It is a truth generally acknowledged that insanity may be defined as a proclivity for doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
(I’ll stop here to acknowledge that I owe the first part of the foregoing sentence to Miss Jane Austen, and the second part to a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein. Please note, also, that the title of last week’s piece was borrowed from a decades-old article – I believe from Time – about the predicament of Jordan.)
My conscience now clear, let’s consider how the United States might move toward a saner policy in Mesopotamia.
We might start by reviving the word “Mesopotamia” – the Greek word for the region around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Prior to the 1920s, when the fictitious state of Iraq was created, Mesopotamia was the standard geographical term.
Despite the expenditure of trillions of dollars and far too many American (and Iraqi) lives, “Iraq” has now fallen irreparably apart. Perhaps it’s time we stopped using a phony term for a phony country.
Let’s restore “Mesopotamia” – “between the rivers” in Greek. (“Meso” is obvious. “Potamos” is “river” – as in “hippopotamus,” Greek for “river horse”).
The Sunni triangle and most of the other Sunni-dominated areas of Mesopotamia have fallen into the hands of ISIS. That’s more than a little frightening, but it’s a fact – and the only way we could really reverse that would involve a third Iraq War.
In fact, it would likely involve an Iraq-Syria war, since ISIS now controls significant parts of Syria, as well.
ISIS seems capable of almost unbelievable brutality toward its opponents. There are reports of actual crucifixions.
That said, ISIS is a very small group of disciplined, highly-mobile, lightly-armed warriors. Even with the use of terror, ISIS could never hold territory by mere force.
ISIS has succeeded, thus far, because large numbers of Sunnis feel more fear or hostility toward the Shi’a-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki than they feel toward ISIS. This includes some of the men who once led Saddam Hussein’s army, which the Bush administration – in a particularly bone-headed decision – decided to dissolve.
In Mesopotamia, ISIS is repeating a strategy which proved successful in Syria, where it gained credibility by appealing to Sunnis opposed to the Alawite-dominated – and Shi’a-backed – government of Bashir al-Assad. The rise of ISIS in Syria may be traced to President Obama’s particularly bone-headed decision to do nothing about the civil war in Syria.
Nothing, that is, except to give his patented civics lectures – urging people engaged in wholesale slaughter to sit down and discuss forming a coalition government.
This is remarkable. After five years in office, Mr. Obama has accomplished almost nothing of his domestic agenda because he can’t get five-hundred-odd unarmed blow-hards – i.e., congressional Republicans and Democrats – to work together.
Yet he somehow seems to believe that Syria or “Iraq” could be governed effectively by forming a coalition among people actually delighted at the prospect of murdering each other.
Talk about futility.
Now, let’s be clear. I’m no Middle-East expert. And I certainly don’t intend to announce a clear policy for Syria and Mesopotamia in the remaining half of this piece.
But perhaps a bit of common sense is in order.
So, besides replacing “Iraq” with “Mesopotamia,” here are a few suggestions:
First, in defining Middle-East policy, the United States should begin by realizing that it is not our responsibility to bring reason, civil discourse, human rights, and democracy to that – or any – part of the world. Let’s work on restoring those admirable values to Congress, first, and see how that goes.
Second, we should realize that the Middle East will become increasingly less important as time passes – and as petroleum becomes less important. Our planet is warming – dangerously. Everybody who can read knows that – or remains ignorant by choice.
Moreover, even were Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) not a fact, the world’s supply of accessible oil is rapidly dwindling.
Strategically speaking, the future will belong to those nations which most rapidly and effectively convert to renewable energy sources. As that happens, the Middle East and other places – including Russia – will become poorer and less influential.
This process will accelerate as technologies for solar, wind, tidal and geothermal power – and battery storage – advance. Within twenty years, most Americans will be using electric vehicles. (I say “using,” because the vehicles will probably be driving themselves).
By 2050, those who love the roar of a powerful combustion engine will have to attend NASCAR events.
Our foreign policy should begin to recognize this emerging reality.
Third, our maps and globes reflect a determination to extend the concept of the nation-state all across the planet. But that effort has already failed. The world is moving in other directions.
Europe, the birthplace of the nation-state, is slowly moving toward a continental federation along lines pioneered by the United States and Canada. South America might be starting down the same path.
On the other hand, in formerly colonial areas such as Africa and the Middle East, artificially-created “nations” are falling apart. “Iraq” is irreparably broken. Syria may well be, too.
Most Americans know little about Africa, but several “nations” in the northern part of sub-Saharan Africa seem to be imploding.
Perhaps most dangerous, Pakistan – a highly artificial, nuclear-armed “nation” – seems to be crumbling from within.
The United States must recognize the difference between actual nations – long-established, even ancient, societies – and ephemeral, probably temporary entities. Like them or not, “real” nations – including Iran, China, India, Russia, Egypt – aren’t going away. They must be reckoned with.
Dealing with artificial nations is another matter.
Finally, Americans must recognize that – in the modern context – military force has proven to be much better at smashing things than rebuilding them.
We broke “Iraq.” Irreparably.
When we’re considering future ways of using our armed forces, we should probably keep that in mind.