Recently, on social media, I responded to a friend opposed to putting American “boots on the ground” in Mesopotamia.
My comment to my friend was less than gentle:
Considering how little the American people know, or care, about what is going on in the world – unless it involves the World Cup or the Olympics – waiting until the danger is “clear and present” might be leaving it a bit late. How many of us had even heard of Osama bin Laden before 9-11? (For that matter, how many of us still reject the mounting evidence of AGW? ) It might be useful if we all made the effort to learn more about the history and present state of Mesopotamia. Failing that, we might show a little humility by not being too quick to form an opinion based on shreds and patches.
My friend, who is no more humble about his opinions than I am, challenged me: Would I sent troops to Iraq?
Having just written that few Americans have the requisite expertise, I could have ignored his question.
On the other hand, I think I know enough – were I President – to assemble my national security team, hear their advice, and make some sort of intelligent decision about Mesopotamia.
My concern is that not all Americans could say the same.
Another educational failure.
Of all the world’s advanced societies, America is surely the least knowledgeable about the rest of the world.
Because we are a big, rich country – with a bigger military budget than the next two dozen countries put together – we can risk military involvement pretty much any time we choose without risking out national existence.
The fact is, there are probably only two nations on the planet we could not – if we chose – invade and conquer.
There is no combination of nations on the planet which could invade and conquer us.
Because this is so – except as potential tourists – most Americans don’t feel the need to know much about the rest of the world.
The time when we could get away with that level of ignorance is drawing to a close.
Now, I suspect that – at this point – some readers are thinking: “Hang on, feller! Get off your high horse! You ain’t so smart, and the rest of us ain’t so dumb!”
Well, I never said I was smart. But let me pose a few questions:
– After a decade of war in Mesopotamia, most of us know someone who served there. Could you explain, even briefly, the difference between Sunni and Shi’ite? Could you locate on a map the two parts of “Iraq” with significant oil fields?
– In 2002, we invaded Afghanistan, starting a long war there. Without looking, could you name two countries it borders? Could you name one of its principal exports?
– The U.S. team made an impressive showing at the World Cup in Brazil. Could you name three major cities in Brazil? Could you say whether those cities are closer to the U.S.A., Africa or Australia? Could you name Brazil’s official language?
This isn’t a graded quiz. If there’s something you don’t know, please look up the answer. But none of these questions is at all trivial.
At any rate, I’ll now get off my high horse and answer my friend’s question: If I were sitting in the Oval Office – instead of the Fishersville branch of the Augusta County Public Library – what would I do about the irruption of ISIS forces into Mesopotamia?
First, I would inform my national security team that it is no longer the policy of the United States to try to hold “Iraq” together. If Humpty Dumpty wants to do the job himself, that’s his business. It is not ours.
Our policy, instead, will be to negotiate with the Kurds – and the Turks, who will be very nervous about an independent Kurdistan – about transforming the autonomous Kurdish part of “Iraq” into an independent state. And to persuade the Kurds – and the Turks – to grant permanent U.S. military bases there.
Second, I would order my national security team to move as rapidly as possible toward a rapprochement with Iran.
I have as many qualms about Iran as any American – other than those who spent 444 days as guests of Ayatollah Khomeini’s “students” between 1979 and 1981. If anyone has a big problem seeking a working relationship with Iran, they would have my permission to use the older term – Persia – to ease the pain.
But we need Iran’s cooperation more than we need to nurse old grievances. Besides, our problems with Iran date back to our unwarrantable interference into its attempt at self-government. Our CIA and Britain’s MI6 overthrew Iran’s democratically-elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, in 1953. It was about oil.
How many of us knew that?
Iran is an ancient country, with a highly-educated, urban middle class. After Israel and Kurdistan, it’s probably the one country in the Middle East capable of something like democracy.
It also holds the key to our achieving anything viable in Afghanistan, Mesopotamia, or Syria.
Moreover, if Iran doesn’t become our partner in the region, Russia seems eager to hook up – and we don’t need that.
It’s a pity Israel and Iran spend so much time threatening each other. After all, Israel is our ally.
But that doesn’t give Israel the right to dictate U.S. foreign policy. We need better relations with Iran, and Israel must simply live with that.
As for “boots on the ground:” I favor using U.S. troops whenever vital American interests are at stake. But only then.
In this case, that’s a question worthy of serious study.
But if you have an opinion about that – and don’t understand a lot more than I do about the region, its history, and its current situation – you’re a lot more confident of your opinion than I’d be.