The Washington Post points out, now “effectively governs a nation-size tract of territory,” does not take over the entire place.

The Post also says the militant Islamic group “has become a far more lethal, effective and powerful force than it was when U.S. forces were present in Iraq,” and quotes a former adviser to both Bush and Obama on Iraq:

This is a force that is ideologically motivated, battle hardened and incredibly well equipped. It also runs the equivalent of a state. It has all the trappings of a state, just not an internationally recognized one.

Just what effective actions the U.S. could take in the short-term isn’t clear to me. But it isn’t clear to war-hawk John McCain either. For all his bluster, he is reduced to saying there are “no good options.” Yeah, well, thanks for that sage advice, Senator. And, thank God or Allah, you are still only a senator.

Sharing intelligence with the Iraqi government, such as it is, is obviously a good place to start. Perhaps drone strikes and other air attacks are in order. Perhaps other forms of aid will do some good. But one thing we know, despite what the logic of John McCain’s criticisms entails,

We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq.

Those are the words of, thankfully, the real Commander in Chief.

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